New Years Eve Angel Island, December 31st to January 1st 1998.

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Sid Wolf of BASK scheduled this overnight camping trip to Angel Island for New Years Eve. Angel Island is a big island in San Francisco Bay which is a state park. Camping is allowed but you have to reserve a spot in advance. In the middle of winter we had no competition for reserving any campground we wanted. In fact we probably had the entire island to ourselves with the exception of a few rangers. Most of the people who camp here take the ferry out to the island but we paddled out in our kayaks, of course. We left early in the afternoon from Fort Baker to avoid the ebb tide and landed on a beach on the west side of the island. We hid our boats in a little valley and carried our equipment up a steep but short trail. The State is on a campaign to eradicate all the non-native trees growing on the island so the campground looked like a stumptown camp from the California lumber rush days. After setting up my tent I walked up a recently denuded hill and saw the ebb current start through Raccoon Strait. A crescent shaped curve of dancing water moved upstream while I watched.

I had joked with Sid about how we had to cook a gourmet meal around the campstoves in order to uphold the BASK reputation for good eating on kayaking trips. I joked about bringing some MRE's (Meal, Ready to Eat -- surplus US military rations) with army surplus catalytic food warmers. Sid replied that if I did this I would probably find holes in my kayak later. I assumed he meant that my fellow kayakers would punch holes in my boat for bringing such poor fair to dinner. But perhaps he was only warning me that the chemicals in the catalytic warmers would get loose and corrode holes in the hull of my boat. What I really brought was a slab of frozen abalone and the rest of the ingredients to make tomato-abalone over pasta. I used a "house brand" of canned tomatoes instead of the S&W tomatoes that Marty always told me to buy. She was right and I should have kept looking for the name brand, as my tomato sauce was way too watery this time. Sid is allergic to wheat and couldn't eat the pasta anyway, so he had my watery concoction as abalone soup. The rest of us scooped the good parts out and left the water behind, it was still good. So was everything else that everybody else cooked and we had plenty of food and tons left over that went to waste. Sid's contribution was pancakes (wheat free) and eggs for breakfast the next morning.

After dinner we went for a walk up to the top of the island in the dark. We stopped at every scenic overlook and wondered what time the fireworks in various cities were scheduled to go off. Up on the very top of the island there was still a large Christmas-tree shaped cone of lights. When 10:00 PM came around and no fireworks were seen, we all headed back down the trails to the campground. There everyone except for me went to bed before midnight. With my nerd-honed ability to stay up late at night working I had no trouble staying awake for another 45 minutes to see the new year in. I walked half way back up the trail to a lookout with a view of San Francisco. At midnight fireworks went off at Aquatic Park. I thought the display was rather short and subdued. But perhaps I was jaded by last summers Fourth of July fireworks when the San Francisco display was so extravagant that it almost looked bigger from across the bay than the Berkeley fireworks I was close to. The weather had co-operated very nicely and I had clear air to view the fireworks and the continuous show of the city lights across the water. The sky had occasional wispy clouds but most of the time I had a clear view of the stars.

The next morning a few people left early to get to other appointments. Another large group left the campground to walk around the island. I had never circumnavigated the island by kayak, so I suited up to do this in the morning and didn't manage to talk anyone else into coming along. The sky was overcast, winds were starting to come up from the south, and a strong flood tide was coming in at noon. A long time ago I looked into doing a trip around Angel Island, but somehow got the impression that it was over twenty kilometers and would take all day. The experienced BASK kayakers assured me that it would only take a few hours and this turned out to be correct. The weather was not as nice as the night before with an overcast sky and a wind from the south getting stronger as the day progressed. It seemed to me that as I turned each corner of the island the wind also turned to blow into my face and make me work for my tour around the bay.

I paddled most of the way around the island clockwise. I went through several interesting little bays where yacths are apparently allowed to tie up. Around the northeast corner of the island were some ruins of what could have been an old military base. These were fenced off and signed to keep us out. Around the southeast corner of the island was a large modern windmill. Some sort of feel-good ecological boondoggle that was not running, of course. Eventually I came to a point that I recognized from our trip up the west shore the afternoon before. Then I cut straight across Raccoon Strait to Belvedere. This expensive neighborhood used to be an island before the gap between it and the Tiburon Peninsula was filled in to put in roads and houses. I rested at the southern tip of Belvedere where the wind was blunted by the cliff. Then I paddled across the mouth of Richardson Bay, down past Sausalito, through the Yellow Bluff area, (with no rip tides this time), and around the corner into Horseshoe Bay where my car was waiting for me. I had another New Years Day party with an all night movie marathon to go to!

But as I was loading my equipment back up into my car, a man came by to talk to me. "You're Mike Higgins, aren't you"? Yes. "I've seen your stuff on the Word Wide Web and I thought I recognized you"! So now I have finally made it. I have a fan. I have become a celebrity who is recognized and greeted by strangers on the street. I guess this was my fifteen minutes of fame at last.

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All text and images Copyright © 1998 by Mike Higgins / contact