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Wet and Wild on Woodley

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Oh, how I love paddling on Humboldt Bay. When the tide is right, I might visit Indian Slough, where the narrow wandering passageways remind me of tiny lanes I've cycled in Wales, my husband Barry's homeland. In spring, I spot nesting egrets clustered high in the cypresses and schools of sandpipers resting on the mud flats in low tide. Sometimes I weave in and out of pilings, like a slaloming skier, or see if I can squeeze through the opening of a channel marker without touching it.

As long as it's not too windy, I love the bay and never tire of its docks, moorings, jetties, marinas, faded fishing boats and decommissioned pulp mill. Unlike many paddlers we know, I'll take the bay over Stone Lagoon any day. They avoid the bay because you have to pay attention to the tides. But Barry and I have a handy tide app, so we know when it's possible to, say, circle Woodley Island, which you can only do when the tide is 5 feet or higher.

The only downside of the app is that it can be off by an hour or more, and a few weeks ago I misjudged it, thinking the tide was at slack when it had already turned. Along with the gusts of wind, it was heavy going. I'm not a warrior paddler; no chop, wind, or rain for me. Unlike kayakers, I don't even like wakes. Easy for them, all snug in their nests. "Try loving wakes when you're standing on a paddleboard," I tell Barry.

I decided to cut my losses and get off at the Adorni Center. My paddleboard is so light, I was ready to whisk it home, but Barry turned out to be only a block away and carried it for me. Such a gentleman.

Meanwhile I've recently started a new form of cross-training: Whenever I need a change of venue from strolling around Eureka's streets, I hop on my paddleboard and head over to Woodley. 

Such was the case a few days ago. I took off from Old Town's C Street dock, carefully avoiding the docked Madaket, and headed north at a seriously low tide. Gliding, I'd aim at the mainland, then at the island, back and forth in a herringbone pattern, passing the F Street dock, the U.S. Coast Guard boat Barracuda, the Aquatic Center. Before long, I was approaching the north end of the Woodley Island Marina. As I neared it, I realized I hadn't had a dip for a while. I used to go open-water swimming in the bay and sometimes I miss the therapeutic cold. No one's around, I thought. I could just scooch in from the dock, have a dip, get my cold-water fix, then climb back onto the dock, get dressed and walk on Woodley. I'm the fastest clothing-changer I know. Easy.

OK, it's settled.

I landed, turned my SUP over, snuck my paddle and life vest under it, undressed, and slipped off the dock. I hadn't realized how muddy it was. "Well, you did say you wanted to get down and dirty with nature more, Rogers," I told myself.

Suddenly I heard a voice. A man with long black hair on the ramp was shouting at me. "What are you doing swimming naked in the water?"

"I'm getting wet and having a dip," I shouted back. "I didn't want to get my clothes wet." 

"Are you homeless?"

"No, I'm not homeless," I said. 

"Where do you live?"

"In Old Town. Look, please don't report me. I don't want my picture splashed all over. I'll get out soon."

None too soon, in fact. I didn't have the usual restorative feeling since I was covered in mud from my knees down. I waddled back to the dock, clambered up and snuck behind some boats, out of sight, and cleaned up as best I could.

On the dock, now presentable, if a little muddy, I introduced myself to the guy, who was only protecting his home turf. Fair enough. Just glad I don't live in a "stand your ground" state.

Then I went on a walk, checking out the boats, the fisherman statue and the rock-mounted marker for "Indian/Gunther Island, Site 67 (Tolowat)," a National Historic Landmark, which, to my dismay, says only, "This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America." Of course, as we know, what really happened — far from the airbrushed name — was that in 1860, white settlers massacred Wiyot women and children living on the island. In 2019, the island, to the northeast and larger than Woodley, was returned to the Wiyot Tribe and renamed Tuluwat ("The Island's Return," Oct. 24, 2019).

A while back, I wrote the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District saying that while we can't change what our ancestors did, we can at least tell the truth about the wording. I was happy to hear that a convoluted process involving a range of stakeholders — most importantly, the tribe — is in process. 

After the marker, I brought my mind back to the 21st century. Turning around, I strolled back to the end of the marina, climbed back on my paddleboard, and headed home for lunch. What's not to like?

Louisa Rogers (she/her) is a leadership coach and writer who lives in Eureka and Guanajuato, Mexico.

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