A Winter Paddle

Near the end of February, between snowstorms, heavy rains, and strong winds, I snuck in an afternoon’s kayak paddle along the Mutiny Bay shoreline near our home. My winter’s goal the last two and a half years has been to get my new, lightweight (27 pounds—12.3 KG) kayak into the water at least once a month, every month. My Epic GPX, carbon composite kayak is a dream come true: light enough for me to load and unload by myself and carry to the shoreline. And it has a large cockpit to give my legs and back plenty of room. It is fast and easy to handle.

Ann’s Epic GPX paddling the wild west side of Whidbey Island

Paddling in the winter means careful weather watching. My “go to” weather for winter solo paddling: calm seas and air temperature above 40 degrees F.(7 degrees C.). That means spontaneity because winter weather is always changing.

I love being out on the cold waters of Puget Sound wrapped in its mantle of winter gray paddling in the cocoon of my trusty boat. Only rarely do I see another small, self-propelled craft. My human companions on the winter seas are the sturdy, dependable tugboats moving their year-round loads and the occasional cargo ship loaded with overseas freight heading into or out of the port of Seattle.

A tugboat carrying two barges of pulp on Puget Sound in the distance

My most regular companions on the Sound’s winter seas are harbor seals, solitary common loons in winter plumage, rafts of white-winged surf scoters, dozens of red-breasted mergansers, flotillas of tiny bufflehead ducks, and the occasional, solitary cormorant or grebe.

To be a part of this hardy human and animal seascape, I dress carefully, study the weather meticulously, and check the tides and currents. In any season a prepared kayaker dresses for the temperature of the water. In Puget Sound  in the winter that is about 45 degrees F. (7 degrees C.). My layers are a heavy turtleneck, wetsuit, fleece, and paddling jacket; a warm cap; gloves with handwarmers; neoprene booties with wool socks.

A selfie from the cockpit

Because I have a half-century of paddling experience on big, cold seas, I have enormous respect for the vagaries of winter outings. I am in cell phone contact with a shore person. I don’t paddle far from the shore. And I do my best to return at the time promised.

Paddlng close to shore

These outings exhilarate my soul. Confirm my oneness with the wild seas. I am under no illusion that at my age I can or should paddle in just any winter weather. But being out in the winter, when it feels safe to my experienced eye, confirms that I still carry a strong measure of skill and strength. It builds my confidence as an aging athlete. May I be able to do this for some years to come! AND, may I be wise enough to know when the time has come to retire the goal of paddling in winter.

Home in time to clean up the gear and enjoy a sunset

60 replies
  1. Fay Geddes
    Fay Geddes says:

    What an inspirational message . . . thank you so much! I am also an “aging” athlete, although I’m sure there are sme who think I should retire my clubs. But at 86 I still enjoy golfing competitively.

    You and Christina are my role models, in spite of being decades younger than me.

    Love and Light to you both!

    Fay

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello Fay! I love knowing that you are playing competitive golf at 86! That is just awesome!Long ago when one of the few sports they let women do was golf, I was quite the golfer. So, I have a little idea of the dexterity that takes from an aging body! We all inspire each other at this age, Fay! Blessings, Ann

      Reply
  2. Sloane
    Sloane says:

    Hi Ann,

    Thanks for sharing your latest adventure. Quite an inspiration for continuing cautiously into the wilderness of these years.

    Best wishes,

    Sloane Dugan

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Larry, so good to hear from you. The truth is that if we had a chance to sit down in person so I could listen to a story of yours, I know it would be my turn to be impressed! Ann

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Love hearing that you are developing a love for kayaking, Quanita. May you feel the sweetness of “wearing your boat and being one with the water”. Ann

      Reply
  3. Diana Smith
    Diana Smith says:

    Since we met 5 years ago on the Wilderness Quest, I have held you as such a model of ‘we are nature’…thank you for this post as it affirms so much, so deeply. with ❤️ Diana Smith

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      We are nature, dear Diana! Actually such an important part of it. May we take our place with respect, always. Ann

      Reply
  4. Jane
    Jane says:

    Since we met you so many years ago, we’ve admired and appreciated your being a skilled, strong athlete, dear Ann. Your love of being immersed in Nature seems like a required holy ritual.
    Paddle on!❤️

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dearest Jane and I know Bonnie’s comments join yours, you have given me an important phrase, “My love of being immersed in nature is a required holy ritual.” And that, my friends, is the spiritual guidance that has shaped my entire life. Ann

      Reply
  5. Judy L Todd
    Judy L Todd says:

    Thanks for the invitation to KEEP DOING what we love, and do it wisely! I love that you are so confirmed and fulfilled in your adventures Ann. Thank you for the encouragement under your tale.

    Reply
  6. cheryl
    cheryl says:

    Ahhhh, kayaking in ANY weather! My dream to have my (30 lb wooden) kayaks accessible came true when I built a carport and hung them within reach. Getting these babies onto my (higher) car roof rack requires a kayak partner. Getting 2-3 friends to agree to once/month excursion is easier said than done. I feel my age when I don’t experience nature in the wild. I’m oh so close… Thank you for reminding me of what I’m missing.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Ah, Cheryl, you have just detailed an important part of the kayaking journey—getting the boats on and off the car and to the shoreline. This is above and beyond the paddling. Then there is the getting in and out of the boat safely on the shore. I have added a kayak roller (for rolling it onto the rack) and a pair of towing wheels. May you find a paddling partner of acquire some accessory lifting gear. Ann

      Reply
  7. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    How wonderful, Ann! I can almost feel that brisk air. It must be amazing to cut through the water as you share the Sound with so many wintering birds and waterfowl. Glad you always mention the safety piece, we can never be too aware. Cheers to many more winter paddles.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Bonnie! Now if I only had a camera and skilled hands like you, I could have included closeup photos of some of those winter plumage loons or curious seals!

      Reply
  8. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    May your wise interbeing with the natural world enable you to continue to venture out and in, for many more years. always a teaching. thanks dear Ann. love, your friend Anne (with an ‘e’)

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      “Venturing out to continue to venture in.” Thank you, dear one. So very true! Venturing out is the way I venture in!

      Reply
  9. Julie Glover
    Julie Glover says:

    I’M SO GLAD THAT YOU CAN PULL THIS OFF!
    My heart sings for you, sweetheart.
    ENJOY!!!!!!
    👋❤️🥳🤩😘😁💋🤗

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      “Soul strengthening” for all of us to find ways to pursue the things we love at our ages. You who model this by virtue of your spirit of adventure in living abroad. Ann

      Reply
  10. Jana
    Jana says:

    The glimpse into one of your winter outings on the cold sea, the exquisite gifts granted by the longevity of that relationship, touch something deep in me. I’m so glad to know you have this. Would that all your stories were compiled and given to young women to read, to seep into them a love of nature.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      One of the things I cherish about sharing my blog is the exquisite wisdom shared back from my readers. Yes, there are exquisite gifts offered to each of us in the longevity of relationships—with nature, with our own bodies, with friends, with communities. Growing old is not so bad!

      Reply
  11. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    I love the wisdom and acceptance that comes with aging. I’ll modify as needed, do it until I can’t, and then accept gracefully that it’s time to make space for the next wonderful thing. Thank you for always modeling wise elderhood. It’s our task, right?

    Reply
  12. Audrey B Denecke
    Audrey B Denecke says:

    I too am so inspired by your sojourn out on a cold, beautiful, February day! May you enjoy your monthly journeys with your light kayak for as long as your heart desires.
    I once saw a picture in a paper of a 100 year old woman (an experienced paddler) launching her kayak off a California ocean coast line. I cut it out. Since then, it has been my encouragement to never let my age stop me from doing what I love. Your post launching out on the cold seas has renewed that energy in me! Best wishes!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Wow, 100 years old and still paddling! Not sure I imagine myself in that situation, but here is to doing what we love as long as we can for as often as we can! And, of course, being as safe as we can.

      Reply
  13. Glenda Goodricj
    Glenda Goodricj says:

    I love seeing these photos and imagining you out there paddling strongly and enjoying every minute of it. Your kayak sounds awesome!
    Thank you for being a role mode for continuing to do what we love even as we are aging. You’ve inspired me to go cross country skiing this week even though I’ll go alone. (Yes, I will check the weather first and let someone know where I will be). Sending love to you!

    Reply
  14. Terry Chase
    Terry Chase says:

    Thank you Ann for taking me on the water with you. I love your stories and the freedom of the kayak that continues all these many years! Keep paddling, my friend!
    TC

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Terry, I am so glad that we have had some paddling time together. I shall keep paddling as long as I possibly can. Ann

      Reply
  15. Mark Secord
    Mark Secord says:

    Love this Ann! I’ve only been out once this winter but your resolution to go out once a month all year resonates. And I’m very glad to don my semi-dry suit which has proven to be a good investment.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thanks for this, Mark! We are both blessed to live close to the waters of Puget Sound and both still able to manage our boats alone. I’ll symbolically wave at you across the big waters of Puget Sound, and still hold the thought of getting together for a paddle. Ann

      Reply
  16. Liz Foster
    Liz Foster says:

    Ann! Your wonderful message & photos came perfectly timed. Love (always) reading about you on the water…pics an added bonus. You have encouraged me…another woman mindfully welcoming aging, missing Seattle & Puget Sound.
    Paddle on Dear One, greet Mt. Rainier for me !! You know how fortunate you are when those clouds part 🔆.
    Be well

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Promise I will paddle on as long as I am able. And, yes, I never forget to gasp in wonder when the clouds disappear and THE Mountain towers above Seattle and the rest of the Cascades. Be well, Ann

      Reply
  17. Paula Northwood
    Paula Northwood says:

    Hi Ann,
    I loved hearing about your winter paddle. Wonderful to get out on the water year round! I was wondering where you purchased your lightweight kayak. Andrea and I have been looking and haven’t seen anything we’ve liked. 27 lbs is very appealing at this age. Thanks for any direction!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      I looked long and hard for this boat. Just start googling around for lightweight kayaks. As you start to hone down what you are looking for—leisure, lake, sea kayaking, etc., start watching for sales. I got mine on Craig’s list once I started looking. Good luck! Ann

      Reply
  18. Dianne Feltham
    Dianne Feltham says:

    I have read your work for awhile Linnea. You once again painted such a beautiful experience, one I will print to enjoy again and again. Feel and appreciate your wisdom as I too am aging. Give me this day and the wisdom that goes with my desire and safety❣️

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Indeed, Dianne, “Give me this day and the wisdom that goes with my desire and safety.” Let us not take any day for granted. Be well, Ann

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Your comment is what I most hope for as a response from readers: stirring something in themselves by virtue of what they have read. Thank you for taking the time to write, dear Tenneson. Ann

      Reply
  19. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    Dear Ann,
    Arrived at your website to find your latest post. Seeing you, so quintessential, brought a big smile, and a wonderful start to my day. While your winter ocean kayaking is an undertaking beyond my wildest dreams, to read your words this morning, on the heels of reading and responding to C’s post, I feel circled up with and shored up by you both. Much love…

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Hello, Dear Katharine, who often inspires me with her blog and poetry. Thank you for sharing your words and your nature heart. Ann

      Reply
  20. Jeanne B Guy
    Jeanne B Guy says:

    “These outings exhilarate my soul.” Beautiful words from an amazing woman, mentoring many of us through her wisdom. So glad you have carefully figured out how to continue kayaking safely in the winter months. Your joy is contagious, dear Ann.

    Reply
  21. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Oh Ann, I was exhilarated for you the moment I read the title!! The waters call you no matter the season. And obviously rewarded you immensely – especially your encounters with the animals. What a gift of joy they are as they welcome you to their outdoor world. Reading this just warmed my heart for you, knowing that you are on the water again and strong and confident. (And now knowing that you don’t have to wait until late spring to get back into the waters again.)
    I don’t believe that you have to be concerned about knowing when to return to land. You are both wise and realistic about life’s timing. But until then, paddle on strong woman! You inspire, and always. xxx

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Appreciate your confidence in me, Jeanne. I shall paddle on! It means a lot to me that you caught the fact that I felt accompanied and held by the winter birds and seals. Honestly, since I first paddled on Puget Sound many decades ago, I believe I have seen a seal every time. I feel safer out there as soon as I spot one. For surfers seeing dolphins helps reassure them that there are no sharks around. I don’t worry about danger from sharks in Puget Sound—the dog sharks are pretty harmless. But if the seals are out and about everything just feels calmer. They are scouts for me.

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Exactly! The magic of the winter seas and their importance in the grand scheme of nature—migration, water quality, climate change knowledge— draws me out onto the water with enthusiasm, albeit caution. Winter paddling defies the trite old truism, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.” Not true on big cold water. You can have the finest gear in the world, but if you don’t know what you are doing out there, you will be in big trouble. Appreciate that you gave me a chance to say that, Margaret!

      Reply
  22. Sharon Faulds
    Sharon Faulds says:

    Well Ann you are awe inspiring. Your story personifies Richard Wagamese’s quote about living in the moment. Thank you for the reminder.

    Reply

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