The Interurban Paddle

It was possible, a century ago, to travel from Seattle south to Tacoma or north to Everett on an electric street railway.  Then the automobile took over, and for decades “The Interurban” existed only as history — or in a few places as an excellent bicycle path. Today it’s again possible to make a parallel railroad journey, via Amtrak.

A map of the central Puget Sound area, showing some places of interest to paddlers.But of course the traditional means of travel between these places was by boat: hundreds of years ago, by canoe; later, on a steamship of the so-called Mosquito Fleet.  In my case, by kayak.

The elegant way to accomplish this human-powered journey would be to pack some gear, set out from one end or the other, and camp along the way — that’s the kind of thing that the Cascadia Marine Trail is for. But by the time I had finished paddling Seattle’s seacoast, in 2016, I had already covered about a third of the total sixty miles, so I chose instead to keep working at it piecemeal.

In Seattle I usually had the luxury of paddling from one familiar, well-appointed park to another; now I was venturing into unknown territory, across distances without convenient rest stops. I finally resigned myself to making many of my day trips without proper shore leave in the middle, paddling from a launch site to a landmark and then back again.

A kayak rests on a concrete slab near the beach at Seahurst Park.

I started with a trip from Seahurst Park, shown above, to Seola Beach, where I had finished my Seattle project. The next segment, south to Des Moines, looked like quite a stretch. I ended up visiting the halfway point at Normandy Park twice: once from Seahurst, and then later by paddling north from Des Moines. After finishing one leg I would go home and look at the map and stew about how to accomplish the next one.

The Port of Tacoma, from south of Point Defiance

The southern part of the project got my attention first because it offers relatively convenient water access. When the Northern Pacific chose Tacoma as its western terminus in 1873 it left Seattle high and dry (and with a lasting grudge); but in between, some version of Marine View Drive links many of the communities that sprouted along this part of the coast. The two cities later actually buried a symbolic hatchet at Saltwater State Park, another excellent put-in.

Between Seattle and Everett the picture is very different. The Great Northern Railway reached Seattle from the north in 1893, on right-of-way running along the very shore of Puget Sound. Because of the tracks, the shoreline itself is primarily riprap instead of beach; I think that this steep wall, by reflecting waves instead of dissipating them, may encourage choppiness on windy days .  Even where there’s public access to the water, parking may be a long ways off.  Meadowdale, for instance, a former country club, is an excellent place to stop, and even to camp, but not a practical place to launch, at least before its recent renovation. The most likely spots are near ferry terminals — I paddled north and south from both Edmunds and Mukilteo. The people who publish the recreational charts for kayakers don’t even bother to show a course between those cities — there’s a fine view of the Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island to the west, but the near shore is not mostly not very inviting.

The BNSF railroad tracks and a bit of the shore of Puget Sound, south of Everett, WA.

Tracks along the shoreline under the bridge at Picnic Point.

There’s quite a nice beach at Picnic Point, but launching from there — once south to Meadowdale and once north to a place called Big Gulch — would mean getting the boat across the tracks on the footbridge shown below, four different times. I pondered how to do this, literally over the course of years. Once I saw a fellow carrying one of those Oru folding kayaks down to the shore, and wondered if I could rent or borrow one. I’ve also seen guys with an inflatable raft.

Kayak sits beside a bridge across railroad tracks, at the end of a leafy path.

A sensible traveler would wait for a friend to share the work of carrying. Little strap-on stern wheels usually compensate for the lack of companions. Here, though, the corners present a problem quite the opposite of squaring the circle: the width of the space is about half the length of the kayak, and there’s a chest-high fence around the walkway.

After a couple of years, near the end of 2023, I finally decided to give it a try.  I waited for a day cold enough, and short enough, that I thought there would be little foot traffic on the bridge. I perseverated with single-handing my boat across, though with each successive pass I relied less on cleverness and more on physical strength.

A kayak on the beach at Picnic Point, with Puget Sound and Whidbey Island beyond.

My second, northward trip was on the day before the solstice. The winds were light and the tide was well in.  As hoped, there weren’t a lot of people about, but on my way back from Big Gulch I encountered a bunch of seals headed the other direction. They’re used to seeing fishing boats but I think they may have been a bit  surprised to find a kayak along their route. One of them made sure that I got a look at his impressive size. I count this a nice finale to the Interurban Paddle.


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Our Florida Trip

We spent the very last days of February in Florida.  We stayed a couple of nights in Miami, and then joined a Sojourn bicycle trip, our first tour with them.

The adventure started with a bus ride to the Everglades Alligator Farm and then the classic air-boat tour.  I had watched some of these contraptions in a movie when I was very young, and afterwards assumed that life would eventuallly offer a ride in one.  For me, that sense of closure was worth more than the spray and the G-forces.  We got to see some wildlife, plus a very large number of captive ‘gators.   After lunch, there was a 14 mile ride at the National Park’s Royal Palm Visitor Center, then a transfer to the Playa Largo Resort and Spa, our home for two nights.

The second day began with a choice of three ways to enjoy the water and the mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — snorkeling, a glass bottom boat, or kayaks, which we chose out of habit.  It was windy, but our course was pretty well protected.  Afterwards there was an optional 7-mile ride to the hotel.

The rest of the tour consisted mostly of pedaling along or near the Overseas Highway to Key West.  This is a beautiful trip — it turns out that the shallow water here can be as pretty as any we’ve seen in the tropics.  The physical route, unfortunately, has suffered a lot of storm damage in recent years.  Lack of repair (or in some places disruption caused by the repair process itself) sometimes required repeated highway crossing, or riding against traffic, or even guessing about the intended route.  It’s going to be really nice when they get this fixed.

The place we stayed in the middle of the Keys, at Marathon, was the Tranquility Bay Beach House Resort, a collection of stately old-fashioned white wooden structures (and a fabulous restaurant).   From there it can be a good day’s work to get to Key West — but we got a lift across the famous 7-Mile Bridge, to avoid the traffic.  There are 42 bridges in all along this route.

The ride ended at Margaritaville, where we spent the next four nights.  As often seems to happen, they decided to give us an even bigger room than the one we asked for — a two-bedroom suite with a kitchen and a big living room between the two big bedrooms-with-baths.  This added up to three big balconies looking out over the slips where the tour boats and cruise ships dock.  That’s our view below, toward the aptly-named Sunset Key.

It was raining as we arrived on our bikes, but after that the weather was gorgeous.  We had plenty of chances to walk around, not just to some tourist landmarks, but to some food joints we had ferreted out in advance — a creperie, a health-food store, markets large and small to stock our kitchen.  Some really good ice cream, too.


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Baltic Islands

August was an unusually briny month for us, as we spent some time first in Iceland, and then a few more days in Stockholm, and then a week and a half with a Backroads tour around the Baltic Sea.  Several stops involved islands, including chances to paddle at a couple of places.

Stockholm itself is a largely island-based concept, like Venice (“holme” is the Swedish word for “island”) — but it’s also completely navagable by foot.  At the same time, the roughly 30,000 islands in its neighboring archipelago offer a change-of-pace from museum-going.  We had made arrangements with a company called Green Trails, which offers a variety of adventures, kayaking among them.

Our guide, Ben, drove us out through Ingarö to a wildlife reserve called Björnö.  Offered our choice of double kayaks, we picked a Looksha, as presenting a smaller profile on a somewhat breezy day.  We paddled out among some reeds and around a peninsula to a nice beach, entering the scene below from the left, and then landing at a spot beyond the little shed.

This place was the childhood home of Doris Stuga, whose family farmed and fished here, and whose donation forms one of three parts of the reserve.  Posters in Swedish and English relate her story, or it’s available electronically as well.

We ate lunch here after a pleasant nature walk to another sunny beach on the other side of the isthmus that lies beyond the boats.  We picked our own lingonberries and learned about other useful plants.  We had seen several osprey just after launching  (rarer than back home in Seattle) and possibly, at a great distance, a fish eagle, a bird with a six-foot wingspan.

Islands are such an important idea in Sweden that, if yours isn’t accessible by a bridge, the government offers to get you there by boat.  That principle helps to explain the charming scene below, one of many we saw later as we set out on our cruise:

Why are so many houses painted this same dark red color?   When it became fashionable to build structures with bricks, there weren’t enough to go around — the islands, like much of the country, are composed of granite.  The next best thing, apparently, was to paint houses a color that represented brick; and there it is.

The other island we visited before the start of our cruise was Vaxholm.  The fortifications in the picture below have been there since the 1500s to defend the city of Stockholm.  The clouds are there to tempt soaring pilots.  We arrived by a combination of speedboat and ferry, for the first day of riding with our Backroads trip.

There was one more paddling opportunity on this journey:  St. Petersburg! Our ship was docked there for three days, so there’s more to read about this stop on our page about the cruise.  On the third day about a dozen of us opted for kayaking, and we were taken to a rowing club on Krestovsky Island, given a brief demonstration of technique, and put into Wavesport (formerly Perception) Horizon kayaks, which have pairs of molded-in handles fore and aft. No attention was given to fitting, and I never located any foot pegs, but the weather was good and the outing was a lot of fun anyway.

Krestovsky was an early venue for all kinds of genteel outdoor sports.  Grand residences and, later, institutions sprang up in this little group of islands to the north of Petrogradsky.  There was more history here than time for telling, but for instance we paddled under the Old Bridge, where the body of Rasputin was found after he met his sad end.  I believe that this next picture is of a palace on Kamennyy  Island:

Such is the geography of the Baltic that, even after all this, we weren’t through with Swedish islands yet — we would later call at Gotland, to explore the town of Visby, which still has its medieval wall.



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Loreto Again

In March, we returned to Loreto Bay, where our narrative began nine years ago. Leif and Susan were still there to take care of us, so on most mornings we had a chance to paddle down to Bird Rock, near the north end of Notrí, and on one day staying long enough for lunch at the Vista al Mar.  As suggested generally by the picture above, water was  calm, Alex has become enamored of the Hobie pedal craft, and the Delta 16 is happier than ever, under Leif’s management.

The birds themselves may be getting used to this routine.  The cormorants were slow to spook when we circled and the pelicans hardly seemed to care.  We conversed with the local osprey on every trip.  A Magnificent Frigate Bird flew close.

The blue-footed boobies that were becoming prevalent five years ago still fish here, but for nesting they’ve moved yet further north, up to Isla Coronado.  The sea lion we always used to see on this stretch is gone too.  Leif says that for a time the whales were thick (Blue Whales cheek-by-jowl with paddle boarders!) but that they seem to be taking a break as well.  We saw a couple of big rays, apparently among the first of the season.

Fortunately our return was well-timed to catch the local all-dolphin water ballet team’s morning practice.  I believe that they are learning to spell out the word “Nopoló,” although, like many of us, they’re still having trouble with the accent over the final vowel:

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Ha Long Bay

We were in Vietnam early in February, so we went to Ha Long Bay.

It’s easy to talk about this geology in the abstract — limestone slowly lifted, eroded by tropical moisture, maybe etched at the waterline by living creatures — but it would be hard to prepare for the magnitude.  Not only are these islands tall and thin, but they seem to go on forever. We had paddled through this kind of seascape before, in the Rock Islands of Palau, but even they cannot match the profusion seen here. Though the jewels-strewn-by-defending-dragons theory of their origin is now largely discounted, well, they’re still pretty amazing anyway.

This would be the place to look, for people who had become sea creatures. There are plenty of islands but, by the very same token, there’s not much level land. People have created places for themselves by making floating platforms of their own instead.

Typical among purposes is aquaculture.  This seems to be done on a more intimate scale than the fish farming we have seen in Puget Sound.  Here’s a fish farm where we got to see some of the “livestock” up close.

We arrived aboard a junk sailed by Eco Friendly Vietnam. They’ll arrange to have you driven to Hai Phong, where you take the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island. They pick you up at the ferry dock and take you across town to the dock where their boat leaves for the islands.

The itinerary is flexible even after you’ve sailed.  We had thought of this as a kayak trip, but unseasonably cool weather made it more appealing just to stay aboard the junk most of the time. Excellent food offered at short intervals reinforced this habit.  We spent part of our middle day hiking, though, and  I did paddle at one spot, an island with two separate tunnel archways leading to an inner lagoon, astonishing anyplace else but fairly routine here in Ha Long Bay. We watched wild monkeys from the kayak, and a pretty little starling seemed interested in our passage.

One could imagine this buoyant lifestyle as an ages-old tradition, ready to be studied and explained, but our guide says that its origin is very different. The people afloat here are the children of urban dwellers, themselves former merchants and laborers and shopkeepers, who spent their formative years not going to school but instead hiding in caves to survive aerial bombardment, developing the subsistence strategies that we see today.  Here’s a view of a more densely populated area closer to the tourist center:


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Blake Island

If you look southwest from our window — along the line through Duwamish Head and then Alki Point — the next land you see is Blake Island.  That’s the piece of my shoreline exploration that I saved for last.


Blake Island, and some other things, from Lincoln Park in West Seattle

The island, at one time privately owned, is now a state marine park.  It’s reachable only by boat, but affords amenities for all kinds of travelers. Popular with tourists is a commercial cruise that includes a traditional meal and a cultural program with dancing and storytelling, featuring lore from several Native American peoples, most of them hailing from north of here however. The little marina also attracts sailboats and small powerboats, and there’s a fairly lavish campground there, with pay showers.  There are more campsites, with offshore moorage, along the western shore.  And on the northwest corner of the island there are three Cascadia Marine Trail campsites. I had yet to try packing the Ikkuma for a camping trip, and an overnight stay here sounded like a good test, in preparation for bolder expeditions later.

Blake Island is a not-unreasonable distance from West Seattle, even for solo paddlers; but it’s much closer to Manchester, or, better yet, Southworth, on the Kitsap Peninsula.  And besides, it’s actually easier to find overnight parking at those places; so I rode the ferry from Fauntleroy and launched from the little street-end just north of the Southworth ferry dock, leaving the car in the big commercial lot nearby.  I paid for two days, in case I got delayed.


For weeks I had been pondering tides and currents, wind and temperature. Ironically, by the time I tired of dithering and just set out, conditions were far from ideal.  My trip coincided pretty well with the new moon and the summer solstice, meaning big daytime tidal exchanges. Boaters are warned about a north wind against an ebb through Colvos Passage, and the breeze exceeded expectations.  There’s a current-prediction station south of the island, but I wasn’t sure how much of that current I’d see on each side. It could have been nearly two knots, during the hours that I might ordinarily travel.

So I got, for me, an unusually early start. It took only about half an hour, in fairly calm water, to reach the island’s nearest, southern point. Then as I was coming up the eastern side the waves got bigger — though they never exceeded a couple feet. I rounded the marina’s breakwater and landed on the beach to the north (there’s a little sandy area inside too if you need it).  A busy raccoon there seemed unconcerned at first but then bounded away as I bumbled about.  I paused to have a drink and call home.

Conditions improved as I paddled around the north shore toward the campground. One of the three campsites was occupied, so I took the one furthest away, closer to the point. My first acquaintance here was an excitable bird, which I took to be a killdeer. I thought at first that it was trying to get my attention to lead me away from its nest or something, but I gradually got the idea that maybe it wanted to be fed. It was trailing its wings, spreading its tail and generally looking expectant. The rules posted on the nearby kiosk clearly prohibited feeding; otherwise, we might have become very good friends.  I’m not sure that mating would have been out of the question, had I been a second killdeer.

A human eventually arrived also, a young fellow living in Austin but currently on a voyage of self-discovery.  (He had lived on the Kitsap Peninsula as a child, so this was something of a homecoming.)  I complimented him on his camp, which included a hammock and a couple of coolers for food and drink, stored beneath his picnic table.  It was not clear to me that he had arrived on the island under his own power, but there was no shortage of space so I didn’t even ask.

My new neighbor warned me about raccoons, saying that he had been having to chase them off. He didn’t mention the deer that I would see in camp as dusk fell.  The three of them, despite their greater size, made much less commotion than the other animals, and I could easily have overlooked them myself.

Besides some gulls, the only other creature of any size on display was a heron who would greet me from the shoreline as I arose on the second day, but who did not wait around to be photographed.

There was evidence of some other wildlife, though, involved in a little mystery.  For each campsite, the park provides a critter-proof safe, about the size, shape and color of a sidewalk trash can.  I used mine mostly as an armoire, since I’d brought my food and toiletries in my own bear vault, a sturdy round container that fits in my forward hatch.  As I was stowing my gear inside the door I noticed that there seemed to be a chunk of driftwood, about the diameter of a knackwurst, standing in one of the corners.  In each of the corners, in fact.  Opening the door again later I found, in place of one of the sticks, a lot of fresh sawdust.  I believe that the standard “bear saver” has a little square hole at each corner of the floor, probably for drainage or anchoring or something.  If the holes aren’t closed in some way, then tiny, clever, persistent animals can use them for access. After I realized this, I noticed a little pile of similar sticks nearby, ready to be fed into the square holes like firewood into a stove.

From the stern of the kayak I had withdrawn the tent ingredients, now cunningly repackaged into three long narrow components to fit around the skeg housing, and with a flick of the wrist and some matching up of tabs they became shelter.  Actual bedding travels in a conical bag in the prow (no metal is stowed forward of the cockpit, where it could interfere with the use of a compass).  I breathed life into my air mattress and shook out my sleeping bag,  hung some stuff out to dry, and began contemplating an afternoon of leisure.

The park provides plenty of trails for hiking.  I took the one that I knew led over to the longhouse. One reason that I had considered putting off my trip for a few days is that, during the summer season, dinner is served there in addition to lunch.   An ideal evening might have included their baked king salmon, at least as an alternative to my freeze-dried chicken. Also, I’ve not seen the entire floorshow. But I had chosen instead to avoid the crowds and the summer heat. I poked around a bit and took advantage of the fresh water provided there.


There’s lots of beach walking to do also, and there was eventually a nice sunset. I retired soon thereafter, resolving to get underway as early in the morning as possible. It was windy during the night and I thought I even heard rain, but I arose early and was on my way home before 6:30.  The current could have been as fast as a knot by then.  At one point I crossed a boundary that spun me a little, but for the most part the surface of the water was calm.  The crossing was even quicker than on the way over.

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Fort Ward

RestorationOn two of my earlier trips I had neglected the area between Rich Passage and Restoration Point.  This left a tiny sliver unexplored at the south end of Bainbridge Island — and a chance to visit the park at the site of historic Fort Ward.

For half a century, starting in 1903, the fort stood guard at the narrow pass leading to the Bremerton shipyards and other important installations. After spending another fifty years as a state park, it is now part of the Bainbridge Island park system, and a stop on the Cascadia Marine Trail.  There are 4300 feet of shoreline, a path that can be part of a loop for hikers and joggers, a boat ramp, and campsites.

I finally got there early in June, and set out on a short trip that was notable for its wildlife encounters.  First, a seal surfaced quite near me, possibly distracted by the teeming, unattainable aquaculture in giant pens nearby.


Then I paddled around a rocky little point with a ruined structure where perched a good-sized Bald Eagle.  A photo from the other, sunlit side shows it to be a juvenile, despite its bulk.  That’s Blake Island, by the way, between us and Mt. Rainier.

I saw an adult perched on another structure on my way out, and on the trip back there were two, probably the parents.  They posed patiently as I paddled by, but moments later I heard a lot of loud, high-pitched chirping behind me, and then watched them being chased away by a crow.  Our northwest crows are not particularly large, but they do possess considerable self-confidence.

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Fay Bainbridge Park

I had been up the coast of Bainbridge Island as far as Murden Cove, but that left a little bit of visible shoreline.  The solution seemed to be to paddle south from Fay Bainbridge Park, near the northern end of the island, although it would mean covering some extra territory; so on May 18 I moseyed up along Sunrise Drive toward Pt. Monroe.

SurfLog The park caters to all sorts of campers, so there are plenty of facilities, including three sites meant only for boaters, bikers or hikers — and even a volleyball court. The setting is splendid as well.  Though the sky was gray for much of my visit, I was able to see both Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier (knowing just where to look).

Also on display was the largest surf log I recall ever seeing.  One would want to avoid landing at the same time as this imposing bit of driftwood.

On my way down to Murden Cove I noticed what looked like a brand-new bench at a street end just north of Skiff Point, and I resolved to stop for a picture on my return trip.  But after I landed there I got to talking with a fellow and his dog, parked in a Subaru in the little parking lot, and forgot to get out the camera.  Later research showed that there are indeed now launch sites both there at Manitou Park Blvd., and south of the cove at Yaquina Place, according to helpful information from the Kitsap Water Trails Association. I could have saved a lot of paddling if I’d known this — but I’m not sorry that I chose Fay Bainbridge anyway.

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Eagle Harbor

Bainbridge Island accounts for a good bit of the shoreline visible from our window, by dint of its ten mile north-south length. It’s one of those islands you could drive to, in theory; but from Seattle that trip would mean going south to Tacoma, then north through Bremerton and all the way up to Poulsbo, then back south over the bridge at Agate Pass. The ferry, by contrast, takes you from downtown Seattle to Eagle Harbor in about half an hour.  Once there, you can drive a few blocks to the downtown Waterfront Park — or walk, so you don’t have to bring a car at all.

Bainbridge Island downtown Waterfront Park, from Eagle Harbor

The park has a lot of attractions for boaters, with launching and nearby parking for those who trailer or hand-carry. There’s not just a restroom but a shower room too, and sometimes an outside spray for rinsing off equipment and bathers.  A boat house next door with rowing shells means that the facilities are busy at some times, in the morning and at the end of the school day, and parking could be a block away.  But the boat launch itself is in a pretty setting, right across the street from a community center. In fact, a better picture would be the one from the top of the ramp, through the graceful arch of the trees, framing convenient picnic tables etc.

I first launched here in mid-October 2016, on a trip to Blakely Harbor. I was back early the following May to paddle to Murden Cove, halfway up the island.

Washington State Ferries at rest

Eagle Harbor is where the vessels of the Washington State Ferry System gather when they’re not in use. Here’s the current gallery — I’m sure I’ve been aboard all of these at one time or another. On this trip I encountered the ferry Tacoma four times.  Snowball and I had passage aboard her coming and going, for one thing.  Then, by the time I got ready and was outbound on my way north, I saw her rounding Bill Point, the south end of the harbor, just after I started across the channel. I made it across with time to spare, but I did feel a bit rushed.  On my way back from Murden cove I waited for her just outside Wing Point instead.  A clear day like that one gives the harbor a nice mountain backdrop.



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Port Blakely

Blakely Harbor is a pretty quiet place today, but in the 1800s this was the site of the world’s most productive sawmill. The original car ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island had its terminal here. Now there’s a park instead, its uplands unmanicured but well-designed.  I launched here yesterday for a trip around Restoration Point, seen below in the distance, toward Fort Ward.


There are two plausible put-in spots, and I started from the one further back in the bay, which allowed the use of wheels to get the kayak from the road nearly as far as the beach. (I donned drysuit and boots to carry the boat across a swampy little pool, and loaded it on gravel beside deeper water.)

Not only have most signs of industry faded, but some lavish residences have appeared. The dock in the picture above is just the first of several along the north shore, one of them with a boat house big enough to shelter a matching one-and-a-half-story houseboat inside.

The south shore of the bay is in some ways even grander.  I knew from the map that it was bordered by Country Club Road, so I looked for a building to match. This one seemed like a good candidate, but the small windows and adjacent rail fences suggest that it may be just the stables. Later research showed that this area is in fact called The Country Club at Seattle, a nine-hole golf course wrapping around the point and shared by the owners of the eighteen houses built there, and mostly handed down within families, since the nineteenth century.


Around the point, I had a good view of Manchester but soon tired of the southerly breeze and decided to save this part of the trip for another day, starting next time at Fort Ward.  On my way back progress was easier, but when I arrived at the park I found my earlier launch site thronged by youngsters, so I landed at the official boat launch, the one shown in the first picture. So far so good; but that meant moving the boat artisanally up the dozen or so fairly steep steps to the road. On such a nice, leisurely November afternoon, it seemed nearly a pleasure.

This was not my first trip to Port Blakely. I had paddled here from Eagle Harbor about a month before and explored its inner lagoon, but had trouble then understanding how road access might work. A map like the one posted on the kiosk near the beach seems no longer available on the web. On the other hand, there is a detailed history of the area, with plenty of old photographs.

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