[From Us] Bioluminescent Kayaking
It all started with a Google search at the beginning stages of planning this trip. As we began planning out things to do in northern California, a result popped up for Bioluminescent Kayaking. Bioluminescence is a light given off by dinoflagellates in a response to being disturbed. This type of microorganism uses this bright illumination as a defense mechanism. When shrimp, or similar organisms, move in to try and eat them, the dinoflagellates emits a bright colorful light to scare away the predator. For humans, the emission of this light makes for the most amazing experience of your entire life.
On the morning of this excursion, we received an email from Point Reyes Outdoors, stating that our trip my need to be cancelled due to the forecast. Not thinking anything of it, we pushed forward north up Highway 1, gasping at the coastal views along the way. Point Reyes is a ranching town straight out of a John Wayne movie, except there are oyster farms, oyster bars, and oyster restaurants all over. If it wasn't for a lucky Google search, we would have never thought twice of stopping in this little town. Our camp site for the night was nestled in the middle of a red wood forrest and about 45 minutes from where we were to meet for the kayaking. Each camp site was setup stratgetically between the bases of 15 to 20 foot diameter trees that stood over 100 ft tall. Some of the biggest trees we have ever seen. The camp ground had a combination of smells; pine, cedar, and juniper all mixed together in a medley that should be captured in a Yankee Candle so we could come back to this aroma anytime. The giant trees created a breath taking canopy way above, that let the perfect amount of sunshine through so you didn't need your sunglasses. After relaxing at our new campsite, we found out that our excursion was still on, so we loaded up the van, stopped at the one gas station in town and made our way to where we needed to meet for kayaking.
We pulled into the Miller Park boat launch on Tomales Bay. Naturally we are 15 minutes early to get a lay of the land and understand where we needed to be, how to pay for parking, and all the other pre-planning we usually do. We also used this extra time to look out into the bay as the sun started to fall behind the mountains.
The tour started off with handing out gear. The gear consisted of pfds, paddles, spray skirts, and splash jackets. Then the group was given basic instructions on safety, paddling technique, and how to wear our gear properly.
After our brief instructions, we hopped into our kayaks, and entered the bay as a unified "pod" consisting of 8 kayaks, 4 of which knew what they were doing, and the other 4 seemed to go random directions, crossing paths, and bumping anything they could get near. The kayaks were tandem ocean kayaks, which we have both done before, but test any type of relationship. The back is in charge of steering, even though the person in front is in the way of where you are supposed to look. The person in the front is in charge of starting the cadence as well as telling the person in the back what is coming up ahead. A very interesting level of communication, since the front person talks into the wind and the back person continues to make them repeat themselves.
As the sunlight began to fade, we followed the sound of our guides’ voices, as well as the blinking red lights of the kayak in front of you. I would be interested in seeing the actual path taken, our plan was to go linear, but with the sporadic movements of the 4 inexperienced kayaks, we must have zigzagged all over the bay. We took our first break at Hog Island, which was in the middle of the bay. Here we sat listening to the sounds of the cormorants. This sound was very similar to the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. A very throaty rumble, like that of a branch creaking in the wind. That paired with the creepy sillouettes of the birds made our hair stand up on end.
During this expedition, we learned many interesting facts on our way to the White Gulch. The most interesting fact we learned, which Tia the Geologist nerded out over, was the fact the the San Andreas fault ran directly down the center of the bay we were kayaking across. The North American tectonic plate was to our east, while the Pacific tectonic plate was to our west. The guides continued talking about the history of the bay as we paddled on, and as our paddles continued to hit the water, the most amazing sight began to happen. At this point, we are in complete darkness with only the faint glow of the red beacons from each boat, and the shimmering stars from up above. At this moment, each time our paddles hit the water, a sparkle like glow in the dark glitter began to form within the wash we were creating. We were both mezmorized by this, and we did not expect it to get any brighter, but then it did. The further we went, the more the water began to glow. Apparently every set of eyes sees it a little differently. I saw the most amazing blues and whites and Tia saw shades of neon green glowing throughout each paddle stroke and our kayak’s wake. You could dip your hand in the water and as the water passed through your fingers, it began to shimmer and shine like nothing you have ever seen. The only way we can describe this is like the scene in Avatar when the entire forest was glowing. It was as though we were on a different planet, this was something we were never expecting to see in this lifetime, how could it get any better. Then it did. A school of fish swam underneath our boats, each fish having it's own trail of diamonds following it in every direction. This was something that the guides didn't even expect. Every boat was surrounded by the glimmering torpedoes as they passed underneath. How could we ever leave this! It didn't matter how bad our arms hurt from paddling, or how sore our backs were, 3 hours would never be enough of this spectacular light show happening before our eyes.
As our trip came to an end, we began the mile paddle back to the boat launch. The bioluminescence followed our every stroke on the way back, in what I thought was a plea for us not to leave. This trip was the most amazing thing I have ever seen and I can't believe there are people in this world that won't experience it. Point Reyes Outdoors did an amazing job of guiding us on this adventure and it is hard to believe there isn't a two year waiting period to witness this show.