Summer is ending. So last Friday, on impulse, we put our sea kayaks on the car and drove from Seattle to Banks Lake in eastern Washington. It’s an artificial lake that’s part of the irrigation system fed by Grand Coulee Dam. The lake fills a coulee – a desert canyon filled with rock formations and sheer basalt cliffs. The addition of water pumped up by the dam transformed the canyon into a fjord, the rocks into islets and the dunes into beaches. This was our third trip to Banks Lake. It’s a marvelous place to kayak, tho it’s subject to high winds.
We were out of practice in the arcane art of attaching boats to a car. The kayaks, racks, straps and cable locks were just as much trouble as were the bicycles on our Port Townsend trip; but we remained in good cheer. The first step was to attach two bars across the roof of the car. They’re held in place by clamps on the top edges of its doorframes. Getting them in the right position, with the padded cradles attached to them pointing straight up, was a challenge. We were working from Yakima’s instruction book that covers every car ever made but not in much detail.
Next we put the boats sideways on the cradles and strapped them in. What to do with the end of the strap so it won’t slap around while we’re driving is a minor issue; Pat and I each think we’ve arrived at the optimum solution. My method is to wrap it around the base of the rack pillar, tuck the end back into the roll and twist the whole roll until it’s tight. She prefers to weave it around the strap where it’s pressed against the deck of the boat. Both good! The bows of the boats have a different kind of strap that ends in a hook. Our Toyota Corolla, like many imported cars, has anchor rings built into its frame to hold it to the deck of a ship. So these straps run down from the bows and over the front bumper to the anchor rings. We run each strap to the opposite side of the front to resist any sideways force on the bow.
Finally, we put cable locks on the boats. Each lock has two loops, designed to pull over the kayak’s pointy bow and stern. We ran the cables under the racks and over the tops of the boats so the locks wouldn’t bonk on the roof of the car. The racks’ clamps also have locks; but I’d lost one key and I couldn’t find the other one. Moving right along!
We made a late start, and got caught in rush-hour traffic. East of Bellevue, it thinned out. We followed I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, emerged from the eastern Cascade foothills into desert, and crossed the Columbia River on the Vantage Bridge. East of George, we left the freeway and headed north on back roads as darkness fell. Our first attempt at dinner was at a Mexican restaurant in Ephrata, a little desert town. Two big parties had assembled long tables, and were singing and talking excitedly. We sat in the entryway for a while, but couldn’t get attention, tho we saw empty tables. So we moved on to Mommy Yum-Yum’s, an unfortunately-named Vietnamese restaurant. It was nearly empty, but we did get fed. We arrived at the modest Sky Deck Motel in Electric City on Bank Lake’s north shore just before its office closed at 10 PM.
Breakfast next morning was at Flo’s Cafe, a community fixture. Two employees were absent, we learned; so the owner’s neighbor had come in to help. The restaurant was once a gas station and garage; its goofy decor includes license plates collected from that era. Pat had a massive omelet; I had French toast. At one o’clock we finally got our boats in the water, at Steamboat Rock State Park, a peninsula near the north end of the lake.
So did a lot of other people. Speedboats, jet-skis, water skiers, fishing boats, paddleboards, rowboats, kayaks and rubber rafts abounded. One speedboat roared out from the shore ahead of us, made a couple of show-off loops and returned to shore. As we progressed further north into the rocks, the other craft thinned out, tho a group of power-boaters that had hooked their craft together to have a party was anchored in one of the side-canyons. We also met a large group of kayakers and paddle-boarders, some of whom were diving into the water from a tall rock.
This is only the second time we’ve used our new kayaks. They are smaller and narrower than our old ones. They’re more responsive and quite nice to drive thru the water. We landed at a campground where a man was throwing a bright green ball for his 15-year-old Australian Cattle Dog. He tossed it in the middle of the inlet; the dog just stared at it and hung her head. I paddled over and tossed it closer to her. She plodded out to retrieve it without much interest, and brought it to her owner. “She loves this game!” He assured us. “She’s just tired.” He kept on throwing it, and his old dog kept on trudging into the water to get it.
As we paddled back south toward the boat launch, a strong wind rose in our faces. The lake is 40 miles long; by the time the waves reached us they were pointy-topped rollers, and the wind was blowing foam off their tops. I wanted to put on my skirt (it’s like a nylon bib overall, but instead of legs the bottom is a skirt whose rim stretches around the edge of the cockpit). But we would have had to land to do it, and the only beach on our side of the crossing was parallel to the waves, a treacherous course. It seemed safer to just cross the lake and keep our bows into the waves. The kayaks sliced into them, flinging water to each side in a satisfying manner; it only slopped into my lap occasionally. Paddling upwind was the real problem. I’d feathered my paddle, putting a half-twist in it so the blade that was in the air wouldn’t catch the wind. But I couldn’t feather my body. Pat hadn’t feathered her paddle; but by the end of the day she was paddling ahead of me.
We landed on a rocky beach on the park peninsula to rest and eat a snack. A man in a noisy speedboat made a few passes in front of us, looking to see if we were watching him. We continued around to the boat landing. Now we were in the lee of the peninsula, so waves were no problem; but we were still paddling against the wind.
After we got the boats on the car and started for home, the wind continued to strengthen. The valley was filling with haze, and I could see a vague cloud filling the southern sky. A sudden gust shoved the front rack to one side. We pulled off to check it. The right clamp had released; scary! We tightened the rack and the straps by headlamp-light while wind howled in our ears, and anxiously continued. We were listening to 2 AM At the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino. The book helped keep us from imagining the boats hitting the pavement, or a gust catching them like a sail to shove the car into the ditch.
We had dinner at the Last Stand Diner And Saloon in Grand Coulee, at the south end of the lake. Country Western music was playing; the décor was pictures of rodeos and metal sculptures made out of horseshoes. Most of the food was breaded and fried; but I had a nice oriental salad with grilled chicken.
We checked the straps and racks, and headed on into the night. A sign at the Vantage Bridge warned of high winds. Pat had trouble keeping the car on the road. We checked the boats again at a Texaco gas station on the other side. The straps had stretched from the strain and the kayaks were loose. The people working in the station advised us to stop for the night. But the forecast for Sunday was stronger wind, and we needed to be in Seattle. Pat drove slowly to minimize the stress, meekly following the trucks we usually pass.
When we got into the mountains the wind subsided. We made it home at midnight, put the boats in the garage and fell into bed. We woke up stiff and sore the next morning. So we must have had an adventure! We’re hoping to rent a house or cabin on Banks Lake for a week next year. And our next car is going to have a permanently attached roof rack.