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Mercer Island Circumnavigation

Work has been a bit hectic but I have been taking a few opportunities to paddle recently. This last weekend we went for a paddle around Mercer Island. I’ve always wanted to go around Mercer but for some reason we just never got around to it.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Mercer Island is where all the rich folks live, it is an island in the middle of Lake Washington, which is the lake you cross when going from Seattle to Bellevue. It is about 11 nautical miles around the island.

We put in at Enatai in Bellevue under I90. The parking there is free, rather than having to pay to launch from the beach immediately across the way on Mercer Island – they must be trying to keep us cheapies out.

The sun was out when we put in around noon but we knew there would be strong winds, they were predicted for 12 mph from the north. To get the winds out of the way early I decided we should go counter-clockwise around the island.

Putting in we likely made an unfortunate mistake first thing. We immediately paddled over to the island side and boy were the winds blowing! We probably would have been protected staying on the Bellevue side but we paddled up to Luther Burbank Park on the northeast side of the island. It was extremely slow going with the wind and it took us nearly an hour to get there!

Richard hasn’t paddled enough this summer and his arm was bothering him so he decided he would turn back after a taking a break. He didn’t want to spoil my fun so he encouraged me to continue on since I was feeling good and wasn’t ready to turn back.

I pushed through the winds feeling strong and managed to round the north end of the island no problem. The winds started pushing me south and it was an enjoyable ride.

A lot of the way around the island I remembered the one other time we tried to paddle around Mercer Island. It was essentially when we had first gotten our kayaks 5+ years ago and we decided it would be a nice trip to do close to home. Unfortunately, we were still pretty green and it was windy that time too. We didn’t even get 1/5 of the way around before we decided that the area we were in was probably the calmest and that we should turn around. The chop was exhausting and made us nervous about going over.

Well, I can definitely say I’ve come a long ways since we first started paddling. Instead of fearing the wind and feeling tipsy, I enjoyed the chop and realized how I really felt extremely stable; I didn’t have any concerns about going over even though it was likely choppier than that first time.

Going south along the west side of the island I really enjoyed the wind. At one point I stopped to snack while slowly getting pushed along. Other times I worked on surfing the waves. I nearly had the lake to myself other than 2-3 power boats I saw and an Argosy cruise boat I saw once. With it so empty I decided to go straight down the middle and surf as much as possible where the wind waves were bigger. I had a couple decent rides and moved along quickly.

I stopped at a park on the west side for a quick food and bathroom break where I came across someone else coming the other way. He looked like he was really struggling. He said he was going the other way around the island and had already been at it for several hours – he wasn’t quite half way yet and still had a lot of north winds to push through.

Continuing on, I finally decided to pull out the WindPaddle sail. It is a little kite thing that you can attach to your kayak to catch wind and sail along a bit. I was hesitant to use it in the really high winds but as I approached the south end of the island it slowed down a little and I felt more comfortable using it. It was a nice break from having to paddle the whole way around and I moved along quickly at parts. I probably didn’t quite attach it right but it seemed to work, though it would dive into the water when the wind shifted.

Finally, I got to the last leg – having to travel back north into the winds again to get to the starting point. It didn’t seem too bad at first, but as I hit a narrow part the winds were definitely a force. I decided to cross back over to the Bellevue side thinking that it might be a bit more protected but that definitely wasn’t the case. I’m actually curious if it was more exposed on that side but I have no way of knowing for sure.

I think I bonked finally, I probably should of stopped and eaten a little more, but I pushed through. I was extremely determined and I could see the bridge we started under. However, it was slow going. At one point, the winds were blowing so hard I was barely moving! I wondered about residents in the nearby homes wondering what I was doing out there, hopefully they didn’t hear me groaning on occasion. I doubt it though, the winds were blowing so hard I could barely hear the freeway immediately on the other side of the houses. I’m certain that where the channel narrowed it must have been far stronger than 12 mph winds.

Exhausted by the end, I finally pulled into the starting point where Richard was waiting for me. He was glad he didn’t do the whole thing. I’m glad I did it. I was whining about the last bit, but overall it was an enjoyable paddle. Had I eaten a bit more the last leg might not have felt so torturous, but I was my typical determined self and I can now say I’ve paddled around the island. Next time I’ll have to do it when it’s less windy. I imagine without winds and the various breaks it would typically take less than the 5 hours it took me!