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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Ammi Midstokke: Getting out of your box and into a boat

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

When you live in the Great Northwest, just going into your garden is a nature experience. For some reason, that seems to satisfy many of the masses and it would seem that only a small percentage of the population actually explore further.

Why would we go to Glacier when we have mountains and trees and rocks right here?

It isn’t just the inherent beauty of our natural surroundings that makes this area (and much of the planet) rather a gem, but the pockets of breathtaking beauty that are condensed in a relatively small area. Which is why I finally drug myself over to the famous, often praised oasis of the San Juan Islands this weekend.

When I think of island getaways, I associate them with umbrella drinks and poor buffet decisions. What I got was a little different.

Just the journey to get there was an adventure, because any time you get on a ferry, that’s kind of an adventure. Unloading kayaks and stuffing gear into them in the warm autumn sunshine, wind whipping at our hair, cheerful chatter about all things paddle related. Mostly, it was people correcting my upside down paddle, and various other rookie mistakes a novice kayaker makes.

After a 5-minute introduction to my vessel, especially where my emergency whistle was located, I was fully prepared for an open water sea kayaking expedition.

I had been in a kayak before but not like this: We were going on a multiday expedition to islands and there was no electricity and we would be cooking over open flame. With any luck, my phone battery would die. (I hear it has an off button, but I somehow never have the courage to actually use it.)

Some kind of genetic programming was triggered in me as our pod of paddlers made its way across the ocean and toward the distant shore. The Viking princess in my blood daydreamed about raiding campers and stealing all their S’mores. All I needed was someone beating some drums and the voyager in me would blossom.

This was, eons ago, how we discovered neighbors and nations, new lands. While it was also how we bullied our way around the planet, initially the intention was of exploration. What lies beyond? With GPS, Google Maps and Facebook, it seems there is little mystery left, few explorations to be made. But don’t be fooled.

What makes a place unique, like interpreting art or music, is the audience. If a seascape or island cliffs have not been smelled and heard and seen with your own eyes, it has not yet been discovered by you. When we explore these places new to us, we inevitably discover new things about ourselves, new possibilities about our capabilities.

This is why people whose sanity we question will try again and again to cross an ocean on paddleboards and kayaks, circle the world in hot air balloons, or float the dangerous Cape of Good Hope (which requires a lot more than good hope to successfully navigate).

It is because they have left their comfort zone and seen a glimpse of what might be, a glimpse of the unknown self they may discover. Never have I read a National Geographic expose where the adventurer said, “Yeah, it looked really cool in satellite pictures, so I wanted to see it for myself.”

We spent four days on Sucia Island. We camped, we explored trails, we did yoga in the sunset, laughing and toppling down grassy fields. We tossed rocks and smelled dirt and let the wind batter our faces until they were pink with glee and breeze. I saw and heard things I had never experienced.

I also discovered entire new landscapes of my own inner world, places I would only go to if I were crossing an ocean for an hour in wind-swept seas with salt water splashing around me. I, too, got a glimpse of my own potential as I clambered around cliff edges in the morning sun or sat in complete silence but for sound of the waves rolling gravel on the shoreline.

Who knows what I’ll learn about myself when I make it over to Glacier.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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