It’s a beautiful sunny morning as I take the drive out Meridian Road in Lacey. I’m about to embark on my first ever kayak adventure and I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not sure what to expect. As I pull up to the boat launch next to the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, I’m blown away by the beauty stretching out before me. Although I’m only ten minutes from the hustle and bustle of town, it feels a million miles away. Blue water stretches as far as the eye can see, set against a backdrop of towering trees.
I’m greeted with a warm welcome from Sam Kaviar, my guide and owner of Kayak Nisqually, Puget Sound Adventure Tours. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Sam now lives the life he thinks he was probably destined for all along. Even as a small child, he felt most at home out in nature and never wanted to return home from family hiking trips. “In some ways, I’m getting to be who I always wanted to be as a little kid growing up in the city.”
Sam explains he first felt his love of being on the water from river trips with his dad back in Kentucky. Although they used a canoe, not a kayak, it planted the seed for future things to come. While studying biology at The Evergreen State College, Sam had the opportunity to try out kayaking and he was hooked. “Being in a kayak is a very intimate way of being in the water. You’re right down in the element. You can reach down and touch it. You get to be a part of it.”
There couldn’t be a truer statement, I soon realize, as I wade into the water and we push off. Of course, this is after Sam goes over all the safety procedures, shows me how to put on a spray skirt to stay dry and explains what we will be doing. “It’s kind of like going for a walk versus driving a car. You’re going to notice things when you go for a walk that you might just pass by if you were on the freeway,” he says of a kayaking adventure. Since I’ve never paddled before, I’m relieved to see we will be going out together in a two-person or tandem kayak. This way I can relax a little more and really take in the experience. Already, I can tell I am in good hands and sit back for the ride.
It’s obvious this is not Sam’s first rodeo as he paddles us out. I do my best to contribute and he is quick to share a few tips to make it a little easier for me. Before long, I feel like I’m getting the hang of this kayak thing. It’s really a lot easier than one might think.
Sam explains first, we are going to sideline up to the Nisqually Delta where a large group of seals are resting in the sun with their young offspring. “There’s ways you can teach people to observe wildlife that’s gentler on them,” he says and advises not to point when I notice something, but stay very calm and quiet so we don’t startle the seals into the water. “It’s all about just being here and being in the moment. It’s an exercise in patience. There’s no rushing nature and every day is different.”
I must admit this is my favorite part and what I’ve been waiting for. Being up close to wildlife in their natural habitat is unlike any other experience you can have. And it’s great to be with someone who has plenty of knowledge to share. Sam explains it’s mating season for the seals and to watch for large splashing displays from the males looking to attract females. “Kayaking is a way of interacting with the environment and nature that doesn’t take anything away from it, but still allows people to enjoy it. I try to tailor my tours to really maximize that enjoyment. It’s really about seeing the wildlife and learning the natural history of this area.”
As we continue to where the Nisqually River meets the Puget Sound, we get the privilege of seeing a Blue Heron diving for a fish up close. Sam is quick to point out the many other different species of birds along our trip, many I’ve never even heard of growing up in the area. And the best part is I can tell how much Sam enjoys sharing his knowledge with me.
After traveling the world, from Panama to Norway, and even working as a guide in the San Juan’s, Sam decided Olympia is where he wants to be. “I love it. I wake up and I’m so excited. It makes my day when people book a new tour. When I look back and reflect on when I’ve been happiest in my life, it’s always been when I was a kayak guide. I love nature and I love people so this allows me to put those two things together.”
Time seems to fly by and it’s soon time to head in so we close out the day by paddling through deeper water, surrounded by a family of seals bobbing in the waves. As we pull the kayak onto shore, I’m already thinking of when I will be back and who else needs to experience this magical adventure. I know, personally, I’m leaving with a new appreciation for the Puget Sound and the place I call home.
Kayak Nisqually, Puget Sound Adventures offers half-day, full-day and sunset bioluminescent tours. In addition, Sam leads two and three-day overnight camping trips to nearby islands including gourmet meals and all your kayaking gear.
“It’s something that this area really needs and I’ve been able to help so many other groups and people understand why and how where they live is so special,” Sam says with his ever-present smile.
Visit Kayak Nisqually, Puget Sound Adventures for more information and to book your own tour.