Channel Islands National Park | 9/59


Growing up in the Bay Area in California I have always had a love affair with the ocean. When I was 19 I was lucky enough to transfer schools and attend university in Hawaii. It was a dream come true and I’ve never stopped missing my home in paradise since I left it. After we left the desert, and started heading for the coast, my anticipation for the ocean was intense. We couldn’t get there fast enough! As soon as I saw the water, my soul was ignited and all the familiarity of “the ocean way of life” came rushing back to me. I felt like I was coming home; I could breathe easy again (mostly because I wasn’t afraid of tarantulas and snakes and everything evil trying to kill me every step I took.) I really did love the desert, don’t get me wrong, but it was starting to make me feel shriveled and crunchy. I didn’t realize how much I had missed this air. I sound dramatic (Cees would definitely say I’m being dramatic haha) but I can’t deny it; I need this!

Cees and Gorby (aka Vladimir Kitten, but half of the time we call him Gorby, short for Gorbachev) unloading the gear for the island adventures!


We left from the Ventura harbor for just a day trip to Anacapa Island.


100-million fourth graders also had the same idea as us. It was pretty hilarious watching them. At first I thought I was going to be sea sick, not from the boat, but from the kids’ constant movement and inability to sit still for a millisecond. But, once I got my sea legs under me, I was fine and able to just watch and enjoy their wonderment.


This kid in the blue sweatshirt standing up, looking particularly impish did the funniest thing — within 30 seconds of being on the boat (we had not even launched yet) he went over to the railing and pretended to be totally sea sick, holding his belly all dramatically. We couldn’t stop laughing at this. He was hamming it up big time for the girls. Man, kids are so funny.


Cees loves field trips. Channeling his inner 4th grader.




Every time the captain stopped the boat to show us the wildlife, I thought at least 20 kids were going to pitch themselves overboard from sheer excitement. I have to admit, it was pretty magical. I love dolphins! I decided they are my spirit animal. Facebook reminded me that on this day exactly 5 years ago I swam with wild dolphins in Hawaii!


You know there are going to be dolphins when there are a bunch of birds in the middle of the ocean like this. Apparently, the dolphins scare the fish up to the surface and the birds have a veritable schmorgasporg.


Here they come!


I loved how they would play and surf in the wake of our boat.


When we docked and got off the boat, one of the guides told us that everywhere on the island is cliffed out and we would have to lower our kayaks into the water on this pulley system off of the dock. It was at least 20 feet high, which was a little daunting.


We love our Oru kayaks. They have worked perfectly for us on our trip with our limited space. Luckily we are able to store both of them in one of our Yakima skyboxes, which is awesome. We’ve gotten pretty good at setting them up and it only takes us about 7-10 minutes normally to get them all ready to launch! They are so light and manageable when they are folded up in their handy backpacks, which is the best part because you can easily pack them onto more remote islands or mountain lakes. Even though they’re folding kayaks, they’re very water tight (we’ve never had a leak) and very durable (they are rated up to 25,000 folds and have no problem rolling over the occasional sharp rock or rough beach. These things have expanded our playground and we are so stoked about it.



I tried my skirt on for the first time so that I would be pretty much water tight from my waist down in the kayak once I was all buttoned in.


Yeah, we didn’t really know what we were doing and pretty much just “bombs awayed” the kayaks off the docks and into the waves.


I have no pictures documenting what happened in between these two photos, but let’s just say there was a lot of panicked screaming and tears (on Cees’ part…just kidding, it was all me.) It doesn’t look like it, but the waves were pretty heavy right under the dock. I was trying to fasten my skirt all around me with one hand while holding onto my escaping paddle and the dock ladder with the other hand, all while waves were slamming me into the dock and sharp rocks. I had to go first and cling onto the ladder because Cees needed me to secure his kayak until he could climb down. It was chaotic and took about 30 minutes to launch. I was so glad once we were finally settled into our kayaks and paddling off to the caves.


Cees has an extreme fear of encountering whales in the open water. I think he’s more afraid of whales than sharks even! I would take a little whale watching on the kayaks any day! We didn’t see any whales yet, but Cees did look super rad out there on the open ocean!




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The sea caves were so cool and mysterious to us. To be honest, we were a little scared to go in them because it was SO dark in there. We had to be careful and only pick caves that had a good clearance so we wouldn’t smack our heads or faces.


You can’t really read it, but this little sign said “Anacapa Island, Channel Islands Nation Park.” We thought it was so cool to have a sign picture in the water!

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Once we got back on the land, a surprise straight off Animal Planet awaited us.  The seagulls on the island were all hatching their babies!  It was incredible.  There were approximately infinity seagulls all guarding their nests.  The trail wound all through this Bird Brain Island – it was a squawking mess.


It was so interesting to see the babies hatching right before our eyes – but we didn’t dare stay in one spot too long, in fear of getting swooped by a mama bird!  When they felt really threatened they would dive bomb us!  We were literally running with our heads covered at some points because one swoop would set off a chain reaction of neighbor swoops!  It was hard to avoid them all because some of the nests were RIGHT on the trail.


I’m not sure what this building was, but I want it to be my house.





There really is only one main trail on Anacapa Island.  It winds you through the birds and spits you out at Inspiration Point.  It was pretty foggy, so we couldn’t see too far out at the lookout.  The real highlight for us on the island were the birds. However, I’m grateful we took a day trip and didn’t stay the night in one of those campsites because the birds had totally overtaken every inch of the island.


We saw whales! Luckily for Cees, this time we were safe on the big boat headed back to Ventura harbor.


This humpback whale waved goodbye to us.


Right after the whales, we saw more dolphins than I’ve ever seen in my whole life. We must have driven through a pod or multiple pods of hundreds of these Common dolphins. It was so cute to watch them surf, dive, swirl, and play in the wake of our boat. Dolphins just seem happy to me. I love them!


The kitty missed us while we were gone for the day and was pumped to see us. He wasn’t too keen on the whole beach idea though. He had a love-hate relationship with the waves. Half of the time he was out of his mind scared and half of the time he wanted to attack them.


Ah! Bail out! Man, that water looked so cold. Being by the ocean makes me want to move back to Hawaii so badly. But, no wetsuits required!



The next day, we headed out again, but this time to Santa Cruz island, one of the biggest of the Channel Islands.


My pack mule Cees. Actually, these rocks were really tricky to maneuver with all of our bags, so I just gave them all to Cees.  And somebody had to document, so I volunteered for that job.

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One of the best parts of this island are the miniature foxes running around all over the place! They were so tiny and fluffy and cute and I wanted to hug them all. They looked like little kitties haha.


There were bear boxes at every campsite to keep your food safe from foxes and birds. Unfortunately, the earwigs could not be stopped–you know, those little pincer bugs.


We woke up to find that they had crawled into every crevice of our back packs and pigged out on… oh no…The Good and Plentys.



Tragically, this guy gorged himself to death. In his rage, Cees squished one for ruining his treats. It was pretty gross. The earwigs were stuffed with pink slime from their nighttime feast.


Sometimes when we go hard all day every day we get pooped out. I guess I fell asleep like this for 2 hours before we mustered up the energy to get out and paddle and explore the caves more.


This sea cave was SO COOL! We went in one side and popped out another side through crystal turquoise blue water illuminated by the sun. We went through twice because we loved it so much. It was so fun.


Seal friends! You can tell they aren’t sea lions because they flop around, while sea lions walk like dogs.


They were cute enough, but we were legitimately afraid of these guys. They flopped off the rock and swam straight for us! Ahhh!



There were countless sea caves dotting the coast. We explored as many as we could, but there were so many. I guess that means we have to come back! That’s fine with me!


When we got back to camp we needed a little break so we had the ultimate hang out setup haha. Cees was in love with these trees, except for the fact that earwigs loved them too.


Sometimes I slackline too, but mostly I hammock.


When we were hanging out this little stinker came in, popped a squat in our campsite and then took off haha, Seriously, the foxes on this island are the equivalent of squirrels in your average city park. Totally shameless with a complete disregard for humans.



After naps we had energy to hike the Cavern Point Loop. It was a nice, pretty easy and short hike ending in overlooks of the ocean. I was loving it!





Silly times on top of Carven Point. Cees loves taking photos with me. Not.


Looks like Cees might be taking a potty break, but I assure you he was just trying to look like a boss on the edge of the cliff.


We took so long enjoying the views that our headlamps had to lead the way home back to camp.


Good morning Channel Islands! This was actually our first time pitching a tent on our trip, since normally we play hard all day and just come back to the RV, work on blog stuff and crash in our bed. It’s hard to resist a foam top mattress and comfy Rumpl comforter, even for adventurers.


We decided to paddle out to Potato Bay, which from the visitor center shore is a 2-mile paddle on the other side of the island. On the ocean, in the waves, that is a pretty long paddle. About an hour and half into the journey the head wind was gnarly and we were getting really tired. We weren’t going to give up, because we never do, but I thought about it a few times. It felt like we were paddling in place as the waves and wind had their way with us. We pushed through it for about 15 more minutes and as we came around the horn, we laid eyes on Potato Bay, the only sandy stretch of beach for miles. It was another cool example to me of how you just can’t give up. Imagine, if we turned back when we were 100 yards away from our reward. We couldn’t see the end, but we had hope that it was within reach. It reminded me of when we joked about stopping 26.1 miles into our marathon last year. They should make car stickers for that— 26.1.


I stupidly forgot to take any pictures of Potato Bay, but we ate lunch there, relaxed for a little bit, then paddled home with the glorious tail wind. On our way back we saw a pair of kayakers approaching and someone exuberantly saying, “Hey! Cees! What’s up man?!” For a few seconds, we were both thinking, “How does this random guy know us?” We got a little bit closer and realized it was one of Cees’ geology friends from college! It was blowing our minds that we ran into them. Eric and Michelle were nice enough to let us stay with them at their campsite that night, so we immediately switched our boat ticket from that afternoon to the next morning! It’s so fun seeing familiar faces and getting to socialize with human friends sometimes. No offense kitty.


We headed out to hike a combination loop of Scorpion Canyon and Smuggler’s Cove. It was about 7 miles round trip, but so worth it.





These photos don’t do it justice but these waves were actually pretty massive and the sound they made as they hit sand was crushing. I love a good wave pounding, but they were too big for us.


Cees got hungry and desperate. Just kidding. These poor crabs are dying like crazy on the California beaches though. I don’t know what’s going on but in Newport last week we saw thousands of dead crabs washed up all along the beach too.




This was one of the most serene, peaceful, magical hikes of my entire life. We were the only ones on the trail as the sun was setting and the fields lit up like gold, the birds were even signing to us for crying out loud! The flowers were dancing in the warm, salty breeze, and you could look out all around you and see the hazy, blue ocean for miles. It was so quiet and time just seemed to stop existing. We were lost in our own wonderland. It’s in moments like these that we have to pinch ourselves, because we can’t believe that this is our real life! This was so unreal. Everything smelled good, everything looked good, everything felt so good about this place.




The next morning we did some “snorking” as we like to call it. When I say “we” I mean, Cees, and when I say “went snorking” I mean  he was in the water for about 2 minutes and saw 2 fish and was done. It was waaaaaay too freezing without wetsuits. I knew this already, and sat safe and warm on shore. Ha noob.



Luckily, he had enough time to dry off before the boat ride back since we were on the same boat with all the millions of 4th graders again. We were supposed to leave at 10:30am and didn’t end up even getting on the boat until 12pm because of the chaos. We’ve been watching these kids for the past two days and one time as they were setting up their enormous 8-man tents, one of the boys yelled at us with his hand in the air, “our school is awesome!!!!!” It seriously is. We found out later that the kids did their own fundraising to save money for this island trip. How cool is that? The parents and teachers were so great and generous with their time and efforts in order to pull off such a feat for all of these kids. I realize that not all schools have the budget to fund these types of field trips, but I just wish things were different. I wish that education was more focused on hands-on learning, especially in the outdoors. Instead we seem to be stuck in test-dominant world of education. I wish that it was easier for kids to get outside, play and explore, all the while learning real life skills. I wish that the distractions of technology didn’t suck the curiosity and creativity out of so many children. Sometimes I wish iPads weren’t the first go-to for parents. But, I’m not a mom, so I can’t even pretend to be an expert on parenting.

I’m reading a book right now by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It’s about cutting edge studies that point to direct exposure to nature as essential for a child’s physical and emotional development. Nature plays a big role in the continual fight again the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. I’m passionate about this topic, so I’ll probably post more excerpts from it later on if you don’t mind. I hope that our kids are born wild and free. (*Definitely not trying to hint at anything in the near future*)

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I’ve been working on my #2016ChacoTanCompetition. I have some unfair disadvantages with thin, fair English and Danish skin.(I’m looking at you Jen Groves. Cees has a better chance at beating you haha)  PS- my feet are SO dirty after a few days on the island.  The worst part is, I actually slept with them in my sleeping bag!  This goes against all of my sacred bed beliefs.


Oh, and to top off our great islands adventures we found out it was National Donut Day when we got back! Hurray! I made Cees navigate terrible LA traffic and fit into a compact parking space to accommodate my donuts needs.




A little pizza movie night never hurt anyone either 🙂 sometimes we need a break from time to time. Plus, we ran out of food since we stayed on the island an extra unplanned day. All in all, Channel Islands is one of my new favorite places!


  1. MWAHAHAHAHA, I WILL NEVER BE BEATEN! haha. Love you guys. So glad my tips could be helpful for you!!
    And PS I totally know Eric too! So random! Gotta love the small world of BYU.

    • Cees

      Yeah, I noticed that we are mutual friends with him the other day. CRAZY. It doesn’t surprise me though. Eric is one rad dude; it makes sense he hangs out with cool people like Jen Groves.

      • Bahahaha, you mean it makes sense that he hangs out with cool people like YOU GUYS! Y’all are the coolest… even if you will never beat me in a Chaco tan contest. 😛

  2. Dawn from Camano Island

    Your photos & tales of the kids, caves & dolphins were great fun–and beautiful! Awesome you saw a humpback too! My grandchildren & I are reading a wonderful book about a fox and his boy. “Pax” is a beautiful story that we’re enjoying very much. They’re visiting us for a month & we’re going to introduce them to national parks while they’re here–first up will be North Cascades NP. It’s close & I know they’ll love hiking in the woods. We’ll be spending the day at Mt. St. Helens (I think it’s a national mon but a lot of people here think it should be designated a NP). If we have time, we’ll head up to Mt. Rainier NP. You’re spot on about kids, nature & ADHD. Kids have SO much seat time these days it’s no wonder ADHD diagnoses have climbed. Have fun–looking forward to your next post.

  3. Casie

    I love this one!! I also admire you Madison I would have been in tears and hysterical over the waves and crashing into the dock. It’s impressive how you just keep going!! YOU GO GIRL. YOU MAKE US ALL LOOK GOOD!!
    Love you two. Miss ya!! Auntie & Uncle

    • Cees

      Haha, she is TOUGH for sure. It was pretty crazy getting into the water – we pretty much had no idea what we were doing, but we made it happen!

  4. TJ

    Found your blog from a comment in the switchback kids. Surprised you guys aren’t gettting more exposure! Love what you are doing, and a little jealous. Wish I had a travel buddy who was up for that long of an adventure. =)

    • Cees

      Ah thank for the good vibes, man! It’s an adventure of a lifetime for sure. And about the adventure buddy – keep looking! There is someone out there who wants a travel companion/partner in crime as well!

  5. I love Last Child In The Woods so much! Nature & really well-done studies are my jam. I really love his points about making hideouts and tree houses and tepees in the woods–such a great way to create and change your world and learn about physics. I spent a ton of time just BEING in local county parks in the CA Bay Area growing up, and am passionate about making sure our kids have lots of time to just explore outdoors. We have 5 kids, and while it’s really hard to get outdoor time during the week, we do Sunday Hikes every week after church and have made so many memories and had so many crazy adventures!

    Also those sneaky foxes are probably the most adorable little bandits I’ve ever seen!

  6. “*Definitely not trying to hint at anything in the near future*” she says.
    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh my gosh I’m never letting you guys live this down. Ever. <3
    PS Last Child in the Woods IS the best book ever.

    • Madison

      hahaha oh my gosh. Actually, to be fair, this was back in June and the idea of a Human Bean didn’t come until July! hahah….maybe I bought Last Child in the Woods for a reason though 😉 my subconscious was telling me something.

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