San Francisco Chronicle
California North Coast Series: A Kayak Adventure

Paul McHugh, Outdoors Writer

    For an expedition of this type, a team must be small enough to stay nimble, flexible and easy to supply. But it also must be big enough to have a full array of complimentary skills, and a decent amount of redundancy. Finally, temperaments must be compatible, with an ability to maintain humor, patience and perspective at moments of stress being of high value. I proved fortunate in deciding to invite two highly experienced paddlers to join me as companions and complete our team trio.

John Weed

John Weed.

John Weed. Photo: John Weed

Age 52, born in San Rafael. Muscles on this tanned, lanky guy are not masked by an ounce of superfluous fat.

He’s a former high school and college track star, but Weed does limp when he walks. Understandable, because 33 years ago he got run over by a semi truck while out on a bicycle ride.

Stick him in any kayak, and he’s transformed into a swift and graceful paddler with lots of race ribbons to his name.

Victories include many wins at the Tsunami Rangers open ocean race, Eppie’s Triathlon in Sacramento, the Sea Trek Regatta in the Bay Area, the Yukon downriver race.

Weed was also a member of the U.S. wildwater team.

After years of running a group home for disadvantaged youth, Weed became a paddling instructor for Current Adventures in Coloma (El Dorado County) on the American River.

He spends winters conducting exploratory solo expeditions on the Sea of Cortez.

“I love to beachcomb and to go adventuring in new places,” Weed says. “It will be great to get to know the California shore better, and myself a little better as well.

“What draws me to adventure is that daily testing of survival skills.”

Bo Barnes

 Bo Barnes. Photographer: John Weed

Bo Barnes. Photo: John Weed

Age 59, born in Kansas City but raised in the Bay Area. A popular outdoor sports guide and instructor, Barnes is instantly recognizable to thousands of former clients. He sports a shaggy mane of blond hair, and a boisterous laugh that resembles the klaxon of a diving submarine.

In high school and college, he lettered in track and swimming. In summers, he worked as a city lifeguard and surfed at Ocean Beach. After earning a degree in history, Barnes taught high school, but discovered his true metier as a co-founder of Outdoors Unlimited at UCSF. This volunteer-run program took students and members of the public on cooperative ski, kayak and backpack trips and the like for 30 years.

Barnes has long excelled at telemark skiing and snowboarding, as well as sea kayak races and expeditions. Marine exploits include voyages on the coast of Maine, Chesapeake Bay, British Columbia and Baja California. He kayak races only occasionally, but is a formidable and feared competitor whenever he shows up.

Barnes now works part-time as a kayak instructor with California Canoe & Kayak in Oakland.

“Hitting 60 is a great turning point,” Barnes said, “I need an epic of some sort to mark it. This trip fills the bill. Getting ourselves way the heck up and gone along the California coast will be a great challenge, an ultimate wilderness experience.”

Paul McHugh

Pauli McHugh. Photographer: Dawn Garcia

Paul McHugh. Photo: Dawn Garcia

Age 54, born in Homestead near the Florida Everglades, I rode my motorcycle to California and moved here in 1973.

I went to seminary in Miami, intending to become a priest. After six years, at age 19, I left to finish college at Florida State, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English poetry.

When I came to California, I focused on becoming a writer, a specialist in outdoor sport, resource use and environmental issues.

The Chronicle started its Outdoors Section in 1985, and I had put myself in the right place with the right background.
Of the three teammates, I am the only one currently married. I wed former investigative reporter Dawn Garcia (now deputy director of the Knight Fellowship at Stanford) in 1998.

I had been a canoeist in Florida, and began paddling whitewater kayaks in California in 1976. Soon, I added ocean surfing and sea kayak racing. I was on the U.S. Kayak Surfing Team when we won a world championship in Ireland in 1988. I often do well enough in sea kayak races to ribbon.

My voyages included two weeks off the coast of Chile, and a 150-mile, five-day descent of the Eel River from Ukiah to the sea.

For my 50th birthday, I paddled 270 miles of the Grand Canyon. I ran my first marathon at age 53.