Below-freezing temperatures. Layers of slick, rock-hard ice at usual put-in places and along the shorelines of lakes and rivers.
There are lots of reasons why most people don’t go kayaking in the depths of winter.
But Marle Jandreau and Ron Johnson aren’t most people. For them, frigid conditions aren’t necessarily a reason to stay home. Call them crazy — “People call us that,” Marle admits — but winter kayaking is something the couple enjoys.
A week ago, they used their kayak paddles to chop through the ice before launching from Pelican Marina in Klamath Falls, “but,” Marle insists, “it was worth it! Tons of birds flying over us, very low ... the sound of their wings made us feel like our kayaks could lift off, and we could join the flock!”
Marle and Ron spent about two and a half hours paddling from the Marina, located on the southern edge of Upper Klamath Lake, to the nearby Link River and on toward Linkville Dam.
They had less success a day later while hoping to launch from Harriman Springs Resort & Marina near Rocky Point.
“We thought it would be doable when we saw the water not frozen by the ramp. So we unloaded everything, but when we pulled the kayaks down the ramp, it was like we were on an ice chute.
“We could not let go of the kayak to get in without the whole boat slip-sliding away! Plus, we decided, because of the ice, it would be too hard to get out! Sadly, we loaded everything back up and headed home.”
It was a blip in their plans, but the couple — married earlier this year — was only temporarily discouraged. Earlier this week, they again launched from Pelican Marina and kayaked open waters along the lake and Link River.
Paddling in nearly all conditions is something they enjoy. They’ve paddled 60 or 70 days a year at a variety of places around the Klamath Basin and Southern Oregon.
Kayaking is something Marle, 76, has done for years. “I had my first kayaking experience in October 1996 on the Wood River at Kimball Park when I had just turned 50. I never considered myself a ‘water person.’ But as I awkwardly paddled for the first time, I fell in love with recreational kayaking.”
She says paddling is in her blood, explaining, “I always was puzzled why I liked kayaking. A couple of years after my first outing on the Wood, I was reading a book about the French-Canadian trappers — my father’s grandfather was French-Canadian. The story revealed, ‘The French-Canadian trappers loved their little boats, but hated water.’ I was channeling my French-Canadian trapper genes!”
Ron, 73, is an active runner, swimmer and outdoorsman who took up kayaking a few years ago. He’s now hooked, not only because he thrives on being outdoors, but also because of the sights and sounds — things like seeing and hearing flocks of Canada geese and other birds taking flight, and catching glimpses of beavers and otters.
What neither like is finding discarded, frozen fishing lines, such as those hanging beneath the Link River Bridge and nearby trees. Worse, one of those unreachable lines has a long-dead great blue heron dangling by a wing that’s deteriorated into a gross skeleton.
“It’s a horrific example of the result of not cleaning up your fish line,” Marle says with obvious disgust.
Earlier this month, she and Ron paddled alongside what they term “killing fields,” large bright-red, bloody splotches on the ice. “Kayaking over to the logs that separate the lake from the Link River Dam, there were several hawks sitting on the snow-covered logs eating their prey — ducks,” Marle says.
“Suddenly, we understood the trajectory of the bright-red, bloody splotches. Well, I guess hawks have to eat, too.”
Providing some comic relief was what they first believed was a duck frozen on the ice. Happily, it was a left-behind decoy. “We hacked at the ice and now have a souvenir from that kayaking outing.” It’s now sitting on the deck of their home.
They paddle in winter, but Ron says they wait for clear, blue-sky days with no wind, and they dress “appropriately.” They don’t wear wetsuits but instead prefer long underwear, gloves, earmuffs and windbreakers.
“I head out for any unfrozen, flat water,” says Marle, who uses a kayak skirt to retain body heat.
Because of her many years of kayaking, Marle has many stories, including her all-time favorite outing: on Spring Creek at Collier State Park.
“I think it was right before the pandemic, on Jan. 1, 2018. It was not a big snow winter, and for the first time ever since I moved here in 2013, the road to Spring Creek was clear. No one else would go with me, so of course I went alone. It was a bright blue day — no wind — and it was the most exhilarating kayaking day of my life!
“I kayaked all the way to the springs bubbling up and had packed a special New Year's Day lunch for myself. Unfortunately, when I got to the springhead, after digging into my dry bag, I realized I had left my lunch in the car! Woe is me. I dug deeper and found a little, tiny bottle of red wine and a sack of peanuts in my dry bag. SCORE!
“I still tingle with excitement when I remember what a fabulous day that was!”
Lake Ewauna is yet another favorite because water from the Link River that flows into the lake often has ice-free sections.
Although Marle and Ron often are the only people out kayaking, they’re not necessarily alone. As she explains, “The iced edges of the water often sport birds looking at me as I paddle past. By their cocked heads and unblinking stares, they might be thinking, ‘They call us birdbrains!’”
“Sounds a little crazy, and maybe it is,” Marle says of winter kayaking, whether alone or, in recent years, with Ron, “But I’m also very careful. I stay close to the shore and enjoy the sparkle of the ice and snow and also look for animal tracks.”
Marle and Ron, always on track for adventure, say the Klamath Basin has “endless venues for recreational kayaking. Paddle on. Any season will provide exciting adventures.”
Because both of their last names begin with “J” and because kayaks begin with “K,” Marle and Ron happily and laughingly describe themselves as “The Js with their Ks!”
Crazy? Yep, but in the best way.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.