Kayaking San Francisco Bay with the Original Adventure Geezer

At 79 years old Leo Le Bon has more energy than the Energizer bunny.


A former mountaineer who co-founded one of the first adventure travel companies, Mountain Travel (now Mountain Travel Sobek), in 1969, Leo is still active at an age when most people have trouble getting off their sofas.

A few weeks ago, Leo and his wife Nadia invited me to spend a few days with them hiking, biking and kayaking in the San Francisco Bay area. My schedule allowed for only one day so we pared the geezer Olympics down to kayaking from Sausalito to Angel Island, then hiking to the highest point on the island at 600 feet for lunch before hiking and kayaking back.

We rented two double kayaks in Sausalito and took off across Richardson Bay towards Tiburon, home to rock stars, technology moguls and others who can afford the multi-million dollar views.

Leo and I were in one double kayak, Nadia and Giuliana, the teenage daughter of Leo and Nadia’s friends from Italy who was visiting for a few weeks, were in the other. It might seem unfair that two guys were in one kayak and two gals in the other, but the combined age in our kayak was at least twice that of their’s so I figure we were about even.P1040962

Usually when I’m in a double kayak I’m the more experienced of the two so I sit in the back, steering and giving orders and instructions to the person in the front. Not this time. Besides, Leo knew the way. And he wasn’t shy about letting me know that my paddling technique could use some improvement. I guess it was payback for the many paddling partners I have bossed around over the years.

It was a warm and sunny day, and there was just enough chop in the water to make it interesting, especially when we rounded the tip of the Tiburon Peninsula and headed across more open water to Angel Island.P1040975

It took us about an hour to get to the island. Once there, we realized that we didn’t have enough time to hike to the highest point and get back to our kayaks before the afternoon wind picked up, so we chose a shorter hike to a viewpoint about a mile from the beach. As we walked, Leo filled me in on the history of the island. P1040988At one point, Angel Island was the Ellis Island of the West Coast, processing as many as a million immigrants between 1910 and 1940. Before that it had served as a fort, a quarantine station and if you go back far enough, it was once a fishing and hunting site for Coast Miwok Native Americans.

From the viewpoint we could see the tips of the downtown towers of San Francisco floating above the fog bank creeping into the bay. Pillows of mist shrouded the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a scene set for a post card.P1050006

We didn’t linger long. It was getting late and we didn’t want to fight the wind on the way back to Sausalito. Once we were on the water we realized that we didn’t have to rush. The wind and the water were even calmer than they had been on our way out to the island. We took our time, wanting to milk as much from the day as possible.

I’m not sure when the next event for our geezer Olympics will be, but I’ll start training now to make sure that I can keep up with Leo.