Friday, July 27, 2007

Skagway, End of the Line

Perfect weather into Skagway this morning--calm with a mix of sun and clouds. I found myself paddling slowly and putting off the arrival into town. In fact, when I got to the last point of land around which is the Skagway harbor, I stopped, pulled out my gorp, and spent 10 minutes out there snacking. Then I rounded the corner, paddled past the cruise ship and into the marina. No bands were playing and no one was paying any attention to me. I paddled up to the dock next to the boat launch and began the post-trip de-rigging. It seems anti-climactic, but really, it's just the end of a week-long party on my part. I think I've been going through the end-of-trip process since Juneau--the last time I'll have to re-pack food, the last time I'll have to hang my food at night, the last time I have to raise the tarp, the last time I'll have to use the tent... And Skagway is the last time I'll have to unload the boat.

Skagway is also the place where I first looked at the bottom of my boat, and it's been scarred by the trip. Nothing serious, but all the gelcoat is gone in one spot from dragging the boat on shore.

So now it's time to get on with the rest of my life, I guess. Carlie flies in tomorrow (!) and we catch the ferry on Monday and arrive in Bellingham on Friday. And normalcy no doubt will return to my life.

I want to thank everyone who has been reading my ramblings and especially those who have commented or emailed me. I feel like you've been on the trip with me, and your company has been much appreciated.

I'm sure I'll post here again, but not sure when. I expect to get my journal onto the computer so anyone who might be planning a similar trip can get more details of my trip, but that will take a few weeks.

Feel free to write

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Haines, July 25, Day 84

One more paddling day left, sports fans!

I've had a real mix of weather on this last leg from Juneau to Haines. It started in fog as I tried to negotiate the tidelands of the Mendenhall Bar for 2 hours, followed by beautiful sunshine the rest of the day. Then 2 days of cloud, rain, and 15-20 knot winds that, luckily were at my back. I did alter my route somewhat to stay out of the biggest seas, and I'm glad I did have alternate routes to turn to. Then today the winds died to nothing, and I had a beautiful paddle into Haines with spectacular views of steep mountain ranges and glaciers in every direction. Even the camping on this stretch has been good and the sites plentiful. Nice change from earlier in the trip.
With the end of the trip in sight, I find myself thinking about what this trip has meant for me. And, as usual, I don't have a good answer. If only I had found god, or denounced god, or renounced my evil ways, or something grand. But no, I'm still me, and I doubt Carlie or anyone else will recognize a change in me. But I will value my family, friends and strangers more, and, of course, the creature comforts of house and home. And I will be proud to have covered the distance I did, just as a cyclist would be, having ridden from coast to coast. There's something about connecting the whole length that gives the trip significance to me.
Some have said this would be a life-changing trip, and in some small ways, I suppose it has been. But what is more surprising to me is how little I feel any different from before the trip. I think it's healthy for anyone to spend a few days alone, to understand who that person is apart from spouse, kids, friends, job, etc. But for me to do a solo trip of this length, I expected more insight, I guess. I found instead that the person I am out here, alone, on a long adventure, is not so different from the person I am at home (except for the talking to myself). And there's a certain consolation in that. The person you've known, and I've known, is pretty much the person I am. To some of you, I'm sure that may sound obvious, but with all the noise in our lives, it's not always a given. So to those of you who were hoping for an improvement in my character, give it up!
One thing I have to give credit to is my body--it hasn't let me down. No tendinitis, no debilitating arthritis or blisters, no saddle sores, no sicknesses or anything. Sometimes I wonder if my body will outlive me, but probably not. Some of you younger ones may not be able to understand that one's body is not something to take for granted. It does indeed start breaking down in time.
Anyway, I suppose what a trip like this does is reinforce the universal truths. And for me, the most important one is the value of love and friendship. So raise a glass with me to a journey almost complete and to the family and friends that make our lives so worthwhile.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Juneau!! Yahoo!

The last 2 days of gorgeous weather was just turning with freshening 15 knot wind and threatening sky as I paddled under the bow of "Serenade of the Seas", one of 4 cruise ships docked in the harbor. Float planes were coming and going, and I imagined myself the paddling version of a NYC courier dodging traffic as I made my way through the traffic and under the Douglas-Juneau bridge to the small boat harbor.

In some ways, I feel like I've arrived. I'm still going to Skagway, but if I think of a ribbon that I will break through at the end of my trip, that ribbon stretches from Juneau to Skagway. So if you will forgive the immodesty, here begins a week-long celebration of the end of a long journey.
I wish you all could be here to celebrate with me. But I know you're smiling and nodding with me as you read this. I miss you all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Signs of civilization, for what it's worth

I hit the water early today (5am) to keep the option open of paddling all the way into Juneau, some 35 miles, if the spirit, or driving rain, moves me. It was a beautiful morning as the sun was shining on the mountains of Admiralty Island as I crossed Port Snettisham.

Lots of gill netters operating in this section. I guess the salmon like this part of the coast where the waters are deep right off the shore. I've come to recognize that where the fishermen like to fish is where I'm not going to find any campsites because the terrain is too steep. And that whole section to Stephens Passage is steep-to.

I had an interesting encounter with a fishing vessel as I was crossing the mouth of Taku Inlet. The last of some lingering fog had disappeared, and it was a beautiful, calm sunny morning. The 3+ mile crossing was easy, though the cross currents were pretty strong.

As I neared the far shore, I could hear a boat approaching from behind me. I glanced back and could see it was one of the gill netters not too far off my starboard stern. As it neared, I expected it to turn or to cut its engine. Maybe the skipper is a kayaker and wants to shoot the breeze for a few minutes, I thought. When the boat was 50 feet off my stern, I could see what looked like a young couple on the bridge, both waving me aside. There was no one else near us, but I turned away in case there was something I was interfering with that I wasn't aware of. Maybe I was in the exact spot they wanted to put their net. I don't know. As they went by, at no more than 50 feet, I could see that they were both talking to me, but I couldn't hear anything over the engine noise.

Just as they moved past me, I realized I had better steer further away from their wake. And when the wake did hit, it completely washed over my deck and surfed me sideways so I had to brace on my paddle. And the fishing boat motored on. I could imagine them giggling over their little prank. For me, it was the only rude act I've encountered on my whole trip. I guess you have to figure there are a few like that no matter what world you're in.

Then I saw that the boat had pulled up alongside a fish tender about a half mile ahead, and other boats were headed in that direction, too. I paddled up to have a word with the skipper and discovered there were 3 on board--the skipper, a young guy in his 30s and 2 teen-aged boys. I called the skipper over and told him that had been a dangerous stunt back there, and he was immediately apologetic. He said he had been asleep below, but that the boys had said they had slowed down for me. There was no way for me to know, but I hadn't noticed a change in the engine rpms.

Then one of the boys chimed in, saying they were headed straight for the tender the whole time. I asked them if they thought I had changed my course, and he said, "No, but we were just maintaining our course, too."

That's when the skipper spoke up again and said all the right things--it was their fault, I'm sorry, I'm responsible, it won't happen again, you're in the right, etc. And he sounded sincere. I only hope those kids learn something from it.

Teen-aged boys... You have to wonder how so many of us survived, don't you?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Holkham Bay, Stephens Passage

After a wet layover at Sand Bay, I paddled into Holkham Bay amidst a whole group of Humpbacks. The bay had lots of small bergs drifting around, and Sumdum glacier hung over the bay in the background. The view was stunning. And the temperature was chilly. Water temp 44 F; air temp 49 F.

I went over to Harbor Island where a group of kayak rangers are headquartered, and as I coasted the shore, I met 2 groups of kayakers. Tim Johnson and his wife, Vicky had their Kleppers they brought from Maryland and are on something like their 20th trip to the west coast. They were headed up Endicott Arm to avoid the cruise ship traffic in Tracy Arm. Both arms are popular because they have tidewater glaciers calving into the sea. Anyway, we didn't talk long, but they clearly have done some interesting trips that I would have liked to hear more about.

The other group of yakkers were 3 guys from Maine--Bob, Dave and Mike. They had been dropped on Harbor Island by a shuttle boat to be picked up in a week. They were recovering from having made a miscalculation on the tide and had lost 2 bear canisters of food, a life jacket, a paddle (which was later found), and I don't know what all else. But they had successfully scrounged what they needed to keep going, and they, too, were headed up Endicott. They've also done some interesting kayak trips including to the Dalmation Coast north of Dubrovnik and to Viet Nam.

I found the kayak rangers who have a large wall tent and kayak and gear racks all tucked into the bush and totally invisible from the shore or water. The reason I wanted to look them up was to see why there were kayak rangers here at all. Turns out they do similar work as the rangers in Misty Fjords: they contract with cruise ships to come on board and act as interpretive guides. But they also monitor the smoke stack emissions from the ships, and some have resulted in citations for the cruise companies.

I decide against a side trip up Endicott even though that was part of my original plan. I knew barn fever would set in at some point, and I have to admit that I'm feeling it now. Juneau is only 2-3 days away, and in some way, it marks the beginning of the end of the trip for me. Over the years, I had dreamed of paddling to Juneau, and just within the last few months did I decide to go all the way to Skagway because someone told me the scenery is incredible up the Lynn Canal.
So I passed through Holkham Bay amid the frolicking Humpbacks and continued north along the Snettisham Peninsula. The sun is out, the air is warm, and life is good.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pea Soup

I woke this morning to fog. I had about 30 minutes of this stuff yesterday afternoon, but I think I'm in for more of it today. I just passed Fanshaw Point yesterday so technically I passed from Fredereick Sound to Stephens Passage, and the fog started as soon as I passed Fanshaw. Not sure why Stephens is foggier--cooler air coming down from Skagway? Warmer water? Whatever the reason, I've got 100-200 feet of visibility, and the first thing I have to do this morning is make a 3+ mile crossing of Houghton Bay. It'll be the first real test of my compass skills on this trip--do I add 29 degrees to what my compass is reading or subtract it to get true headings? I discovered soon enough that the GPS map page is a good back-up to the floating compass mounted on the deck. Which is good because the test of my skills was not turning out that well.

Just before heading out into the great gray unknown, a humpback surfaced in front of me and slowly dove again. It's so magical when these huge creatures make their surprise appearances. It reminds me how alive that half of the world that's below me really is. I think I've just entered Humpback Alley because I heard them all night long.

It's very strange to paddle with no horizon. The winds were calm, and there was a small swell from the north. My eyes would try to pick out a shore line through the fog, and sometimes I could actually "see" trees on a hillside ahead. But then I would look upwards and see that the "trees" extended vertically as far as I could tilt my head back.

The bay crossings this morning went fine, although maneuvering through islands was tricky since most of them don't show up on my topo, and I didn't know if they were islands at all.
The fog persisted for 6 1/2 hours of my paddling while I covered 21 miles of coast that I never really saw At one point, a fishing boat appeared out of the fog. It was a young crabber about to start on a 14 day circuit of his pots, and he was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. No one is supposed to be moving in the shallows in this kind of fog. Later, I paddled by a seiner also, but there was loud cursing coming from below so I slipped by silently.

I stopped for lunch (a trick in itself to find a spot when the shoreline is this obscured), and while ashore, the fog disappeared and there were 2 seiners starting to set their nets nearby. I had heard there were a few one day openings for purse seiners coming up, and I guess one opening started at noon today.

But what a change in my surroundings. I now was living in sunshine,blue sky, steep, tree-covered hillsides so steep they are just cliff faces in places. My world just went from black and white to color in minutes.

But this sunny period wasn't going to last as the whole sky behind me to the southwest was solid dark gray. Rain was coming. The sun lasted an hour, then a south wind freshened to 15 knots. I expected the rain any minute, but it held off. In fact, it held off for the next 2 hours of paddling and gave me time to set up camp in Sand Bay, a few miles south of Holkham Bay, before it unloaded.

It was a good day, but I hope I don't have too much more fog. The novelty was definitely wearing off.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I packed up in the rain this morning and left Wrangell at 5:15am. The wind was calm, though there was a SE breeze once I got exposed to the back channel that runs on the east side of Wrangell Island. And the current, if anything, gave me a slight push. Clouds were low and rain was heavy at times, but I could always see the next shore I was aiming for as I island-hopped across the mouth of the Stikine River en route to Dry Strait.

I had to get through Dry Strait before low tide because the whole thing dries up then. It dries if the tide gets down to 4 feet, and today's tide at 2:30pm would be right at 4 feet. I was told that I could get through at 6 feet so I figured if got through by 12:30pm, I'd be OK. I calculated a 5:30 start would give me plenty of time, allowing for possible wind and setting current, because I really didn't want to get stuck in the mudflats on a falling tide and be fodder for mosquitoes for 4 or 5 hours 'til the tide floated me again.

I stopped to pee at one point when I reached Mitkof Island, but when the mosquitoes found me, I moved on quickly.

The shallowest part of Dry Strait was not as far from Wrangell as I had guessed, and with a push from the currents and wind, I made it through fast enough that I was actually near high tide. Even so, I grounded out on sand bars twice in the murky waters from the Stikine.

Once into Frederick Sound, I could see a few icebergs that had made it to the mouth of Le Conte Bay. The Le Conte glacier is the southernmost glacier that comes right down to the sea. But soon the bergs disappeared in the mist as the rain got heavier and a cold south wind picked up. I pulled the pogies out for the the first time in quite a while to keep my hands warm.

After about 18 miles, I started looking at possible campsites, but it was still early in the day, it was pouring rain, I was chilled when I wasn't paddling (I was damp inside my dry suit.), and some spots were on bear trails. So I kept deciding to go a little further. Before long, I was just 5 miles from a campground at the road end at the southern edge of Petersburg. So off I went to the "Tent City" campground.

When I reached the small bay with a municipal park that was supposed to be next to the campground, I couldn't find the place. When I found some people to ask about camping, they said the campground had closed and some buildings were being built on the grounds.

So another 2 1/2 miles, and I was in Petersburg Harbor. I found the Harbormaster who let me pull the kayak onto a low-lying float, and before long I had a room in a warm, dry hotel in town.

So after 35 miles and a 10 hour paddle, I don't know whether to feel smart, or just lucky, or like I'm cheating to be in a comfy room when I could be camping out in this foul weather. I think I'll go with smart and lucky on this one.