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Archive for July, 2010

So many things have happened, experiences had, friendships made, and stories shared during this Leg. Also, we are at $17,766.01 which means we are as close to the $20k goal as I am to finishing the trip!  Thank you to donors and those who have forwarded the news of this expedition.  Before I get started, I want to announce The Fat Roll Challenge!  If you can guess my finishing weight when I make it to my finishing city of Kenai, then you’ll win a $100 gift certificate from Staples, generously donated by Staples of Venice, CA.  Any new donation of $10 or higher earns a guess, so you can get $100 for your bid which is 10 times your investment…pretty good!  I’ve uploaded before and after videos of my fat rolls on YouTube here to help you, and here are a few other random facts to help you make a guess:

– On March 10, I weighed 219 pounds, but since then I’ve paddled about 18-20 miles per day for 6 days a week.

-I’ve eaten at least 120 oatmeal packets, 6 jars of peanut butter, 3 jars of Nutella, 10 gallons of gorp, and over 250 Clif/candy/energy bars.  All before dinner 🙂

-By the end of the trip, I’ll have finished the 12 x 20 lb priority mail packages of food that I shipped ahead for each leg of the trip, plus some supplemental breads, meats, cheeses, and chocolate milk that I buy from stores.

So donate $10 to MedShare, bid by emailing CauseToPaddle@gmail.com with your guess in pounds (rounded to the nearest whole number), and enter for a chance to win $100!  This is a great opportunity for those of you who have been following to donate a second or even third time:)

Click here for the pictures of the cross-Gulf ferry, Kim and Rudy’s visit, and Leg 4 in the Prince William Sound.

Mt St Elias, at just over 18,000 feet is just 10 miles from Icy Bay, making it one of the highest rises from tidewater in the world.

The Route: My highest concern for paddling between Seattle and Anchorage was the exposed Gulf of Alaska between Cape Spencer (near Glacier Bay) and Cordova, sometimes called The Lost Coast.   The only solo paddler to have done it, that I know of, is Paul Caffyn who is far more than a mere mortal but there have been a few other teams since.  After months of debating, I decided to skip it by taking a ferry across from Juneau to Whittier and then back to Cordova.  The major source of anxiety being launching and landing a fully loaded kayak in big swell with dumping waves onto steep beaches for a stretch of 120 miles that is prone to frequent storms that come all the way from the south pacific. Whereas I am solo without boat major repair experience, I figured it would be better to recognize my skill level and spend more time enjoying the Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula rather than shooting for the moon.  As I passed Cape Spencer, Yakutat, Mt. St. Elias, Icy Bay, and Kayak Island all from the safety of the ferry, I was eager to see the coast and was fortunate to have good views of all of them so that they are now stuck in my mind. Lastly, I will probably finish in Kenai city instead of Anchorage because I dont want to deal with the tidal flats and my family would rather meet on the Kenai peninsula.

My friends: Kim, who has been a huge contributor and supporter of CauseToPaddle.org and MedShare met me in Whittier and we went paddling for a week to Blackstone Bay so she could see her first glacier and experience the rugged beauty of Alaska with all the senses that come from kayaking.  

Kim's first glaciers seen by kayak

We had some adventures with a heavy SE storm near the end of the trip, and Kim even got to experience her first hunkering day.  After 36 hours of rain and winds, the weather showed signs of improvement and we paddled back to Whittier in the wee hours of the night (1.30am – 6.45am) to enjoy the calm waters and take a shower before taking the ferry to Cordova.  We met up with Rudy on the dock and went to Cordova for some hiking and good ole camaraderie.  After so much time alone, I was looking forward to seeing my friends and am so grateful for the efforts they went to so they could get here. While on a hike to a cabin outside of Cordova, we were watching a beaver swim around his pond. 

Beaver on hike outside Cordova

As we started again, Kim slipped on some wet grass on the steep slope and fell a good 5 feet down with just one shriek!  With her keen sense of self, she heard a crack and knew her ankle was broken but was persistent that we should still go the remaining mile to the cabin for the night and then hike out the next day.  We applied an ace bandage around her swollen foot, found a tree branch for a crutch, and made our way over snow fields and creeks and uphill to the Power Ferry Cabin.  Rudy prepared a fire and after some ibuprofen, a good supper, and an ice pack of snow in a zip lock bag, Kim was taken care of as well as we could manage. 

3 fractures! and she still hiked out!

The next day, we used the satellite phone to call the forest service so they could open a gate and meet us at an easier junction in the trail.  But Cordova has much better first response than that!  They sent 9 folks, many of whom were volunteers, to meet us on the trail.  Kim, being the incredibly strong woman that she is, was able to hike out three miles using two walking poles and the assistance of the Cordova Fire Dept for the tricky sections.  When we made it to the hospital, and the X-ray showed a total of three broken bones, tibia, fibula, and calcaneus we were all shocked by how Kim was able to do it and in such high spirits!  We spent the rest of the weekend at the Childs Glacier and by the time they flew out, we were well known in Cordova.

Rudy, Kim, and me in front of Childs Glacier

Prince William Sound: The most wonderful things come to view when the fog rises or the mountains give you a peek at their world.  After saying goodbye to my friends in Cordova  and bringing cookies to the Fire Dept and Forest Service, I spent two reflective weeks paddling around Prince William Sound (PWS) as far north as the upper reaches of College and Columbia Fiords and as far to the south as Knight and Latouche Islands.  The quiet drizzle and foggy days that came even with high pressure systems were the protection for the glacier covered inland mountains and the cold peaks that spur out of the outer islands to encircle the Sound.  Living in this environment with only the nylon walls of my tent and the thin Kevlar of my kayak to shield me from the cold dampness made me so happy to be able to live this close to wildlife and nature yet feel self-reliant.  And after I left, there was no trace of my impact which does feel rewarding. 

Foggy Mountains and Floating Glacier Ice

In PWS, I had my closest encounters with a breaching humpback and a pod of Killer Whales, not to mention the otters and eagles that I saw daily. 

From 150 feet above the ocean, I saw two Bald Eagles fight and tear at each other as they fell through the sky.  Like seeing a plane fall from the sky, their tangled form caught my eye.  Then they separated as one fled for refuge…but where could he hide from another eagle?  A top predator bent on attacking him was in enraged pursuit.  Just as fast, strong, and able with sharp talons and stealthy beak.  Normally it is the gulls that feel the wrath of the great eagle, but in this case, some social or breach of hunter’s code spurred this high speed aerial fight.  And then their great brown wings and strong legs met again in a twisting spiral that no longer soared but plummeted…falling down hundreds of feet at terminal velocity!  Until they hit the hard ocean surface, disappearing in a large wave…moments later I heard the CRASHING SPLASH!  Then one eagle spread its six foot wingspan and with one flap it took flight away from the water.  The other could not.  Its wings were broken leaving it still mightily thrashing to stay afloat, yet too far from shore to have hope.  It was unable to gracefully flee with fish in grip as it had probably done so many times, but rather it recognized its loss to his competitor, until the thrashes were fewer and farther between.   It was about a half mile from me, yet I couldn’t bring myself to go closer to this once great victor in the food chain.  I didn’t want his last moments to be scattered fear of a human taking advantage of his vulnerability.  In this case, it would be the fish that would pick from his bones.

Although many days I didn’t see another soul, I met many more people than I did in the Southeast, where I was generally too early to see other kayakers.  It is so fun to spread out the maps on the beach and share stories, advice on navigation, favorite camping locations, and most importantly, recognize the same excitement in people seeking the same connection with wilderness.  Gillnetting fisherman shared their fresh catch of salmon with me. 

Salmon Fisherman bringing in Gillnet

And the communities of Cordova and Seward are now lasting in my mind for their hospitality and the friends that I made there.  In Cordova, I met a Portland doctor who volunteered in Haiti and knew MedShare well. He was happy to make a donation and chat about kayaking for awhile.  In Seward, I even met and had potluck with Josh who made the movie ‘Paddle To Seattle.’  The kayaking community is so great because of their ability to be down to earth and know the needs of a fellow traveler, even when sometimes it is just meeting up to watch the World Cup.

The PWS is also well known for the tragic grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil freighter twenty-one years ago, which spilled at least 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Sound.  The spill devastated the same wildlife and coastline that I’m admiring daily.  I’ll blog more about that later.  As I’ve received updates since April of the horrifying deep sea spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I am struck silent by the overwhelming magnitude of this and how it persists without mitigating technology.  I shudder to think of man’s carelessness to consider environmental impacts fully and can only hope that as people see my pictures of Alaska, they can form more of a relationship to it so they can cherish it and value it higher than our dependence on oil.  Certainly, I want others to be able to experience the beauty of this wilderness with all their senses and I hope that you enjoy these pictures and what I can humbly share about this ineffable experience.

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