Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A week on, some thoughts.

The Flu that I picked up in Juneau full force is still sticking around in the form of a hacking cough, and some congestion. I have had it for close to 19 days, and everyday it gets a little bit better.

I have done quite a bit of driving since arriving in Skagway and as I type this I am at one of the Lodges in Yellowstone National Park, drinking a whiskey, and trying to pull together all the thoughts that have run through my head while driving for the past week.

First I have to say that being at Yellowstone after 21 days kayaking unsupported in Alaska is a little like going to Disney after walking across the desert. There are so many people here it is a little overwhelming. While the scenery is very beautiful it feels sort of like someone put a national park at a shopping mall. And honestly, my four season tent looks a little out of place surrounded by massive RV's. Tonight I will be cooking dinner on my whisperlite while I suspect my neighbors will be using their microwave. And it took every fiber of my existence to listen to the lecture on bear safety in our campsite (E170) from the lovely woman who checked us in.

My first, and overwhelming thought is that this route - the protected, docile, inside passage route - is anything but. We paddled with some big winds, some on our bows, but mostly - thankfully - on our sterns. We paddled some big water, and some very surprising and very powerful currents. This is not a route for the faint of heart. There were a number of times that Sarah and I chose to take a more aggressive line and a couple of times it almost bit us in the behind.

My second thought, which ties into the first, is that this is a route in desperate need of a designated water trail. So much of the information that I had, from many sources, was either - wrong, outdated, or wildly inaccurate. With the exception of the Alaska ferries (The Alaska Marine Highway System) and most of the Harbor Masters we dealt with, there is very little support for kayakers. The vast majority of the 'possible' campsites that I gleaned from various sources were not campable beaches. We camped on several perfect beaches that I had never come across in my research. If a group of concerned locals would band together from Ketchikan to Skagway (and maybe an arm off to glacier bay) to create designated campsites, and reliable information and a support network - I would have gladly paid for an official guide book! - More people would do the route which would provide more revenue to local merchants.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the experience was wonderful. The scenery was beautiful, amazing in fact. We saw humpback whales most days. We saw bald eagles every day - multiple times a day. Seals and sea lions where nearly constant companions. We saw a few sea otters, and for the first time for me we saw a pod of Orca. Granted they were at a distance, but it was still nice to see. But every time I paddle Alaska I am amazed by the scale. This is an actual conversation:

Paddler A: ice berg, left side, a few miles off.

Paddler B: I see it.

Paddler A: wait. I think that is actually a cruise ship.

On our last day, paddling into Skagway I saw what at first I thought was a pair of white buoys. Small one's marking a crab pot or something like that. A few minutes later I realized that they were 50 foot long sport fishing boats.

the scale of what you are seeing around you is so massive it distorts your perceptions. I can't explain why this doesn't happen paddling the BC coast - which is breathtakingly beautiful - but it doesn't.

If you haven't been to Alaska you must go. I don't know how many times I have been, but I will return and it will always be amazing.