This is a story I tell people a lot about the Inside Passage trip, that I realized I have never told here.
Towards the end of the trip, north of Juneau, after most of my bout with the flu was done - so I thought - we were camped by the mouth of Berners Bay. Our original plan for a campsite was perfect, until we found the big - and fresh - bear paw print in the sand. We had a close encounter with a very large brown bear less than a week before, and were a bit skittish at the thought of another late night visit from a curious 1000 pound bear. The problem was this, we pushed our distance that day, this site was the last good option that we knew of. We had plenty of daylight, but the wind was getting worse, and to find a site we needed to head out into the main channel of the Lynn Canal. We felt we had no choice as neither of us would have slept well after seeing the bear print. So we got back into the boats. As we rounded the point the wind and chop got significantly worse, and we started paddling north looking for a beach we could land on. We spotted one relatively quickly that was landable, but very rocky. We took it, and made it work. It was the kind of beach where you unload the boats standing in knee deep water, then carrying your kayak over slippery, barnacled rocks above the high tide line. We found a good flat spot for the tent, made dinner and went to sleep. If you have watched the Paddle North Videos, this is the beach where I point ashore and say 'this way the bears are going to get us' then I point out to the water, 'and this way the water is going to get us!' It wasn't a happy night. It was made worse when we listened to the weather report. It was calling for the same winds the following morning, but we knew we had to get off that lousy beach. So this is what we did:
3 am start, on the water by 5:30. By paddling as the sun was coming up, the winds would be lessened. We could cover our distance to Eldrid rock before it got too late, when the wind would be worse. It worked beautifully, and it was an amazing day. It was the first time that we were awed at the size of the mountains on either side of the Lynn Canal. It was really a beautiful paddling day. We made it passed the Eldrid light house, and found a large, easily landable strip of land. After carrying the boats high on the beach we set up the tent, and the cook tarp, and that was when the magic happened.
Earlier, Sarah and I had realized that we were both impatient paddlers, and we both hated taking the time to cook a big breakfast in the morning. If you cook a meal in the morning it takes a fair amount of time to cook, then eat, the clean up. We would rather be using that time eating miles. Every morning we would get up, and pack our personal stuff, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, and whatever else we had needed the night before. Then, one of us would take down and pack the tent, while the other would make coffee. Many mornings we wouldn't even drink the coffee like civilized paddlers, we would load it into thermos mugs and sip on it all morning. Breakfast would be a handful of nuts, some power food, a clif bar or something, and we would just get going. We took a five minute break every two hours or so, where we would eat more powerfood, or trail mix, or whatever we had thrown in our cockpits with us. Some days it would be a block of cheese and some pepperoni. Other days a Clif crunch bar and some peanut butter. There were definitely good days and bad days.
The morning of the 3 am start had been no different, so by noon, when we got to the beach north of Eldrid light we were hungry. We sat under the tarp going through food bags trying to figure out what to cook, and I found what I would later tell people was the best ration bag find ever. Oreos.
You may be wondering how it could be a surprise to find something in a bag you had packed, but on a trip like this it is completely possible. The food bag had been packed almost two months before. Then I drove 4000 miles by myself. Then I got all my gear on a ferry, and I met Sarah in Ketchikan. Then we started paddling north. By the time we got to the beach at Eldrid we had been paddling for 16 days. I had a lot on my mind, and had easily forgotten about the oreos. They were amazing, and while I was eating them - and I did eat them all - I formulated a meal plan. I found the pancake mix, and remembered that I had packed in a small bottle of real maple syrup. Sarah remembered that we had Nutella, she was pretty sure pancakes were designed as delivery system for nutella. I would like to think that it was my idea to make hot chocolate while we were prepping the pancakes, but I am sure the final, and greatest idea was Sarah's.
I had packed in whiskey. I have been packing whiskey on trips as long as I can remember. It doesn't need a mixer, you don't need that much of it. It doesn't even have to be cold. It is a good simple drink for the back country. Sarah had chosen to take a different route. She packed in O'malleys. O'malleys is a copy of Baileys irish cream. I just looked for a website for it, and I can't find one. That is how small of a market O'malleys is. In any case, added to hot chocolate it was amazing. After pancakes and hot chocolate with O'malleys I decided it was time for a nap. There is nothing like getting into a warm bag after a big meal, hot chocolate spiked with O'malleys and an oreo appetizer. I was asleep in seconds. Sarah stayed under the tarp reading while I slept. She said later she was sure a bear was going to walk down the beach. We were getting tired. Tired of mile after endless mile. Tired of bears. Tired of a lot of things. But we only had two more days of paddling ahead of us.
Many aspects of that trip I will never forget. Among them, the taste of real maple syrup while gazing at the Lynn canal from a beach we had paddled to. The joy of spending time with a good friend. The peace of mind of a long planned trip flowing almost flawlessly from beginning to end. And of course, oreos.