Friday, August 26, 2016

Footsteps of Giants: Lost coast north day four.

Waking to the sound of rain wasn't what I'd dreamed about.  Although honestly, at first, I wasn't sure that was even what it was.  The optimist in my drybag hoped that it was Doom, just outside, slinging handfuls of sand at our tent while taking a selfie and mouthing 'perf!' at the camera.  Once I scraped the crusted sand from my eyes and focused, I could see a million+ droplets beaded up on the outer skin of our 'mid, a few hundred of them sliding earthward.  Going to be a wet one.

Two men cooking breakfast, getting dressed and packing bags inside of a 2-man 'mid is a process, one which requires coordination, consideration, and proprioception.  The space is so confined and your gear so strewn that you need to think each movement through in advance, lest you find an elbow in your eye or dip a foot into your tentmate's soup.  That process was one level more delicate on this morning, owing to condensation on the inner walls of the tent which rained down onto us each time we bumped a wall or the center pole.  

We bade farewell to Brad and John and rode out into the drizzle, which initially wasn't as bad as it had sounded inside the tent.  Rounding a point of land soon after starting brought us face-on to the oncoming wind, driving rain straight down on our noses.  Already thin conversation grew yet more scarce as we burrowed inside of hoods and kept our heads tipped down to ease the sting.

Best to stand upwind of this'n.

I'd love to wax poetic here, spinning yarns about how the adverse conditions made us stronger, or forged a bond, maybe increased camaraderie.  Probably all of that did happen.  What stands out about the day, now, is that the sand was soft, the beach was steep, the rain and wind relentless.  We had to grovel at the very edge of the crashing waves to find a barely rideable surface, which meant that every few minutes one would dump right there and engulf our feet, chilling us yet more.  

Shivers were my first clue that something was changing ahead.  Then came the bergy bits in the intertidal.

Then we rounded a corner and saw this big blue marble standing sentinel at the mouth of the Seal River.  In bright sun or even heavy overcast I could have found limitless angles to explore and shoot here.  From within the heavy downpour we had, I fired off a few from-the-hip bursts with my gutless point and shoot and kept moving.

The Seal flows out of the Bering Glacier, carrying many thousands of cubic feet of water per second, with a few hundred cubic feet of ice floating, sloshing, and fizzing along within that current.  I may have been colder at some point on this trip, but I really can't remember when.  

A slack current on the put-in side of this crossing lulled me into thinking it would be easy.  That current increased imperceptibly, likely with each paddle stroke, until I suddenly became aware that my ferry angle and speed were insufficient to miss a grounded many-ton iceberg near my hoped-for landing.  I paused two beats then dove for the eddy behind it, amazed at its size and the power of the current whipping me past it.  And then I was almost upside down as the slack water of the eddy spun me around and pulled my unstrapped bike most of the way off the deck.

We packed haphazardly after the Seal, fingers too leaden to manage delicate tasks, cores too cold to care.  Popping over the dune line and back to the outer coast we nodded in amazement and appreciation as the temps instantly climbed an easy 10 degrees relative to the cold-hole of the Seal behind us.  Not to say it was warm...

I have no recollection of sunshine on this day.  I do remember being intensely grateful for the moments when either the rain or the wind (but rarely both) lulled.

After our third or fourth lunch-and-bootstrap break we found engaging riding high against the dune line, but it didn't last long enough -- maybe 10 minutes -- before we got squeezed back onto the apron at waters edge.  More groveling.

At the mouth of the Kaliakh River we stopped to admire dozens of seals sliding down the bank and into current to escape the predators (us) they saw approaching.  Look beyond Roman's right shoulder for their slides in the pic immediately below.

We didn't cross the Kaliakh until the next morning.  Perhaps we didn't want to disturb the seals any further.  Perhaps.  More likely we'd just run out of gumption for the day, so when someone suggested climbing up into the dune to camp we all moved that way without another word.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Footsteps of Giants: Lost coast north day three.

Overnight our weather emphatically shifted.  New normal was low ceiling, low pressure, flat light, wind and spittle from the southeast.  Little did we know this was as good as it would get for the next ~5 days.

It felt like summer had just been kicked to the curb by fall, and fall in SE AK means inches of rain per day.

It takes a lot more than a sodden forecast to dampen Davis.

Approaching Point Martin.

Minor gymnastics (brute strength coupled with delicate footing) were required to negotiate this obstacle.

We resumed pedaling on a mirrorlike beach near the Katalla townsite.

Tightly scheduled as we were, we had no time to explore the ruins shown on the USGS topo's.  Vertical posts sticking out of the sand marked the remains of a dock, and were the only remnant visible from the beach. 

Low tide slip and slide.

Riding on the mirror-smooth sand was effortless, and left free mental space to pay attention to the tide pools and life therein.  Award for 'most comical character' went to the hermit crabs, scurrying so quickly and haphazardly away from any movement.  I found it easy to anthropomorphize each one denying having stolen it's shell ("You can't prove anything!") while running away.

Above, Wingham Island closest, Kayak Island beyond.

As we neared the edge of Kanak Island the tide was mostly out, exposing vast flats with short channels between them.  Below the boys are clustered discussing whether to stay on the mainland and keep riding, with the likely result that we'd need to do one or two bigger crossings later.  Ultimately we decided to cross here, to the point of land just behind them.  And once we landed there we could see another, shorter crossing maybe 5 minutes ride away.

Normally we'd deflate boats and pack up between each crossing, because it doesn't take long and it's far easier to ride with all gear stowed.

But these crossings were so close together that we kinda figured "why not" and just lugged our inflated boats haphazardly from one to the next.  It was crude and comical, but it probably saved us time.

Ever the problem solver, Roman immediately devised a quick, easy, efficient means for attaching boat to pack so that he could ride more or less unencumbered for ~1/4 mile at a time.  He'd arrive at the next crossing, drop the boat with pack still attached, drop the bike onto the boat, then climb on and paddle across.  

Eventually we all found a way to mimic Roman's time-and-energy-saving discovery.

Many crossings hence we made it to the NW point of Kanak Island and proceeded to follow it's SW shoreline.  More low-tide mirror-smooth riding ensued, some so silent and effortless it felt akin to flying.

Eventually we arrived at the extreme southern tip of Kanak, where you need to cross Controller Bay to get to the Okalee Spit.  Back in '08 Eric and Dylan found such rough waters here that they hitched a ride on a bowpicker.  Somehow we arrived at a low-low tide and found light winds, light chop, and a short ~20 minute paddle across.  Having heard of the fast tide swings and having seen what Eric and Dylan experienced, we packed the boats quickly, carefully, and donned drysuits 'in case'.

Having reached the other side so quickly after having been prepared for an epic, no one was certain if that was actually "it".  Just too easy.  I checked Gaia and it showed where we stood as being underwater.  Huh.  Although we couldn't see another crossing anywhere ahead, we decided to play it safe and rode on with boats still deployed and ready.

After maybe 20 minutes of riding into a headbreeze with a giant, awkwardly shaped sail, I decided to stash my boat and when I started riding again I could see that Brett had done the same.  Although we weren't more than an inch above the actual sea level at any moment on this section, that inch was enough to keep us riding with some effort.

Cliffs on the north shore of Kayak Island dominate Jaybs.

Maybe 200 meters shy of being home free onto the Okalee, we came to a channel of uncertain depth.  I stood right at water's edge for a moment trying to gauge it, as though maybe it would be worth just wading, and in that moment sea level went from under my shoes to over them.  I hastily unpacked my boat but before I could inflate it my bike was floating next to it!  Needing to act fast before my belongings bobbed away, I leaned the bike on my hip, blew the boat ~2/3rds of the way up, then plopped in and sloshed across.

Above, Brett, and below, Jaybs.  From these pics you might get the idea that we'd just paddled miles from the last land visible behind them.  In fact there was terra firma immediately behind them (an obvious line in the water) just as I was pulling out the camera, and then suddenly there was no land and they were in the midst of their own 'disaster style' crossings.  

Once safely onto the Okalee we lunched briefly, stashed boats and paddles, then headed overland in hopes of finding a good bear trail back to the beach.

This trip happened 3rd week of July, which is prime wildflower season at home.  I'd actually had a bit of regret in leaving the peak flowers behind, because they are so stunning and so fleeting, and I simply hadn't expected anything exceptional from the Alaskan flora.

Ahem.  Shows what I know.

So delighted were we by the lupine and fireweed extravaganza that at first we didn't notice the berries.  And then we all dropped bikes and began inhaling.

We *did* in fact find a bear trail, or at least tracks left by a bear big enough to make a trail anywhere it went.  Moments later we popped out onto the beach, relieved to have good sight lines again.

A little guy.

Maybe 2 hours later we arrived at the western edge of Cape Suckling, another of the 'cruxes' that we'd learned about by listening to Eric and Dylan's tales.  We dropped bikes and scouted ahead, finding difficult but not impossible footing given our awkward loads.  I'd misread the maps and expected to have many more such traverses in the next ~2 miles, thus I lobbied to launch boats and paddle around all of them at once.  While whinily pleading my case Doom poked his head around the corner, then returned and reported that he could have thrown a rock to the next good riding, with no further challenges visible beyond. 

We unloaded gear from bikes and into packs, the better to carry them, and in maybe 30 minutes elapsed we were past the worst of it, repacked, and back to riding.  

Engaging riding led us onward beyond Cape Suckling, and as we neared the Kiklukh River something odd caught my eye.

It's common to see all sorts of detritus and outright trash washed up on the beaches, but that stuff all rests horizontally, and this thing was a part of the vertical world.  It resolved itself to be a tent just as two humans resolved to be themselves.  We'd known Brad and John were en route a day or so ahead of us, but we didn't expect to see them so soon.

We exchanged hugs and high fives then quickly threw up our tents in advance of oncoming precip.  We shared food, fire, stories and commiserations before wind-driven rain put an end to a very satisfying day.