Monday, February 27, 2012

Lost and Found: Six.

The difficult travel of the previous two days took a toll on all of us--or at least that's the way it seemed as we lollygagged around camp until late in the morning. We stoked up the fire, made coffee, told stories, made more coffee, and just generally seemed in no hurry to get back at it.

Some of this might have been trying to time our crossing of nearby Lituya Bay on an incoming tide, but it seemed like everyone just wanted to rest and decompress a bit. That, and the beach looked to be nothing but pushing right out of camp. Dylan finally got us motivated, without a word, simply by taking the initiative to get up and do the dishes.

And push we did--for all of the 2+ hours it took to get to Lituya. But nothing this morning seemed remotely as tough as all of yesterday--today was just hard walking.

We thoroughly investigated every bit of beach booty we found that morning, partly out of genuine curiosity and partly just for the diversion from pushing.

The routine upon arriving at a water crossing was fairly predictable, but it was anything but scripted. Seemed like each and every time we blew up we'd all figure some better way to rig the boat, or lash the bike to it, or at the very least we'd give some new twist a shot even if it failed. Here at the put-in for Lituya, Roman demonstrated a novel 'roll 'er on in' approach. You'll have to ask him how it worked out.

Crossing Lituya Bay was uneventful in an anxious sort of way. We stayed far enough upstream that the visible crashing breakers at the mouth were never a concern, but ~2/3 of the way across we entered the rushing outflow of the river-within-the-bay where it met the far greater force of the incoming tide. When I saw the obvious line between calm and chaos Doom was just sliding up next to me. After rifling through my memory banks for any clue to what I was seeing and what we should do about it (and coming up empty) I asked him what he thought.


...I have no idea what that is!"

...was his response, which wasn't quite the guidance I'd been looking for. My lack of experience at river paddling had me a bit puckered crossing the eddy fence between incoming and outgoing, and having done it just the once made me no more comfortable, minutes later, when we needed to do it again. Ferrying powerfully came naturally--the adrenaline surge virtually demanded it. Such a unique sight to see so much opposing current channeled so tightly in this wide and otherwise calm bay.

We eddied out and packed up, tanking up on water for what felt to be a scorcher of an afternoon approaching.

Rather than following the shoreline around to the mouth of the bay we cut the corner through the woods, angling in what felt like the most direct direction, but needing to do lots of 'schwacking to get back to the beach. Many good bear trails in that forest, but none of them seemed headed our way.

Even once back to the beach proper it was boulders and cobbles, keeping us to an hours-per-mile pace. We each retreated into those familiar places deep in our own heads. And pushed.

From inside of the tree line the crashing of the waves was somewhat muted, allowing us to hear other sounds: Wind in the leaves, birds flitting or singing, and of course the constant drone of mosquitoes. But there was another noise--one that reached out to each of us several times, with us dismissing it until, finally, Eric asked Dylan if he heard anything. Dylan smiled an impish grin that didn't really answer the question. I thought I was hearing an outboard motor somewhere offshore. Eric dropped his bike and pushed his way out of the trees, then poked back in, eyes bright and smiling, and motioned for us to come look.

If you've ever heard the din (moaningroaningfartingsnarling) that sea lions make you can forgive my 'outboard motor' assumption. We crept as close as we dared, took a few pics, observed them NOT observing us, then crept yet closer.

Even at this distance they paid us no mind, likely because this haulout had proven a safe haven for generations. We couldn't get to them and they knew it.

It was neat to observe the ways they'd adapted to get up out of the water--usually waiting for an incoming wave to lift them most of the way before lunging. And even more fascinating to see the hierarchy once up on the rock. Brutally effective is the best way to sum up.

Then it was back to the slog. Within an hour the boulders gave way to cobbles, and then the cobbles got thinner. And thinner. And then they just tapered off to nothing.

We stopped there for snacks, rest, and the welcome chore of reinstalling pedals.

And then it was back to riding. The beach was soft for some reason that I couldn't deduce, but it was still blessed riding.

And it actually got much better--delightful even, with an interesting mix of techy rock and exposed bedrock dipping in and out of the intertidal. Truly wild riding.

The sun went away and the mist rolled in, changing the temperature as fast as the mood. The wind came up and stayed there. Suddenly it didn't feel like such a lark to be out here. I believe the term to describe the change that I felt is foreboding.

That feeling was reinforced at two difficult water crossings. This coast is steep and cut by rivers draining glaciers. The water roils from beneath ice, cuts through forest, gains energy, crashes forcefully into the sea. The sea crashes back. It is a timeless battle, the casualties of which are usually limited to erosion. Until silly humans with their toys and delusions of grandeur come loping along to get between the two.

The crashing, dumping breakers prevented us from just paddling out to avoid the rivers. The (lack of) depth and steep grade meant that we couldn't paddle across, either. The rounded slimy rocks and powerful current pushed us to undesirable places--sweeping my feet, causing Eric to stumble and drop his bike, forcing Doom back to reassess his line. Even Roman stumbled. We all had a tough time getting across. An exhausting, hyperventilating, stumbling, staggering, wide-eyed and cold-sweat kind of time.

I'm zoomed in on Roman in the pic above, thus you can't see the real width of the crossing. Nor can you hear the chaos of the waves crashing into the river, feel the power of the current preventing so much as one solid footfall. Perhaps most importantly, you cannot imagine the deep, numbing cold of the glacial runoff our legs are in.

I'm here to tell you that it was all real, it was real big, and it scared me.


Later, after dinner, we talked a bit about the day's adventures, but everyone seemed knackered and at best the conversation was thin.

I was knackered too--probably more than the rest. But I wasn't sleepy, not yet. It took a lot of ruminating while staring into the embers to understand why.

There's this quote that I've been carrying around since college. It rears its disheveled head from time to time and I'm honestly never sure exactly what to do with it. The words are attributed to Nietzsche but have probably been re-worked ad infinitum. This night, I don't know if they leapt forward unbidden out of the musty depths or if I deliberately called them up.

The quote goes something like this: "We moderns, we half barbarians, we are in the midst of our bliss only when we are most in danger. The only stimulus that tickles us is the infinite, the immeasurable..."

Past altercations with these words have seen me torture them into some sort of quasi-logical justification for solo travel in remote places, for calculated risk-taking regardless of time or place, even as a Malloryesque quip to explain (without really saying a thing) why I'm drawn to attempt such seemingly difficult, dangerous, and frivolous endeavors.

I worked the words over in my head.

Added a stick to the fire...

Settled back down...

...and thought some more.

I may have just gotten tired, rummy enough that I didn't want to think on it any longer, and chose an easy way out. But that quote didn't really seem appropriate to this situation either. I wasn't in the midst of any bliss while struggling across those rivers. I was scared, really frightened, because I knew I wasn't in complete control.

That sounded right, if incomplete.

And then I laughed: out loud, tears rolling, belly jiggling--really laughed. At myself, of course. Because only at that moment could I clearly see what a farce the illusion of control really is.

Before I could get sucked down that rabbit hole I kicked the fire apart and went to bed.