Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lava: Four.

An odd glow inside the tent caught my attention as I rolled from my side to my back, searching for increased comfort. I sat up, scooched toward the door, pulled back the flap and stared amazed at a blazing ball of sun already midway into a lightly clouded sky. I guessed it must have been after nine at least (almost ten!), and since neither Pete nor Dave yet stirred, I had to conclude that we really were on vacation.

Right on.

I wandered up the beach and into the dunes looking for anything interesting. This stretch of beach was surprisingly blank, so I concluded my wandering by joining the others in breakfast back at camp.

The bugs made us instinctively (and quickly) face upwind. Deploying hoods helped too, but they were rarely that bad.

Bellies full and stuff stowed we moved off down the beach, finding an even firmer surface than the average of the previous days. Each of us continually postulated reasons why certain sections felt firmer, or not, than others, including grain size, percentage of cobbles, pitch, proximity to crashing waves, nearness of bluffs, The Wind Factor, and current state of the tides. In reality we had no clear idea--our guessing game was merely a means of being attentive to the changing world beneath our wheels.

We passed the morning inspecting a hunk of ivory, exploring a shipwreck, then exchanged greetings with offshore travelers and covered a few bright, sunny miles.

Bikeboating tip #632d: Buy two sets of pedals, each a different color. Give one of each color to your buddy, keep one mismatched set for yourself. Days into a trip when you're dazed and rummy and it's time to reinstall pedals after floating or 'shwacking, you don't need to scrape through the grit and muck clinging to the axles to determine which goes where. For me, red went right, black went left.

Early afternoon we were surprised to find vehicle tracks. Probably not as surprised as they were, days later, when they stumbled onto ours.

The tracks could only mean that we'd have clearish sailing into the tiny village of Nelson Lagoon.

Mas lobo.

We guessed we were within a few miles of the village when an obvious road appeared cleaving the dune line. We stopped and examined maps, discussing our first potential route option. Pre-trip I'd pored over topos and pondered the possibility of island hopping from Nelson Lagoon Village out into the Kudobins, then, weather permitting, making the big leap and paddling 9 miles across to Port Moller. Sitting on the sand, 4 days in and feeling vulnerable as nature intended us to be, that distance seemed a lot to commit to. Even under hot, sunny, windless skies.

Pavlof, paintbrush, lupine, and Dave.

Perhaps in part due to my poor judgement back at Moffet Lagoon, Pete and Dave voted to cut south across Nelson Lagoon, opting to follow the shoreline around Herendeen Bay. This route would be scores of miles longer, but with little risk of being pushed out to sea by wind or tides. Given current weather I hemmed a bit--you couldn't ask for more perfect conditions to paddle big water. But ultimately I knew their prudent choice was right, so we cut inland, skipping the village, and headed for the lagoon.

Our first plot twist happened here, looking out over the lagoon. Our charts told that the tide had been slack an hour ago, but was emphatically dropping at the moment and for the next few hours. Knowing this, and wanting to use the power of the tidal current to move us east along the lagoon, we trod out through the muck, hesitantly at first, then faster as the consistency continued.

Just at waters edge we unpacked and inflated, focused on our task but unable to ignore the water deepening as we stood still. Not the quickest to adapt to change, my inner ostrich kept repeating; "But the chart says it's going out!"

Eventually I had to accept that the charts were inaccurate, or at least that we'd read them wrong. Not wanting to be pushed west by the inexorable incoming flow, we walked our laden boats east, happy at least to be in a more viscous medium.

Unwilling to paddle in the dark, we committed to the crossing, fighting wind and tide all the way across. We took out and packed up at sunset, then commenced walking our bikes up well-worn bear trails.

We pushed on, searching for any semblance of a campsite but finding nothing. None of us relished bumping into a bear in the gloom, thus we pushed faster until stumbling onto a well-used fishing shack in the darkness. We threw out bags and pads on the floor of its derelict tool shed, glad to have some semblance of walls between us and the maddening hordes of mosquitoes.