Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lava: Eight.

It's tough to appreciate the simple act of waking up dry until you haven't.

We were in great spirits this morning, largely because we had.

Pete sniffed out some coffee and drank it while we all struggled to stuff the pile of food we'd bought (at village prices!) into our incredible shrinking packs. We stuffed and ate and stuffed and ate, and when there was no possible way to squeeze more food onto bikes or into bodies there was still a pile of food left in the room.

We rolled out into drizzle, and for the few minutes it took us to find our way past the airstrip and down to the beach that was fine. But the grayness of the day, closeness of the clouds, and back-to-wetness of our clothes seemed to bring the mood right back down. There was chatter as we rolled along, but not much.

I can't speak for anyone but myself but my thoughts were heading in the direction of 'this is gonna be miserable if we don't get a dry day soon'. I knew better than to hope for sun, I just wanted a little less rain. A tall order out here.

Wheel geeks can argue brass vs. alloy nips all they want in these conditions. I say use what's cheapest and/or most plentiful on your shelves. You'll be cutting them out shortly regardless.

The mood seemed to lighten a bit as we reached that indeterminate distance from town--past the point where it seems you could easily turn around and head back. Commitment has a way of removing inconsequential variables from the equation. But still it rained.

And then a funny thing happened. Pete has a history of finding some of the, um, oddest items when out riding. I'll not list the highlights here--those are his stories to tell. But today he found this just laying on the sand:

Maybe 2, 3 minutes later the rain stopped and the skies brightened. Condom as omen? It happened just (snap!) *like that*.

The wet sand was fast, the breeze was light, and the sky was suddenly tearing itself apart to reveal (wait for it)...


Bam! Spirits rose almost as fast as the pace. What started glum was turning into a brilliant day--how could we ask for more?

We didn't have to--Brian offered. Homemade cookie dough. BAM!

Just like that the vibe was reset to buzz.

We even pulled over and stopped for a hot lunch--largely (it seemed) to lighten our packs of some food weight. No one was going hungry on this stretch.

Note both wolf and bear tracks in the sand beyond Pete.

Pete checked the maps and announced our longest water crossing of the day was likely less than 5 minutes. There was much rejoicing.


...went the sound of EVERYTHING as we approached the Bear River. Not one, not a handful, but a pile of coastal browns were congregated here to fish. A couple of larger males snacked on their catch across the river on a wide spit. A sow and two awkward cubs seemed agitated at something (guess what) and continually approached and retreated. Then a subadult and a bigger male came over the dune line not far away. The sub saw us and fled at a dead run, really stretching it out to put distance between us. But the boar did not--he angled past us and ambled over to the agitated sow as if to apologize for nappin' on the job.

We threw out suggestions on how to cross the river yet stay safe and mobile all the while. No plan seemed sound--there were just too many bears, in too many places, to feel comfortable with the ~10 stationary minutes it would take to unpack, rig boats, cross, then pack up. We considered heading inland but there were bears there too--some sleeping, some ambling, others distant but approaching. Breakers were much too big to punch out and paddle past. In a word, it was tense. There was no clear 'right action' to take.

We kept edging closer to the river, hoping for an advantageous realignment of circumstances, but none came. The agitated sow was every bit as testy, and getting braver about ambling close before wheeling to shoo her cubs back.

I slapped my forehead when I realized our oversight: We'd edged our way to the river hoping to cross, but where we stood was the last bend with current before the river met the breakers. Translation: Salmon. We were standing on the most coveted fishing spot. Once we realized our error we edged away, up onto a dune for better 360* visibility, then slowly worked up the river's edge, stopping to scan the perimeter constantly. Point man Brian would take a few steps, we'd shuffle behind, then we'd all stop and stare, gauging the reaction of any bear in sight. At first there wasn't much to go on, but as we got further from the catbird spot several bears visibly relaxed--laying back down to eat on their catch. The agitated sow waddled into the water--precisely where we'd been standing--and began scrambling after fish to feed her cubs.

When collectively we felt as though the situation had stabilized, the guys scrambled down the bank and began hurriedly inflating boats. I stood sentry on the dune, able to keep tabs on ~10 bears that weren't visible from water level. Once Dave was across and could see a wide sweep of real estate, I shuffled down and hurriedly blew up my boat, then motored to the other side to repack.

There were several more streams to cross throughout the afternoon, with plenty of ursine company at each, but none approached the scene at the Bear River.

Brian's 'magic gear' ran out of pixie dust, so he stopped to install a tensioner.

Can't take a break without plowing down more food while enjoying the world beneath your feet.

In a pointed departure from our habits of the previous few nights, we called it a day and set up camp with the sun still high in the sky. Back to vacation mode.

(^^^Note the well defined bear trail running along the left edge of the frame.)

This guy was positively manic bebopping around these blossoms, until passing out (as pictured) with what seemed like a sugar crash. Amped. Then, faceplant, and out.

Dave seemed to be enjoying all aspects of the trip, but he positively came alive when it was time for campcraft. Give the man a task (here, lining the tent with dry grasses) and he'd just go to work until the job was done, then look for something else, tackle that, and on, and on, and on.

Dave shown here, 'malleting'. No cause for alarm, just stay out of his way.

And fire? Well, anyone can cobble something together that burns, but it wasn't done right (really) until Dave had put things in order.

And then we unwound into the evening. Cooked and ate. Did dishes and relaxed. Collected more wood while the light persisted--we were far too buzzed from a 5-star day to dream of sleeping yet.

First Pete faded, then Brian wandered off to bed. Dave and I fed the fire late into the night talking, solving the problems of the worlds we knew. That done we talked of family at home, plans for how we'd spend time with them upon returning. Then it was early morning and still we kept at it, plotting out future adventures with bikes and boats--the way you do when all is well on the current trip. Then it was after 3 and Dave seemed to be just getting going. I bade him goodnight and could hear him rambling around and feeding the fire--sticks breaking, embers popping--every time I shifted in the night. I doubt he slept, and I can't say I blame him: I didn't want the day to end either.