Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lava: Seven.

Although it was wonderful to have walls and a roof sheltering us from the rain that drummed down all night, I slept poorly on the hard floor of the shack. My current iteration of a bikerafting sleep system worked well on soft (beach!) surfaces, but was a poor substitute for padding on the hard floor.

Yet another lesson learned.

We were up early so as to be paddling while the last of the tide was still coming in, hoping that we'd be able to make most of our crossing on the slack. We savored the roof over our heads while packing, Pete let the world know we'd been here, then we walked down to the water in drizzle.

The wind seemed calmer than the night before, but we all knew that here, in the protected cove, what we were feeling had little bearing on what was happening further out. We battened down the hatches as much as possible--double drybagging anything important, triple checking all cinched straps, knowing that we were likely to have a few hours of wind and waves to contend with.

In truth, the next few hours were a lot worse than I expected. Once out of the protected cove we were fully at the mercy of the wind. And of that there was aplenty.

Our plan had been for Pete and Dave to stay ahead of me in the water. Since we'd have no view of land and would therefore have no landmarks to navigate by, I hoped to keep tabs on the GPS whenever possible, and to shout needed deviations to the guys.

In practice the waterproof bag holding the GPS fogged immediately, but it was superfluous anyway--the gale came at us from the NW, so we had no choice but to keep the bows pointed just a tick or two off of that.

That, and the driven waves were big enough to capsize us easily. Point your bow anywhere other than straight into the waves and you'd be swimming in under a minute. It was as close to survival paddling as I ever hope to be. The swells were 4 to 5 footers--easy enough for our buoyant boats as long as the waves were rounded and rhythmic. But every minute or so the wind would gust and blow the top off of an approaching wave: The effect was the same as the wave breaking just before hitting us. This forced us to make a last second correction and then hunker and brace as they crashed into and through the bike on the bow. Before the wave was done washing over you it was straight back to paddling. Stop paddling for a few brief seconds--to wipe your nose or scratch an itch--and you'd spend the next five minutes working hard to catch back up. Eating, drinking, peeing--all were out of the question.

Although we kept our bows pointed NNW for the bulk of this 2.5 hour crossing, we made zero progress to the NNW. Once we left the cove the wind pushed us almost due E.

Only when we were within spitting distance of Egg Island, where for some reason the wind was slightly diminished, did we turn and run with it.

Finally back on shore we took our time collecting ourselves and repacking, sharing close calls from moments before that, despite our proximity, had gone unnoticed by the others in the heat of it.

We picked our way along--walking--for much of the next mile, hoping for a rideable surface but knowing from the topos that for at least a few hours that was unlikely.

Cliffs came right down into the water at several points, forcing us to wade out with the bikes looking for a way around, and even to inflate and paddle thrice against the ever-rising gale. There is a certain mental state required for transitioning between bike and boat and back, weather be damned, and if your head isn't in the right place it quickly becomes a chore that you'd rather not bother with.

Highlights from this afternoon were largely of the geological sort.

While chimping this picture it occurred to me that we hadn't smiled or laughed much on this day. Type 2 fun I guess. I hoped that once we recharged in Port Moller we'd be able to regain the easygoing vibe of the first few days.

A few miles out from Port Moller a solitary figure could be seen in the mist ahead. We'd just passed a bedraggled looking sow with three cubs, and were still on high alert. As we closed in it resolved to be a person riding the beach on a fat tire bike. Brian! He'd had almost as much of an adventure as we had in getting to this point, and had been lucky to log onto a computer to follow our SPOT points along the beach. When he figured we were within a few hours he headed out to meet us. We gratefully accepted candy bars from his overflowing food bag, then collectively rode a lovely stretch of black sand beach into Port Moller.

Francisco the Fisherman, on being deported way-back-when: "I do not know why they bother--I'll just come back tomorrow..."

We found the store and loaded bags with food. Brian--clean, dry, rested--was game to head out into the evening drizzle to find a place to camp. After the last few days I sensed that Dave and Pete wanted to find someplace *right here*--dry and warm--to spend the night. I know I did. But it's always odd in places like this--there are no motels, nor signs pointing the way to any services. So you just have to ask around. But asking got us no closer--it was almost like Big Brother was watching and we'd touched on a verboten subject. They didn't just not answer--they'd either end the conversation by walking away, or change the subject while averting their eyes. So strange. Eventually we lucked out and found the right person (or he found us?!) and were able to rent a bunkhouse room for the night.

Four guys plus packs and gear was a little tight, but it beat climbing into a wet sleeping bag in the rain.

We ate, laughed, ate, joked, ate, drank a little, ate some more, then passed out, warm and dry.