Friday, May 11, 2012

Lava: Thirteen.

By morning our bedsteads of heaped grass with auxiliary boat lift had sunk to within millimeters of the waterline. Lean a bit too far to pull something out of your pack and you'd be elbow deep in soup. So it was a grim progress we made in packing up and getting going.

Once you accept that you're going to be sodden and filthy for the foreseeable future, then the struggle to stay clean/dry can end. The sooner the better--not even a duck's ass could stay dry out here.

We crossed the Meshik, even getting a tiny bit of current-assist before grounding out. We chased the receding tide to some avail, but at some point you just have to accept your fate and get back to the shoreline. We'd been stranded 1/2 mile out a few times in the past ~week, unable to reach floatable water, and scarcely capable of making it back through the muck to semi-solid earth. Truly no-man's-land.

There wasn't often a clear 'right answer' with respect to line choice--and as such we'd rarely be on the same line. 4 guys fanned out and searching for the firmest surface gets to be comical when there's no good line to be found. Dave and Brian floated better than Pete or I, and as such could make some pedal progress in places where we didn't bother swinging a leg over our bikes to try. Trudging along behind, we could see when their tracks rode high or cut deep, and would be able to adjust our course from that--where to be and where emphatically not to.

The wind had vanished, replaced by drizzle that morphed into a full-on cold rain, causing us to wonder if our foot-slogging could have been avoided with a bit more patience out at Point Stroganof.

At Birthday Creek the outflow was strong enough to dip a bottle and drink--our first sweet water in better than 3 days. Not that drinking had been critical--I felt like just breathing was nearly adequate hydration.

Early afternoon we found rideable stretches of black sand beach, often interspersed with muck of some sort, but the balance had shifted to mostly riding. Derelict structures and abandoned boats began to appear, signaling a certain proximity to the village. We popped up off the beach and found a rough ATV track, that may or may not have been any better than what we'd left behind.

Maybe an hour of increasingly frustrating travel popped us out here.

And then, yes Virginia, the rain came down hard. With less than a mile to go to "town" Pete flatted his rear tire. And the rest of us pulled full on bastard moves in an effort to save our own hypothermic hides: We just kept riding. He needs to tell that story from his perspective--here or elsewhere.

Moments later we found the hub of All That Is and Will Be in Meshik: Jack's New Meshik Mall.

Inside Betty tended to us like the needy kids we were, feeding us hot ramen and White Castles, loaning us the phone and coming up with any and every number needed to make flight reservations to get back home, even interpreting byzantine airline rules and regs. While this was happening a steady stream of locals darkened the doorway in search of processed white sugar in liquid, solid, and even gel form. (Licorice is not a big seller, Monster is).

We made friends at the school with teachers and administration, crashing there for the few days it took to get all of us and our gear out on the tiny planes that touch down briefly when the weather allows.

Brian won big on many levels, selling his bike, paddle, and PFD to some stoked locals, then getting a seat on the first flight out in order to make it back to work *almost* on time. B--you need to tell, at minimum, the story of your flights in and out, and all the shenanigans along the way.

Pete, Dave and I stayed another ~2 days in the quiet of the school, decompressing before re-entry by napping, reading books (remember books?!) and magazines, checking and answering some email, and using the gym to play round after round of H-O-R-S-E, floor hockey, and dodgeball.

In sum, we rode, paddled, pushed, and dragged for roughly 280 miles in the span of 13 days.

The photos above were shot primarily on a Canon T1i with a 60mm macro and 8-16mm UWA. Supplementary shots/clips came from a Canon SX230 IS, and a Contour POV with waterproof case. Read between the lines here and you can safely assume that yes, there is a full-on video to accompany all of the above stills and text.

Dave is currently working on his writeup and pics. Keep an eye on the Surly blog for that sometime in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lava: Ten, eleven, twelve.

On tap for the morning: 5 water crossings traversing the Seal Islands. The continuance of blue skies and light breezes kept us upbeat as the route edged back into a marine phase.

Don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

I dare say this was the most subtly memorable day of the trip. The riding was good--largely hardpacked but requiring you to pay attention and choose lines, often dancing right along water's edge to get the most glide per stroke. But it never went on for long before we'd be unpacking, inflating and paddling a brief bit of fun water. Then pack up, ride another interesting bit before floating, and repeat.

By 'fun' water I mean that we were crossing short constrictions where a large bay filled and drained. So there was substantial current to factor in, increasing toward the midpoint of each reach before falling off again near the far shore. Plus breakers to skirt the edges of, as well as an increasing amount of wind to confound and confuse. All in all, it was just enough to call it enjoyable and challenging, but, perhaps because we'd learned so much a ~week before, it never became exciting or anxious.

On into afternoon the crossings ended and we got back to pure beach riding. And although I doubt any of us could say for sure when it happened, the wind was now up enough that any further paddling would be questionable to commit to.

Fortunately there was no more water to cross today. Somewhere near the base of the Stroganof spit we were able to find a bluff big enough to hide under. Protected from the brunt of the wind, we made camp for the night. Flapping tents made conversation difficult, but it also made plain that what we'd planned the next day--a 6+ mile crossing of Port Heiden--was not going to be possible until the wind died.

I was too fixated on the wind to get much sleep that night. Each time it dropped, usually for mere seconds, I was alert and straining to hear through my bag: How big were the waves, and what direction were they coming from?

As is often my habit, I finally fell off exhausted seemingly minutes before daybreak. Which is when Pete rousted us to get moving. As much open water as we had to cross, we wanted to time our put-in for the very last bit of outflow going to slack, giving us as much buffer as possible to paddle with the incoming flow. We packed quickly and rode the ~5 miles out to Stroganof Point.

And the wind was every bit as strong out there, driving waves into the shore where we stood. We discussed options, but it seemed clear that putting in with that amount of wind and what we assumed were much bigger waves in the channels was a terrible idea. Wanting to stay close to keep tabs on the conditions *right here*, we tried to erect a tent to crash in for a bit, but the wind kept that from happening. A brief powwow then we headed back toward the base of the spit.

There we raised a tent and climbed in, napping off and on, snacking here and there, mostly just waiting for the other shoe to drop. If anything the wind increased through the afternoon, bringing rain with it. Brian and I did some high-stakes food trading, wherein each obviously felt that the other was clearly a sucka for coming out of the deal as they did.

When it became obvious that no further consideration would be given to attempting the crossing today, we erected the other tent, bolstered both with added guyouts and sand dams along the base of each wall, then tried to get some sleep.

By morning the wind hadn't dropped a bit--had merely changed direction 180*. Was that good? Bad? Did it make our planned attempt any more possible? We vacillated wildly while packing up. I was game to go back to the point and have a look, but figured we'd be back here shortly thereafter. Pete didn't seem game to try, Dave was too busy packing the Angry Midget to comment. And Brian? He said little but his look seemed amused, perhaps wondering why we were even having this conversation: We had water, and boats, so why not put in? At least that was how I read it.

Ultimately the decision to abort the crossing and start heading *around* Port Heiden was made. I guessed we were in for at least a day and a half, maybe two days of tidal mank slogging. Nasty as that sounded, I couldn't get my head around paddling a tiny, overladen packraft in the wind and waves present.

It was about as bad as we expected.

We were on the move for better than 12 hours this day, riding for the first 30 minutes and then not again. At all. We skirted the shore of the bay, heading inland when the mank became too deep, heading back out when the mush started to swallow us. We saw birds and bugs, grasses, water, and goop, but nary a rock nor tree blighted our view all day.

We were all soaked through from the inside out and outside in. We had hoped to cross the Meshik River mouth and work our way toward the first contour lines we'd cross all day--all in hopes of finding a dry spot to camp. In the last bit of wan twilight we admitted defeat, opting not to wander aimlessly in the dark. We pulled up bunches of grass and piled them deep in our tents, laid the boats out atop that, then heaped sleeping gear atop that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lava: Nine.

As weather for riding goes, you could do a lot worse than what we woke to and traveled through all of this day. Cerulean skies, light breezes, packed sand.

While making breakfast and packing up I tried to dredge up a quotation from a book I'd read last spring. It had been on my mind since leaving the Bear River, but I wasn't able to remember it in sufficient enough detail to share it with the gang.

But here, now, I can open the book and quote it verbatim:
Half of our population considers grizzlies to be serial killers and the other half considers them a cross between Yogi Bear and Winnie the Pooh. But they are not serial killers, they are not harmless, and they are not our friends. They are wild beings, with all that connotes. For reasons I don't understand, many people have a hard time accepting that fact. As Aldo Leopold put it: "Only those able to see the pageant of evolution can be expected to value its theater, the wilderness, and its outstanding achievement, the grizzly."

We had a river crossing a short distance out of camp. Someone thought they saw a bear as we approached, but when we arrived the river was vacant. I enjoy spectating wildlife going about their doings, but in their absence I can enjoy distant views instead.

Then we crossed another river--just splashed on through--and another, neither with any bears present, and had to wonder why there were so many yesterday and so few today. Lack of salmon running up these to spawn? Full from yesterday's gorge-a-thon? Late night party left them all hungover?

Arriving at the Muddy River the on-the-ground scene bore little resemblance to what the maps showed. We found a single 1/3 mile wide braid with no clear indication on where, or how, to best cross. Pete did what Pete does and just plowed straight in from where we stood. He wallowed at first, strode easily through the middle, then wallowed deep on the far side.

The water lacked clarity so riffles were the only means for gauging approximate depth, and that wasn't quite enough to go on. Brian headed upstream to try a different line.

He too had good luck early on but then stumbled and nearly fell, catching himself before losing his footing but ending up way past balls deep in the process. Then it looked like he was struggling through quicksand through the middle section, before wallowing deep again at the far side.

Veniaminoff, venting.

Dave and I talked it over a bit. I voted to head closer to the breakers where the braids came together, blow up the boats, and paddle a short distance in fast current. Dave hemmed and hawed and ultimately plowed in on a derivative of Pete's line. I followed shortly, using his missteps to clue me in to what was happening below.

We ended up wallowing about as much as the others, then once on the far side turned our attention to Cape Seniavin.

Anyone and everyone familiar with this coast had told us that we'd need to head inland to get past Cape Seniavin (rhymes with cinnamon). That detour was partially to avoid the cliffy cape, but mostly to keep from spooking the heaps of walrus hauled out in its shadow. We smelled their acrid ammonia-rich presence before we could see or hear them, using that cue to head off the beach and into the hills.

We lunched there, spectating and speculating on the activities of the herd. Back on the bikes we found a rideable bear trail over the top.

A gorgeous section of beach followed, then another cape with an obvious-even-from-this-distance bear trail cutting the corner.

Then more booty, more great riding, and increasing amounts of avian company.

The mother lode?

This was a mere portion of the quantity we found in one ~100 square meter spot. I dropped a waypoint on the GPS and plan to sell the location of that waypoint on eBay...

Glance at a map for this part of the peninsula and you'll see the names of several wildlife refuge units that we passed through--some administered by the feds, some by the state, and some merely by common sense.

Needing water, we peered over the dune line to see Ilnik Lake angling our way.

Around about that time we circled the wagons and called it a night.

Comfy evening temps had us lingering in the warm sand for hours, feeding the fire, cooking our dinners, alternately enjoying conversation, jokes, and silence, then drifting off for more quality sleep.