MICHAL’S TRIP TO ALASKA PART II.
MUSICAL CROSSING Sunday 01.07.18
Morning was gorgeous, sunshine, no wind. Tina cooked lovely blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I had three, Freya none, as she cannot eat anything but her oats for breakfast because that’s best for her paddling performance. Or something like that.
After that we set off. First, we were following the coast, we could see otters, white head eagle and arctic fox. Wind picked up a little bit from behind, and we were making nice progress to the beach with petrified trees. Huge lumps of stone wood were laying between boulders with occasional tree stump. We landed and soon were running around taking pictures and calling: ”look, this one, and look there, here…”
Eventually it was time to move on, 40 km crossing was waiting for us. And, as always, when we were about to cross, the wind direction changed. Now we were facing the headwind.
“Would you mind if I listen to music? We have to paddle hard” asked Freya. It was fine with me.
We started to push our way into the wind and the only thing I could hear was noise. Like when you are on London bus with teenagers trying to listen to the latest music on their phones but you can really only hear the bus engine, doors opening and closing, people talking and cars outside speeding. Here, Freya had her phone out packed in Aquapack, with wave hitting our boats, wind whistling and paddles splashing. One thing I didn’t know was that Freya likes to sing. The good thing is, she is better singer than me, just.
Few hours in, and I started to hope that her phone would die soon. It did, but knowing Freya I should have known that she would have a spare phone battery ready. It took her lest then half a minute to get music on again. Ok, I shouldn’t complain and I’m not complaining, it is more of a fascinating observation. Unlike those teenagers she asked first if I minded. It’s just surprising to see that someone needs to listen to music because open crossing is boring. There was so much to see on this one. Sky was clear, visibility perfect and amazing Alaskan landscape all around us. Rocky islands ahead and behind, mountains on the right dominated by two huge volcanos covered with snow. There were birds, two whales, ferry and a tug pulling a barge. I could go on and on.
At nine in the evening we landed on small sandy beach. There were footprints everywhere. Fox, birds and cows footprints. If there are cows on this island, then there won’t be bears, we decided. It makes cooking and sorting food so much easier. Let’s see if we are right in our assumption.
Sun has woken us up. It was lovely morning with beautiful view of Pavlov volcano. We didn’t have any visitors all nigh, that was good.
We started to paddle along the coast again, Freya kept very close to the shore and was watching all sorts of seaweed under her hull. I didn’t mind, we could afford to have slower start, we did 65km yesterday and there was tail wind on the forecast for later today. I was watching shore rather than seabed. It looked almost like British coastline. It was rocky with green meadows on sloping hillside. There and now there was a herd of cows with an occasional bull among them.
We came to the corner and it was time to cross fifteen kilometres to the next island. Wind slowly picking up only it was straight into our faces again!
We were trying to get into good paddling routine but it was proving to be quite challenging after hard yesterday’s paddle. I eventually started getting reasonable paddling pace but Freya was staying behind. I had to constantly slow down and wait. Almost every time I looked over my shoulder I could see Freya looking down on her deck and GPS. And every time her head went down her paddle stroke changed, cadence increased but blades were hardly touching water. It reminded me of Wendy a lot (sorry Wendy). It was draining!
After what felt like ages we made it to the first island. There was nice little beach just on the corner, perfect spot for lunch. While we were eating Freya was complaining that she was really tired and that she was falling asleep while paddling. True, she felt asleep straight after we finished eating. I let her sleep for 15mins and woke her up just when the incoming water touched our kayaks.
It was obvious we will call it a short today. And yes, after another ten kilometres beach appeared on our right. We quickly agreed this was our destination for today. Shingle was quite steep with dumping surf but I managed to time my landing perfectly. Freya wasn’t as lucky, went fraction of the second too early and caught the wave rather then staying right behind it. She leaned far back in an attempt to release bow from the water. Bang, bang, bang, nose of the kayak was hitting stones and then broached sideways. Fortunately both kayak and Freya survived without any damage.
At the first glance we could not spot any sights of bear activity. It looked promising to be a bear free island. It didn’t last long. When I went to get some water from the stream in the corner of the beach I crossed several holes dug in the seaweed and shingle with poo pile next to it. They are here!
Forecast for tomorrow is strong wind and rain, if it’s from the right direction we might be able to make some progress. Otherwise we will be stuck here for a day or two.
REST DAY Tuesday 3.07.18
Today we had a day off. Rain was hitting our tent quite hard driven by strong wind gusts. So we slept till ten. Then I had to go out to dig breakfast out of the kayak and put some more boulders on our tent pegs as they came loose in the wind. Then we slept for few more hours. Obviously we needed some good rest. By two in the afternoon rain was gone and wind calmed down significantly. It would be good weather to go but we are on the island. Distance we could make today was either fifteen or forty kilometres. First option was not worth of the hassle of packing everything wet, second option meant we would be finishing too late not giving us enough time to set off at reasonable time tomorrow. We rather stayed in the tent and read some books and watched Kayaking Aleutians on Freya’s computer. Apparently this is a must do on stormy rest day. After was time for yet more reading and sleeping. Tomorrow we would like to start quite early.
FOG Wednesday 04.07.18
Sea was quite flat when we left. There were sea otters in the bay but didn’t wait long enough for us to come close to take good photo.
We went around the corner and could just see the next island to which we were heading under low laying clouds. While we were crossing, the fog descended on us and visibility dropped to few hundred meters. I struggled a bit to get into paddling properly and was really glad when we made it to the island after first fifteen kilometres. Luckily, we had short break on the water with some snacks. When we started with the next crossing, I felt much better, so we could push it quite hard. Visibility was quite poor ranging between few hundred meters to couple of kilometres. At same point Freya was saying that the numbers on her GPS were her only joy on such a crossing. At that point I could suddenly hear a wave rolling on our right, I looked there but was unable to see anything at first. Then a whale appeared. It didn’t look too big but I got my camera ready. It came up twice more before diving. As it started to disappear her tail swung high in the air. Humpack whale! My first one ever!
We continued paddling and could see whale tail in the air twice more. The fog thickened, and soon we couldn’t see anything but could hear monsters breathing all around us. It was quite surreal.
Fortunately after sometime the fog lifted and we our island came into view. We were going quite fast averaging 6.4kph including our breaks. Then suddenly plop! My right foot on the rudder went all the way forward “Shit, something in the rudder gave up” I thought.
Freya started to unscrew rudder cover at the stern to find out what was wrong while I watched whales. I could see two tails in the air before Freya announced that the rudder string came off and the best thing now was to disable the rudder and sort it out after we land. Some boats without rudder are worst than others. We had ten long kilometres to our landing spot left. Fortunately the whales continued in their show. At least five of them were sticking their tails high in the air. We were counting, five, six, seven, sixteen… We decided to stop at twenty. They last trick in the performance was to swing three tails high in the air simultaneously!
Finally we landed, pitched our tent and fixed my rudder. After that we went for a stroll around and across spit we camped on. No signs of bears around but found a dead Sea Lion in the corner of the beach. It was huge male beast. It looked like it died pretty recently and almost didn’t smell. Freya, of course, decided it was time for photo shoot and almost managed to kiss this thing. It looks like she wants to kiss all death sea creatures we would come across.
When I cooked dinner we had a visitor, fox came to see what’s in the pot and it took some stone throwing to scare it away.
We camped on Dear Island. That may be a reason why no bear showed up.
Morning was really grey, with sun promised in the forecast. We went on the water and went around the spit, on the corner, the wind hit us straight into our faces. It was funnelling from the north through Cold Bay straight towards us. Solid F5. With seventeen kilometres crossing ahead of us, it didn’t look pretty. Freya later called it nasty but I wouldn’t go that far. We pushed hard and the shore across the bay was eventually getting closer. When we finally made it across, we could find a little bit of shelter behind the headland. That was nice. We followed low muddy cliffs, almost like in Lincolnshire, with some rocky reefs running far into the sea. There was an open bay ahead, where we decided to stop for lunch, it turned out to have only two drawbacks, we had to push into the wind again, and it was really shallow. We had some wraps with tuna and rushed back on water as tide was running out, still we had to drag our kayaks for a couple of hundred meters before we had enough water under our hulls.
Paddling across the bay was lovely, we had a side wind at first but it changed soon to tail wind and we could surf nicely on following sea. We could if we wanted to, I had few runs but Freya indicated that she ate too much and it wasn’t not worth the effort. Ok, never mind, we had wind behind us and plenty of time.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the wind changed, one second we had nice tailwind, the next it was blowing straight into our faces. We started to follow the coast closely to seek some protection, it didn’t work particularly well, and there was lots of kelp close to shore too. So we split, Freya stayed close in and I went far out. After a while Freya was indicating that her sciatic nerve was playing up and there was a bay with a calling name ahead, Sandy Cove. Ok, why not, it looked nice so we finished a bit early again. Now, we were camping on sand dunes wondering, as always, if there were bears around.
What a day! Friday 06.04.18
Yesterday, we discussed a number of times, how to approach the False Pass. It was obvious that the tide through the pass runs quite fast but we were not sure what time it was running which way. We came to conclusion that slack might be at 1pm and tide would be in our favour before that. We thought we might start paddling around 6am to be able to make it on time but somehow overslept.
When we hit the water it was perfectly still and sunny. “Ok, let’s paddle hard and see if we can still make it on time,” we agreed.
Freya switched on the music on her phone again to get into the rhythm. I say music; it was some strange combination of styles, Scottish, classical, gothic and modern. At one point it sounded like a busy train station. Trains were braking with sharp long metal squeaks, people were talking some were very cheerful to meet their friends, some were crying as their relatives were leaving. Freight train was rattling over the points and conductor was using his whistle. Then someone fell under the train and woman started to cry hysterically. Anyway, it made us going.
Slowly some fog banks rolled in. Sometime we could see landscape around us just below, and sometime above the fog. On few occasions it was visible below and above at the same time.
Then one of the fog banks hit us. It came with wind, first we could see some small ripples on the water which slowly increased do solid F4. We were still pushing hard. I mean really hard. If I should describe it in one word, it was brutal. We were not racing, we were paddling side by side and none of us wanted to be slower than the other person. There was a mantra going through my head “I won’t drop back. Let’s make it count, every stroke must count!”. When we finally got to the entrance to the pass, some 35km later, our average speed was 7.4kph and that includes snack and pee breaks and headwind.
Last headland was the windiest, probably F5 but, when we turned the corner bang on slack, we had it behind is. Now we were gliding towards the town, rain came but we didn’t care. We knew we were going to make it. Did you ever noticed that rain water doesn’t mix with sea water? If it’s not raining hard, small drops of rain water float on the surface of the sea like thousands of small pearls.
We paddled to the harbour in False Pass, asked the first person which were the Trident facilities. He pointed us the right way and called Dean (who is in charge) on radio. In half an hour we had our kayaks moved to safety, and were in warm shower. Now, we are relaxing in our beds while our laundry is being done and dinner cooked.
Once again, same as in Chignik, we are hosted by Trident Seafood. This place seems to be much busier than the previous one. People everywhere, dining area is still full of people eating, two hours after they started serving. It is also truly international place, people of all backgrounds here, hispanic, tiny asian laddies, huge black guys you don’t want to cross, Eastern Europeans, yet the most common language here is not English. Most people in corridors, dining place or outside are chatting in Russian.
FALSE PASS Saturday 07.07.18
Last night wasn’t particularly pleasant. It was noisy here. Site has been working all night, forklifts were going back and forward, diesel generators were constantly humming. There is a loud extractor fan from the bathroom in our adjoined wall as I found in the early morning hours, when I managed to disconnect its power supply. And it seems like the best WIFI spot is just outside of our bedroom door as people were gathering there all night with their smartphones in their hands. They tried to be quiet but as you know, group of people standing and waiting somewhere is never entirely quiet. And all of those people standing in the corridor were waiting. Waiting for internet to do something. I have to admire their patience as it seemed to do nothing. I mean we have been checking, not on them standing there, but on the internet. Whenever we woke up we tried to go online and as you know it is bit like an addiction. We haven’t been online for week and suddenly there was a prospect of internet. So we were checking it almost every hour, nothing and nothing. Twice I went to the bathroom next door and number of people standing outside of our door seemed to be constant. Then around four in the morning I managed to send a message, wow.
Obviously we haven’t slept well.
During a day we visited Trident office and learned that our best chance to go online would be in community hall on Monday. We were lent a pair of brown alaskan wellies each! Amazing, we can now actually walk around as it all looks like big building site in the rain. Mud is everywhere. I don’t know how those ladies manage to keep our building clean, they are out with mops and brooms a lot. Almost nonstop.
Later we paid a visit to the shop, bought some fresh fruit, supplies boat arrived yesterday, and Freya got phone which should work on local network. This network is supposed to be the most common one in small places around the coast further on. We spent an hour playing with it and trying to set up access to her email account on it without much success. Because guy working in the shop was quite helpful before, we decided to go there and seek his advice. He wasn’t there. We chatted with the lady behind the counter, and although she didn’t know how to set it up, she decided after hearing our story about paddling around the coast, to help us. She shared a big secret with us and we promised not to tell anyone. So here it is. She worked in local community centre too, as they are short of staff, and she wrote their WIFI password on a piece of paper for us.
So now we finally gained an online access, it’s fifteen minutes down the road but it works. We tried it successfully today. Hopefully it will work tomorrow too, so I can speak to Natalie.
False Pass Day 2 Sunday 08.07.18
After having breakfast we were wondering why we do actually have a day off. Sun was out and the weather looked very peaceful. When we stepped outside, we realised how deceptive it can be, when one is inside solid building. It was sunny, that’s right but it was also windy. Water in the pass was white with white horses rushing from south to north.
We took a walk to community centre to secretly use more WIFI. We do make attempts to disguise our aim by positioning ourselves in front of the liquor shop to pretend we are waiting for it to open. It seemed to work as a group of guys came to ask us, if they should join the queue. I finally managed to talk to Natalie and as we were about to finish a very strict lady from community centre arrived. We pretended to be on the phone and slowly walked up the road through the village. It is interesting to see all of the things just laying around. Cars, bikes, fuel tanks, ambulances, heavy machinery, old and new. We were told that about sixty people live here permanently he. We have seen the same number of cars which looked like they were in working order and probably more of those, that will never hit the road again. Well, talking about the road, there are about two or three miles of dirt road here. No asphalt, no concrete, no paving.
After lunch we went to Trident office to borrow their laptop to do some planning for our next paddling leg. We could access the weather and google maps, combination of which kept us busy for a while. Our next section looks like endless surf beach and forecast was promising occasional combination of strong wind (F8) and seas up to three metres high. Anyway we may get a chance to make some progress on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I decided to go for internet stroll before dinner. I still felt quite full from eating too much at midday. Food here is simply delicious, choices great and supply is endless. We are slowly learning how not to put too much on our plates. As I turned to walk back a car stopped and I was offered a lift back. I climbed in, and immediately started to wonder if it was a good idea. Driver was friendly but there was half empty bottle of vodka next to him. It was apparent that he was the cause of it not being full. Fortunately nobody drives fast here, and Bill, although drunk, wasn’t an exemption. As we were crawling forward being barely faster then walking I was offered weed which I refused, and lager which I accepted. It was american Budweiser so it was purely on the bases of being polite. While we were drinking, and Bill driving, he was sharing with me all the less orthodox crafts he ever saw going through the False Pass. Kayaks, fancy yachts, racing yachts, jet skies, just name it, Bill had seen it all. Then we got to the Trident and I could get out. On my exiting his car, he was lightning something what could be a cigarette, Bill told me with excitement that he was going to get drunk with his mate Mike. I wonder if Mike was also already riding around the town not to be behind when they meet.