Kayaking in the Rain

August 6th, 2010

"Hey look," I thought when I woke up on Friday, "more rain."

On other days I hadn't minded the rain, I'd welcomed it. Mountains look cool when they're shrouded in rain and mist. For Friday, however, the fam was schedualed to go kayaking, something for which rain and mist are overrated. Especially, when you don't have any appropriate rain gear. (My green jacket I've worn was part of a water proof suite once upon a time. A few too many washes nessesitated by boyscouting trips has since rendered it all too eager to soak in the rain.)

Unphased by the prospect of getting a little wet, I got up and got ready. I snapped a picture to show my enthusiasm. I ment to turn off the flash, but I think it only adds to overall effect.

The drive to the kayaking outfit was short, only covering a few miles. The place was picturesque, complete with stray dogs, little kids and crusty old sailors. Everyone wore waterproof bibs (except for the dogs) and sock hats of varying colors. The merchandise in the store was stereotypically overpriced.

Our guide, Chris, met us in the main lodge and gave us the gear we would need, life jackets and kayak skirts. After that there was a bit of standing around and waiting for our boat and the other tourists to arrive, which I found pleasant.

(Dad and I. There's something in my cargo pocket, but I can't remember what it was. Likely my camera and a book.)

When the boat pulled up it reminded me of the old troop transports that you see in world war two movies; the front the boat could lower, making way for people and equipment. I was amused to watch people mill about in front of the boat, it had dropped its ramp several feet off the beach, making it hard for people who don't have much horizontal jump left (read old people) to get on board without getting wet. One of the guides, who was wearing rain boots, noticed and got a big rock we could use as a stepping stone. I got on board and sat near the back.

When all the gear and landlubbers were on board we pushed off and cruised out onto the bay. The ship had loudspeakers and the captain had an iPod hooked up. Modest Mouse's Float On played as well as Led Zeppelin, what may have been the Decemberists (I'm not sure, I don't own their albums), and Dave Matthews. The guy in charge of the iPod (not the captain, he was driving) changed the song when it got to Dave. That jerk. Who skips Dave?! Chris must have thought the same thing, because he made the iPod control man go back. That's right iPod control man. Show some respect for the Dave.

The Captain put the boat into two separate coves, one where they landed the first group, and another where our group (just myself, my parents, and the guide) was dropped off. Convenient beaches abounded. My parents were provided with a double kayak, while the guide and I got singles. I watched the water, the hood of my useless rain jacket over my head, raindrop ripples expanding, passing one another, disappearing. It wasn't exactly pouring, but it wasn't exactly sprinkling either.

Soon, we were in the water. Chris led us along the coast and chatted with us about home, ourselves, himself, the usual.

That last picture shows the entrances to a couple of old mining shafts. Long time ago, couldn't tell you when, prospectors came out along the beaches in resurrection bay and dug shafts back into the rock looking for gold. At one point the shafts were higher off the water, where they sit now they are just above the high tide. Chris told us that in a big earthquake Alaska had back in the sixties, a lot of the land on the edge of the bay slid down into the water. I think it would have been cool to stop and take a look inside, providing nothing fell down on my head while doing it.

We did a few other things too. Nearby there was a stream/river that fed into the bay and we kayaked up to its mouth where the fresh and saltwater mixed to look for salmon swimming upstream. The water ranged from six feet to just a foot or two in depth. I saw several salmon dart by right under my boat. There were also jellyfish everywhere, little ones the size of my thumb to larger ones the size of my head. Chris told us that there are also some larger ones, Lion's Mane jellyfish, that get to be people sized and have tentacles that trail long distances behind them. (The largest on record was seven and a half feet in diameter and had tentacles that were one hundred and twenty feet long. Biggest jellyfish in the world. Could probably have eaten my kayak.)

By the time the trip was over, we'd paddled around for about two hours and seen most of the bay's coastline. Bald eagles abounded. We also spotted a few doll sheep clinging to the cliffs in some of the strangest places. I was completely soaked. What was amusing is that my layers of clothing on my torso kept my top dry, but the kayaking skirt had failed in its job completely, my shorts were nearly dripping. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, I didn't even notice the cold while we were out, and once we got back I had a change of cloths waiting for me. The boat ride back across the bay was the chilly part.

After the morning kayaking tour it was sadly time to depart Seward. We headed back towards Anchorage to spend the weekend with Aunt Joy and visit some of the local points of interest. On the way we stopped by a wilderness preserve of some sort and got to look at Alaskan wildlife. The best part was the black bear exhibit; the black bears were roaming along the edge of their enclosure and came within feet of me. I really, really, really, really wanted to reach through the fence and pet one. Don't look at me like that. I didn't actually do it.

I think that about wraps it up for the sixth.

This might be the last blog post for a while. Yes I know its been a while since I posted the last time. I've been a little busy. The last week has been a blur of activity as I've been getting the final details arranged to move to China. (Medical insurance, student loan repayment details, etc) I have four bags packed and ready to go, two great big army duffels, a rolling suitcase, and my traveling backpack. When I was told I was allowed fifty pounds per bag, and was warned that It might be hard to keep in that limit, I laughed at the person who told me. That was until I considered the weight of the books I'm trying to drag over there. I'd bet you that I've got forty to fifty books crammed in various places. That aught to keep me stocked for a while.

In other news I've finished reading both Neverwhere and the book I picked up after that, Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch. Pastwatch didn't even survive a day. I think I'll try Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights next. I'll need something to read on the thirty plus hours I'm going to be spending on planes tomorrow and Tuesday. If Wuthering Heights doesn't weather the trip, I've also packed in my backpack Alexander Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo.

It might be a while till I can post again, so stay tuned. If I can't get blogger working right (China blocks blogger among other things) I might have to resort to electing one of you my honorary webmaster. ;)

Seward Part II

Notice how the title says part two? Go back and read part one if you haven't.


August 5th continued...

It's funny, writing about past events. While I'm trying to conjure up for you what happened half a week ago in Seward I'm actually sitting in a car riding through Denali national park.

As I am typing, the car starts slowing down and pulls over. The doors slam as my parents get out of the car. I look up from my laptop to follow.

Along the side of the road, probably a hundred feet into the grass and trees, there's a wind stirred lake colored a gritty gray-blue. In the background the woodlands rise up the side of a foothill, and over the lake hangs a rainbow. In the middle of it, just past a dead tree that sticks up out of the water, is a moose, probably the biggest one we've seen on the trip. He's just standing there, like something off a postage card, posing for the pictures of passers by.

It's easy to get overexposed to beautiful things and then take them for granted. But stuff like that seems to happen everywhere I go. I'm not sure if its because I'm an awesomeness magnet, or if its because Alaska is a land of concentrated awesome. Either way the trip's been fun.

But that's not what you've been wanting to read about, now is it? Back to Thursday.

After the wildlife center, my parents and I snagged a quick bite to eat and it was off to the day's next destination. The exact name of the place is escaping me, but it was a dog sledding outfit owned by Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey.

On the way we did some more site seeing since we had time to kill. We were wandering down near a river when I saw this on the ground.

Friendly natives in Alaska my foot. That thing has been fired, and it was laying right where the tourists come down from the road. This is why people shouldn't live in places where the sun shines twenty-four hours a day. It turns real life into the movie Insomnia without the good acting from Robin Williams and Al Pacino.

Eventually we did arrive at Seavey's. The outfit, from what we could see, consisted of three buildings and a few porti-poties. I spied a bench on the porch of the main building and sat down. I didn't sit there long before I started meeting Seavey's employees.

The first one I met was Daniel. He's around my age (23), probably a year or two younger. He was polite and a good host. Asked me where I was from, chatted about the weather; the sort of things you do to make a customer feel at ease. I asked him a bit about himself. Somehow we got on the topic of the Iditarod.

"I'm going to be in it in a couple of years," he told me, standing a little taller. "2011."

I was impressed. I enjoy meeting people who know what they want to do, and love the doing of it. You can tell when a person loves something in the way they talk, if you pay attention.

That's Daniel there. That might be me sitting on the porch bench.

Daniel was one of the two guides for our group. The other guide, Sarah, came around the side of the office and asked us if we could gather out back, that way she could tell if everyone was there. After the group had gathered she got up on a stand, counted heads, and got our attention.

We got a quick overview of the tour and some background about the organization providing it. The Seavey's keep a dog sledding team to compete in various events, and obviously this costs money. The purpose of their buisness is two fold. The first is to make money using the dogs, making the team self supporting by using it to give tours. The second is to get the dogs excercise and training that they would need to have anyway.

Where are the guinness guys when you need them?
Sarah also told us a bit about herself.

She's originally from the north east, went to school out in Boston. After graduating she came up here.

"I knew what I wanted to be when I was six. I wanted to be a musher," she said.

It seems like most of Seavey's employees have mushing experience: (after all, who else would you get to take care of sledding dogs?) she reported similar Iditerod asperations as Daniel though she put her first run out further, more like 2012 or 2013.

"I want to mush, but I want also like to write, I want to be a writer someday."

Huh-what-hmm? I had been taking in the scenery.

Sarah informed us that we'd be going back to see the dogs, and that it would get loud when we got there. We could already hear barking from nearby. With that she stepped off the platform and led us back to where they kept the dogs. I was expecting twenty or thirty.

Try something more along the lines of eighty.

When we got back there, sure enough, they all started in, howling and barking. Sarah split us up into two groups and assigned one to Daniel's "sled" (the sleds looked something like the freak children of a tank and a golf cart) and one to her own. My group went with her.

It was funny to watch the dogs get hooked up to the sled. One worker, who I didn't meet, hooked up dogs to the front of the line while Sarah hooked dogs up to the back. Several of the dogs in the back were so energetic that they were jumping and pulling and straining at their leads, ready to tear off and get out onto the trail. They kept looking back at us like they hoped we might just give the cart a push or shout the command to go already. I wondered whether the lead dogs, who showed better behavior, were chosen in part for their self control.

Before we got onto the sled Sarah asked for a volunteer to stand on the back with her. I think I was the lucky one out of the group, I got to stand on the back of the sled with the musher. What fun is it to go on a seated dog sled tour?

"Alright," Sarah yelled. "Up, Up!"

Even as the sled picked up speed, one of the dogs in the back was still jumping around, half mad to go faster. Once we got going the dogs assumed a more relaxed posture, almost relieved. Tongues dribbled spit into the air.

Our sled followed behind Daniel's on a gravel trail that wound through the woods and passed next to a river. I'm not sure how far we went, but it wasn't long before we stopped again. During the winter the dogs can run massive distances pulling a sled, making over a hundred miles in a day. During the summer, however, its comparitively hot, and the dogs can't run as far or else they'll overheat. Sarah stepped off the sled to answer questions.

One person asked what she planned to do after Seavey's as far as racing her own team went.

"I don't know. I've never been to good about planning for the future; I just figure things out as I go. There are always people that need experienced dog handlers so I'll just keep picking up more work."

I chuckled as I watched my dad shake his head.

We finished the loop through the woods, stopping one more time. When we got back to the dog kennels we got a tour of the rest of the facility. Mom was happy when we got to play with some puppies. I took a liking to a big dog that the Seavey's had adopted named Chinook.

We also got to watch a video and check out some of the gear that mushers use for themselves and for the dogs.

After the tour was over I found myself standing on the porch with Sarah. We shot the breeze about some inconsequential stuff, but eventually I got to the important question.

"What kind of stuff do you write?"

"I like to write just about everything, but I'm working on a science fiction novel. I haven't read very much science fiction but I like distopias."

If you guys can't figure out why I called this girl attractive in the last post, you probably don't know me very well. That or we need sit down and have a talk about your reading comprehension skills.

On my way back to the car my dad came up next to me, a mischevious look on his face.

"Did you get her phone number?"

I smiled.

"No. But I got her blog address."

The rest of the day went smoothly. The last thing we did was hike up to see "Exit Glacier", part of the Harding ice fields. On the road leading up to it signs were posted marking where the glacier had been in years past. When we'd made our way up close to it the air changed, made cold by the ice. If I have my way I'm going to find another one of these things (or come back to this one) and climb all over it with those spikey boots you see ice climbers wear.

I suppose that wraps it up for this post. It's getting late, and my thoughts are rapidly devolving into incoherency. I've been working on this on and off throughout the day. Finished Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Started Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Listening to Carbon Leaf (make that Led Zeppelin now. Zeppelin seems to come on a lot when I'm typing). Looking forward to a little shut eye and the start of a new day.

Signing off.