Alaska Trip Log

For me, my trip to Alaska was all about 3 things.  Learning to sea kayak, getting some much needed relaxation in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and possibly seeing some wildlife in it’s natural habitat.  As far as I was concerned, if I could come away with some good experience and an ability to handle myself somewhat confidently in a sea kayak, and 1 or two great pictures, I would be happy.  Any wildlife I would see on the way would be a bonus.

This is not normally the tact I take on such trips.  But in comparison to a two week jungle trek and mountain climbing expedition in Ecuador, this was expected and turned out to be relatively mild in comparison.  As such, I won't do a blow by blow, day by day journal of the trip, because to be honest, I didn't keep one this time.  I just took it all in.  I spent every day staring out into what most people are saying is the last frontier of America.  What I will do is attempt to relay the most memorable points of the trip for those thinking about journeying to the great state of Alaska. 

First off, we didn't really go to Alaska.  I think the plane secretly landed in Barbados!  Because the entire trip, the weather was absolutely unbelievable.  It averaged about 75 degrees and I don't think ever got below 60 to 65.  It wasn't even really chilly at night.  And on the last 3 days, I got the best tan (albeit a farmer's) I've had in years.   When your guide turns to you laughing and says, “You guys don’t know a thing about Alaska.” You know you’ve had uncharacteristically good weather. 

The first day out on the boat is relaxing.  You're drinking coffee and talking to the other people on the trip.  For us it was 3 people on a 3 day with us, one other who was with Joe and me for the 7 day, and about 8 people on a one day trip.   The view is great on the way out, but the real treat is actually beaching the first time and walking up to an iceberg 10 times your size.  Nuts. 

Navigating a floating ice field is also something you don’t get to experience in Jersey.  Oh yeah... and the ice is cold.  But you really don't feel it because that first couple of days, you are really working.  Not yet totally comfortable with paddling for hours at a time, my shoulders were killing me, mostly because I was pulling way harder than I should have been.  It took me a couple of days for it to sink in that pulling twice as hard wouldn't get me going even close to twice as fast.  It's like swimming.  The harder you work, the slower you go. 

Black Flies will eat you alive!  "I ain't wearing no headnet!!"  My arrogance soon turned to hopelessness my ‘DEET’ seemed to be drawing them to me.  I thought I was back in the Oyacachi Gorge.  Soon I was not only wearing the net, but praising the design while wondering out loud how you could possibly survive without one.  The headnet was a life saver, but it's hard to eat salmon and eggs with that thing on!  And I started to worry that I would not enjoy myself if I had to be caged behind a net the entire trip.  As it turned out, thankfully, this was by far the worst of it.

It turns out the bears all migrated to New Jersey, as I found out when Joe emailed me that there were two bear attacks near him when got home and that Bear Season had to be reopened because bears were seen everywhere wandering around town and attacking innocent Jerseyites!!!  Luck was not on our side when it came to the capturing of a peek at a whale either. We did however, see a few otters, peeking their heads out of the water and looking at us like we were the animals in their zoo. 

 Eagles were plentiful, but frustrate me since they are too far away to really observe.  But if you can manage to sneak up to an eagle while it is trying to grab its lunch, you may be able to get a little closer.  It just walked out into the water a couple of feet and snatched up one of the spawning salmon, and started feasting on ‘silver’.  To my surprise, the sea lions were probably the most interesting animals we had contact with on the trip.  I was unprepared for how like us they were.  People always ascribe human emotions to animals, but they really are like people. Playful and extremely curious, I just couldn't believe how comfortable they were with humans that close.  I'm not really a big wildlife guy, but those Lions were something else. 

By the time we got to Bull's Head, we had been accompanied by a few small groups of them, playfully dodging between and under our boats.  One even splashed us, little bastard!  It's a shame they’re endangered because they are some interesting beasts.  Hundreds of them on one beach, jockeying and fighting for the best sun spots.  They sound like a motorcycle gang.  The growls are LOUD, even from where we were watching, which is far because they get pretty tempermental.

Sawmill bay made me understand why they call it spawning.  Seeing the hundreds of salmon charging upstream made me realize I was happy to be human.  They don't look too good when they get there... that's for sure.  Luckily, our guide Scott caught the 10 pounder long before we got into the bay because you definitely don’t want to eat one of those bad boys.

 While the most interesting thing on the trip was the sea lions, the most Awe inspiring was the Glacier at Shoup Bay.  Massive is all I can say.  At the end of a long day of paddling, at twilight, which in Alaska in early August is about 11:30 pm, we saw the glacier up close and personal.   It's really amazing to see the lateral moraine and what the ice is capable of carving out.  Huge ice caves and miniature canyons with rivers flowing from the underbelly of the glacier are just some of the interesting effects.  What struck me was that the ice carves out the rock from the mountain and moves it like it was dirt.  

Oh, I almost forgot.  The damn birds!  Imagine kayaking up to a small island with 20,000 birds sitting on it yakking away.  And then the minute you get past the island, literally 10 feet away, you don't hear them anymore!  I would have never believed it if I didn't experience it. 

On the last day, I was ready to get out of the kayak, but not ready to go home.  We headed off back to land and had ourselves some halibut and Alaskan beer.  We caught a shower at our guide’s apartment and had our last night in Alaska at the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed at our first night in Alaska, called "In the Woods Bed & Breakfast."  They were very nice people who make great cheese eggs and Canadian bacon.  If you need a place to stay, try them out.  They are inexpensive and worth every penny. 


 On the flight out I read "Into the Wild", because "You gotta read that book!"  That’s all I kept hearing.  It was a great trip.  Funny thing though, about Alaska.  It's big.  You see one part like we did, and all that you realize is you have to come back to see some more!   

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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