Alaska – Day 4 – Where am I, in summer camp?

NB: Again, this post was delayed by the connectivity issues presented by being in the wilderness!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yoga again this morning, my body cooperating to the extent that it is able.

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Again, it is cold enough to see my breath in the air, and we are moored in a pine-fringed inlet called St. Thomas Bay, where the steep cliffs surround our ship. Activities today include several hiking options. I have opted to do the fast 3-4 mile Patterson River hike, along with 17 others.

The other hikes were described as a 5 hour strenuous hike – with a guide throwing his foot up onto the back of one of the dining chairs and saying – “we will be doing this kind of hiking.” Faces blanched around the dining room, and only about 8 people signed up for that. Or you could take the meandering Patterson River hike, which sounded too tame for me.

Led by Lindsey, we boarded one of the small boats and motored over to the banks adjacent to a rushing river. It is prime fishing territory and Jim, the retired soil engineer from Bozeman, MT, whose tanned weathered face belies his passion for outdoor pursuits, sits at the end of the boat salivating about lost fishing opportunities. We all are sporting our rubber boots, rain pants and rain slickers, as the day has already seen its first downpour.

Currently, the sun has broken out, but we are not sure what awaits us in the deep lush rainforest of Southeastern Alaska. We pull up to the shore, and the very competent staff helps us out of the boat onto the mucky grass, which sucks aggressively at our boots.

We gather on the banks, helping hold each other up while we exchange boots for hiking boots, I am ever so grateful for having picked up a hiking pole to carry on the hike, as it supports me during my change into the shoes.

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Wendy and Jennifer on the Patterson River hike

We leave our PFDs and boots in the shore, and begin hiking into the woods along a very wet rutted path that speaks of some kind of vehicle having traveled there. Happily, there are gnats but not too many mosquitoes. I had heard that the mosquitoes would be formidable and am happy that they are not so far.

About twenty feet along the path, the group stops to look at something on the ground- the first, but most dramatic viewing, a baby moose carcass lies across the path, picked clean of any flesh, it’s whitish bones tinged green with the algae from lying in the water. It is about 3 feet long, looking almost  like the skeleton of a four year old child. Chris, the droll Englishman behind me remarks, “well, isn’t that reassuring that someone much more familiar with this place didn’t make it out.”

We laugh and then continue up the trail. The great thing about today’s hike is the necklace of shared intimacies by the people along the hike, as we get to know each other.

There are such interesting people on the cruise. There are a group of folks from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but as you would expect on a wilderness luxury adventure cruise, everyone has some interest in the outdoors, and inquisitiveness about places other than those where they have lived and worked.

Jimmie and I had been sitting with Montana Jim and his wife Kathy last night at dinner, along with Bernie, the French born professor of Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and his Vietnamese wife, Huong, a French interpreter at the UN. As they talked about their various trips, I said, “Are you all retired that you can take the time for these trips?” I picked up my knife and began mock slashing of my wrists.

Back on the trail, we proceeded, surrounded on both sides by the high Sitka spruces, Western Hemlock and Aspen tress, and on the side of the trail, low foot-high blue berry bushes, wild anemone plants, similar to trillium, and an astonishing array of different types of scat.

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Lindsey informed us that the wolf will go right next to the bear to let them know they are nearby. Downright neighborly, I’d say.

Bear, moose, coyote or wolf, all in various stages of freshness, ranging from some that was “this morning’s” from a Moose, that had bedded down to the side of the trail before leaving his morning deposit to several day old bear scat, with wolf scat right beside it.

We spotted a large moose track in the center of the trail- about 7″ from tip of hoof to end. Having been warned about the craziness of moose, I was prepared to run should he be just up the trail.

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We hiked for about 2 and a half hours delicately skirting the large puddles that obliterated the trail in front of us several times, until my tennis shoes were soaked and the rest of my body was wet with perspiration, my glasses fogging up. We returned to the grassy muck to reverse the boot/shoe process before re-embarking on the boat.

Lunch was followed by my second kayaking adventure with Dad, which went much better because our rudder was working and I was working it. This view afforded me the privilege of knowing that my contribution was impactful, noting that my dad was paddling about 45% of the time during our paddle. Hey, give the guy a break, Els – he’s 83! However our steering went better today, leading to a less curse-filled expedition. We saw a bald eagle soaring above us, and watched as other paddlers worked out the system of paddling together. I joked with Wendy, the retired family and marriage social worker from Tucson that her services could be used by Vivian and David in the kayak bring up the rear. Everyone has gifts that are useful, and I would be quite happy to be stranded with this group. We would do just fine and it would be entertaining as well.

Back at the ship and a hot shower later, after drying my shoes with the hair dryer, Jimmie and I took a private moment far from the crowds to chat about the trip and enjoy our surroundings. With a yoga session, strenuous hike and 2.5 hour kayak ride behind me, I was pretty pooped.

At 5:15, I took an engine room tour, which was fascinating and very loud in spite of the headphones Engineer Jeff gave us to use.

Dinner was delicious as usual, and after dinner at 9:30, we were feted with stories from one of the guides, Ken O’Brien who told us about the ABC islands we would be seeing in the next few days, Admiralty, Baranof and Chi….. Oh well, I’m on vacation.

 

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