Weather-bound: “Delayed, halted, kept indoors due to bad weather”

We’re in Cold Bay, Alaska. We’ve been in Cold Bay, Alaska for three days already, still waiting for the weather to improve for us to be able to fly to Nelson Lagoon on the north side of the peninsula.

This is a very strange weather bound period. I have been weather-bound before on paddling trips. I’ve been on a multi month trip where after ten days of hard paddling in the row one was looking forward to bad weather day to have a rest and not to pack the whole circus again in the morning. I’ve been on trips, when the weather was so bad that one was weather-bound every 2 days paddling, and had to keep good faith that the destination will be reached.

I was weather-bound for few days in the middle of now where and one had to learn to entertain oneself with whatever was available. What I learnt here was to do one activity at the time to allow the time to pass easily and to stretch any distraction from waiting for as long as possible.

I’ve been weather-bound for so many times within one trip that we had to change our aim altogether and learn to make the most of both the sea and the being on the land. Giving in allowed us to explore places that we would not have otherwise.

I was weather-bound for so long during one trip that the journey had to be finished after long wait for the weather improvement. And while the time waiting was exciting, as we became farm hands for few weeks, the end was difficult, as we did not step out of a boat at the end, but rather of a tractor.

I am weather-bound now. It’s a new one for me. My four weeks paddling with Freya has commenced, and we are weather bound already. We haven’t placed a blade in the water, we haven’t even pack the kayaks yet. I have never been weather-bound at the start of the trip. But the feelings and anxieties are the same. Is this ever going to lift? And when it does, will there be actually any time left for paddling? How far would we be able to go? We want to go as far as possible, will we make it there? What are the conditions going to be?

How do we keep our sanity and not look at the weather all the time talking numbers (Freya) and colours (me) trying to see when and how long for we can be on the water?

Advertisements

The start of Natalie’s trip to Alaska

My trip of paddling in Alaska with Freya has finally started. I decided to join her long time ago, last Autumn, when it seemed like a great idea and like something that was far far away. And really it still seemed far away even when Michal was already covering miles along the south and later north of the Alaskan peninsula. Then suddenly it was time to get to the airport and go.

The first noticeable thing about my trip was that the planes were getting smaller and smaller as I progressed from London to here. The last smallest plane is still however waiting for us on a wind swept runway in Cold Bay.

It’s too windy and small planes don’t fly in this weather. So as we are waiting for the break in the wind, I’ve been entertaining myself looking around the village. Actually it is called a city, and probably once was by local standards, with about 100 people living here. It has a shop, a hotel, a bar, a library, school which is long shut. The town is fairly new, established during the WWII as a military base, it has no major industry.

However there was some excitement to see at the ferry port, as the ferry comes every 2 weeks.

The flowers frantically waving in the wind made it clear that it still was the summer.

I had a chance to see a bear, hopefully the only one that I would see while here.

Michal’s Trip to Alaska – Part III.

Metal Prison         Monday 09.07.2018

Another rest day.

It started to feel as if we were in one big metal prison with all the sleeping in a metal box on metal frame bed with metallic noise of nonstop working machinery all around us. Even our mats had metal springs inside them. We started to feel an increasing desire to escape.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There isn’t much to do, we ventured to our wifi spot in the centre of the village, in front of the library and post office, by community centre. The next building up the road was medical centre. I was just walking up and down the dirt track chatting to Natalie, while Freya was sitting on the grass in front of the library, when a lady who seemed to work in the library arrived. First thing she said wasn’t “hello, is there anything I can do for you? Sorry library is not open yet.” This is probably the most likely thing one would hear from a lady working in library in England. But no, not here, no. First thing we heard was, “you have five minutes to go, this is not a place to do loitering.” Ok, we went, but it still left me wondering where are people expected to hang around if not by all of those community buildings?

After lunch we walked to the shop to buy few things, mainly milk as we are planning to go tomorrow. We checked the weather forecast in Trident office, and it looks like it’s meant to be calming down. Talking about the weather, either we are quite sheltered here in the False Pass or it was much better then predicted. Freya spent most of the day walking around with one line only: “It looks good. We should be gone today. We would be thirty kilometres further.”

Maybe, but we are here and there is no point to stress about something we haven’t done. So to distract her we walked around the city, that’s how they call this village, through the bear territory. I don’t know how smart it is walking through bushes following bear footprints. Few times our conversation looked like from the Far Side cartoon “Do you think they are any bears there?” “I don’t know, shall we have a look?”

IMG_7755

Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

Obviously as I am writing this, I can confirm there weren’t bears in the bushes above the village.

Now we are getting excited about the prospect of leaving tomorrow and are slowly putting things together to be able to pack swiftly in the morning.

 

Paddling Again          Tuesday 10.07.2018

Yesterday evening I set my alarm for the first time on this trip. I woke up at 4:59am, one minute before alarm would go off. That was good it meant that I could get up without waking Freya. It was early but I went into town to make a call to Natalie. It was the last opportunity to get on wifi for a while. It was good to be up so early. When I came back I headed straight for breakfast, on time for the first time since we came here, it’s served from 5 to 7am.

While I was having pancakes I overheard two girls chatting at the next table. Topic wasn’t interesting at all, something about clubbing, tattoos and police but they were talking in Czech!

I was tempted to join in to find out how someone comes to work all the way here from the centre of Europe. But decided against it, we were just about to leave.

We said good bye to everybody in the office and left in the direction to north. First, we started with hugging the coast quite closely to avoid current and wind, both were supposed to change soon. Suddenly we could see something brown in the bramble. Is it a fox? No it was bigger, a bear. Once we came closer, we could just see the bear’s head. He appeared to be sitting and watching us taking photos, then slowly stood up and walked away. It looked so cute, just like a teddy bear. I’m sure if we had met him yesterday on our walk we would think exactly the same.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_7757

We started to paddle offshore due to the tide turning. For some reason the wind was more northerly rather than the forecasted westerly. And it was getting stronger, soon we were pushing into headwind and agreed that it didn’t make any sense to go out into Bering sea. It would be too big. We aimed for the northeast corner of the inner lagoon planning to land on a sand bar and portage. Wind was now solid F6, partly headwind partly sidewind. We were paddling hard and suddenly we realised that the water was becoming quite shallow. Tide was supposed to be coming in, so we felt quite confident we could make it very close to the corner. Suddenly we were aground. Not really knowing how much the water rises we decided to pull in the direction of what we assumed was deeper channel. For a really hard five hundred meters we sank knee deep into a combination of sand and mud in every step. Fortunately we made it and were afloat again. Just as landed, we could see bear slowly walking along the beach. Exactly where we needed to go. Fortunately, in the end it was wandering away from us, it took us couple of hours to empty boats and carry everything to the top of the sand dune.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we could finally glimpse then Bering Sea our language turned French. We could hear the noise coming over the dunes but we still were not ready to see this wild messy surf violently crashing into black sand. Nobody can make me to go out in this, not even in my nice empty playful Xtra I have at home. In fully loaded expedition seakayak? Forget it. No chance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now sitting in the tent on the top of the sand dunes knowing there’s a bear walking somewhere around, sea crashing madly into the beach, we were wondering what is the chance of it all magically settling down tomorrow as forecasted.

I would almost forget, in the first ten minutes on the beach watching surf I found Japanese glass net float. We were told there are thousands of them on the north side and it looks like it might be true!

 

Walrus in the Surf          Wednesday 11.07.2018

Freya was awake quite early and eager to go. Well sea was down significantly from the sea state we observed yesterday, but there was noticeable surf visible even from our tent on the top of the dunes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While we were getting ready I thought “if we won’t be able to paddle out in this, we won’t be able to make it to Nelson Lagoon”. So it must be done, regardless how I feel about it.

When we were finally prepared to launch Freya asked who should go first. I volunteered.

As I put my spraydeck on, a wave came and took me. Set looked okay so I started to paddle out. Few strokes and I tried to free my rudder, nothing happened. Again few strokes to keep the kayak straight and I tried again. I had both hands behind me holding the launching string and pulling forward and down. Plop, suddenly the rudder became free. In that meantime I was being pushed to the right and a big set was coming. I just tried to stay upright, pushing hard agains each wave. I was going no where, being smashed, and surfed backwards, I was barely able to hold position. Twice I had to half roll but didn’t go in. Suddenly it looked like there was a break. I pushed hard. My muscles were hurting and I was breathing heavily trying do get in as much oxygen as possible. Few times I was lucky and managed to jump over the wave just before it crashed. It is interesting sensation to have fully loaded expedition seakayak airborne. Finally I was out. I would like to see photo of my fight but I seriously doubt, it even crossed Freya’s mind that she could take her camera out of her pocket while watching me struggling. Now it was her time.

I could see her standing on the beach next to her kayak for a while. Then she disappeared from the view. She is going out, I thought. Suddenly I could see her again, hauling her kayak back up on the beach. Again she was just standing there watching the sea. Then small set came and she was punching through the waves. This time she was lucky and we were both afloat. When we were side by side we chatted about our experiences. None of us liked it, we agreed it was one of our worst surf launches ever and Freya showed me the damage to her foredeck, which happened while she tried to paddle out unsuccessfully on her first attempt. After brief break to cool down from all the excitement we started to paddle.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There used to be village next to the place we camped called Old Morzhovoi village, it actually means Old Walrus village. I didn’t think much about it until Freya pointed to a big group of sea otters. They were really cute. At that moment big head popped out just on the other side. That’s a big seal. “Shit” seal doesn’t have tusks. This is fu..ink walrus! No, there are two big walruses, and they are heading for us! We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have a clue how walrus behaves and if they are aggressive. I was taking photos and when they were too close we just started to paddle away. It seemed like the only thing for us to do, although we knew there wasn’t a chance out paddle a walrus. Fortunately they decided not to follow. I have to admit it was quite scary to see big head with two massive teeth coming at you while you can only sit and watch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By now we were passing the third entrance to the Izembek Lagoon. Our plan was to go in through the last entrance and land on the inside of the natural wave breaker. Passing two previous entrances gave us a great opportunity to observe where and how the surf breaks.

After long sixty kilometres we were heading in. Freya lead the way in the lagoon and soon we landed after zigzagging and dogging surf breaks.

We set our tent and went for short walk to get a different point of view from the shore and to look at the path we took through the surf.

Also it was good to see if there were any bears in the vicinity. Today we only saw their footprints. It was a pleasant walk combined with beach combing, we both managed to find three Japanese glass net floats!

Now the question was if we would paddle tomorrow, forecast was on the border line with strong offshore wind so we postponed any decision making till the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Glass Ball Hunt         Thursday 12.07.2018

Wind was shaking our tent and Freya didn’t wake me up, so I assumed we are not paddling and continued sleeping in till ten in the morning. At that point it looked like Freya would appreciate some help with fixing her boat so I finally climbed out of my sleeping bag.

After glueing some bits and pieces and having breakfast we reinforced our tent with more strings and brought some logs from the beach to weigh down the tent pegs. We were camping on the sand dune and wind was already gusting F6.

Now it was time for beach walk. Freya decided she will take her back pack because we may find more glass floats. I wasn’t that optimistic and when she asked how many I think we would find I said four.

It was low tide and strong wind was carrying lots of sand, fortunately it was blowing offshore and we stayed quite high on the beach. It was quite an impressive sight as masses of sand were flying just past us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soon I found first glass ball of the day. In the next few minutes I had three more and Freya found one too. We were walking along the beach and there and now one of us would start running and shouting “there, there, it’s mine!”

Freya’s bag was becoming full, now we were only excited if when we found four or five together, or if it had a colour we have not found yet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We filled the bag fully, and Freya took off her waterproof trousers, we filled them too. When we started to fill her jacket I thought this was enough and introduced new rule. We could go further pass the last spotted glass ball only if we can see another one. We managed to fill the jacket too. We were dragging the bag, trousers and jacket full of glass balls back into an increasing wind. Now it was solid F7 and we were becoming more and more worried if our tent was still ok.

IMG_7806

Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

By the time we got back it was gale 8. Tent was shaking violently and we knew we had to move it to a more protected spot behind a dune which was not far. That was good. Sand was hitting us hard and the only time we could open our eyes was when facing downwind. One hour later we were in our tent again. It wasn’t shaking too badly but sand was everywhere, in our eyes, ears, nose, clothed, pockets, sleeping bag, pots, tent. Just about everywhere. But we had dinner and were as comfy as possible again. Tomorrow is another day off, wind might last one more day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Windbound           Friday 13.07.2018

We had second day off in the row. That meant we have to stretch the few activities we could do here. Again I tried to sleep for as long as I could and get up half past ten. We kept reading for most of the day. Once we went for short walk on the beach but not too far. It was still pretty windy, probably F7, and we picked up all glass balls yesterday. Only new thing we found today was a skeleton of a small whale.

Main excitement of the day was counting and selecting glass net balls. We spread them in the porch and went through three times to make sure we have the correct number. Without much effort we harvested 101 glass balls! It’s obvious we don’t have a chance to take them all. So we spent another half an hour selecting the best ones. I have chosen 21 and Freya 31 of them. We will see tomorrow if we have enough space in our kayaks to take those.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now is time to read again. I’m slowly running out of books on my kindle. Hopefully there will be a chance to download something new in Nelson Lagoon. If weather lasts we should get there on Sunday evening. Fingers crossed.

 

GPS Addiction            Saturday 14.07.2018

Leaving Izembek Lagoon was easy. We had two and half days to observe the surf breaking on the sandbars and picking up the best channel. Our chosen line worked smoothly even with the tide running agains us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just after we passed the last breaker I spotted white crushing wave ahead. “That’s strange” I thought “we should be clear of everything by now”. One minute later a whale flew out of the water and dropped back with amazing splash. Wow! Whale in the air! I have seen whale airborne!

Shortly after as we started to follow sandy coast I noticed some boulders on the beach. I didn’t think much of it until Freya said that there are no stones here and we should paddle closer.

She was right, although we could not paddle too close due to significant surf, we could see bear walking on the beach with three cubs. Half an hour later another big bear was walking in the same direction. Until today we saw only three bears all together and now five in less then one hour!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soon after that the tide turned, we had some current against us with cross wind behind. Sea started to be choppy and our progress dropped. Freya started to watch her GPS a lot. Every time I looked over my shoulder she was looking down on it. Sometimes I think she is really addicted to it. Or maybe there are just two lines showing on her little screen, “paddle in, paddle out”.

She started to complain that our speed dropped to four kilometres per hour because we are paddling in tiderace. I didn’t say much. Nobody should call one knot of flow with wind against a tiderace. What’s more, I couldn’t really say loud what I was thinking “Just put the paddle in the water and stop watching that screen!”

Freya was really proud of her forward paddling and she can paddle well. But when she starts to watch her GPS her paddling goes out of window. She would be such a good example of how not to paddle. When her head goes down to see the little screen on her spraydeck her whole posture is compromised. She stops rotating and paddle barely touches the water.

I wasn’t surprised when she indicated that she is tired and it would be best to call it a day. We successfully managed to avoid nasty breaking waves and surf on small set in to the beach. Now we are camping on the highest point of the beach just under crumbling sandy cliff hopping that tide won’t came too high.

Just as we were getting ready to sleep we could hear a noise which sounded like helicopter. We got up and as we were trying to open the tent to see it came straight above us. It was following the shore very tightly probably less then twenty metres high. Shame we were not fast enough and could take photos, we thought. And then we could hear it again. We got out and started to take pictures. It passed us, did big loop and flue over as again and disappeared.

 

Whales and Bears          Sunday 15.07.2018

We started to pack when it was still almost dark with the aim to catch morning tide in our direction.

Surf was reasonable. Freya was going first this time. I was holding her kayak at the front just on the water edge. Then, when small set came, I helped her to pull it in the water as she jumped in the cockpit and continued pushing so she could get fast through the first wave without getting much water in the cockpit. Then it was my turn. I waited patiently for small set just on the water edge. When last big wave passed I quickly pushed my kayak on the water and jumped in the cockpit. Timing was perfect, I went over smaller wave which even didn’t splash in the cockpit and paddled out.

As we were paddling along the coast we started to discuss how and where we are going to finish this leg of paddling. More precisely where I will finish and Natalie will take over. After considering our options several times, we concluded that Nelson Lagoon would be best. Freya seemed to be tired a lot in the last few days. I have to admit that I’m tired too. But more mentally then physically. If everything goes well I might be able to fly back to London and see Natalie before she leaves.

Ok, we made a plan and I phoned Natalie to let her know. She was glad to hear me, but sounded were apprehensive about surf on this stretch of coast. It’s hard to say how much surf she should expect, we had two huge days of it, but today is really calm.

One thing I’m learning on this trip is to be patient and don’t stress myself with things I cannot change. Like Freya, nobody can change Freya. Just to give you one example from today. We agreed we will try to make as much progress towards Nelson Lagoon especially in the morning. We knew we will have tide against us and headwind in the afternoon. So we are paddling few hundred meters offshore to have help from tide and to avoid all shallow areas where waves were getting stepper. Suddenly as we turn small corner Freya goes and starts to hug the coast. Apparently, when I pointed out that our speed dropped by one knot, I was told it is more entertaining to see what’s on the shore. Ok, every kilometre we won’t make now when it is easy, we will have to make against the tide and wind. Who cares that this coast is as exciting as paddling south of Withernsea.

Later on we noticed some water sprouts in the distance. We came closer and were surprised to see a whale so close to the shore. It was also resurfacing and disappearing very very slowly. Now we could see some old pods or cabins on the shore and started to consider landing to have a closer look, we spotted bear family, mum and three cubs. At the same time second whale appeared just behind us. We did not know what to photograph first. Just in case it wasn’t enough, small plane came and started to circle above us. It was really intense moment, often there were hours of paddling without any interaction and suddenly everything happened at the same time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before we landed for the day we could see one more bear family, mother with two young ones, one more whale and a ship wreck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our camp was full of bear prints and a small baby seal was constantly climbing up and down the tall sandy beach.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We should make the last 37 kilometres to Nelson Lagoon tomorrow and Freya is trying to arrange our flight out for Tuesday. I hope it will all work out smoothly.

 

Nelson Lagoon            Monday 16.07.2018

Morning was grey with drizzle and fresh westerly wind. Fortunately no surf, just some splashy waves, so launching was straightforward.

We had tide and wind with us therefore we were making nice progress even without much effort. Yet again we were following this low sand dunes with grass on top of them. We could not see much more through low clouds and occasional rain. But Freya still found it interesting enough to paddle close to the shore and kept either watching that or her GPS. I know why I became so tired and logging for break. It was all this waiting. It frustrates me when we should be making progress and I have to be waiting even when I am putting in just half of the effort. Ok, eventually this slow paddle was interrupted by whale. Again it was really close to the shore and just flapping around. When we where twelve kilometres from Nelson Lagoon Freya decided it’s time to switch her satellite phone on and check messages. No problem I thought we have plenty of time. Half and hour later she finally putt her phone away. We were sitting in the rain and wind slowly drifting while getting cold and she was texting like a teenager.

Eventually we landed by a dirt track road leading to Nelson Lagoon and my paddling with Freya was over. We walked to the village to find Justine who should put us up and help us to sort out logistics.

We were wondering between houses hoping that either we eventually meet someone or find official looking building and ask for Justine, who works for local government.

We found her in the Post office building, we walked in and there she was: “Hi, you are here. I’m Justine.”

After greetings we asked about flying out. She started to make phone calls and arranged for Grant Aviation to take us to Cold Bay the following morning. From there we booked PenAir flight to Anchorage. Next thing was to change my flight to London.

Next, we had to sort out the transport for our kayaks and equipment from the beach. Justine offered to drive, we loaded everything including our kayaks. We put them across the open back with me standing and holding them. Now it was time to drive into the village. It was tight but we didn’t lose anything, neither kayaks nor me.

IMG_7858

Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

We stayed in lovely self catering, the signs around indicate that it is mainly used by anglers. We sorted all our gear, I made a list of things I’m leaving behind for Natalie and packed the rest.

Soon I will become quite anxious as there are three days of travel with multiple flights ahead of  me to get to London.

 

Flying Out           Tuesday 17.07.2018

This morning we woke up ready to fly out. The only hiccup was we didn’t know when would our flight be leaving. When Justine helped us to book the flight yesterday she said was leaving in the morning. “Ok”, we asked, “what time?”

“I don’t know” she replied, “I have to call them in the morning.”

So now we were up, quite early. Just in case. We were thinking what would be the best way to find out more. Then Justine phoned, “your flight is at 9:30am. I’ll pick you up at 9”.

We got everything ready and stopped at Justine’s place on the way to the airport to drop off bags with gear which will be staying here for Natalie and Freya to continue in ten days.

I was quite taken back by the amount of expensive stuff laying everywhere when we walked into Justine’s place, cars, lawnmowers, power tools, computers, huge tv, drones. Wow. I thought. All of those small places look really poor and run down from the outside. I wonder how people here earn the money. I mean living here is pretty costly. There is no shop here. Everything comes by plane, even bottled water. They have water supply which is absolutely fine to drink but they prefer bottled water!

No wonder that half of the village was on the way to the airport with us.

We climbed out of the car and watched the unloading process. Cars quickly surrounded the plane on gravel airstrip. Dust was slowly settling down and boxes were being passed to different cars. Boxes and boxes.

Boxes of beer, wine, vodka. I hardly could spot anything else being unloaded. I wondered, plane lands here three times a week, is it always like this? No wonder there is police officer here even if there are no more than 35 people living in the village.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We took off. Three of us almost filled the plane, Freya, I and our pilot. Soon we were above the low lying clouds and could admire number of snow covered volcanoes around. At some point, we paddled around most of them.

In half an hour we landed in Cold Bay. We are changing plane and the airline. We checked in, and were told that our handheld luggage is just too big to fit into the overhead lockers because plane is quite small. We made sure our bags were marked ‘fragile’, in the end they are full of glass balls. Then we went for a stroll through the town and stopped in a shop and library.

Our flight to Anchorage was briefly stopping in Sand Point. It was nice to see bits and pieces of coast we paddled around through the clouds.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In Anchorage we stood on the tarmac watching the plane being unloaded and waited for our handheld bags. There were not coming, I could see my check in luggage being transferred but our bags were nowhere to be seen. When the plane was empty it was time to move to the baggage claim desk, yes our bags were left behind in Cold Bay. Ours and two other. Great.

They worked out that they should be able to deliver Freya’s to Seattle on Thursday early morning. They seemed to have no idea how to get mine to London. Perfect, when it gets there it will be full of smashed glass. Anyway, it would be nice to be reunited with my helmet at some point. Sweet Rocker is not particularly cheap.

Now it was time to go to desk to check in. I went there straight as they opened. I handed my passport over, then my booking reference, and after a long pause I was told that there was no change done to my booking. So I am still on the flight leaving in ten days.

There is no one to help me I was told. I was advised to go and use public pay phone as mine doesn’t work for some reason. “Sorry, there is nobody to help you here,” this line was delivered with a look which clearly said, “and leave now, there is a queue behind you “.

Great. Bag lost. Booking messed up.

I spent few minutes thinking about what to do next. Even if I find a pay phone here it would be bloody expensive. Those phone calls take forever.

So I made my way back to baggage claim desk. If someone is going to be helpful it would be the lady I spoke to earlier. If nothing else she feels guilty about her airline losing my luggage.

And yes. She was incredibly helpful, let me to use their phone to call and call, after half an hour I managed to track down the guy who was updating my ticket yesterday. His response was simple “Yes, I told you that your booking was changed but it didn’t go through. I didn’t have means how to contact you “. What a ….. he had my email, too.

Ok, another half an hour on the phone talking to different people receiving similar answers, it was time to send message to the UK with hope that in couple of hours in the morning there will be someone much more skilled to do magic with airline tickets.

Good thing was that this airport had free WiFi so I could use my iPad to communicate. By one in the morning I had new ticket to London from Seattle for £145. Few air companies were still busy with last departing planes. I quickly researched online prices and went to talk to Alaska Airline, it didn’t take long and I had ticket to Seattle as well. On the other hand, this delay gave me just enough time to retrieve my lost hand luggage before leaving for Seattle.

It took a while, flights were long but two days later I finally touched down at Heathrow Airport. This adventure was over.

Ever since I agreed to join Freya I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sometimes I was quite nervous about it. For two main reasons. I often paddle with lots of different people but when it comes to more serious paddling I’ve always done it with just one person, my wife Natalie. Now I was meant to join Freya, who has paddled a lot, and on her own, and whose image is quite controversial.

Now, after spending weeks of paddling with her, I can say I am surprised how well we managed to get along.

Maybe, because expedition seakayaking is quite straightforward and although we haven’t paddled together before we had same understanding of what to do when. I was quite pleased to find out that although Freya had many more years of paddling experience I didn’t lack behind, neither physically or skill wise.

Probably best thing about this trip was that I didn’t have to worry about Freya. She is incredibly good in being able to take care of herself. Skill, which she honed during years of solo paddling. It was a new experience for me, doing all previous challenging kayaking with my wife meant, I was always really cautious about my decision making. Regardless of how good my wife Natalie is, there is always an extra responsibility when paddling with your partner.

Paddling with Freya was really good in that aspect. We were paddling as equal partners and it worked really well.

If it comes to that in the future, I would happily join Freya on her North America circumnavigation again.

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.

scenery

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.

cow prints

Monday 02.07.18

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.

scebery by M

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.

cows

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!

IMG_7676Photo by Freya Hoffmeister

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.

green meadowPhoto by Freya Hoffmeister

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!

whale M

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.

fox

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.

Thursday 05.07.18

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.

sand dunes

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.

fog

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.

False Pass M?

 

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.

False pass M?1

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.

false pass.jpg

 

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.

MICHAL’S TRIP TO ALASKA

Unlike previous sports we both have engaged in, when it came to sea kayaking, Michal and I started to do this together from the same starting line. However, it soon became clear that our ways of learning differ. Michal is much better at learning anything about movements, he can only hear about it, or see it, picture it, which leads to him being able to do it. Obviously most annoyingly for me I need to do all these three, then practice for long time, and then, maybe, I would get it.

We have shared stories from our trips together here on the blog, we have done journeys shorter and longer. Thank to Michal’s constant need to look for challenges, to get excited about an idea,  his strong desire to execute it, it meant that we have spent significant time paddling in various environments and conditions.

This time, it happened that we took different approach. I thought it would be great idea to join someone else in their trip, and somehow, both me and Freya thought it would be even better idea, if Michal does so, too.

So there he is, paddling in Alaska with Freya Hoffmeister on a trip different to our usual ones. And here are the notes that he managed to send me from different legs as their internet access allowed.

Michal left London on the 21st of June and he and Freya met in Chignik, a little place, where she finished her previous leg with Catriona Woods.

flight

Over to Michal:

ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS THE SAME EVERYWHERE, RIGHT? Saturday 23.06.18

chignik airport

“Today’s highlight was a bit of a language barrier. Freya was worried she would not find the right gas canisters for her stove here in Chignik, so she asked me to bring my multi fuel one.

We were very lucky and were looked after by locals, Clyde, who runs Trident Seafood was really helpful the whole day, trying to source out everything we needed prior our departure, including the epoxy to fix both of Freya’s kayaks.

However, when it came to fuel, everyone seamed to be quite confused.“Petrol? What do you mean? What’s that? Fuel, what fuel? Do you mean kerosine?” After a while we established that cars use diesel and gas. So we asked if it would be possible to have some gas.

It turned out we could, but not before we were told how flammable it really is, and how careful we needed to be. So I brought my petrol bottles and started to fill up the first one from metal canister Clyde showed me.  Lupe came to assist, and  again, while he was helping me with filling of our bottles,  we went through a long discussion about how dangerous and flammable this stuff was. In the end I had to agree to try if it actually worked with our stove. Before I got on with it, I was pointed to fire extinguisher. After that, as a precaution,  I boiled some water for my flask in the middle of gravel car park,  and surprisingly it worked fine like with any other petrol before.

ALASKA IN A NUTSHELL Sunday 24.06.18

Finally, it was time to leave. Boats were packed and floating on incoming tide. I was waiting for Freya to come. She went to make one more attempt to order epoxy resin to be sent ahead to Sand Point, our next port of call. Again with not much success. As soon as I arrived, we had kayak fixing day and used almost all remaining epoxy. Hope these kayaks wont need TLC too often.

Ready at last, I went to afloat first to make sure the kayak was to set up well for the journey ahead. I am using one of Freya’s kayaks, which is quite different to mine. Fortunately, everything was fine, and we could finally set off. After few paddling strokes I noticed something strange floating in front of us, sea otter! We haven’t even left Chignik and here was a Sea Otter. What a start!

sea otter.jpg

First few kilometres took us along cliffs on flat sea, and soon we started to cross Castle Bay, then we noticed spray of water in the distance. It was coming closer and a whale resurfaced. We haven’t even done ten kilometres and already I saw a number of sea otters and a whale, amazing.

We turned around Castel Rock, a stunning headland, I haven’t seen such overwhelming formation for ages, so we admired rocky structures, towers, gullies and faces until the  headwind picked up. Fortunately we could see a sandy beach ahead landed for lunch. This was my first introduction to what is means kayaking in bear territory.  Bear footprints everywhere and an old fridge washed on the beach was completely trashed by presumingly bear claws and paws. Fortunately, no bear in sight, otherwise I could say: “I’ve seen it all” and go home, now.

Soon after lunch headwind increased significantly and it was time we started to look for landing place. First beach didn’t look to good, yet Freya insisted it would be fine. We landed but it turned out, there was no space for  tent, we had to push another 7km to the next beach called Necessity Cove. Landing through damper went smoothly and soon we had the tent up on a stoney beach. One thing that I will have to get used to, is cooking outside. Apparently it is not a good idea to cook in your tent if there are bears around.

bear hand

GETTING TO KNOW MY NEW KAYAK   Monday 25.06.18

I woke up in the morning and first thing I heard was: “It’s raining, what do you think? Would you mind if we have a day off?” I don’t like rain so the answer was easy. “Ok,” I said and continued sleeping. Few hours later I could hear: “It’s not too bad shall we go?” What could I say, we are here to paddle in the end. One hour later we were on the water and paddling. While launching I was introduced to how to use a launching string. I never needed one on my kayak but seems quite essential to use with the rudder on Freya’s kayak. Anyway, soon we were making nice progress along the coast. It wasn’t raining too much, visibility was ok, just top of the cliffs were hidden in low laying clouds. As we were nearing big headland wind started to pick up and waves were getting increasingly bigger. Soon we hit area where the tide, swell and wind were all coming from different directions. Clapoties were reaching two meters and Freya put her buoyancy aid on. It was challenging paddle as I was still getting to know my kayak. Paddling with knees together like on the surfski in those conditions was quite new to me. We turned a corner and decided to head for the beach deeper in the bay rather than crossing and rounding another headland. We had lovely 40 mins run on following sea all the way to the beach. Well, it was rather bouldery wall with no place for camping. We tried hard. But no place for tent at all. It meant we had to go around the next headland and firstly into the wind. Luckily, in the end, it wasn’t that bad. Tide probably turned, sea became more regular. After we turned the corner it was decision time, which beach to head for? We chose place called Herring Lagoon as something containing a word lagoon in the name must be good place for landing, only, it meant another 12km crossing into the fog.

Eventually we reached steep stoney wall, damper wasn’t too horrible and we landed safely. After climbing to the top of the bouldery wall, on the other side of the spite, we could see why it’s called Lagoon. We didn’t cook dinner this time, Natchos and cheese dip were good enough. I almost feltasleep even before finishing eating.

ANOTHER FIRST – PADDLING WITH MUSIC      Tuesday 26.06.18

It was raining again. Everything was wet. But with the forecast for light following sea we had to go. I’m slowly learning what it means to pack quickly. First everything is packed in the tent, then getting changed to paddling gear, tent down, kayaks packed, and then finally, some oats with milk for breakfast while watching dumping surf.

Sea today was significantly smaller, it was still raining most off the day with no great visibility. Soon we started our first 14 km crossing of the day, Freya couldn’t find her paddling rhythm, which made her to switch her music on. With rain hitting my hat I couldn’t hear that much anyway. Suddenly there was big splash just next to me, a whale, only ten meters away! It came up once more and then disappeared. “You see!” said Freya “I told you. They like music.”

whale freya

Now we were paddling in St Kilda like landscape, huge headlands and islands with birds everywhere. Only difference were local puffins they have long white hair on the top of their heads. I hope I managed to take good enough photo. Soon we landed on small rocky beach on one of the islands, rest of the island looks really steep, like St Kilda, so we hope it’s bear free. We set our camp in heavy rain and decided to chance it and cook in the tent.

EATING FRUIT WHILE PADDLING? Another first     Wednesday 27.06.18

It wasn’t raining when we woke up. That was promising. When I got out of the tent I could see that we are on small island just across from Perryville. It didn’t look like much, just few buildings scattered around so we didn’t bother to paddle there.

Before we set off, we had to set time aside to prepare pineapples, yes we had two fresh pineapples with us. Mine was living in my helmet for three days. Now it was time to eat them. Freya cut them to stripes and filled few zip lock bags to be ready to eat on the water. pineapples

Few minutes into paddling the sun came out. As it shined through the clouds behind us sunlight just hitting a rock ahead, we could see an eagle siting on the top. My first eagle on this trip. Sun didn’t last long but eagles did. By the end of the day we saw six of them.

sea eagel

Soon it was drizzling and headwind became quite annoying. We were making progress between islands eating pineapples. When that wasn’t filling us enough we stopped on small sandy beach for lunch. There were bear and human footprints everywhere, we were not sure which were older and which more recent. Freya found round fishing buoy and we spent few minutes playing football to keep warm. In the afternoon we continued into the rain and wind.

football

I wouldn’t mind if we had a dry day for a change sometime soon. Beach, where we were planning to land, had noticeable surf. Fortunately we found a sheltered corner. And again bear footprints were everywhere. We pitched tent on the highest spot of the sand while it was still raining. There were patches of green plants around, I tor off some and placed them in the porch of the tent to reduce the amount of sand sticking to everything. Then it came: “You are very tidy, not messy at all. If you wouldn’t be married already, I would marry you!”

clean tent M      clean tent F

ANIMALS EVERYWHERE       Thursday 28.06. 18

It was raining hard all night.

Did I mention that I don’t like water? And rain is the worst kind of water. So you can imagine I wasn’t overwhelmingly enthusiastic to get ready. Fortunately as we started to pack, the rain almost stopped.

In Freya’s chart it said “large caves” by the headland in few kilometres. We were quite keen to see what it means. Two sea stacks could be seen just of the headland, when we rounded the second one, one its exposed side, we could see lots of holes and caves. It looked like Swiss cheese. We explored the biggest one, unfortunately due to the swell, we couldn’t visit any of the smaller ones.

Next, we had to cross a larger bay, about ten kilometres into the headwind. There is one thing that annoyed me today. Freya asked if we should cross straight for the headland, or if we should go deeper in, and stop on the beach. In the end we agreed to only have a break on water and not to bother with landing. Yet, when we crossed, Freya said: “I fancy to land on that beach, it’s not too far anyway “. Fine! – We had to paddle ten minutes into the wind to get to the beach and then paddle the same back after the break. Why could we just not paddle straight there, right from the beginning?

Anyway, when we rounded rocky headland there were dozens of Sea Lions on rocky ledges. Mostly female, roughly the size of ordinary seal, with one male between them. It was huge! At least twice the size of big Atlantic Grey Seal.

michal by freya.jpgPhoto by Freya Hoffmeister

sea lions freyaAfter that we were paddling along the cliffs into the wind when Freya found a puffin. I mean there was a dead puffin in the water. The next second she was pulling it out with huge smile: “we need to take pictures “. She was shouting in the noise of wind and waves.

That’s not as simple as it looks. “Should I be kissing it? Or should it be on my shoulder? Do I look good? What about my hair? And hair band? I don’t like this hair band, it’s not black. Maybe we should take some on the beach, on the tent. I need to hold it this way. Do I look good?” This all was probably meant to me. And then she goes to puffin:”You will go on my website, you will be famous. Fifteen thousand people will see you…”

puffin 1   puffin 2

puffin 4  puffin 3After long photoshoot she paddled with the puffin all the way to the beach, put the tent up and did more photos with poor puffin. Who cares that there are bears around. I mean there are not just bear footprints on this beach, there is actually a bear walking up and down the same beach we are camping!

This time I cooked dinner outside, just in case. After we had eaten, I started to write down notes. When I finished writing and put my iPad down, I looked out through the open tent porch. Bear! There was a bear standing 20 meters from our tent! Of course, first we started to take pictures, but then as it was still coming closer, we began to make noise. Bear didn’t seem to mind, so I shot a banger.  Freya half jumped out of the tent shouting at the same time. That scared him, I mean Freya, he hardly noticed the bang! Hope that was enough of bear excitement for the rest of the trip.

bear in camp

banger

TACKLING MONSTERS        Friday 29.06. 18

We woke up into a drizzle. First thing Freya asked was: “Did you sleep well? No dreams about bears?” No, weirdly there were strange monkeys in my dream but not a single bear.

Launching was pretty straightforward, swell dropped a lot as predicted and we started paddling on almost flat sea. That was good because we were heading for Sand Point, which was over 60km away with 40km crossing to start with. Clouds were slowly lifting and we were chatting about kayak designs, forward paddling, and so on. Then a whale resurfaced just in front of us. It took ages before it started to go down giving me plenty of time to find my camera and take two pictures before it disappeared.

Slowly sun made it through the clouds and I realised that I was over dressed. Fortunately sea was like a mirror allowing me to take one layer off. It is actually quite fine to try to take drysuit with front entry off while siting in kayak. It took quite an effort to pull it over my head.

I think I mentioned before that Freya is paddling topless most of the time. I mean without PFD, she calls it topless paddling. And of course she believes this is best and most efficient way how to  paddle forward properly. PFD is too restrictive and you cannot rotate with one well enough, so it means your paddling is not good. And of course, if Freya believes in something, you hear about it, not all the time, just there and now, about five times a day, every day.

So, as I had my BA off I decided it was time to make her happy, and not to put it on again. I even called my PFD a monster when asked her to put it on my back deck. That made her day, I think.

Michal paddling by FPhoto by Freya Hoffmeister

We were making nice progress towards the first island insight with brief stops for snacks. Soon, we came across lovely landing spot with waterfall which was ideal for short pee brake. When we started to paddle again, headwind picked up, not too strong but annoying. For some reason Freya became slower and slower. Waiting for her to catch up was a bit irritating. At one moment, when she got next to me, she asked me to put my PFD back on again, apparently I’m too fast without one.

When we turned the corner and could almost see Sand Point, we spotted  a small boat on the horizon. It looked strange, definitely not like fishing boat. When it came close we waved and it turned and came all the way to us. It was actually a welcoming committee looking for us.

committee

They were really pleased to find us, gave us some fruity drinks, took some photos, had a chat and took off towards Sand Point to announce what time we would be there.

Last stretch was slow and took forever, we were paddling into the wind and sun. Eventually were made it to Sand Point.

sand point

Tina, Paul and few of their friends were waiting for us. Tina’s house is just by the water so it was fast to unload. We were taken full care off. Shower, washing machine, dinner, internet and even a beer for me.

kayak TLC

REST DAY   Saturday 30.06.18

Last night I managed to put my first post on FB. Internet is not fast here, it took ages to upload few photos. Then, I exchanged few messages with Natalie before falling asleep by midnight.

This morning we started with some kayak TLC. First we fully unpacked them and dried them as much as possible and left them in the sun. You see, we have a day off and it is sunny! Then we made it to Trident Shop to buy some epoxy. In between I even managed to talk to Natalie, internet is not that slow in the end.

Afternoon was all about sorting our food, shopping for more food, working on kayaks and trying to find some local contacts further along the coast, in Nelson Lagoon or Port Heiden ideally. Those might be crucial as most likely I would have to fly out from one of those, and if all goes well Natalie will have to fly in.

Then we were getting ready for dinner with glass of wine and beer respectively.

Tomorrow’s forecast looks great so we will be paddling.

HOW I BECAME AN ADVENTURER

With Michal gone, there’s no one left to drive the car but myself. Having had driving licence for 20 years, not driving really since we moved to London, makes me someone, for whom making car to leave a perfectly fine parking place is a rather uneasy task. However, needs must and errands had to be accomplished.

I planned this very carefully, selected the time and plotted the route. I took navigation and map with me, as one can never be too cautious about these. The destination was the whole 3.4miles away with a long dark tunnel in between. They say that with true adventures, it shouldn’t be just about the end goal, the journey should matter, too. However, were I was concerned, the end goal was the main reason I put the gear in one, indicated right, and pushed down on the gas.

I was off on my expedition, by definition a journey with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war. Yes, this felt like all of these options.

From previous long trips and holidays I remembered the feeling of butterflies in the stomach at the beginning of each trip, the uncertainty of how it all will be, the anxiety whether it was a right decision. And yes, approaching the four lanes roundabout, I had similar feeling of fight or flight moment. I also learnt that soon once the routine kicks in, the butterflies settle.

black-and-white-car-interior-gear-89693The Blackwall Tunnel, was a complete different matter. It reminded me of long open crossings. You know it will finish at some point, you know you will eventually reach the land, you know, you just need to get on with it, stroke after stroke to get there. The relief, when a land is spotted, when it becomes clear that the calculations were correct, and that indeed, it would be accomplished at some point, was comparable to finally seeing the light at the end. Only then, did I realise I was holding my breath, and let go. There, who was I to self limit myself, to think I could not get to the south side of the river by other means than kayak, bike or public transport.

A short feeling of victory was replaced by the realisation, that soon, the car would have to be parked. And that is an issue.

As a true explorer, I planned wisely, and chose the earliest possible time as soon as the opening hours allowed. Yet it took several minutes to choose a place from which one can leave without reversing, park without reversing, and without the need to be too close to any other cars. As I circled the car park for the second time I could just see myself circumnavigating an island looking for the best or rather only available place, where to land and stay for a night after a long long day. Only to realise it to be the same place first dismissed in the hope of finding a more suitable one. Never mind.

I run my errand, filled the boot, and felt positively empowered for the way back. What an amazing, unusual, exciting and without a doubt daring experience – a true adventure.

 

Iceland – Let’s talk about it

The expedition to Iceland has finished a while ago, and finaly, recently we shared online our video from the trip. The clip is made to complement our talk about our adventures around the coast of Iceland. And even, if you won’t have a chance to listen to us talking about our experinces, it will tell enough.

Currently we are sorting out dates for talks in London and in Gent in Belgium. Our closest event is going to be at an outdoor festival Obzory in Prague on the weekend of 11-12 of November 2017. We will be presenting on Sunday.

Iceland – Summary of the expedition

The return to normal life after our expedition to Iceland could not have been faster for me. Having landed in London on Tuesday at lunch time, I was back at work the following morning. That was ok, only meaning, that I haven’t had much time to think through some of our trip experiences. However snippets of memories have been steadily coming back almost every day. And finally four weeks after landing I started to write down some summary.
When I looked back into the calendar and counted the days of our trip some interesting numbers came out. The whole expedition lasted 70 days from the first paddling day to the last one, when we arrived back to Reykjavik. Out of which we had 38 days paddling days and 32 non paddling days. The longest we waited for the weather was the 9 days at the end, the weather never improved and we finally decided to finish.
The distance we covered was approximately 1500 kilometres, and we were short of reaching Reykjavik, our starting point, by 300-350km. 

As we have been waiting for suitable paddling weather a lot, very often we would ask ourselves if we should have pushed harder, paddle longer, launch sooner. And every single time, as we paddled the stretch, for which we waited, we were really glad we didn’t attempt it earlier in bigger conditions. The risks we would expose ourselves to would be too great.

If I compare this trip to others we have done before, this was by far our hardest trip. Most days we would have fairly strong headwind for significant part of the paddling day. To make the most of the weather we started to paddle any time of the day or night. Actually, more accurate numbers would be 26 paddling days and 12 paddling nights. At one point we paddled 52Nm within a 24 hour period with 4 hrs of sleep. I don’t recall any significant weight loss during any of our previous trips and expeditions. Here I lost 10 kilos in 8 weeks.
Our boats were quite heavy, we had been carrying provisions for 4 weeks most of the time. We never knew when we would reach the next shop. In the end, due to careful planing, decision making and sometimes pure luck, we were able to restock every 10 days, the longest time between shops was 16 days.
When on expedition like this, number of things is a must. The really obvious ones are kayak, tent, paddle, sleeping bag and so on. Yet, there were few small things which made unexpectedly big impact on our wellbeing. I will name three of them.
We always struggled with latex neck seal and salt water combination. Every time we come back to work after a weekend of paddling, people would be asking if someone tried to strangle us. Therefore the prospect of wearing drysuit day after day wasn’t something we were looking forward to. Fortunately I managed to find 1mm neoprene collar that could be worn between our neck and latex seal. It worked magic! Now it lives permanently in a drysuit pocket ready to be used any time.

It is always easy to focus on paddling gear while preparing for long journey and overlook land based stuff. To select only one pair of land shoes which would do everything for two and half months proved to be difficult. In the last possible moment we found high ankle boots which were also incredibly soft to pack small to fit into the kayak. At the same time they provided comfort in rain, snow, sand and survived abuse on lava fields.

For years we had been sleeping on our trusty self inflatable mats, however as we are getting older, it was time to get something more comfortable. In the end we bought large dawn sleeping mats, incredibly expensive, but worth every single pound we paid for them. They were wide enough to take over most of our three man tent. They were high to give enough comfort to our backs, and provided amazing insulation on cold Icelandic nights, that the fleecy onesie never made it out of its dry bag. They packed small into the hatch, but in an emergency could be used as lilos to float us around. Natalie was convinced of that.

Of course this expedition would not happen without the constant support from Tiderace Seakayaks. We have been paddling Pace Tour for last four years and we knew that it was the best kayak to take on such a journey. Its capacity, comfort and efficiency makes it an incredibly well balanced kayak. It’s also fun to paddle fully loaded and is really reliable in big and messy conditions. We knew that our kayaks would have to go through lots of abuse, therefore we chose the strongest layup, thatTiderace offers. I remember being particularly glad to choose this layup when I had to seal launch fully loaded kayak from boulders through dumping surf. In the end of our trip we each had just one chip in gelcoat.

We expected to endure very complex and ever changing weather so went for the best and chose Kokatat wanting to stay dry, warm and comfortable. The expedition drysuits worked magic but our favourite piece of kit became their salopettes.  For years I believed it wasn’t possible to have just one PFD that would work in any environment and for any paddling. On this trip I discovered Maximus Centurion pfd, it gave me plenty of pocket space for all the gear and vhf, and offered the best freedom of movement compared to any BA’s I’ve ever tried before. It works perfectly on the sea and as it’s primarily designed for whitewater it works there well too.

We have been struggling for years to find kayak shoes which would work and mainly, last. I have been told few times that I expect too much from my paddling shoes and I should be more realistic. During last few weeks of our UK circumnavigation my shoes resembled more a roll of duck tape than shoes. Natalie’s shoes disintegrated completely on our Northern Four expedition. So this time we wanted shoes which would actually last. Astral shoes did more than just that. They have sticky rubber to stop them slipping on shore. They are just high enough to stay on even when trying to walk through horrible terrain, and mud, and most importantly they are nicely wide and comfy when paddling.

For most paddling trips, weather is the one factor with biggest impact on them. Having good and reliable forecast is an essential part of an expedition. We were lucky to be receiving very accurate weather forecast twice a day from Karel. It was making it easier for us to know when it was a good time to commit and when it was better to stay on shore.

We undertake long expeditions not only to explore places and enjoy the everyday satisfaction of miles covered. What we like most, is the various chance encounters with people. Paddling around Iceland has become memorable due to meeting people at the right time.
Firstly it was Gisli and Gudni, who helped us with logistics at the start and finish of the trip. Maggi in Isafjordur, who led us his SPOT, when ours started to play up.

Then is was all the people who shared their homes and food with us. Hefdis and Thor in Arnarstapi were the first, who took us in for few days, looked after us and showed us their area. Maggi’s mum invited us for lunch on a Sunday. In West Fjords, of which we were warned they would be deserted at the that time of the year, we met three brothers Frederic, Gudnar and Inky. Thanks to them we could stay in warmth and under a roof during a week of storms. Their distant cousin in Fljotavik invited us to stay for two nights after we helped him to unload of the delivery boat. Jon and his wife in Reykjanes let us to thaw in their living room after a particularly freezing couple of days. The farm lady on Skaggi peninsula not only invited us for coffee and snack, but gave us butter, which we used as butterometer ever since. Liney from Thorshofn invited us for great breakfast and gave us us books as ours were finished. Ari from Neskaupastadur kayak club waited for us and let us stay in the club house for two nights. Then, there were Kidda and Siggi we met on the south coast. Because of their openness, and them lending us their car and letting us help them on the farm, we could keep sane during the long wait for the weather. When the time came to make the sad decision to finish before completing the full circle, Kidda drove us all the way to Gisli’s in Reykjavik.

The expedition is now finished, and while we are still reminiscing in the moments and memories, many people seem to need to ask us what next. The answer is the same, next, we go back to work. And only when the right time comes and we come up with new plan and save enough money we will know where to next.

In the shade of Katla

The first two nights we spent in the vicinity of the Alvidruhamrar lighthouse had two things in common, we wanted to leave as soon as possible, and we were not impressed by the black sand and landscape covered in low clouds of rain, and wind.
Before we started to paddle in Iceland and before we tackled the south coast, we were looking at the maps a lot trying to picture how the area would look like and what might be like to live there. The reality completely overwhelmed us. Despite the fact that we never resumed our kayaking from the Alvidruhamrar lighthouse, we feel very fortunate to be able to spent so many days in this region and explore it with the help of Kidda and Siggi.

We were in the land of ice and fire. The glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, could be seen clearly in a distance. Underneath is the volcano, Katla. Together they have been shaping the landscape into a mixture of lakes, meadows, powerful glacial rivers, lava fields, waterfalls, and black sandy beaches.

The day after we arrived to the farm and hostel Nona and Brynjuhus at Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Kidda took us to a nearby town, then gave us her car so we could explore further. We went to a canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur. It’s 100 metres deep and 2 kilometres long created by water erosion. 

In a strong contrast to the green rocky landscape is Myrdarsandur, where most glacial rivers of this area reach the sea. It is an ever changing landscape, in the past, the rivers formed large estuaries, and ocean going vessels could sail up the rivers further inland. The little church in Þykkvabæjarklaustur in Álftaver stands on the former location of a monastery founded in 1168 close to which the ships could sail. 

This area has been affected by many eruptions, mainly of Katla, which so far erupted 21 times, last one in 1918. The story of Katla says that in the time of the monastery Katla was a kitchen maid, and a witch. She had magic breeches, which allowed her to run very fast without getting tired. Most people, including the abbot, were afraid of her temper and powers. One day Katla and abbot went away to a market, and Bardi, a shepherd at the monastery was meant to herd all the sheep. Unfortunately he was quite lazy, so decided to use Katla’s breeches. Of course, when Katla came back, she wasn’t impressed and angrily killed Bardi by drowning him in a barrel of whey standing by the main door and leaving him there. Towards the end of the winter, when the level of whey in the barrel was getting low, Katla realised that she may be found out.
She run away, north west in the direction of the glacier and threw herself into it. Later, an eruption came out of the glacial and headed towards the monastery.

People living in the area are aware of the powers of nature. When the volcanos erupt, the one thing that everyone is aware of, are floods that would come. Kidda told us a story of her grandfather witnessing the 1918 eruption. With his friend they were up in the mountains rounding sheep, when it started, they managed to escape on horses and hide on the highest mount in the area. Evacuation plans are made for the region, but still the locals say, they won’t be driving away crossing glacial rivers, when it happens, they will go to the same higher points like their accentors. 

After each eruption flowing lava and tephra covered large areas changing the landscape causing many farms to disappear. We went to see a farm from 11th century which was covered after an eruption, and is now being excavated by archeologists. And also had a look at some old farm buildings dating from 15th century. 

We were offered even a closer look at what it means living under volcanos. When the Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, as always everything was covered by volcanic dust. The hay that was made in 2010 after the eruption was deemed uneatable by the farm animals. And it was only this summer, that it was being dispose off, with our help. 
The hay was being taken out to the areas of sand to help the grass to grow and prevent further erosion of the landscape. The area is also covered by the so called rootless cones, which make interesting formation, where one’s fantasy can just wonder.

SO, HAVE YOU GIVEN UP? 

This is the question, which already popped up. Have we given up? We landed by the lighthouse Alvidruhamrar in Alftaver on Wednesday. After a very windy night on the sand and with very little drinking water left, the shelter and falling rain seemed like the best place on the earth. 
We knew that the coming weather won’t be great and that we won’t be paddling for few days. We decided not to look at the weather till the following evening. 

The forecast did not look good, but it promised, after some high winds, that it will calm down and we will get a chance to continue from Monday onwards. 

After the second night in the shelter we decided to walk towards the farms, which we could see in the distance. The forecast was very unsettled, and we wanted to know our options. And this is how we started to live at the Nona and Brynjuhus at Kirkjubaejarklaustur. On the way we stopped at the first farm and explained who we were, what we were doing, and what we would possibly need. We found some amazing people, who helped us to move our kayaks off the beach, and all our stuff to the farm. We won’t be paddling for a while. 

Sometimes one may think that it is the paddling or the day to day work of landing, launching, packing, and camping, that is hard on an expedition. In our experience, it is the waiting, the sitting on land and waiting for the wind and sea to become such to allow paddling. The hardest is to keep spirits up, when the weather does everything to bring them down. 
Here, the weather forecast changed all the time. Or rather, it was the same, showing a period of possible paddling weather in few days, only day after day this window was moving further into the future. 

We decided to wait. We really wanted to finish our circumnavigation. We wanted to finish the south coast, go to Westman Isles, and continue along the Reykjanes peninsula. We wanted to paddle into Reykjavik. At some point we considered to move via a road west, and continue paddling from there. Then we decided to wait, paddle off where we were, and maybe finish at the Westerman isles. 

To take our mind off the waiting we started to help on the farm. It was great. And the weather showed that we may be able to go on Friday, more than a week after our arrival. We went to shop, stocked up on food, as we hoped for long days on the water to cover the distance left. 

Friday came, we checked the weather. It changed again, paddling that day was no longer an option. Actually, there wasn’t any prospect of paddling for at least the following five days. It was 21st of July. After nine days of waiting, knowing that we only have nine left, we had to make a decision. And so that day, with heavy heart, our paddling around Iceland finished. 

Things change fast here in Iceland. We were wanting to paddle that morning, we were on the way to Reykjavik that evening. 
It was hard not to feel low and like we failed. We have not. We could finish earlier in Seydisfjordur and take a ferry, or in Höfn to avoid south coast, we would finish on the high after paddling. We didn’t need to finish because we were not able to paddle, it wasn’t due to injury or loss of equipment. We just run out of time. 

It was when I was watching Siggi building roof rack for his car to take us to Reykjavik, that I realised how fortunate we were. We have seen amazing things, we lived through some deep experiences, we met many interesting people, who helped us in often unexpected ways. We know one thing for certain, we definitely want to paddle in Iceland again.