Monday, August 1, 2011

Kayak Beach Overnight

When I dreamed of going to Alaska, my hope was to get as far from civilization as I could to appreciate and enjoy nature.  I wanted to be in the mountains, on the rivers and the sea, and under the stars without human or "civilized" distractions.   After spending a night at the Bear Creek Lodge in Homer, we took an early morning water taxi to Yukon Island in order to get in a double kayak to paddle around the Herring Islands of Kachemak Bay.  We each had a knapsack with enough layers for one overnight in any kind of weather.  As it turned out, we had exceptionally fine weather: bright and sunny and almost hot!  We were accompanied by Mia, our young guide, who made sure we found our way safely through mild currents, spotted the wildlife and gave us all sorts of information on the geology and zoology of the area and, most importantly, Mia carried food and water in her kayak so we would make it till tomorrow!

In our first few hours we spotted adorable river otters playing on the shore, majestic bald eagles that I had previously only seen on stamps and Republican campaign ads, and plenty of colorful birdies who guided our way.  More impressive to me, though, are the snow-capped mountains, striking glaciers, and green valleys that surrounded our expedition as the paddling made a quiet lapping sound in the tranquil water.  Words cannot describe, and photos do not do justice.  What I can say is that I felt at peace in that water like I have felt nowhere else.  I am a great beach fan and like to find solace in the peace and quiet of an ocean beach, but there are inevitably others around on whom I feel compelled to eavesdrop, stories to be created about the strangers around me, or food and drink to be planned and organized.  This trip on Kachemak Bay, though, was free of all of that.  We barely saw another soul for hours on end and the only thing on my mind, when I allowed, was some crazy plot I conjured up for a movie about bears!

Our home away from home that night was in a yurt on Kayak Beach.  We had sleeping bags on mattresses, romance promised by firelight, and the only thing we expected to see were the stars in the sky.  Now I will remind you that it gets dark here at 11 p.m. at this time of year (no exaggeration!) so I was fast asleep before any stars made their appearance, and our weather was so unusually warm for Alaska that a fire in our yurt would have smothered us.  After a fairly rigorous afternoon hike up Grace Ridge Trail which afforded us a panoramic view of the grand bay we had just been navigating, camp food cooked by Mia over an open fire, and a quiet evening spent on the beach reflecting on our amazing good fortune, Clay and I slept harder than the logs that surrounded us in all directions!

By waking on Kayak Beach and spending most of the day in our kayaks, we got to see the region in all kinds of light.  Morning light is, of course, different than afternoon light, and we were able to appreciate the majestic landscape as it showed different colors and shades at different times of day.  Our kayaking on day 2 was more thrilling than the day before.  For one thing, I felt more acclimated and comfortable in the water, and we came across a large sea otter quite close to our kayaks doing what they do which, while it appears to be a sun bath, is really a break from deep sea fishing.  She was wrapped in kelp which Mia told us was normal, and seemed to be flossing her teeth but was probably eating a fish.  We got to see this sea otter very closely and I thought it was adorable!  Then there were the 2 seals who popped their heads out of the water like ninjas, making a quick and stealthy appearance.  More eagles, including one who swooped down and carried off a rather large fish, and bigger swells made for an exciting day, which culminated in exhaustion from all the outdoor activity.  By 3 p.m., our water taxi picked us up and we happily headed back to the mainland.  You can rest assured that we got a bottle of wine ASAP once on shore to speed up our transition back to quiet and lovely Homer.
We are off to Seward now to explore a different side and terrain of the Kenai Peninsula. Glaciers and icefields await us as does, I suspect, a change in the weather. Some lingering scenes from our time on the Homer side of the Kenai, for the video lovers among us --

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