Thursday, August 6, 2009

A day in the life of a kayak ranger


0300. Wake up, briefly wonder where I am and who the heck is sleeping next to me. Oh right, I'm on a kayak patrol and that's my volunteer work partner. Realize nature is calling. Wonder if she will wake up if I open the tent zipper. It's kind of light out already, love the long daylight hours here in Southeast Alaska. Stumble out of tent, falling over all the stuff in the vestibule (because it's raining). Fall into the tarp line (because it's raining). Wonder if bears have swum out to the island in the middle of the night. Wonder where the rifle is. Beat feet back to tent.


0700. Granola, powdered soymilk and filtered water, maybe some salmonberries if we can find some. Yum! Take down tent in rain, stuff things in dry bags, carry kayaks the half mile to the ocean. Naturally it is low tide and there are rocks. Load boats, bemoaning the fact that things won't fit. They always do. However the rifle ends up in the cockpit. Love that. Check map and wind. Looks OK, low clouds and drizzle, a southwest swell. Nothing like the 12 footers we encountered on another trip.


Paddle through a magical world of islands, appearing out of the fog. It is an enchanted place of dripping hemlock trees, small pocket beaches with driftwood piled up from winter storms, the liquid sound of our paddles as we move through the kelp. Otters poke up their heads to watch us pass. We can hear the sea lions howling from the White Sisters, a rookery and haul-out to our east. Sometimes whales blow so close we can hear them breathe.


Stop to check formerly trashed campsite. Oh good, it's back. This time they have built a truly lovely visqueen palace. They've even put up a swing. How do they get those lines so high? Volunteer work partner shimmies up tree to remove one. Consider the fact that we are blatantly not wearing hard hats (no place to carry them in a kayak). Think of the ramifications of a fall. Decide not to look.


Gather the discarded beer cans, melted glass, tarps, commercial fishing gear and propane bottles. Lash them to boat. Realize I resemble a trash barge. Attempt to flag down a passing troller to take garbage. No luck.


1200. Stop for lunch (bagels, cheese, red pepper) on a nice sloping gravel beach. Surf is a little tricky; narrowly miss overtopping my boots. Huddle on the beach wondering when it is going to be summer. It's July but doesn't feel like it. Watch eagles flap through the slate-colored sky. Realize how lucky I am to be out here.
Paddle on. Inventory some historic sites: fox farm remnants (people had these farms on islands and sold the fur before WW II; the foxes ran wild over the islands); mining adits (lots of gold and silver taken out here). Collect cedar for a genetics project. Risking life for science, hang over a cliff to make sure each sample is 100 feet apart.
See outfitter boat in distance, record what they are doing. Paddle up to say hi. Clients are puzzled but interested. Decline offer of beer. Ask if they know they are in designated wilderness. One client says no. Guide looks uncomfortable. Knows this will go in his evaluation. Offers to take trash, though.
1700. Find a nice island to camp on. Scout the site for bear sign. Looks OK. Drag kayaks on beach and unload. Naturally it is low tide. Carry camping gear up beach. Wish for head nets. Spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to hang food in tree. Sit on beach looking out at the wide ocean. Write notes. Realize how lucky I am. Inhale in the sweet smell of the sea. Forget to call in to Dispatch. Worry about them sending the Coast Guard out again. Worry about seeing it in the Police Blotter. Leave them a message on the satellite phone.
1600. Pasta, pasta, or pasta? Fire up stove. Marvel at the culinary delights we can create. Wash dishes and stroll around the island. Island is a lot bigger than we think. Walk out on high headland covered in heather. Watch waves kiss the cliffs. Get back late. Check tide book. Move boats higher. Realize we will regret this later.
Place pepper spray strategically. Wash face. Realize have forgotten hairbrush again. Use a fork instead. It's stopped raining. Listen to VHF. Sounds good for tomorrow. Make a plan. Brush teeth. Read book about surviving ocean storm by headlamp. Realize this might not be the best reading material. Turn off headlamp. Realize how lucky I am.

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