Part 1 – “Our Great Alaskan Adventure!”
Have you ever been on an amazing trip that you enjoyed every minute of but still couldn’t wait for it to end? This is exactly the feeling that I had during my first trip to Alaska in June 2011. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want the trip to end so that we could get out of Alaska (my girlfriend basically had to wrestle me back onto the plane). I just couldn’t wait to get to the highlight of this highlight trip: a two-day get-away down to the port of Seward to check out Kenai Fjords National Park and do some real, Alaskan sea kayaking!
I have dreamed endlessly about traveling to Alaska ever since I picked up my first kayak paddle but, believe it or not, Meaghan was the one who suggested that we take our summer trip to Alaska. The main goal of the trip was to visit with her college roommate Maura who was living with her husband John in Anchorage at the time. John, a Captain in the US Army, was stationed at the Elmendorf Air Force Base preparing with his medical unit for an upcoming tour of duty in Afghanistan. To add to the company, Meaghan’s other college roommates Katie and Anna (the twins) were also planning to visit that same week! All things considered, it took zero convincing on Maura’s part for us to make the trip!
Our time with Maura, John, and the twins in Alaska was incredible! On our first day, Maura took us on a hike in Eagle River, AK where I saw my first wild moose a mere 2 minutes down the trail! The next three days were spent in and around Denali National Park where we saw Grizzly Bears from the park bus, played chicken with a Caribou at the Savage River, hiked to the top of Mt. Healy, and relaxed in our quaint, park-side cabins. A day of gold panning in Girdwood, a hike up Flat Top Mountain in Chugach State Park, and an afternoon in downtown Anchorage rounded out an amazing trip with our incredible friends!
Meaghan knew that there was no way that we could go to Alaska and not have at least one day of sea kayaking on the itinerary. Lucky for me, she was also the one to suggest that we take TWO days at the end of the trip to spend time paddling near Seward, AK! You can probably imagine how excited I was when we climbed into our rented Ford Fiesta and sped South on the Alaska 1 toward the Kenai Peninsula! As the purple Sea of Lupines and snow-capped peaks of Kenai flew by on both sides all I could think was: “We’re about to go paddling in ALASKA!!!”
When we first arrived in Seward we drove straight through it. Our mission: to find a place called Miller’s Landing, just south of town where we would meet up with the guide who would take us across the Bay. Thankfully, there was only one road that led south out of town and it took us straight there! At Miller’s Landing we met our guide Andrew. Like me, Andrew was a Harvard student who was addicted to adventure. However, he was operating on a whole different level. His story started a year earlier in Cambridge, MA when he decided to take off on a cross-country road trip to experience the best of America. Turns out there’s a whole lot of great things to experience and after running out of money and gas in Seward in the late spring he decided that he’d try his luck at guiding kayak trips. So, Andrew was our guide and I had all of the confidence in the world that our trip would be as incredible as his story!
An aside: I’m known for doing two things when I decide to go paddling while on vacation. First, I like to do some research into local outfitters so that I can hire a guide to take me on a trip. I love to go on guided trips or at least consult with local guides because they typically know the nuances of the waters and have the inside scoop on the best places to go. Second, if I go on a guided trip, I never let the guide know that I have over 10 years of kayak instruction and guiding experience unless I have to! This is professional courtesy to the guide as they are in charge of the trip. Plus, I don’t want to have to think about things like boat traffic, weather hazards, and navigation when I’m trying to take in the scenery!
The trip that we had signed up for was a 4 hour tour of Thumb and Humpy Coves which lie on the eastern shores of Resurrection Bay just south of Seward. This trip promised view of alpine glaciers and a few short hikes to some spectacular water falls. It also offered the possibility of seeing some marine mammals! What I wasn’t expecting was that Meaghan and I would be getting a private trip! It was billed as a small group trip but no one else seemed to have signed up that day and Andrew was happy to oblige. He walked us through the typical pre-trip spiel on the principles of the wet exit, fit us with PFDs, and pulled our clunky tandem kayak down to the edge of the rocky beach. There we sat and chatted up a storm while we waited for our taxi ride to Humpy Cove.
The water taxi looked like a modern landing craft as it slid up onto the beach. It was relatively flat bottomed with a ramp on front, a deck with kayak racks in the middle, and a closed cabin on the back. It was kind of nice (and also a little weird) to be ushered up the ramp to the cabin while the crew handled getting the kayaks and gear on board. Before long we set off across the Bay all the while entertained by the youthfulness of the crew and the stories of the Captain. In his late twenties, the Captain was a sea-hardened man who looked like he hadn’t slept in days because he hadn’t. As a co-owner of Miller’s Landing, he was constantly on the move ferrying clients throughout the Bay and maintaining his fleet of water taxis. When the “summer” left Alaska he would follow it to Antarctica! If all of this hadn’t been explained to us then the stack of coffee cups would have told the tale!
Before long we had arrived in Humpy Cove. The Captain spotted a deserted, rocky beach where he landed the taxi and ordered the crew to drop the ramp. Stepping off that ramp was like taking a trip back in time. The beach was made up of fist-sized rocks, polished by the cyclic tides of centuries. Thick, temperate rainforest encroached on the beach and blocked any escape from the coast. Across the cove, 4000ft peaks thrust into the low clouds as alpine glaciers hung to their flanks; a reminder of the glorious ice that once was! The cold waters of Humpy Cove were flat like glass and there wasn’t a boat of any sort in sight! We were in for a paddling adventure that we’d never forget!
More to come in Part 2 – “Otters, Eagles, and a Rusty Old Truck”