I love to take on something unusual that stretches my abilities physically and mentally, puts me on the edge of being safe, and allows me to explore and prove I can adapt to unforeseen occurrences with confidence. How can I handle each new difficult situation? Challenges train you to quickly react to the things you encounter in your daily life and find solutions.
I found just such a challenge years ago, when I was married and traveling the Inside Passage of Alaska on a cruise with my husband and daughter. As we sat in our luxurious, warm cabin, looking out the window, we saw a couple kayaking among icebergs in the frigid water. They landed on a small, gray rock protruding from the water, dragged their boat ashore, and set up camp, completely alone for the night.
Why would they want to do that, or be able to do that? For years I thought on this.
Twenty-five years, to be exact. Now divorced and dating a daring fellow named Michael, I proposed that we explore Alaska’s Glacier Bay. I had a special mission for the trip – to paddle the glacier-cold water, with its unforgiving environment, and re-create what I saw on that past trip. My partner agreed to complete my dream. My original vision of a few hours paddling paled with what we were tackling.
We traveled through the Inside Passage on the ferry MV Baranoff, with our tent duct-taped to the windy fourth-floor deck. It was an unusual camping venture, different than the many we’d shared on land, but we were rewarded with lots of wildlife sightings. We were one with our environment and each other, sharing life.
After arriving in Juneau, we flew on a bush plane to Gustavo Bay and regrouped. We were preparing to complete the goal we’d both envisioned, but first, we needed to register for a camping permit and view a mandatory orientation video, which was rather alarming.
The film talked about all the things you can die from. There was the biggest threat, hypothermia, and also getting lost, bears, and additional dangers.
We arrived in Glacier Bay, set up camp for the night, and watched numerous bears roaming near our campsite. Undeterred, we made our five o’clock orientation at the kayak rental company.
We learned to read topographical and tide maps. The tides would move in and out of the bay every twelve hours, they told us, and would either make our paddling easier or impossible, going from one inlet to another. If we misjudged the timing, we could find ourselves grounded in muck until the next tide arrived. Our only solution would be an arduous portage – if that was even possible.
It was imperative to understand everything if we were going to make our one-day window for a pickup a week later to return us to Gustavo Bay. Michael and I struggled as the reality of the dangers registered. We asked lots of questions, knowing we could, as always, rely on one another for more than we individually understood.
After the lesson, we were fitted with our splash gear, boots, life vests, kayak, and paddles. The paddles were broken into two pieces, with a male and female end, and we practiced joining them together and setting the angle of our blades.
The forecast for the week was rain and wind.
We boarded our drop-off boat the next morning, and enjoyed six hours of touring the bay before we reached our kayak launching point in Blue Mouse Cove. It was an astounding trip. Our guide pointed out the wildlife and explained how the icebergs we saw were just a fraction of what lay below the gray-blue surface. An iceberg could reverse direction at a second’s notice, submerging a boat.
As we approached “our” bay, my stomach tightened. This was it. We would be completely on our own in the cold, nasty environment. No houses, boats, businesses, or park stations with rangers. No cappuccino.
The forecast was right. It rained torrents of frigid water, falling in sheets from black clouds as we got off the boat at 2:30 that afternoon. A group of eight young park workers disembarked with us. They would take a different route on a three-day excursion.
Our gear was thrown ashore first, and then we dropped our kayaks into the water and pushed the brightly colored boats toward land. We were knee-deep in the chilly water, working quickly. Michael and I hurriedly checked that we had all our bags and moved everything up to the rocky coastline as the largest tide gain in the Northern Hemisphere surged toward us, two feet every fifteen minutes. The drop-off boat departed immediately to maintain its schedule.
We ran around, re-inspecting our things as we packed our kayak. The last items we reached for were our paddles, just as the large group completed their loading and headed out on the water.
Alone on the beachfront, Michael held up our four paddle pieces and screamed incredulously.
“We have three female fittings and only one male!”
We could only fashion one complete paddle for our two-person boat.
It wasn’t anger I heard in his voice, but disappointment and maybe fear. I, however, was furious that the rental company had sent us to this type of location, endangering our lives, without properly checking our gear.
We shouted to our fellow travelers, already disappearing across the waves. “Do you have an extra paddle?”
“No,” they called back sympathetically. “Check with the Forest Service raft floating across the bay. They have a radio connected to the Gustavo Bay Lodge. We’re sure they can help.” Those were the last audible words we heard as they disappeared around the peninsula, heading north.
Water dripped from our chins as we looked at each other, stunned. We had no way to communicate with the outside world. We knew that we were not scheduled to see another soul for a week. We were completely on our own in a remote, stormy area, and we’d been instructed to not to stay where we were because of the bears. Camping on this rocky outcrop was “off limits.”
Remainder of chapter in "Survival Quest" book available at Amazon, Createspace eStore or www.sallydemasi4.wix.com/quest