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In this, our longest trip, the wind was always on our mind. For six days it blew in against us and kept mileage at a minimum, barely making 14 miles two of those marches. Fortunately, all things change including the wind. Once it was with us, or diminished in intensity, we flew along the coast and made the 365 nautical miles from Ketchikan to Haines in 16 days, five fewer than we had been prepared to complete the journey. We paddled two marches a day consisting of about 4 hours each, stopping briefly for a fast lunch and pee break around 1:00 pm.
Our route ran north from Ketchikan along the Cleveland Peninsula, into Ernest Sound, through Zomovia Strait, across Dry Strait and into Frederick Sound. Passing Petersburg and rounding Cape Fanshaw we headed north along the eastern shore of Stephen's Passage and into Favorite Channel before joining Lynn Canal on the final leg to Haines. We had hoped to finish in Skagway, but the wind prevented us from entering the final 15 miles of water that completes Alaska's Inside Passage.
Animals or a sense of wilderness did not define this trip. There were few whales and even fewer bears, although a great number of eagles and, oddly, mink. Artifacts of civilization were often present on our passage from Ketchikan to Cape Fanshaw just north of Petersburg. Clear cuts, cabins, vessels, and over flying aircraft were seldom out of view. This expedition - and I think that is an acceptable term given the length of the voyage - will be remembered by the hours spent each day in the kayak and the wind. Surely, the ice covered peaks of the Coast Range and the trees along the shore will also be recalled, as will the creek and its flowered meadow where we stopped for water on Frederick Sound. So too, the shower built on Crow Island in Stephen's Passage.
Food and Clear Water
Our menu was varied and balanced. I had spent a lot of time coming up with foods that were not bulky and fast to prepare. Building on past experience we added some additional variety for the main meals--salmon, cheese tortellini, three types of Indian sauces, and tofu. These were augmented with three different grains: rice, bulgur and couscous. Lunch was hummus, cheese or packaged salmon. Breakfast consisted of instant oats, brown sugar, berries and soy protein. The soy protein was a hit in vanilla and not so great in caramel and chocolate. It allowed us to leave behind forty protein bars that would have made up part of the morning meal and mid morning snack.
For the first time in 30 years I didn't have coffee with breakfast, using instead bulk tea. That in it self saved a substantial amount of room since we no longer carried filters or what would have to have been three large Nalgene containers of ground coffee. The tea - Persian and English Breakfast - fit in small Ziploc bags and required two teaspoons a pot. Its caffeine was more than enough to start the day.
All of our meals were cooked over fire using a pot with a bale and a tea-pot for heating water.
My wife had a bag of gorp for each five days consisting of peanuts, M&M's, and cherries. We both had one protein bar for the day's snack. I didn't touch my gorp.
Clear water was the rule for our entire journey. A late spring had left enough snow to fill the streams. All of us used the MSR Miox filter exclusively, occasionally having to do a second treatment, but generally finding good results.
Shelter and Beaches
We brought our bivy sacks and a WxTex 10x12 tarp with ground cloth. I never pulled the extra tarp to protect gear from rain while we packed. It simply didn't rain during those critical times.
Using our rule of first things first, we set the tarp as soon as we hit the beach. It was too large on a couple of occasions, but we found that the half tarp worked well for us those nights. A marked lack of rain also made shelter less of a problem than in the past. There were nights we could have camped simply under the alders by the edge of the beach and held off the dew.
Camping beaches varied from day to day. The greatest impact on a beach going from good to bad was the huge tide range during our first week. Hauling the boats over logs and slipping on round rocks made the morning pack a chore that often caused me to heat up well before starting the day's march. The boats were always tied at night even when placed well into the grass. We would not wake to a missing boat.
We slept mainly on the beaches, occasionally entering the forest. All camps had wonderful views. Only a couple lacked an abundant supply of firewood and many had a water source nearby.
Boats and Packing
Our boats were a Solstice GT and Romany Explorer. Our friends both had Mariners -- XL and Express. They packed, as always, faster than we did. My wife took the longest because of the tight hatches and the lack of space in the stern of the Explorer. The skeg box and day hatch bulkhead prevent any long or bulky items to be placed in the rear of the kayak, turning packing into a puzzle and a chore. She carried the cooking gear and one food bag in front of her pegs. My GT packs well and had a lot of space left even early on in the trip. I had the reserve food bear canister and the tarp bag in my cockpit. We pack nothing on deck except spare paddles and emergency gear.
Each of us moves along the day's march at a similar but personal pace. There are times we pack together for an hour or so, throwing questions or joining in song. Most time a couple of 100 meters separate us. With an opposing tide or wind we hug the shore and play the eddy that is often present.
None of us paddle with a feathered blade. I stopped more than a dozen years ago after experiencing wrist problems on long paddles. During this trip our friends too made the switch at my suggestion after both experienced extreme pain in their lower arms and wrists.
All of us are experienced and skillful kayakers and wilderness campers. The youngest at 22 has 12 years of paddling trips to her credit. We kayak more than we practice and rely on our braces rather than our rolls. We have been hit by squalls that bring five foot breaking seas and know how to work with the water to make it through. We are most at home in our kayaks.
We average 3.5 to 4 knots with no wind and can easily make our expected 25 nautical miles for the day. A strong opposing wind can cut that distance in half.