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I’m very cold, but the globe is definitely warming. (also – Deadliest Catch)

August 12, 2016

Monday was a great day.  it was cold and uncomfortable, but it was Alaska – the Alaska I came to see.

After dropping Siobhan off for her glacier cruise, and taking a quick walk around town, I screwed my courage and headed for my glacier kayak trip.  Going along with me were a family from Oakland (Scottish mom, 2 boys under 10, and a dad who worked for Apple and sorted out the problem with my iTunes library); a dad from Wasilla with his two daughters, Brooklin, who lives in Arkansas with her mom, and Jaylin, who lives in Oklahoma with hers; and Annika and Janice a couple from San Jose traveling with their mutton-copped friend Mead (“like the honey wine” he patiently explained).  Our guides were college seniors Emma, from Maine and Julian, from Vermont.  With an uneven number, Emma jumped in the boat with Jaylin, and I was paired with the 6’2″, size 12 footed Janice.  I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Janice was trained on the back of the boat, me on the front position and we all jumped on our guide boat to take us to the glacier.

Leaving Valdez Harbor, our skipper pointed out the fishery and told us about the how salmon are captured for spawning, released, and re-caught if they return.  I asked if that still counted as wild salmon.  “We help them through the toughest part in their lifecycle, their infancy.  After that, it’s all them.”  So, I guess, yes.

He showed us where the pipeline ends and the tanks set up for oil.  We learned about the earthquake in 1964 and the spill in 1989.  And the ways the town was trying to prevent anything else from devastating the community.

We passed sea lions lounging on rocks and seals and otters playing in the cold water.  There were small, fluffy seagulls relaxing on ice so close I wanted to pet them.

We finally pulled into a rocky inlet where we disembarked and pulled the kayaks down from our big boat.  We sat on beach (I sat on my life jacket – those rocks hurt) and ate bag lunches and berries we picked from the brush.  Finally, it was time.  In our many layers of warm and waterproof clothes, maneuvering in and out of the boat required a bit of a yoga, but we go there and headed off.  I only had my iPhone, which, it quickly became clear, would end up in the bay if I tried to use it for photos, so I’m a bit short on pictures.  Still, it was stunning, take my word for it.

After a few moments, I heard Janice behind me begin to pant.  After a few more moments, I noticed she was no longer paddling.  “I’m too tired” she said.  “No problem, I’m good” I replied – totally not good!

The rain begin about five minutes into our paddling and got progressively worse the closer we go to the glacier.  Coming up to a rocky clearing, the water got shallow and the current got fast.  Emma and Julian (who might not be, but I really hope are a couple) had to get out of there boats and pull us through to open, calm water again.  There we got our first glimpse of the glacier, glowing blue.  There was ice floating all around it and we would put our hands in the water to touch it and then instantly regret it as the chilly water dripped up our arms.  Near the glacier, all of us chilled to the bone, we pulled up to another beach and Emma and Julian hastily made hot chocolate and pointed to covered trees for anyone needing a bathroom break.  I did, but couldn’t image how I’d get all my layers off, so I opted for the wait and hope for the best approach.

The kids argued forcefully to just call the big boat to us, but we all got back into out kayaks for another couple hours of paddling.  We went up to the glacier, which has receded 50 feet this year alone and is a living testament to climate change.  Then we headed back the way we came.  By the time we got back to our big boat, the kids were shivering and blue and the adults were debating which was more important – a drink or a hot shower.

I loved every second of it!

For me, the shower came first and after meeting Siobhan back at the hotel, warming up my bones, we headed to our hotel bar for dinner.  We sat at the bar watching the olympics and chatting with Dylan, the bartender and a lifelong resident of Valdez.  He, like many Alaskans we’d met, taken time off to join the military before settling back home.  He told us about Robert, the new chef they’d woo-ed from up north to come cook.  We had bulgogi (korean food is very popular in Alaska), halibut and salmon.  It was great….then Robert came out of the kitchen with a wad of tissue in one nostril, blocking a bloody nose.  He asked us how our meals were.  “Great,” we replied looking at everything but his nose.  “Do you want dessert?” “Um…no.  We’re done.”

One of the two men sitting next to us, ended his conversation with the other and got up to leave.  Mike, the one left, struck up a conversation with us and very quickly came around to his role on the Discovery Channel hit, The Deadliest Catch. Neither of us watch it, but it seems many folks who come to Alaska do.  He was embarrassed and eager to share that his show nickname is “Paint Chips.”  He is, he told us, fishing royalty – he grandfather and great-grandfather were important members of the small fishing community in Alaska. He told us the many kidnappings in his family and warned us not to kidnap him, though we would do well to do so.   He was drunk and sad and told us about his children and their mothers, who only wanted him for his family reputation.  He urged us to come to his room to hang out and bought our drinks despite our demurring.

I’m going to Start watching the Discovery Channel!

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