Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Moving to Seward, Alaska ... in February!

Ready to disembark, our rig fully loaded! 

Greetings from the Northwood Inn in Fort St John, British Columbia. We've been on the road for three days now, moving ourselves and our belongings towards Seward, Alaska. We bought a tiny house there this past October after our season spent working at Denali National Park. The purchase process was quick (about a week) and then suddenly, after all our years of being dedicated big city apartment renters, we were homeowners in a small coastal town in Alaska.

We are now on our way back to Seward, Alaska, with our furniture, kitchen items and other things packed tightly into a 5' x 8' rented Uhaul trailer that we are towing behind our 1996 Isuzu Rodeo. Reed was able to amend the trailer hitch so that we could haul a trailer. Thus far, it's been a gift that we've been able to haul the trailer, as opposed to renting a moving truck. Most importantly, it allows us both to be in the same vehicle, and thus take turns between driving and navigating / fixing food / queuing up the next podcast / finding a place to stay each night. It also means less cost than driving a moving truck and a vehicle, so it allows us a bit more wiggle room in our budget for the trip.

Our current rig and the winter weather conditions and our trepidation have us going much slower than we ever have before. Our max speed is generally about 50 mph and we're driving only during daylight hours, so we're expecting this distance of 2500 miles to take about 10 days. Even so, we've felt pretty tired by the end of each day, and grateful that we have the funds to be able to stay inside to sleep. It's cold outside!

Our family sending us off (Reed's parents, Tanya & Scott)

This country is gorgeous, and it's clearly still February in the mountains and on the plains. Most of the lakes are frozen and even some of the rivers. People have been telling us that it's been a mild winter, with less snow than normal. In general, I am sorry that this has been true, but while we're driving, I am grateful that the roads thus far have mostly been clear of snow and ice.

Last year we drove up on the Cassiar Highway, but this time around we decided to take the ALCAN, or Alaska Highway, because it's a more main route, and thus carries more vehicles and has more population spread out along it, making for more potential help and more places to stop for the night. We spent our first night out with Deb & Bob, Couchsurfing hosts in Ashcroft, who have now hosted us three times, and thus are becoming like family for us. They were a great source of information and pointers on winter driving across Canada and it was lovely to be with friendly people that first night. I am excited to be moving to Seward, and of course I am always excited about traveling. At the same time, this departure was especially tough, because our plan is that we will be living in Seward for a few years and won't be seeing our loved ones in the Seattle area nearly as often. My adventurous spirit aches each time that I leave a place and people that I love.

Reed checking the oil and tires each time that we stop
This morning we have eaten a delicious meal of leftovers and canned foods heated up in the motel room's microwave. We brought plastic containers of frozen carnitas style pork roast that we cooked and then froze a few days prior to departure. We heated that up with half a can (yes, can!) of German style potato salad. That combo was luscious! In our other dish, we had canned butter beans reheated with brown rice and then a giant dollop of hummus on top and a smattering of green and kalamata olives. We're eating pretty well, and enjoying learning more which foods work for which type of traveling. We're well nourished to start our day of driving and the time has come to load back up in the car and hit the road north.

At the official start of the ALCAN, in Dawson Creek, British Columbia

Saturday, February 6, 2016

After the Salton Sea: Washing up & Reflecting

Standing atop Rocky Hill at the southern end of the Salton Sea
 We finished our counter-clockwise loop of the Salton Sea on Wednesday afternoon, nearly 8 days after we had started off from the same location, Obsidian Butte, on the south end of the Salton Sea. These 8 days included 6 full days of paddling and 49 hours of lay-over due to wind and ensuing dust storms. We had a delightful time. I am grateful that we got to explore this incredible body of water and see birds in numbers I never had before.
One of the more amazing daily occurrences was being surrounded by clouds of 1,000+ birds circling overhead, creating ripples on the water and an audible sound of beating wings. We never did get pooped on as the birds seemed to prefer not being directly above us. I wondered if this behavior was a protective measure that they've learned to help them avoid the shots of duck hunters.

Upon landing at Obsidian Butte, our after-adventure work began. I used a gallon of fresh water and a rag to thoroughly wash the interior and exterior of our boat. This was to remove the salt deposits that had built up. We later drove to Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge visitor center where we used their fresh-water & hose to spray off our sail and all its rigging, our life jackets and kayaking skirts and our paddles. The items were remarkably "clean" of dirt and grime, yet covered in salt deposits. The visitor center provided a delightful bit of shade and water in which to rehydrate ourselves. I continue to be amazed at how quickly my skin and internal body get parched.

After resting a bit, we walked the 1 mile path to the top of Rock Hill, where we were provided with a gorgeous view of the whole Salton Sea. We were seeing the Sea in new ways now, recognizing the various rocks and mountains and low areas around its perimeter as places where we had camped or come ashore for other reasons. The Salton Sea felt like it was ours, a place that we would now gladly claim and for which we would advocate. We had not found the Sea to be an ecological nightmare, or a post-apocalyptic setting. Instead, we had found it to be teeming with life and beauty. Yes, there were dead fish (water temperature gets too low in the winter for the tropical tilapia fish that inhabit the lake) and the water is exceptionally salty. It is not a dead sea, though. There were plenty of places to camp all around the sea, and ample resupply locations for both food and water. We even had three restaurant meals at various locations around the Sea - Bombay Beach, Desert Shores and Salton City.

Gorgeous view of the Salton Sea looking north from Rocky Hill, part of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge

Plant life near inflowing "American River" at southern end of Salton Sea
We are grateful to have found a place to have spent a delightful week on the water. I would highly recommend the Salton Sea to experienced sea and lake kayakers looking for somewhere to spend a week in the winter. I'd be happy to help out with information on resupply and camping spots.

I want to send out a set of thank yous to a few local people who helped us have a joyous and successful paddle trip. We met "Popeye" / David in Bombay Beach. He lived in a sailboat on the Salton Sea for the first half of 2014 and thus was able to provide us with a plentitude of information on the sea, including the make up of the shore at various spots around the water and stores with food. Another huge gratitude to Gary & Roxanne of Ray & Carol's Motel in Salton City. Gary offered to drive out along highway 86 to pick us up and bring us back to his motel for the night, with stops along the way to resupply on food and a giant breakfast burrito, courtesy of the Taqueria in the Salton City AMPM. The next morning, Gary & Roxanne drove us back to within 2 miles of our kayak with all of our necessary supplies for the following 2 days of paddling. This included 4.5 gallons of water, so we were especially grateful for them getting us two miles closer than the highway!

Gary "introduced us" to a fellow Salton City dweller, Kerry F. Morrison, by way to telephone. Kerry runs Ecomedia Compass and the Save our Sea Foundation. When Reed & I finished our paddle of the Sea, we were able to connect with Kerry in person at the headquarters. We made a short video of our experience on the Salton Sea, which they'll be editing and will hopefully be available in a few weeks. They're doing exceptional work towards rehabilitating the Salton Sea. One of their proposals is to bring water from the Sea of Cortez into the Salton Sea in order to keep water levels from dropping any lower. In order to bring awareness to this idea, they'll be doing a "Sea to Sea" hike this fall, 130 miles from the Salton Sea to the Sea of Cortez.

It sounds awesome, and it's got me wondering if it would be possible and reasonable for Reed & I to come back down to southern California after our season of work at Denali. There's nothing quite as motivating to me as a hike, and this one is on an exploratory route and for a cause! We may be back... I hope so.

We love the Salton Sea!
Sunset & Birds on our last night camping shoreside of the Salton Sea

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Found Boat Launch on our last night out: Kayaking the Salton Sea

Gary, Roxanne, Reed & Kelley

A Lovely morning walk across the Desert back to the Sea
Yesterday we got back to paddling on the Salton Sea, after nearly two days of rest due to the high winds. It was a lovely, calm day with a light breeze that allowed us to use the sail for an assist. We coasted down the sea, and all through this tranquil scene, I was filled with anxiety. Where were we going to find a place to camp for the night? What if the terrible winds returned? We're we going to have to trudge through mud flats, dragging the kayak in order to get above water line? Were we going to have to paddle all night because we couldn't find anywhere to pull out boat out of the water? None of these dreaded fears came to fruition. In retrospect, it seems as though I was feeling the fears of a few days prior. At that time, I had needed to focus on solutions & this hadn't been able to feel the anxieties accompanying our situation. Yesterday it was safe enough to do so, and I felt all of them! As the sun sank lower, we found an impromptu wooden boat launch. Once again, we were able to get ashore without trudging through mud. We even found an adequate camp site just 200 yards away, on a slightly higher place, with sand & barnacle she'll beach beneath it.

This morning we begin our last day of paddling the Salton Sea loop. It's another calm day, sunny, birds making a racket of sounds. We are cheddar cheese & Nutella sandwiches for breakfast & I drank rehydrated Nestea. We're off to see what more we can see today, on this SW corner of the lake.

Graffiti artwork on an old military building on the SW shore of the Salton Sea 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Waves, Wind & a 'Zero' Day - Trying to Loop the Salton Sea

Mid-day "siesta" usually included going ashore to find shade or create our own

Kayak & Sail in all their glory

We're now on day 6 of our Salton Sea kayak loop. We've spent the day at Ray & Carol's Motel by the Sea in Salton City, CA, awaiting the lessening of the strong winds that caused us to get off the water yesterday.

Reed awoke us early yesterday morning, before the sun rose, so that we could get on the water before the winds picked up. We started out sailing using the small forward-mount kayak sail that Reed loves to use. As the winds got stronger, we both heightened our focus & prepared for when the sail would need to come down, and quickly. That point came about 9:30, when the winds shifted direction & started blowing us away from the shoreline. Reed got the sail down quickly & we began to paddle in earnest. My heart was pounding & my eyes were searching for anywhere that would provide a decent spot to beach our craft. It was tough going & wasnt until 10:15 that we found a suitable spot, as in, somewhere we could paddle right up to shore & land on a sandy spot. My fear had been that we would be forced to go ashore at a muddy, shallow area, which could have meant much laborious trudging through sinking-in mud just to reach a place that we could leave our boat. We needed to get off the water, but not badly enough to spend an hour suffering through knee-deep mud, or worse. What relief to find a strange mound of concrete slabs piled on top of one another.

The next 'obstacle' was to creat shelter for ourselves, especially our faces, from the dust storm that the high winds (up to 30 mph)  had created. We turned the kayak against the wind & hunkered behind it, using the umbrella to create a small wind break & wrapped ourselves tightly in my fleece blanket, closing our eyes against the stinging salt & dust particles. After an hour of this, without relief in sight, we trudged up across the salt & mud flats to seek shelter in the little vegetation that we could see through the dust. In the brush & small bushes, we found a small area and set up our tent & got inside, using the rain fly to block the dust. And that's where we spent most of yesterday. The winds intensified over the course of the day. The tent flipped around & all of our belongings got covered in many layers of fine dust. During the night, our sleeping bags, hair & faces got coated. And yet, amidst the unpleasant circumstances, we enjoyed reading aloud from Margaret Murie's 'Two in the Far North' and we saw a DOUBLE rainbow.

This morning, the winds were still flapping our tent around on top of us. Our phones provided enough sporadic reception to allow us to check the weather. The winds were expected to stay high through sunset. And that's when we decided to get ourselves out of there. The night before, Reed had talked with Gary at Ray & Carol's, who had offered to come out to pick us up at the highway. He didn't have a room available, but he was willing to drive us to our car. We really wanted to finish our course around the Salton Sea, so we worked out with Gary that we would stay in our tent for the night & then meet him at the highway in the morning. And that's what we did. We walked the 4 miles across old military lands, which included awesome washes, rocks & canyons to arrive at highway 86. We placed a call to Gary from the median of the highway, which caught the attention of a highway patrolman. Officer Serrano stopped to try to understand just where we had come from & whether we needed any help. 'We're just waiting for a friend to pick us up' was not sufficient explanation! He was kind & helpful, surely surprised by our story. 'Where's your boat?' I don't know what he thought of our story but it seemed to satisfy him & away he went, leaving us to await Gary's pick up.

It's 7pm now, which is about 1 hour after our kayaking bedtime, as darkness falls by 6pm & soon afterwards we usually fall to sleep. We are both well-showered, full of breakfast burrito & canned field peas & corn and supremely grateful. Yesterday's events felt calamitous. I hated to be 'beached' & tent-bound all day. I wanted to be paddling. I wanted to be making progress. This morning when we left our kayak & walked to the highway, it felt like we were giving up. And yet, we got to meet Gary & be here in their lovely motel and in so doing, our experience of this Salton Sea paddle has been much enriched. And so I close with a quote that I received from my running coach today, which felt appropriate for the past two day's events.

"Be well and remember 'we're all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.'"

We'll be heading back out to our kayak in the morning, with refreshed supplies of food and 4+ gallons of water, and increased gratitude for the kind people who have helped us do adventures & explorations.