Via the World: Brutal and beautiful – one month in kayaking in the Aleutian Islands
Indy blogger Sarah Outen is on a mission to loop the world using a rowing boat, a bike and a kayak. Starting under Tower Bridge, London in 2011 she is now over half way through her journey as she kayaks along the remote Aleutian Islands in Alaska with paddling partner Justine Curgenven. Here she updates us one month in to the paddle.
Six hundred miles out from land in the North Pacific, sometime mid to late August last year, I called up my paddling partner Justine and asked her if she was serious about us kayaking the Aleutians. I wasn’t making progress towards my intended destination of Canada, having set out from Japan in my solo rowing boat four months earlier. I needed an option of somewhere to land and I needed a plan for carrying on my journey by bike or boat. You look at a map of the North Pacific and will see there aren’t too many options in the middle there. Justine had mentioned the Aleutians jokingly for weeks before and now I wanted to know if she was serious about it. The response was a mix of excitement and caution. “I’m not saying no…. but it will be the most difficult paddling either of us has ever done” she said….
One month in to our journey of kayaking from Adak up the chain and onwards to Homer on the Alaskan peninsula and I know exactly what she means. It has been brutal so far. Thankfully not all the time though and it has been beautiful and rewarding beyond imagination too. The wild and rugged volcanic chain is a spectacular backdrop or an adventure – providing vast and empty landscapes that are as varied as chalk and cheese. Or to use a local reference as varied as sea lions from albatrosses. At times we have camped by gushing streams, gurgling delightedly with the spring meltwater from majestic peaks surveying us through the clouds. On others we have camped on rocky lava flows that felt like moonscapes or slag heaps, black and unwelcoming. Our days have varied from mirror calm seas of gentle, sun soaked paddling to long tiring slogs of fifteen hours where we didn’t know if we would make landfall again.
There is a magic to the place and I don’t know where it comes from. Is it the beauty? The raw wildness of the place, remote and mostly untouched by humans for hundreds of years. Is it that lingering spirit of a people like us, travelers in boats between the islands, long gone but still there – mummies in caves or old buildings and midden heaps now buried beneath the tundra? Or is it the wildlife – a sort of kindred spirit with the creatures who live out here year round, curious and often unafraid. I don’t know what it is, but it is enchanting, inspite of the crazed winds and temperatures which can make it harsh and unforgiving.
Our set up is simple. We are alone in our kayaks, carrying everything we need to be self-sufficient, having organized resupplies for various communities along the way. We have just paddled our emptiest stretch, so to speak, with 250 miles of no people. After a 15 hour slog across Samalga Pass to get to Nikolski two days ago we are super glad to be here. At one point we didn’t even know if we would make landfall, let alone reach the right bit of land! We camp ashore every night, meaning that the start and end of every day is packing or unpacking boats which gets exhausting in itself.
I love this simple life of journeying. We connect up our Iridium satellite phone once a day to send messages out and get the weather forecasts in and apart from that we are a self-contained little unit. Our immediate concerns are our safety and water and shelter. It is basic and beautiful for being so. I love how my mind clears from the stresses and busy-ness and business of ‘normal’ life and I am faced with more immediate pressing stresses that are perhaps more clear cut and more easily dealt with. We have worked hard to get to this point – not just in setting up the expedition but in making the miles to this point too. Having always thought of Nikolski as a real milestone in the journey and far from our start point I am almost surprised at how quickly we got here – even though the hours in the kayak seemed endless at times. It is a reminder to be present in every moment and savour it all.
From here we continue up the chain, working our way along island coastlines and crossing between them. You can track our progress in real time via my website tracker here: www.sarahouten.com/the-mission/journey-tracker/ and keep up to date with extra blogs via sarahouten.com and @sarahouten.
Sarah is fundraising for CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association and WaterAid. You can donate via her website here: www.sarahouten.com/charities
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