Via the World: Pacific Ocean, box ticked, finally
Indy blogger Sarah Outen is currently on a mission to complete the journey she set out on in April 2011. Her London2London:Via the World journey aims to complete a loop of the planet using a rowing boat, a bike and a kayak. She is currently kayaking the Aleutian Islands and Alaskan peninsula with team mate Justine Curgenven before she sets off on the next stage cross-continent by bike. She updates us here.
The North Pacific was always going to be a tough nut to crack. When I set out from the shores of continental Asia in September 2011 to cross from mainland Russia to the Russian island of Sakhalin I never imagined that it would take me quite so long, or so many boats and attempts to make it all the way to continental North America. A couple of weeks ago I completed the task, as my team mate Justine and I kayaked from Unimak Island onto the Alaskan peninsula. We had kayaked some 600 miles through the Aleutian Islands from Adak, the point at which I landed in my rowing boat last year after my second attempt at rowing the North Pacific from Japan.
Happy days indeed. I have had some mind-blowing adventures during the nearly three years it has taken. The start of the mainland represented roughly half of our kayaking journey up to the nearest road in the fishing port of Homer, south of Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage.(It is from here that I will get on my bike and pedal East) Ironically now that we are on the mainland we are doing our best to stay off it as it also means that we are now in bear country and offshore islands generally means no bears. Even though we have our biggest crossings of this kayaking leg out of the way now, these furry beasts add challenges, as do the notorious tides and increased shipping traffic that we are already noticing as communities get (relatively) closer together.
Writing from the community of 900 at Sand Point on Popof Island, we are about 450 miles from Homer and gunning to do those final miles in 3-4 weeks so that Justine can make her pre-booked flight home in mid August. There are no guarantees out here as the weather can be fickle and unpredictable and forecasts often way out. We will continue to paddler hard on days when the conditions allow and rest up when they don’t.
Loving the landscape
The landscapes continue to surprise and excite, soothe and intrigue and I am enjoying seeing more land than we have for some time as the first half of the journey was island-to-island with often big empty crossings in between. Now, in good visibility, we are often treated to peaks and and beaches and views on all sides in some shape or form as offshore islands pepper the coast of the peninsula. I shall never tire of wandering over the mountains and skirting the cliffs, either in my minds eye or for real, soaking up the different shades and textures of summer both in weather, vegetation and light. Everything is on a huge scale out here – like Scotland on steroids somehow. I can’t imagine a flat landscape with no peaks or volcanoes vying for space on my skyline. There’s no real reason for me to either as I shall have mountains to look at and then pedal over for many hundreds of miles yet as the forthcoming bike leg will takes me up and over various mountain ranges in Alaska, British Columbia and Edmonton.It is old too, old beyond comprehension really and the science of it mind-boggling too with quite other-worldly formations being formed over millennia by the forces of nature, often tectonic. My recent favourite is the petrified forest on the north west shore of Unga Island – huge stumps and logs of stone that were once wood, thousands of years ago.
While I love the landscapes and seascapes of my journey, drawing deep energy and peace from them, it is the people and their stories who have become me and shall be a part of my everything from now on. That’s how it goes. The journey is not just my own and probably never has been really, apart from when it was in my head and mine alone way back in 2009 when I first conceived the idea. All the people who have helped me and shared with me since have joined me too, and become a part of me and a part of it. Stories from and experiences with the people of these islands and coastal communities will stay with me forever, if only in a small way once the years have jaded and faded some of my memories,which no doubt they will in time.
One of the main themes from the people of this region is a stoic pride in their heritage and identity and a strong sense of community in time and space. Sadly, a thread we have heard often is that those communities and livelihoods and, ultimately, identity are threatened by global homogenization and activities or lack of support by the government, either now or in times gone by. Many of the native communities along the chain lost huge numbers of people forever during the government led relocation programs of the second world war when whole villages were forcibly evacuated to southeast Alaska. Many never returned, either dying in the process or staying away. For some, the village numbers are bleak, particularly the communities way out west. Shrinking numbers mean local dialects on the brink of extinction. I often wonder what the paddlers of times gone by would make of our journey as we skirt the coast - after all, the kayak was invented out here and sadly it is almost entirely absent from modern day life in the region. We have seen a handful of kayakers on our journey. Yet it has only recently really struck me to wonder on what will become of some of these communities in future time too. I don’t want to think about it – for these communities are personalized now. I link place names with people and families and stories – they have become me. For now I shall try and ignore that reality of life – that all things change, even those age-old mountains standing quietly watching over our journey.
For now, we paddle on.
To find out more about Sarah’s journey so far check out www.sarahouten.com and follow her on Twitter @SarahOuten. She is fundraising for: CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association & WaterAid
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