As our car approaches Seward, Alaska, clouds crowd the mountaintops. When we reach Resurrection Bay, they’re sagging low and heavy, like pregnant women ready to give birth. Certainly their water is breaking. Nonetheless, I call the kayaking company, to see if they’re planning to go through with the 3-hour guided paddle at 1:00. It’s 11:00, and they’re still not sure. They’ll decide by 12:30. The forecast calls for 3-to-5-foot waves, but often those forecasts come to nothing.
My husband Dale and I head to Ray’s Waterfront restaurant, where we hustle into the bar to warm up. We snack on savory salmon pâté, and seafood chowder with generous chunks of potato and stingy slivers of seafood. Outside the picture windows, a hypnotic white veil sinks down the mountains into the bay. The boats on the docks become the only sign of life outside this snug den of fish trophies and murmuring romantics.
Outside the picture windows at Ray’s, a hypnotic white veil sinks down the mountains into the bay.
At 12:30, I step to the lobby to make the call, and prepare my sigh of relief. Instead, “You’re still going?!” I laugh into the phone. A logical evaluation of the drooling sky, and my premature relief, should convince me to abandon this paddling foolishness. But, antsy after the long drive, with only seconds to decide, I can’t think clearly.
“What will we see?” I ask.
The woman on the phone explains that at one point we’ll get out of the kayaks and walk to a salmon spawning stream. After two days of fishing near Soldotna, the promise of watching fish sex isn’t a convincer. But the possibility of seeing an otter is. The woman gives me directions to Lowell Point. I have 15 minutes to struggle into five layers of clothing, plus rain gear, in a moving car. Dale, the sensible one in the family, will drive, but won’t paddle.
I arrive just as Mitch and his father Ken are donning spray skirts — men in blue plastic tutus. Mitch, a healthy 40-and-change, has kayaked in a lake before. Ken, on the rough side of 70, has never kayaked at all. I’ve paddled maybe a dozen times. We chuckle when I discover they’re from Fort Collins, just an hour from my home in Denver: only 3 crazy people from the land of the locked would insist on hitting the ocean on a day like this. Brett, our young guide, is as relentlessly cheerful as the rain is moody. Today is his birthday. Sorry, Brett.
We take two double kayaks. Although I do most of the paddling while Brett sits back, we tend slightly ahead of the other kayak. It’s a challenge for father and son to stay in-sync. Isn’t it always?
It’s a challenge for father and son to stay in-sync. Isn’t it always?
We see a couple of sea otters, small, brown, whiskered old men with slippery ways. They love staring contests, and they’re terrible teases. One waits for me to wrestle my camera from the dry bag and wipe the rain off the lens, just in time for him to dive out of sight. I wonder if the other otter can hear him snickering underwater.
We see a couple of sea otters, small, brown, whiskered old men with slippery ways.
After an hour, we’re all so wet we can’t be bothered to walk to the salmon stream. We just want to hunker down and hope for a whale, though the season is winding down, and we won’t be paddling far enough. A couple of long-necked cormorants float past – graceful, but not what I had in mind. The mountains look like ghost ships in the mist. In short, Resurrection Bay is pretty, but un-resurrected.
The mountains look like ghost ships in the mist.
I feel sorry for the birthday boy. “If you weren’t working, would you purposely go out on a day like this?”
Brett doesn’t miss a beat: “Nope.”
“I wouldn’t either. But I’ve been doing nothing but fishing, eating and sitting in cars, for days. I needed to move my limbs.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” His grin tells me that, if he must work in the rain, he’d rather paddle through misty Alaskan scenery than do anything else.
As we push on, the waves get bigger. Not scarier, just more fun, at least for me. “Weee!” I think, as we rise and dip. But Mitch looks tense, and Ken looks as if every part of him is permanently puckered. I ask Brett how big he thinks the waves are. He estimates 2 feet, not the forecasted 3-to-5.
Though the waves pose no problem, I’m soaked to the skin. How did every raindrop sneak under my raingear? Mitch and Ken look equally soggy, so I’m confident they won’t complain when I call out, “I’ve had about all the fun I can stand. When do we turn back?”
“I’ve had about all the fun I can stand. When do we turn back?”
Just then, a trio of black and white puffins flap their mad little wings in defiance of gravity; I’m always amazed those chubby torpedoes can lift themselves from the water. Brett says it’s unusual to see puffins this far into the bay, which tells me the weather really is as miserable as it seems, and probably worse out in the gulf. He suggests we try to catch up to the silly birds. We paddle hard for a few minutes, but the receding dots remain airborne and soon vanish. So we turn around.
The rain is no longer blowing in our faces, and the waves are now at our backs, making paddling ridiculously easy. Suddenly I feel as if I could do this all day. Ken and his son look good, downright relaxed, and I tell them so. “That’s because you can’t hear how fast our hearts are pounding,” Ken says. But he sounds proud.
As for me, I feel like an idiot, still not sure why I did this. When I exit my kayak, I realize that, under my rain pants, even my butt cheeks are soaked. When Dale shows up, grinning as I squish wetly into the car, I have to admit he made the right choice.
But I don’t have to admit it to him.