Day 18 Map
-- Final Day in the backwoods (*sigh*)
I pack my bags and scramble through the thick wet woods to the shores of Medvejie Lake. Clouds play hide and seek on the granite crags surrounding the lake, and as I inflate the raft I know (for a fact) that I won't be in a rush to get across this today. A pair of massive bald eagles crosses the lake periodically, perching atop Spruce snags on the opposite shorelines. I spend more time holding my camera and drifting than actually paddling, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
The Flooding of Medvejie Lake. I'd like to know the story of this; apparently the lake used to be shallower. Massive old snags speak to where the shoreline once was.
Fog. I could've wished for clear skies and epic views, but the eerie silence here will leave an unforgettable lasting impression on me for many years to come. These are the shores of Medvejie Lake as they should be, timeless and mysterious.
Eventually the opposite shore finds me, and I pack my bags for the short jaunt through the forest to the road, and Bear Cove. Uninspired by the gravel road, I put the raft in Silver Bay and make my way toward Sitka on the water. It's beautiful (for awhile), but I'm fighting the tide currents (despite the fact that high tide was an hour ago, I seem to still be battling the flowing currents, I swear the tide and I will never agree) and after an hour or two I pull over and bushwhack the stone's throw back up to the road. Most the salmonberry bushes here are no longer producing much, and I make quick work of the road walk, back out to the paved road past Herring Cove. Within fifteen minutes I hitch a ride back to town and watch the shorelines of Sitka blow by at an unnatural 35 miles per hour from the back of a pickup truck. For reasons I can't even define right now, I'm smiling the whole way.
I quietly pick my duffel up at Centennial Hall, no fanfare, and check in at the nearby hostel. After a long shower my gear explodes around my bunk, drying & airing out on every available surface nearby.
I cannot--in right mind--neatly envelop my last several days in town into a quick report and do them justice. They were very special to me, but most of it falls outside the scope of a backcountry trip report. However, a few highlights from town, my last 4 days:
Despite my best efforts, I try to find an affordable ride down to Port Alexander at Baranof's Southern tip and back, but to no avail. I don't get my chance to scout the terrain there first-hand, but c'est la vie. Don tells me he can snap photographs on Coast Guard S&R flyovers and e-mail me anything that might be useful (appreciated, Don!). I am entirely convinced I can do the ambitious--and far more remote--Southern end of Baranof Island, and hope to make it happen. I have a project now
... time will tell. Perhaps next summer?
people stay at hostels. At dinner I sit at a nondescript dining room table in a kitchen far too tiny to fit it, talking with a guide out of Anchorage named Erica--who's traveled the world multiple times guiding clients on adventure excursions, an Aussie woman named Jane kayaking solo most the way down the entire West coast of the Americas, and a British lady (I forget her name) telling tales of her worldwide travels riding (among other places) on the tops of buses throughout third world countries. Most places, a sense of adventure is defined by just how far you're willing to step outside the proverbial "velvet rope" for a bit. Here, it's custom to burn the velvet rope for firestarter (it's worthless for much else!) and scout your own path from there. We trade tall tales well past dinner, and find our way to the bar two nights later. Erica & I stay up into the night on the porch, ignoring celebrity-gossip magazines on the end-tables and poring through the pages of a Reader's Digest World Atlas together. ~*sigh*~
I could've stayed at motels instead for 4x the price, but it's no contest at all.
I spend an idyllic day by myself, wandering around town and checking out the Sitka National Historic Park, learning some of the human history here. Very cool place.
Pink Salmon, spawning in Indian Creek right through town.
Erica & I try to catch a boat ride over to Kruzof Island to climb Mt. Edgecumbe (an idyllic cone volcano on the horizon of town), and I call everyone I know in town with a boat, but my potential rides fall through. Instead we spend the day walking the road and scrambling up a nearby peak on the edge of town.
Best. Day. Ever.
Views of Sitka from the cloudy slopes of Mt. Verstovia.
Free Spirits, enjoying a break on the lower summit of Verstovia, the higher peak we just descended behind us.
Claude (a Swiss-German guy touring Alaska for 6-weeks, funny as hell to hang out with) went on a fishing charter today, and was on the only one on the boat to catch a massive Coho (Silver) salmon. The other hostel patrons prepare sides and gather around for a feast. Yum!
Claude and his Catch of the Day, with sides!
I give most my extra backpacking food away to Jay, staying in town for work. He doesn't really admit it, but hearing his tales he's a bit hard-up for the moment, and given the extraordinary karma I've received on this entire venture, I'd be remiss if I didn't pay it forward. Besides, I'm trying to get my gear down to one checked bag, this helps.
Three times (twice in town, once on the plane flight out), a local Sitkan recognizes me from the newspaper two weeks earlier. "Aren't you that guy with the SPOT unit?"
*Sigh* Yes, yes I am. Pleasure to meet ya.
It's a small town, whaddaya gonna do.
Jay, Claude & I enjoy a raucous guys' night out at the bar. Claude & I stumble back to the hostel an hour past curfew (despite our best efforts) to find all the doors locked and the house silent. We look at the bunkhouse upstairs, and see a second-floor window (right over Claude's bed) hanging wide open. A questionable scramble over the roof brings us inside to our bunks to pass out for the night. The next morning Eric (the hostel owner) comes upstairs, sees me standing next to my bed after a quick shower. Claude's still passed out three bunks over.
He looks at the open window in the morning sun, and then back at me. "I'm not sure whether to be impressed, or pissed."
Eventually it's all smiles, but he makes me promise never to do that again. Hope it didn't leave a bad impression.
My last morning in town I'm up early, standing alone in the hostel kitchen while a teapot slowly comes to boil. Music runs through my head, and I begin to dance. Just myself, surely looking like an idiot, well past the point of the water boiling, I spin and dance for minutes on end to tunes jarred loose in my brain from my weeks in the wilderness. The entire way home, music plays in my head and I can't sit without nodding with a smile on my face. It's the most extraordinary natural high I've ever known, and it lasted for days.
Ever since that day I make it a point to dance--at least once for a full song--every single day. There's really something to the endorphins it releases, and I highly recommend letting them free whenever the chance presents itself, in whatever manner you please. Even the worst of days should start out with dancing.
I can't hope to acknowledge everyone who deserves it. But I'll make a feeble attempt.
...to hoosierdaddy, Tigger, ol-zeke, City Man and Rumidude for being my "home base" crew here. You guys did more than I'd ever expected you would've needed to. I couldn't have asked for more.
...to ol-zeke, Chuck D, City Man and a few others (whose identities I'm not aware). You made this trip happen for me, it was extraordinary. I have much karma to pay forward.
...to Davey Lubin of Sitka, for giving me the inspiration to visit your home. I've found a new favorite place in Alaska.
...to Don Kluting and the rest of the SMR Team. Especially to Don, I don't know what prompted you to help me like you did, but thank you, it was invaluable.
...to Dave Nevins, of the "No Limits" program in Sitka, for proving that diabetics do more than most anyone expects. Maybe next year I'll make the race. BTW, I love the hair, man.
...to Larry, Chad and the rest of the Screamin' Eagle crew. Awesome way to fly. Big Steve, you make a lean mean fish soup.
...to Bill & Ken in Warm Springs. Ken, yes there's grouse on Baranof. Bill, let's meet up when you're in Colorado again.
...to Claude, you goofy bastard. I will forever snicker when I hear the phrase "Mom & Dad" now.
...to Jer. Thanks, old friend, for looking out for me out there.
...and to Erica. It was very, very special to me. I won't forget.
No banana slugs were harmed in the writing of this trip report.
That's about it, folks. I wanted to tell this story for my own sake, and I hope you've enjoyed it too.
You'll always regret the things you didn't do more than those you did... don't hold back, make it happen. Please: Live.