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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

Saturday August 6
Linda and I had been planning to head south to Homer, Alaska this weekend. Homer is at the end of the Kenai Peninsula. We have not made it that far yet, but based on reports we have heard and our fondness for Seward (also a fishing town on the Kenai) we have been looking forward to going.

Our plans began to change when I checked the weather forecast on Thursday. It was supposed to be an absolutely perfect weekend in Prince William Sound. Sunny, 80 degrees, very little wind near Whittier (the closest access point to the sound). That kind of thing happens once, maybe twice a summer. If you have read some of the old journal entries and my top five lists, you know that Prince William Sound is one of my favorite places on Earth.

So with perfect weather on the horizon and autumn looming only a few weeks away, we put our trip to Homer on hold, rented a double kayak, and headed for Whittier.

Pictures from this trip are in the gallery.

As soon as we arrived in Whittier, I knew we had made the right decision. It was indeed a spectacular day. We parked the car, loaded the kayak, and shoved off into Passage Canal. It was pretty slow going as we headed the six or so miles to the end of the canal, where the sound begins to open up a bit. We were paddling against the tide, which would become a theme for this short trip. When you are trying to squeeze a weekend sea-kayaking trip into about 30 hours, you can't sit around and wait for tides to change.

When we rounded the point at the end of Passage Canal we looked across the mouth of Blackstone Bay and immediately saw where we wanted to camp. A mile wide beach at the foot of a retreating glacier. The rough topography of the shoreline in PWS makes camping spots hard to come by. This one had been marked on our map, and when we didn't see any tents set up on the beach yet, we knew we had found our spot.

Crossing the 1.5 mile wide mouth of Blackstone Bay was a bit tricky. The water was a chilling aqua-marine color thanks to the many tide-water glaciers in Blackstone Bay and the wind was whipping out to sea. The waves were not too bad, but we were nervous that they might pick up. If we flipped over in this water, without another boat around to help us, we would be in real trouble. Fortunately the double kayak was very stable and the wind remained manageable.

We landed, set up our tent, ate some lunch, and planned our afternoon. The stream next to our campsite seemed to have more salmon than water in it. As we sat, a family of sea otters swam in front of us and played on the rocks nearby. We could have just relaxed on the beach and seen plenty, but we were itching to explore. Linda wanted to continue into Blackstone Bay to catch a glimpse of the tide-water glaciers, and perhaps a few small icebergs or calving glaciers. I wanted to continue out towards the open part of the sound in hopes of seeing some humpback whales. Life is tough when this is your big decision of the day.

Eventually Linda convinced me that we were still in a high traffic area of the sound and that seeing whales was unlikely. So we headed down Blackstone Bay, once again fighting the current. Along the way we saw an American Eagle perched high in a tree, surveying the salmon jumping below. After a couple hours of paddling we were about halfway down the bay and glaciers were just starting to come into view a few miles away. We would liked to have gone further, but we were getting tired and the tide was going to change soon and we didn't want to fight it on the way home also. So we used the binoculars to get a few looks at the glaciers, then turned and rode the tide back to camp for dinner.

Sunday August 7

The next morning we were greeted by a seal who was doing some fishing near our beach. We cooked our breakfast as he looked for his. We thought about doing more exploring along the shoreline in the other direction after we packed up camp, but instead decided to enjoy a leisurely morning in camp, then pack up and paddle home.

It was a short and fairly mundane trip as far as kayaking in the Sound goes, but it was thoroughly enjoyable and enough to satisfy my Sound craving. For a while, anyway.

Saturday August 20

I have done a number of fun mountain running races this summer and I had been told that the last one on the schedule was one of the best. The Lost Lake Run. The Lost Lake trail is about a 16 mile one-way trail near Seward, Alaska. Linda and I hiked the trail in July. As I said then, it is one of the most beautiful runs in Alaska. The trail climbs for the first half of the race up to Lost Lake. The elevation gain is only a couple thousand feet so it is gradual enough to run the whole thing.

Photos from this race in the gallery.

I realized at the start that most of the top trail runners were not there. Must be saving up for the World Mountain Running Championships in Girdwood, Alaska in a couple of weeks. I started well and was running near the front for the first mile or two. Then the top two runners took it up a notch and I never saw them again. I was feeling good, so I passed the rest of our group and tried to lay my claim to third place early in the race. I dropped them all, but the climb was longer and harder than I anticipated. I began to tire as I reached Lost Lake, which was one or two miles from the top of the hill. The first woman began to close in on me. About 500 meters from the top she caught me. At this point, pride took over and I refused to let her go. I crested the top of the hill with her. From here it was all downhill to the finish, 8 more miles, and the legs on her 5' 3" frame were no match for my 6'1" gait and I was able to break away quickly. Whew, I could relax - I wasn't going to get 'girled' today. But I couldn't relax too much because I knew I was not a great downhill runner on uneven terrain and others would start closing in. Sure enough, with about four miles to go, a guy came flying by. I was starting to resign myself to 4th place, but then I realized that he was not getting away from me as quickly as he had caught up. I was hanging tough. For the next three miles I kept him in sight. With a mile to go, the trail emptied onto a road. Once again, I was able to put my long legs to use. I was feeling strong and I picked up my pace and quickly closed the gap. At this point there was only one problem - I didn't know where the finish line was. There I was preparing for a sprint finish, but without any idea when it would start. The road was winding and I couldn't see more than 50 meters ahead. I stayed shoulder to shoulder with him and waited for any clue: a quickening of his pace, the sound of spectators, the sound of the main highway nearby, anything. At one point we deviated from the road and dropped down a trail towards a firehouse. I knew the post-race party was at the firehouse, so I gambled and dropped the hammer. I got a good jump on him and immediately began to worry that I had misjudged. But just then, I rounded a corner and the spectators and finish line came into view. I finished third.

I was feeling pretty good about my third place when my friend Scott McArt, who had raced last year, but not this year, asked me my time. When I told him, he replied, "Nice job, that might have gotten you a top ten finish last year." Ouch. Like I said, the fast guys weren't there.

Continue in September 2003 Journal

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