We wore everything. Every layer of clothing for every member of the family, a smear of frozen sunblock on noses and cheeks against the bright sun that traveled with the frigid wind. Even an extra pair of sleeping pads strapped over the trying-to-nap Lituya on my back. So when I stepped into the door of our resupply point at Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, I started stripping layers off me and the kids, grateful and appreciative for the chance to stand in a warm space. And then I looked at the shelf beside me — and saw celery and broccoli.
And then I realized that I was standing in their refrigerator.
And that was only the beginning.
Two days later, both kids shuffle-ran through a half inch of powder over old icy ski tracks on one of the Kachemak Bay state park trails.
Lituya: “Is that moose poop? Is it cold? Can I step over the moose poop?”
Katmai: “It’s the coldest Ice Age of the Pleistocene! I am a wooly mammoth! Watch me use my tusks to dig for plants under the snow!”
Katmai’s favorite game to enact is “Evolution from First Life to Neanderthals.” So we travel regularly with Cambrian trilobites, Carboniferous bugs, Permian reptiles, Cretaceous dinosaurs, and Eocene mammals… But this time, we were stuck in the Pleistocene, when recurring ice ages set the tone.
Katmai and Lituya hang out in a gravel-filled half-boat heated by our little Titanium Goat stove.
I had envisioned weather that would prevent the launching and paddling of packrafts. I hadn’t envisioned weather that would drive us away from the beach entirely, where temperatures in the teens combined with a steady scream of wind (or was that the scream of the kids?) into an icy blast that sent us scurrying for the protection of the trees almost as soon as we started. So long as we walked only downwind, our mammoth took the blizzard in stride. Our smaller mammoth enjoyed the inland trails. Then we ran out of those, made our way around a few more protected shorelines and one tantrum-inducing point, before squishing the tent into a thicket of trees, wondering about the theoretical existence of spring, and dining on nutritional yeast and jalepeno soup. (We saved all the regular food for the kids, in anticipation of more blizzard to come). We sketched out plans for stretching our remaining food to cover days of hunkering in the tent, or creeping along as wind and cold limited our options.
But after two days the air stilled, leaving behind a glassy calm Kachemak Bay, and a path (between slushy small ice floes with resting seals) to Kachemak Selo and Vosnesenska.
That’s the deal with any long journey. You get every weather there is.
A Walking Conversation
The air warmed between there and Homer, where the yellow grass and dusty streets are filled with a pervasive odor of thawing dog droppings, prompting me to check the bottom of my shoes a rather unreasonable number of times.
Our journey has barely begun, but Homer is the 6th community, and 8th inhabited place we’ve visited. And along with all the other heavy and awkward things we’re carrying with us, we’ve been carrying our question — about the future of the region and the future of Alaska. We’ve heard worries about growing communities, and worries about shrinking ones. Stories of decline — in fish, in birds, and in other natural systems. Worries that shifting baselines mean that each subsequent generation will never know what has already been lost. And some hopes too. In adaptability and resilience, in how much easier it is to learn things in our information age. Hope is a theme that keeps cropping up: How do people find and maintain hope for the future in the midst of what they see is going wrong?
We’ll be walking from Homer today – Tuesday the 16th, and you could join us. We’re planning to depart Bishop’s Beach at 4:00. We’re pretty slow, so it’s easy to catch up if you can’t start until later!
See a larger selection of photos here
An iconic brand in Alaska, Extra Tuffs are durable rubber boots – not the sort of thing we usually trek in. But with slow walking on wet beaches in cold weather, it’s been pretty nice.