Large shelves of ice extend out from he shoreline in places, providing a barrier to erosion until they melt in the spring.
There were four wheeler tracks and truck tracks, their parallel lines nearly ubiquitous where the tide hadn’t washed them away. There were houses. Occasional cabins at creek mouths. Small clusters of boarded-up summer homes in the rare places where the bluffs stepped away from the beach. Roof peaks and windows just visible over the top of the bluffs. Setnetting cabins, clinging to the narrow stripe between the tides and the crumbling cliffs.
But it was nearly empty of people–from the time we left Homer to a few miles shy of the Kasilof River. We saw a handful of four wheelers. A pair of construction workers running a backhoe at the end of the Anchor point road. One boat, slowly trolling by between us and the volcanoes.
A poultry farm perched precariously atop eroding bluffs provided an exciting diversion for the kids.
When 60 feet of land between it and the ocean vanished into storm waves, this house remained, at the edge of a 100 foot drop.
And the highway. Many times it was less than a quarter mile away. On one calm day, we paddled in the smooth brown water, listening to the low hum of the oil rig, its loudspeakers reaching us with an occasional unintelligble bark. From the other direction, we could hear the periodic growls of cars zooming by on the bluff top highway, watching trucks and semis through a small gap in the trees.
That road is the usual connection between Homer and Anchorage, and on it’s familiar curves, I never thought of the coastline below me, other than as a gap that opened the view to the volcanoes on the other side. Our parallel world wasn’t wilderness. And as we began to approach the urban swath of Kenai, we’ve slept on more indoor floors than sandy beaches. But traveling through at 7 miles a day, holding our walking conversation, I have a sense of this place that you can never get at highway speed.
Eating Gravel (or sand. or silt)
It was best not to look at the brownish green color of the grits on the spoon. Without the visuals, they tasted just fine. April 23rd was one of our first rainy days of the trip, turning the already muddy bluffs streams into a soup as brown as Cook Inlet itself, in a place with no clean snow to melt for water.
Most of the time, we avoid cooking our food in mud. We generally get the kids to add the sand and gravel afterwards. Hig and I dive to protect the pot, the bowl, or the ziploc–in futile defense of our food from the latest game of sand kicking.
So what do we eat besides the local geology? Things that don’t have water in them. It’s a simple answer that makes most people jump to thoughts of freeze dried prepackaged meals. Which we never eat. Instead, I snake through nearly any grocery store, however small, tallying up pounds of food as I throw things in my cart. For our family, it’s a little over four pounds a day.
For meals we cook, it’s things like spaghetti, cornmeal, oatmeal, instant potatoes or minute rice–dressed up when we cook them with dried veggies we bulk order and send to ourselves along the way, a couple of spices, and a generous helping of butter, coconut oil or cheese. Sometimes it’s popcorn. For things we snack on, I try to strike a balance between stuff I can easily buy that’s appealing to the kids and my desire to avoid long lists of chemical sounding ingredients. But calories themselves–those are a plus. So we eat things like potato chips stomped down to fit in the pack, nuts, dried fruit, crackers, pretzels, granola bars, cheese, chocolate, and cookies. Lituya’s favorites are potato chips and chocolate. Katmai will eat granola bars all day long. Hig and I are rather partial to the potato chips ourselves, but mostly start off eating things that take up the most space, and finish up eating things that the kids didn’t like as much.
The One Month Boundary
What makes a backpacking trip into an expedition–a journey? Remoteness of terrain, harshness of weather, uniqueness of route, record-setting feats of athletics or skill? Our journeys often have a few pieces of those. (I look forward someday to traveling in a month that turns out to be warmer than average). Never all of them. But in our experience, the most important thing is time. Time enough not just to forget the everyday worries and schedules of a settled existence, but for the journey to become life itself.
In over a dozen years of trekking, we’ve done trips of every length and size. At two weeks we get a taste of that feeling. But it’s a month that really makes a journey. We crossed that line a couple days ago. I can look at the tiny map of the whole trip we carry on a business card, using my finger to trace the line we’ve walked. Even at 4-year-old speed, we’ve come a long way from Dogfish Bay to Kenai. And looking ahead, we have so much farther to go (around 3 more months to Cape Douglas). It feels overwhelming, exciting, and strangely–inevitable. As if this moving life we’ve settled into will inexorably carry us forward–hundreds and hundreds of miles until we decide to cut it off again.