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Inside Passage Take Two: San Juan Islands to Sitka, Alaska!

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

“Dreaming is great----but act on your dreams. They will be tomorrow's reality.” ~ Sveva Gallman

There's no comparison between looking at a line on a piece of paper and hiking, biking, or driving through the area that line represents, right? (OK, in the digital age, on our tiny phones). Recently, I've run my finger along the open straits, narrow waterways, and various features of my nautical charts, tracing a line from Washington State to Southeast Alaska. I am beyond excited to announce that soon I will be paddling the routes those areas represent in a long, linear fashion!

On May 14th (75 days from publishing this post, but who's counting) I intend to launch solo from somewhere in the San Juan islands in Washington State and begin an approximate three-month journey of the sea & soul. I'm picking up where I left off about this time two years ago when I painstakingly published a blog that I really didn't want to write. That blog announced how the "shifting winds of circumstance" (umm, that would be COVID) aborted a year of planning, saving, and training, putting my journey on the far back burner. Now, I can enthusiastically say there's a roiling boil on the front burner!

What a difference a dreadfully long and drawn-out two years make! The Canadian border has been open for several months, restrictions are lifting, and the pandemic seems to be subtly loosening its grip. That said, planning and executing my second through-paddle of this serpentine waterway winding its way along the coast of western North America is turning into a problem-solving quest. Simply getting out of the starting blocks is problematic with issues such as closed custom stations, canceled ferry schedules, and lack of a drive-on ferry to my own island during nearly the entire month of May (where I originally intended to launch). But I think I'll save all that for another post!

Regardless of the potential roadblocks, I am deep in the throes of expedition planning! 2020 would have been the ten-year anniversary of my first through-paddle, but going with the glass-is-half-full perspective, I've been given two more years to prepare. Reviewing my Inside Passage notes, photos, and charts transports me back to that 1,200-mile path. To the numbing cold in my hands while setting up camp, to the burn in my shoulders after paddling nearly 40 unintentional miles, to the jaw-dropping awe of floating amongst icebergs, feeling the mist of a whale's plume, sipping dark rum while marveling at the scenery of the Tongass National Forest. Reliving these sensory wilderness moments fuels my desire to return to this wild coastal landscape.

I'm orchestrating this journey to be a bit different from the last one, on many levels. The route itself will be different at certain junctures. One of two notable differences will be my route from Bella Bella, BC to Prince Rupert. Instead of going through the "dreaded Grenville Channel" (my nemesis from 2010) I will detour to the outside of Princess Royal Island, via Aristazabal, Campania, Bank, and Price Islands. The other big change will be my route from Ketchikan to the end of the journey. Instead of heading almost due north to Juneau like I did in 2010, I will begin my northwest trajectory toward Sitka, which will take me 3-4 weeks. I'm paddling this section with a fair number of extra weather days as there is some serious exposure, with big crossings and gnarly tidal passages. I'll be following in Audrey Sutherland's paddle strokes during this part of the trip, hopefully acquiring more fodder for my next book which will be a tribute to the late, great grand dame of expedition paddling. Both of these sections will have their own sets of challenges. In my next blog post I will provide a more detailed description of my route along with a few screenshots of how I'm plotting it.

I'm giving myself almost three full months to accomplish this goal; a luxury of time to let things unfold somewhat organically and to immerse myself in the experience. I've resolved to take the intensity down a notch and not be so transfixed on the goal. To stay in a campsite an extra day, not because I have to due to weather, but because I simply want to. Although there will be some long days in the cockpit, I do intend to have shorter days on the water. Covid permitting, I'd like to spend more time in indigenous communities along the way. Alert Bay is a for-sure in BC and hopefully Craig and Kake in SE Alaska. I'd also like to spend some time in other communities to connect and re-connect with kindred spirits.

I'm twelve years older than the last time I challenged myself to this extreme. It'll be interesting to see how I've changed in terms of my physical abilities and my relationship to the landscape. It'll also be interesting to see how the Inside Passage has changed.

I'll be paddling a different sea kayak. "Chamellia" my first love, my beautiful fire-engine-red vessel that transported me on my 2010 journey (and many others since then) is on a sabbatical. In her place is "Prudence," a nimble and sea-worthy British boat (P&H Cetus) who is up for the task. You'll be seeing lots of photos of this purple beauty!

I'm going a little more high-tech this time. Although I'll always be an old-fashioned paper chart and compass kind of gal, I'm also using a satellite-based app called Navionics for the occasional digital second opinion. I'll also have my Garmin inReach tracking device with two-way messaging capabilities. Not that I want to be texting while on this journey, but it does provide a good dose of peace of mind. I will be sharing the link as the launch date nears.

I also want to spend more time exploring the Great Bear Rainforest and bring awareness to this global treasure that covers 6.4 million hectares on British Columbia’s north and central coast. In 2010 I paddled in awe through this rainforest, a biologically diverse area encompassing the largest intact rainforest on the planet. I learned much later that 95% of it is unprotected. Nowadays I feel that if I'm paddling through this area, enjoying it immensely, then I should also be a custodian and help protect it. Working with Pacific Wild I hope to bring awareness to their Marine Protection Campaign. By paddling, exploring, witnessing, listening, participating, writing, photographing, and simply learning more about the GBRF I hope to discern what additional support I can bring to the table. Stay tuned as my vision in this role becomes clearer and I correspond with Karen and Ian McAllister, founders of Pacific Wild who were named "leaders of the 21st century" by Time Magazine for their efforts in protecting the Great Bear Rainforest.

Although I enter into this ambition with a fair bit of experience under my towbelt, I have mild trepidations as I am unsure of what I will encounter. That's what makes it an adventure though, right?! I believe that in making a leap of faith into many unknowns---and being challenged in unforeseen ways---I will gain more in my attempt than I would surrendering to self-protective instincts. I believe my quiet and intuitive voice will guide me toward my ultimate destination. Mindset is everything. The boundaries of our limits are only defined by what the mind believes is possible and the enthusiasm to pursue them. Yea, as a bit of a control freak, the act of embracing uncertainty requires a grand trust in the universe and an understanding that things will unfold just as they are meant to.

Stay tuned for the unfolding. I plan on posting blogs as I continue to plan this expedition as well as updates once the journey is underway.


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