Blog

Welcome to my blog, where I share all the stories from my L2L expedition as I row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet. I hope you'll enjoy experiencing the highs (and lows!) of my journey so far and the adventures ahead on my way back to Tower Bridge. You can also have a listen to my Phonecasts recorded en route.

Getting Home(r)

Courtesy of Michael Armstrong, Homer  (Alaska) News

Courtesy of Michael Armstrong, Homer (Alaska) News

I do love a good surprise. When I know I am to be surprised I love most of all to find out ahead of time what the surprise is. When I am the surpriser I love seeing how close to the fire I can run without getting burned – teasing and wafting clues in front of my surprisee.

Home is wherever I’m with you

For the last two weeks of the paddle up to Homer I was fuelled by the idea of coming home to Lucy, my fiancee, in time for her birthday. Jewelled in surprise and cloaked in deception, I spent many a phone call and email weaving tales to hide my trail.

Happy happy happiest of days

Happy happy happiest of days

Lucy thought she would be picking Justine up from the airport, whereas in fact I was the tanned, scruffy-haired paddler in Arrivals. I had to walk right up in front of her to get her attention, before tears and the longest-hug-in-the-world gave way to more tears and an even longer hug. It was magic and still feels magic to be home. My head and heart are definitely torn nowadays – between the adventure and home and I look forward to a time when they can be one and the same. I am this side of the pond for just shy of a week and will return to Alaska to begin cycling in a few days.

Eighty mile slog

The final miles of the entire journey were to be some of the toughest, pinned as we were on Shuyak Island by a stubborn low pressure system in poor conditions. The Monday had seen us turn around in the grey dawn and head back to land to wait out another opportunity. With a tiny window opening on Wednesday we pushed out to sea in a whiteout, bound for the Barren Islands. I am not a fan of fog and the queasy feeling that wells up inside of me with the pulsating blanket of ocean, no landmarks and a softened, fuzzed white horizon. It was more comfortable than the first attempt and I was even happier when the sea lay down and I could really settle into it. It poured with rain for much of the day and I pumped my legs below the deck to stay warm, continually flexing my toes. The shadowy peaks of the Barrens loomed out of the mist with perhaps ten miles to go and we plodded on, the ebbing tide pulling us further eastwards than we would like, though these mountains felt magnetic now that I could see them. A goal seen is much easier to hold onto than some abstract, notional mirage lying hidden from view.

Cold and wet, bouncing through the tide races

Cold and wet, bouncing through the tide races

As the tide turned our course became more favourable and around 2pm, eight hours after leaving land, we were munching on cheese and sausage, allowing the flooding tide to suck us up between the two biggest islands. With the flights home just a few days away and not-too-mad weather, we pushed on up towards the Kenai Peninsula – the mainland, once more. A few miles out we were doing well, bouncing through tide races and heading in a useful direction and then things went less well when the flooding tide started to take us west and out to the Shelikof Strait faster than we could paddle in the direction that we wanted to. Turning  around just as a headwind picked up, we aimed for the Barrens once more, some five miles away. Ten minutes later it was clear that going backwards wasn’t a viable option and so we turned back again to our original goal of the  Kenai Peninsula. It was nearly seven hours of headwinds, many lumpy, seething tide races and scores of clouds dumping their rain on us before we reached the coast. Happily, the sun joined us for a time and set off  the moody mountainous scene with a warming glow – gentle eye candy for weary souls. We were paddling on Spring Tides (i.e. the biggest tidal ranges) and felt the powerful suck of the flood pulling us into the Cook Inlet, topping out at 5 knots close  to shore. Pulling into a steep, cobbled beach at 11pm was one of the best moments of the day – fifty miles and nearly 17 hours after we had set out, we were almost done. Even the rain didn’t dampen our excitement for the finish, though we both found we could hardly eat, we were so tired. It was 2am before we slept.

The final day’s paddling was along a beautiful stretch of imposing coast, mostly silent, each of us wrapped in our own thoughts, my chin nestled into the neck of my hoods in a bid to fend off the mix of cold wetness, sore muscles and my sadness for the end of this journey. Bubbled into it was the excitement of the same observation – another phase ending and a new one beginning. My eyes feasted on the tree-lined shores and misty wraps hanging over them. My ears winced at the motors of passing boats spoiling the quiet. Later on, I delighted in waving at them. I grinned and cried quietly at the idea of finishing on the beach in Homer and seeing Lucy so soon. I raced back through images and feelings of the thousand odd miles up to this point and tried to soak up every last view and feeling of the present.

At lunch we floated outside Seldovia Bay, the second settlement of the day, gorging on all the dried fruit which we had saved in anticipation of more days on the water. A small plane buzzed us multiple times and we waved madly while we munched before pushing on. A helicopter did the same and again we grinned and again pushed on. Chattering now we recounted this and that and imagined other things as Homer Spit came into view. I had spotted the white blobs of Homer’s houses along the hills from 13 miles out and boat traffic had increased ten fold. We were definitely getting there. A small boat and photographer (the same who had peered at us from both the plane and chopper) rode in with us, snapping us from all angles.

The ebbing tide slowed our final couple of miles to the beach on Homer Spit where we had spied a sign which we hoped might be for us. It was. And there were bubbles too. Some kind folks from the Hallo Bay Bear Camp and the Homer Chamber of Commerce had come out to meet us, as well as a local reporter, some passersby and Liz Pepper, wife of our friend Billy Pepper from the Fish and Wildlife Service ship, the RV Tiglax. Grinning, Justine and I wobbled out of our boats onto the sand and hugged and squealed, grinned and did our trademark ‘Air Five’. (I vetoed high fives early on as Justine’s strong slap hurt my soggy paddling hands) I don’t think either of us cried, though it was emotional. We had made it over 1300 miles from Adak – a journey which had challenged us both in many, often different, ways. We were still pals and still laughing. It was a good feeling.

Courtesy of Michael Armstrong, Homer (Alaska) News

Back & forth

I still can’t quite believe we actually made it.  For so long the journey had seemed so out of reach to me and the challenges too huge. Before we started I wondered if my health would let me down after the travails of the previous six months, my energy still dampened by the lingering effects of pneumonia and ongoing allergies. I worried that my skills wouldn’t be up to it or that I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with Justine the Machine. Then there were all the usual uncontrollable contingencies like weather letting us pass, supplies lasting and kit holding out. Happily, somehow, with planning, discipline, a shared sense of humour, stubbornness, support from within and without and a sprinkling of luck, it all came together. And without a single capsize, too, which I am mightily relieved about.

For me, it feels surreal and as though it happened in another life - all the more so, I am sure, for being home in the UK so soon after landing. In fact I keep wanting to tell the paddling Sarah that the surprise worked perfectly and Lucy couldn’t believe it was me. I miss paddling, even though I thought I wouldn’t as I was so sore. My body clock is all back-to-front, though I feel fit and strong and ready for the bike. Sore and squeaky muscles and joints have had a quick session from the lovely John Perrot to try and realign this and that and relieve some of the pressure.

1300 miles went into that hug. Courtesy of Michael Armstrong, Homer (Alaska) News

1300 miles went into that hug. Courtesy of Michael Armstrong, Homer (Alaska) News

 

Keepsakes

This phase of the journey meant and means all sorts of things to me and I am sure that some of those will change with time, too. For now the main things I will take from it are hoardes of memories of sights and sounds sublime, memories of – and connection to – new friends, lessons in teamwork, ideas about remote living, questions on identity after meeting endangered communities, and an ever stronger commitment to helping others get outdoors in my future life, post L2L. I’m happy I’ve picked up a few skills on the way too…. In fact I feel like a different paddler to the one who left Adak back in May. It was such a special place to journey through and for that I feel so lucky. I know I take the spirit of the place with me.

Washing and sorting all of our gear

Washing and sorting all of our gear

While I shall miss the sea and my lovely boat Krissy, I am keen to get pedalling. While I enjoyed a team expedition and shall miss Justine to some extent (with no offence meant by this – she is a great pal), I know I shall enjoy the beauty of solitude on the bike and finding my own rhythm, too. And while I enjoy laughing at fishermen who claim my biceps would be useful on their boat, I shall be glad to give my arms a rest. One thing I am not looking forward to on this next leg with Hercules is the traffic. It is by far the most dangerous leg of the expedition. I shall be dressing like a luminous Christmas tree and hope for the best.

And with that I return to my home bubble. You’ll hear from me next from across the pond. I shall have a couple of days in Anchorage putting Hercules together and packing the kayaks home before heading south to Homer and the end of the road, where we finished in the boats. This is where I shall begin cycling from sometime next week c. Thursday – Saturday.

Homecomings are sweet

Homecomings are sweet

All that remains is to thank everyone who helped make the Aleutian/Alaskan journey a reality. Justine, Krissy and my team, all my sponsors, everyone who helped on the way and the Homer folks who gathered us in from the water and helped us on our way home.

Finally, if you enjoyed reading the updates I hope you will consider donating a dollar or two for my  L2L Charities: CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association and WaterAid. DONATE HERE Thanks to the recent donors.

Until next time,

Sarah x

P.S For Justine’s take on things check out www.cackletv.com and look out for her film of the journey which will be made in due course.

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We made it!

Just a quick note to say we made it….. The longest kayak crossing of the trip to get to the peninsula – a cheeky fifty miler – followed by another 30 mile day on Thursday we made it to Homer and the start of the road at 8pm last night. Happy happy happy paddlers!

 

More once we get back to Anchorage and get sorted. Thanks for joining us :-)

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So close and yet so stuck

Compared to being strapped into my bunk on my rowing boat Happy Socks in rough weather,  our current tent life in the rough stuff is pretty good.  At least here there is no capsize risk and I can get out for a wander or a pee. Mostly today we have been trying to limit both to avoid the rain as drying things is impossible. It was so wet out that we even decided to use a stove pan to pee into if needed. (Happily the rain abated enough to avert this for now). The downside of a double tent life is that it means I have Justine’s farts and general fragrance – as well as my own – to endure. Having been in each other’s company 24/7 for the last 99 days we have no qualms about doing this, taking childish delight in gassing out the other.

Checking outside from the relative dryness of the tent

Checking outside from the relative dryness of the tent

Come on wind, play nicely

On Monday we woke at 3am in the mizzly dark to have a go at paddling after yet another day off with this stubborn low pressure system which has dealt us strong winds lately. Justine always gets out of the tent first to start on breakfast while I take all my tablets and begin dismantling our sleeping bags and mats. She appeared shortly after, saying she ‘Couldn’t call it. ‘ Relatively sheltered as we were, it was hard to tell what the sea was doing and guesswork to know what would be happening out in the straits between us on Shuyak and the Barren Islands.   Leaving in the near pitch black at quarter to five,  we paddled out and around the corner of our cove past shadowy rocks and luminescent surf,  picking our way through safe water, already lumpy from recent wind and running tide. Looking down at my map made me feel queasy,  so instead I focussed on the high – glow strips on Justine’s boat and clothing,  keeping as close to her as I could. The beam of my headtorch made the rain look like bright flying spaghetti which,  along with the pitching sea shapes and shadows,  made the whole thing feel like I was paddling in an uneasy monochrome kaleidoscope.

Felt as if we were in a weird intergalactic video game. Illuminated rain drops flying at us, crazy shadowy waves all over the place

Felt as if we were in a weird intergalactic video game. Illuminated rain drops flying at us, crazy shadowy waves all over the place

As we skirted the coast I felt more and more uneasy and told Justine as much. Dawn happened and the black greyed into day.  We rafted up to discuss our options. The forecast was for increasing winds and we have already been warned of the notorious tide races off the islands, which would be rougher in said wind. It isn’t a place for daft decisions.  That said,  sometimes the forecast doesn’t show. I didn’t want to go but agreed to try, with the caveat of turning back if it was ridiculous.

So off we paddled into the chop,  sails up with the cross wind. I wasn’t enjoying it.   I chatted away to myself quietly,  trying to calm myself and relax my rigid legs which gripping the boat to keep upright as I didn’t feel at all comfortable.  Often I surfed down waves on the wrong angle,  struggling to hold course. The grey waves were being kicked up by the swell and soon we were in a tidal race, rolling, boiling seas with breaking waves cresting. All this made things even less enjoyable on my part and I quickly decided I had lost all interest in seeing a whirlpool, which I had read of in the Pilot. In fact I don’t think I have been that uncomfortable since way back in the Aleutians, hundreds of miles ago.  I shouted to Justine that I was not enjoying it – which she understands now to mean I don’t feel safe or comfortable –  and we agreed to turn back.  Already in a tide race with wind over tide and more rough stuff ahead it was the best option.  The only sensible one,  really.

I am glad we tried and I am glad we are still sane enough to make safe calls. I am also glad that this machine I have paddled with these last twelve hundred miles is such an unflappable, expert paddler – there ‘s a reason I call her the Queen of Sea Kayaking. I shall be happy to make it to Homer (eventually) and safely and Justine has a lot to do with that, in spite of noxious gases. I have learned heaps from her,  laughed lots together and only wanted to scream at her a few times.  (Which I have) I think an ace team mate is one you can evolve with and work with in concert, flexing with  and for each other, forgetting the niggles and picking them up when they are down. Mostly,  there needs to be lots of belly laughs and banter and a space to be yourself. All told, it has been ace journeying with Justine and I am sure I will miss her if we ever make her flight. I shall certainly miss the ability to rib her about going to Cambridge.

Tenting

Camped in the grass just out of reach of the huge spring tides that swallow this beach twice a day we have been sleeping,  reading,  eating and talking with home, all with the backdrop of numerous birds,  waves and wind flapping tent material. Happily we were able to get outside this afternoon for a few hours to dry some wet gear in the wind and cook a meal after the rainy front had passed, leaving the wind to keep pushing the rolling fog curtain, hiding and revealing nearby rocks and features through the white haze.

Loving our wet gear at the moment in all this rain.

Loving our wet gear at the moment in all this rain.

In all,  we are raring to go, fully topped up with sleep and rested, poised for an early getaway, weather dependent. Hopefully there will be enough of a window tomorrow for us to make the Barren Islands at 16 miles or even push on for the Kenai Peninsula a further 12 miles beyond that.   If we can buzz over in one   shot, we could feasibly pull out a super big paddle to make the final coastal run in another day, meaning we make the flight.   Homer feels so close and yet so far and we ‘ So stuck ‘ as our friend Lisa Spitler put it. We will just have to wait and see what happens.

Until next time,

Sarah x

Catch up on my  phonecast here for the 140th and here for the very latest 141st  

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Bears and bares

Sitka spruce growing in dense forests

Sitka spruce growing in dense forests

‘If the bear runs at you,  remember he isn’t really running at you.  He is running at the fish’,  our guide Lance told our group as we sat quietly next to the creek where a grizzly was fishing. One hulking old bear had recently dug himself a snooze home and was busy sleeping off his feed further up the creek.  We had just come from the beach where we had watched two young males sparring and duelling like boxers. Magic magic magic.  It felt both surreal and very real to have a little window into the world of these coastal bears, watching,  listening and learning. I have always loved BBC Natural History Unit films but this was high definition and more, definitely Top 5 moment of the entire journey.

Magic to watch these majestic predators at work and play

Magic to watch these majestic predators at work and play

Hiding bear

Hiding bear

Last week Justine and I were lucky enough to stay two days at the Hallo Bay Bear Camp in Katmai National Park, enjoying the company (our first in two weeks), delicious food,  time and space to relax and recharge and some incredible hours watching brown bears fishing, playing and sleeping. We learned how to behave around this ‘ unspoilt ‘ population of Katmai bears,  unique in their temperament and behaviour around humans as they have never been hunted or associated people with food.  And hence the bears go about their beary business with no more than a casual glance at the small groups of tourists,  photographers or film crews that perch unobtrusively stage right or left to watch. A huge thank you to the staff at Hallo Bay Bear Camp for the warm welcome and support.

Fishing bear

Fishing bear

A few days before Hallo Bay I had an encounter with a brown bear while I was washing in a small river.   I giggled as tiny trout nibbled my toes and was just rinsing soap off when I looked up  to see a shape coming up the river towards me. It wasn’t Justine but a brown bear. Absolutely the most exciting wash of my life.

Bear plus fish equals happy bear

Bear plus fish equals happy bear

The headwinds continue to make flee slow progress,  keeping us on shore more days  than we would like. Right now we are waiting out some bad weather on Hogg Island in Blue Fox Bay with a lovely high – spirited couple who run a rustic,  eccentric lodge out here.  We arrived yesterday and the only ones home were the dogs. Happily,  Colleen and Jerry arrived home thirty minutes later,  just returning from one of their resupply trips in Kodiak 80 miles away. We are less than 100 miles from our finish in Homer though the weather isn’t looking good for the feisty crossings to the Barren Islands and  on to the Cook Inlet.  So for now we are enjoying sleeping,  eating, taking steam baths and sea dips with the odd mojito fuelled story time.  All of it is delicious for mind and body and the surrounds of spruce trees and islands gentle on the eye and soul.  This is a special place with special people and I am savouring the space to reflect on the journey almost over. Mad and brilliant all at once.

Mojitos with host Colleen at Blue Fox Bay

Mojitos with host Colleen at Blue Fox Bay

Our boats pulled up onto the beach

Our boats pulled up onto the beach

Sauna - good for mind and body

Sauna – good for mind and body

At the moment we are hoping to get a turn in the weather to allow us our final few days paddling up to our finish with enough time to get Justine sorted and for her flight home. Weather,  if you are listening,  sort yourself out.  Please.

Until next time

Sarah

P.s Krissy is holding up well after  we replaced one of the damaged clips at Hallo Bay

The wind and waves picked up for a challengin​g phase across the Shelikof Strait

The wind and waves picked up for a challengin​g phase across the Shelikof Strait

Fixing kit with Vicki,  one of the staff's children and Pilot Trent

Fixing kit with Vicki, one of the staff’s children and Pilot Trent

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Phonecasts 132 – 139

Hello!

If you haven’t already, catch up on Sarah’s adventure by following the links below to her phonecasts:

132: After a happy 40 mile paddle they are camped on the mainland hoping not to see any bears!

133: A short stop over in Perryville and they are on once more. Sarah has trouble with some kit and fixes bits and pieces after a long day

134: A steady 15 miles today with strong headwinds, an early night for two very tired paddlers

135: Day 80, 1020 miles done and have seen bears 4 and 5 today with Cupcake island across the water

136: A happy day of cooking bread on a stick, seeing a sow and 3 cubs from the kayaks, lots of sun and an early start!

137: A tiring day of paddling into headwinds, 2 paddlers will be happy to see their sleeping bags tonight!

138: They watched a brown bear feeding on the shore line and Sarah has another hairy encounter with another bear

139: Headwinds and more headwinds, a big day of paddling!

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