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You can search back through my blog for all the stories from my London2London: Via the World expedition or simply click here for phonecasts from the expedition.

On the road

Today I felt a bit like Forest Gump, though happily without the beard. It was the crowd of cyclists of all ages, on bikes of all shapes and sizes gathered to escort me out of Homer as I fiddled with Hercules and answered questions from a journalist.

More joined us on the way. Just magic.

More joined us on the way. Just magic.

Bright blue skies whisped with white, the ocean lapping quietly onto the beach and mountains and glaciers looking gently noble across the bay. It was a morning to make you beam with happiness at being alive, albeit a calm squeal.

It felt poignant to hold the hand again of the bronze chap of the Seafarers’ Memorial, me in my lycra and him in oilskins, feeling a kindred spirit and connection with this mute, cold giant. It is where we have come from and where he had gone that tied us. My journey is of oceans and islands and watery passages – inherently salted and blued. The city of Homer is just the same, proudly proclaiming itself as ‘Halibut Capital of the World’ on the way into town. Sailors, airmen, Coast Guards, kayakers, fisherfolk – they are all remembered in this memorial.

Homer's Seafarers' Memorial

Homer’s Seafarers’ Memorial

It was a super escort out of Homer and I am grateful to everyone who joined me and those who tooted, waved or held signs for me. Martin and his two young children, Frieda and Lucas (7 and 6 yrs)  carried on  when everyone else had diverted for lunch at the Farmers’ Market, making it the first run up Baycrest Hill for the children. Frieda, pedalling her own bike, left Hercules and I far behind – it was so uplifting to see her beavering away, legs hauling. If only all youngsters had those opportunities to be outside, active and trying new things.

Woop woop!

Woop woop!

As the family turned back for home, local lady Catriona continued on with me, only turning back for Homer around 6pm. I enjoyed the company, the stories, having someone to help with shooting video and generally sharing the magic of the day and volcanic backdrop on the other side of the Cook Inlet.

Serene night overlooking the Cook Inlet

Serene night overlooking the Cook Inlet

My first night has also set a pretty keen standard for the journey, hosted by the lovely Doug and Sherry Sandberg near Ninilchik. We had lots of big laughs around the table and a feast of roast and pie while the sun painted a gentle sky through the window and the ducks chattered busily to themselves as they mustered for bedtime.

Catriona and I on the Anchor River

Catriona and I on the Anchor River

And on we go. I had a few hills today and I think I get some real mountains tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Who knows. The map of Alaska is so huge that the resolution will leave such detail as that to surprises.

Until next time,

 

Sarah and Hercules x

P.S Thanks and thanks to everyone who joined me on the road today. It was magic and I am humbled. Thanks Derek for the nifty helmet mirror too  – my riding has been revolutionised.

P.P.S Please donate  here to the wonderful charities I am supporting (CoppaFeel!, MND Association, Jubilee Sailing Trust and WaterAid)

 

 

 

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Memories not miles

Hercules and I are ready to go
Hercules and I are ready to go

 Tomorrow we ride

Now that the clock has just chimed twelve it isn’t even tomorrow that we leave. It is today. We is Hercules, my bike and I. At 10 am Alaska time (1900 BST) on Saturday I shall touch the hand of the tall stony chap of the Seafarers’ Memorial on Homer Spit and then start pedalling. We have a long way to go, bound for the Atlantic coast. The clock is already ticking as winter waits in the wings and I am keen to get munching miles. I set up Hercules’ bike computer today with the miles from London so far and we have a cheeky 16000 clocked already by land and sea. In pure longitude (i.e. miles East to the Greenwich Meridian) there are 9000 or so.

Memories over miles

More important than any mileage to me is the folks and stories I have met along the way and the things I have learned from and shared with them. As ever I have met with huge kindness and warmth and folks have taken me under their wing to help me get ready for the road or share their lives with me. My time in Homer and Anchorage this last few days has added more special folks to my human scrapbook.

Imagination creates worlds

Imagination creates worlds

Hig and Erin (of Groundtruthtrekking.org) and their family and friends in Seldovia across the bay, reinforced that convention shouldn’t dictate our lives and that there are many ways to live. We scrambled through forest to the beach where we picked tartly sweet red currants and shared stories of adventures and ways of living. Their young children reminded me to keep my imagination vital as we hiked back through the alders pretending we were on the most distant planet in the most distant galaxy.

From Russia with love

Nikolaevsk School

Nikolaevsk School

Yesterday a young girl from Nikolaevsk School told me how my story had moved her and inspired her to ‘Do Something’. That made my day, as did the earnest excitement of some seven year olds at the anticipation of seeing my shark picture. I chuckled when an 8 year old told me to ‘Say Hi to Elizabeth!’ as she left the classroom, meaning, of course, the Queen herself.

'Say Hi to Elizabeth for me!' said the smiling 8 year old

‘Say Hi to Elizabeth for me!’ said the smiling 8 year old

25 miles out of Homer, the village of Nikolaevsk is a relatively new community built on Russian traditions, set up in 1968 by a group of ‘Old Believers’ of Russian Orthodoxy. In some ways it felt like I was back in Russia, Cyrillic script sitting alongside English words on the school wall and the dress and accents a mix of American and Russian, a blend of old and new fusing into something special. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer and learn more. Such is the double edged sword of a journey – progress and immersion are sometimes mutually exclusive as the clock ticks on towards distant goals.

The Post Office shop sign in Nikolaevsk

The Post Office shop sign in Nikolaevsk

North America is going to be full of surprises and stories and contrasts, I am sure. For those stories and people I am yet to meet I am excited and I am already hooked on the sights of mountains and forests which will lead me out of Alaska.

IMG_20140829_235258

I would rather have memories than miles

Next shout from the road.

 

For now, I would like to remind you that my L2L journey is supporting four fantastic charities : CoppaFeel! Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association, WaterAid. Please help me smash my targets and support the causes. DONATE HERE http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=SarahOuten

 

Finally, my thanks to Scott and Debbie Cameron, Jill Fredston, Liz and Billy Pepper, Tammy Taylor, Nikolaevsk School, The Ocean and Islands Centre, Pat and Kath of FreeSpirit Wear, Hig and Erin, Chun, Bjorn Olsen and Smokey Bay Air.

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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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