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.

Birds on a rock

I have slept in all sorts of weird and wonderful places on my London2London journey so far…. drainage tunnels in the Gobi desert, a supermarket car park, rocky ledges and motorway islands, beaches of all shapes and sizes and spooky woods.  There had been the odd hotel from time to time too. But this is the first time I have slept in a Palace.  Princess Justine and I have spent  the last three nights on Aiktak Island with Stacie and Amanda – two field biologists with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  They are five weeks into their three month season,  monitoring various sea bird populations and mainly the breeding and hatching success of said populations. Having been dropped off at the end of  May we are the first people they have seen since,  even though their are three other biologists studying sea lions on Ugamak Island  just a mile away. Throughout the Aleutians there are more again.

The Puffin Palace

The Puffin Palace

And the palace? Amanda and Stacie have been kind enough to welcome we two smelly paddlers into their 12′ by 8′ cabin which  serves as their bedroom,  office,  kitchen, store room and everything else besides. It is called the ‘ Puffin Palace’ after the bejillions puffins (both horned and tufted) who call Aiktak their home.

Library, food stash and HF radio on one wall of the Palace

Library, food stash and HF radio on one wall of the Palace

I have really enjoyed meeting communities along the islands so far and this tiny community of two – our smallest so far – is no exception. It has been fun sharing tales of our respective wild lives along and on – and perspectives of – these islands and spending time with folks other than our respective team mates. The science side of it has been really interesting too  as we accompany Stacie and Amanda on their rounds, checking nests for birds and eggs and chicks,  either long range through scopes on cliff top perches or at close range by sticking arms into burrows or rummaging beneath vegetation on the beach at known sites. My tummy turned sitting on the four hundred foot high cliff top  looking down at the brown swirls of kelp in the azure bay below – I don’t think it is a job I could do on those grounds and my short attention span when it comes to data collection!  However,  the remote island life and hours spent tramping about in all weathers, immersed in the boom and bust of wild lives and syncing with the rhythms of the flora and fauna certainly appeals. Good job I am engaged to a farmer, eh? *smiles happily*

' Grubbing ' in the burrows for storm petrel chicks

‘ Grubbing ‘ in the burrows for storm petrel chicks

The twice daily radio chats with the rest of the Aleutian crews

The twice daily radio chats with the rest of the Aleutian crews

Stacie with a forked - tailed storm petrel chick

Stacie with a forked – tailed storm petrel chick

Life on expedition often reminds me of the fragility of life and the random dealing out of luck or otherwise, and how the forces of nature can chance this way or that. In terms of expedition successes in this respect of chance etc,  it all seems rather futile when compared to this snapshot of bird life these last few days.  Holding a  handful of grey fluffy down that is a forked – tailed storm petrel in the sunshine on our first day and wondering on its life ahead felt pretty special- huge and minute all at once. A tiny moment in the story of this tiny winged life – not even a wingbeat in the grand scheme of this island,  let alone the island chain as a whole.   As we wandered down the beach to check on   oyster – catcher chicks I was reminded how easily it could have gone the other way for that handful of fluffy down when we came across a dead chick – head forward on a pebble and body low to the ground, just as we had seen all the other oyster-catcher chicks doing,  hiding as best they could from the threat of hungry beaks. There are no mammals on Aiktak (apart from paddlers and biologists) so predators are the gulls and ravens and eagles, all looking for an easy meal.

Black oyster catcher chick, probably 24 hrs old

Black oyster catcher chick, probably 24 hrs old

A voyeuristic task scanning cliffs for nesting cormorants

A voyeuristic task scanning cliffs for nesting cormorants

For me, the fluffy chicks are adorable and the throngs of comically suave tufted puffins flapping for all they are worth to get and stay airborne always make me smile,  but I think my most memorable moment was watching two red – faced cormorants making a nest together on a splinter of a rocky ledge,  weaving their necks side to side in mirror image as if dancing together. As someone miles and months away from her lover, that spoke to me.

Ancient Murrelet chicks

Ancient Murrelet chicks

Apparently you need a head for heights for clifftop monitoring

Apparently you need a head for heights for clifftop monitoring

For now we are waiting for the wind to calm down so  we can paddle on.  As much as I am enjoying my Palace life I am ready to paddle on now. Hopefully tomorrow the wind will be gentler so we can make the fifteen mile crossing to Unimak Island.  Just a mile the other side of that island is the Alaskan Peninsula. The mainland and the second half of our paddle. We have six hundred miles to go to the nearest road.  So on we go.

Pushing into a head wind along Tigalda Island

Pushing into a head wind along Tigalda Island

A calm evening 's paddle along Tigalda island

A calm evening ‘s paddle along Tigalda island

With many thanks to Stacie Evans and Amanda Boyd for the welcome and our other USFWS friend on Lisa Spitler for putting us in contact. Another unique insight into island life to add to the memories.

Happy days indeed,

Sarah x

P.s For the birders amongst you, we have been looking at storm petrels (both Leech’s and Forked-tailed), Ancient Murrelets, Black Oyster- Catchers,  Red – faced,  Double – crested and Pelagic Cormorants and Glaucous winged gulls.

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127th Phonecast

Listen in here!

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126th Phonecast

Listen in here :)

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125th Phonecast

Listen to Sarah’s latest phonecast here

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Sublime times

Glassy turquoise seas and  snowy peaks. Magic.

Glassy turquoise seas and snowy peaks. Magic.

I am really glad I was not born a puffin. Imagine hatching out of your egg and tottering over to the nest edge to find your adrenaline-junkie puffin parents had set up camp in a teeny crevice a few hundred feet up. It’s mad isn’t it? That said, I expect the views are far prettier than most maternity wards worldwide. I muse on this sort of thing regularly at the moment – what with our days being filled with wild  places in these wild islands we are travelling through.  Now to be born a sea otter looks like a very happy lot indeed,  leading what appears to be a very fun and floaty sort of existence.  On our final day (Sunday) of paddling to  Dutch Harbour and Unalaska City we came across a raft of otters, maybe fifty animals cosied up together in the kelp, like a gaggle of chattering geese or crew of meerkats. They dropped under the surface and slid a few hundred metres away before peering back at us from afar.
Sweetest thing ever - sleeping otter

Sweetest thing ever – sleeping otter

Sea lions are rather less gentle on the eye and nose and we continue to be chanted and jeered at with their guttural growls when passing rookeries, hulking giant reject males bellowing at us and hurling themselves into the water to investigate. Seals must be pupping now as we have seen some real tinies lying up on the rocks, wide eyed and worried at anything unsealish. Life is definitely blooming on and off the water and the islands are a bright riot of green grass.
Sea lions at a rock concert

Sea lions at a rock concert

Here in Unalaska City – an historic community shaped,  it seems,  largely by the  huge fishing industry which operates out of its bustling port – the vast bunkhouses and metallic shapes of boats and heavy tackle are polar opposites of the gently coloured wooden houses peppered through the valley and nestled on hillsides. As we paddled into the misty bay I picked out cars whizzing along shore. It felt busy, even from afar. And it is, relatively. Right now there are about 10,000 people here – over half of them migrant short term workers for the fish processing plants.  Over winter the residents number half that. Compared with the handful of folks in Nikolski, our last community,  this feels like a metropolis. It is certainly cosmopolitan too with as many accents,  languages and shades as any big city,  such that signs on the Public Library entrance instruct this and that in English, Spanish, Unangax and Tigalik.
Hauling the boats up the stream made for a much easier landing of the boats

Hauling the boats up the stream made for a much easier landing of the boats

Most of the boats we saw were ex - boats,  wrecked and rusting

Most of the boats we saw were ex – boats, wrecked and rusting

We are almost ready to leave,  having spent the day sorting and repairing damaged kit and filling food bags with our resupply caches and the fruits of our supermarket sweep. The other three days of our stay in Unalaska have been far more social with dinners and drinks with new friends (both the two and ten-legged varieties), a radio session on the community station KUC and a talk to a packed audience as well as a couple of summer school sessions. Personal highlights include the tour from Roger Deffendell and Josh Wood  of the WWII bunkers and tunnels on Ballyhoo Mountain and the plane ride to neighbour island Akutan. We flew there in just seventeen minutes, rather more swiftly than the few days it will take us to paddle there. I have also enjoyed buzzing about town on our loaned bikes,  my legs enjoying  a taste of the ride ahead and my soul lapping up the feeling of being fit and strong and surrounded by fabulous scenery painted with the rich hues of summer fresh.
Co-pilot for the Grant Air flight to Adjutant. All in a (rest) day's work

Co-pilot for the Grant Air flight to Adjutant. All in a (rest) day’s work

Dutch Harbour can be busy round the clock until the work is done

Dutch Harbour can be busy round the clock until the work is done

When Sarah met a King Crab....and squealed!

When Sarah met a King Crab….and squealed!

Finally a big shout must go to the excellent cosy Museum of the Aleutians , chronicling  the rich and often tragic histories of these islands and their people. It was special to visit with Peat Gelatniakoff and have him point out pictures and exhibits of and by his family. In the car park he proudly showed me the hand – carved wooden bilge pump his Uncle had passed down to him.  I especially enjoyed the exhibits of Aleut iqyax and the animal skin clothing,  glad that mine are goretex and not guts but feeling a kindred spirit with the paddlers of times gone by.Justine and I the only paddlers we have seen out on the water up until the group of paddlers met us on our approach to town, but I often wonder of the paddlers who cruised and hunted these waters before us.  I wonder what they would make of us now and I would love to hear their stories and adventures round a campfire. Perhaps we already do somehow,  on some level,  just through the  fact we are out there doing at least some of what they did.
An Unangax paddler in his Iqyax  at the Museum of the Aleutians

An Unangax paddler in his Iqyax at the Museum of the Aleutians

Traditional clothing was made from furs, skins and guts. Iqyax linked these islands for thousands of years before we came along

Traditional clothing was made from furs, skins and guts. Iqyax linked these islands for thousands of years before we came along

From here we are just a days paddling away from the mainland and all that it means. … More people and bears. I have just practised my ‘playing dead’ pose and while munching dinner I narrated to Justine all the things the ‘Bear Book’ tells us to do or not in a bearish situation.  More on this another time.
Magically calm day crossing  as judging Bay

Magically calm day crossing as judging Bay

Justine has a shower

Justine has a shower

 

For now, Unalaska  tops my ‘Favourite Island’ leaderboard and I leave happy thanks to everyone here who has helped and friended us. Jeff Hancock and Lauren Adams, Annie and Carlos,  Roger and Billie Jo Deffendell,  Josh and Missy Wood, Jim at the City Shop, Peat Galatnikoff, the lady who gave us homemade jam, the Library folks and Pilot James and all who came out to greet us. And anyone else I have forgotten!
Until next time,
Sarah x
Farting steaming hot springs on Umnak Island

Farting steaming hot springs on Umnak Island

After a bit of hydro - engineering the open air bath was delicious

After a bit of hydro – engineering the open air bath was delicious

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