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Section 4.1: Race to Alaska Syndrome

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

We came into prolonged contact with racing sailors and were stricken with urges to cover incredible distance. We made unplanned detours, saw some incredible sights, made some amazing friends, and said bye to Jordan after 35 days of traveling with us. Check out sections 1-3 to get caught-up on our adventure!

The last 27 days have been truly incredible! Almost none of this section's events were in our original plan, but all of them were awesome. The chain of events leading to this week's events is long and convoluted, so keep an open mind and bear with me as I ramble through an explanation. This post is in 2 parts.

Section 4 technically began when we left Prince Rupert on day 52, but we had such an incredible experience the first week that we’ve already written a blog post about it! Quick recap: we had a wonderful evening in Metlakatla BC, crossed the federal border into Alaska, visited an important meeting place for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, then had an incredible time in Metlakatla Alaska. I’ll pickup where that story lets off.

There lots of amazing photos from our time in Metlakatla in the dedicated post, so here’s picture of the puppy that insisted on cuddling up to us every night

After leaving Metlakatla AK, we paddled 14NM into a Northward headwind aiming to arrive in the town of Ketchikan in the early afternoon. By this point we were 2 days behind our original schedule, but not super worried. Our plan was to stop in Ketchikan for the evening, quickly regroup, and leave in the morning.

Spoiler alert: this is not what happened….

We paddled into Thomas Basin around 2pm and we’re greeted by a huge banner that read ‘Race 2 Alaska Finish’. Oh right, this is where the R2AK non-motorized race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan ends. We paddled past the banner to the customs dock where we greeted by a customs officer who took our passports, confirmed that we were the same kayakers that had called-in the day prior, and welcomed us to Alaska.

We were greeted by some ENORMOUS cruise ships as we entered Thomas Basin

We also ran into our friend Ken at the customs dock. Was he stalking our GPS coordinates… who knows. Ken directed us to the Ketchikan Yacht Club to park our kayaks for the night. Moments after we docked we were greeted by an enthusiastic sailor named Remy who excitedly explained that she was part of the crew of the ship “We Brake for Whales” and that they had arrived In Ketchikan earlier in the day and won the R2AK. She then invited us to the winners’ party that evening and went off for a nap. That evening at the Fish House, we met the whole crew: Andy, Jeanne, Evgeniy, Nikki, Lindsey, Remy, John, and Maisie. We chatted, we drank, we played pool, and the next thing we knew it was 2am and we were getting ready to sleep onboard their sailboat - still an ocean-drenched mess from 6 days of brutal racing.

Celebrating the 2nd place team, the Budgie Smugglers

We awoke the following day to a Southeast storm so decided to spend the day in town. We did a few chores, helped tidy the “We Brake for Whales” boat, and greeted the second place team, “Budgie Smugglers”, when they arrived in the evening. In size small superhero onesies that we found at the thrift store...

Then it was back to the bar for another night of celebrating with sailors. We committed to ourselves that we’d go to breakfast at 6:30 and make a plan for our departure. The day’s SE storm was starting to break, but winds were still forecast to be high.

Amazing how many people you can squish onto a sailboat sofa, personal space is not a concept that exists in this universe.

After another night on the boat (a completely different experience now that it was clean), we made our way to the nearest breakfast restaurant to make a plan. The discussion inspired a blog post about decision-making, but the outcome was that we decided to stay in Ketch for one more day and push for some big miles in the coming week. We were now nearly a week behind schedule, but felt confident that we could meet out sailor-friend Masa in Kake on time so Jordan could stow away on her boat headed South back to BC. We spent the day with the sailors and greeted two more R2AK teams throughout the day: “Pestou” and “Dachron and Denim”.

Despite the temptation of a long night out, we managed to get to sleep early and were on the water at 7:30 and on our way. Spending so much time with sailing racers left us with the confidence to think we could push beyond our daily distance limit and crack 30NM in a day. 32NM later, around 6:30pm, we pulled into a beautiful bay at low tide and set up camp.

Emboldened by our success, we set out the following day at 7am and paddled North towards Meyers Chuck for a quick stop. We heard that the best cinnamon buns in the world were there and were hoping for confirmation. When we arrived at the main dock, we saw a poster which informed us that an order for cinnamon buns needed to be placed by phone the night before pickup. Undaunted, we called the number on the poster anyways and were informed by Casey that there were no cinnamon buns available that day, but we could buy a dozen dinner rolls! We did exactly that, then stuck around and chatted for a bit, then ran into a group of sailors we had met in Ketch, then chatted with some locals in their garden... Before we knew it, it was 11am and we paddled out of the Chuck.

Don’t make the same mistake we did! If you’re heading to Meyers Chuck, we’ll give you Casey’s number

We pressed on while watching humpbacks feeding across the Sound. All of a sudden a group of 8 humpbacks surfaced 100m in front of us! They were bubble net feeding. Their dramatic display only lasted a few seconds before the group disappeared back into the sea. Incredible.

Around 6pm, we arrived in Frosty Bay for the night. A 28NM day. Two big days in a row - we got this. The following day we paddled into a headwind towards Wrangell. Just after noon, we ran into a group of two paddlers heading South. Oli and Alastair began their journey in Juneau in early May and have been the first paddlers at most of their campsites along the coast. We've been paddling North since mid April and have been the first paddlers at most of our sites along the way. I'm declaring it here 'first group of 2023 heading North meets the first group heading South'.

Sanesh, Oli, Nathan, Alastair, and Jordan

Adjust after 6:30, we pulled up to a beach just South of Wrangell for the night. 26NM. Would have gone further, but we were slowed by the headwind. The next morning, we paddled into Wrangell to get some American chocolate bars and make a plan for getting to Kake. We decided that we couldn't make it to Kake by our 22nd deadline so opted to meet Maša in Petersburg on the 24th instead. This afforded us the opportunity to stay at Mallard Slough and visit the LeConte Glacier as a solstice day trip.

We paddled away from Wrangell around 11 and at 4pm (just after the high tide) arrived at the Slough for the evening. Another 28NM - we're on a roll.

Since we were ahead on our new schedule, we decided to take a 'rest day' and paddle up to LeConte Glacier. We left at 5am, dragged our kayaks across the shallow spots in the mud, and paddled through the most incredible winding glacier valley. Icebergs floating South past us, glistening in the sun, flipping and cracking. At noon we turned around and rode the outflow wind back towards the Slough. We returned from the glacier faster than we were anticipating so we decided to stop on a pebble beach for a quick nap. Tied to our kayaks, we slept for an hour before riding the high tide back to camp.

LeConte Glacier was truly incredible! We paddled as close as we could, but then the ocean turned to slush

When we returned, we sat and chatted about our route again. It turns out we made a counting error and could make it to Kake on the 23rd if we pushed hard. In the evening, Jordan said "since we're on an early morning kick, let's get up at 4am again tomorrow and aim for Portage Cove". We mentally prepared for the 35NM day ahead...

A morning ebb current helped us keep an impressive pace as we rounded the North end of Kupreanof Island. Just after 6pm, we paddled up to the gorgeous cabin at Portage Cove. Once we had settled-in, we reminisced about the last week of travel. Our sudden increase in daily distance seemed to correlate directly with our time spent with R2AK folks so we coined the term 'Race to Alaska Syndrome' to describe what we we're experiencing.

We stopped for a break at a beach with perfect musical rocks. We spent 20 minutes whacking them together to make beats

Our last push to towards the town of Kake was pretty uneventful. The waters were calm, humpbacks we're feeding in the distance, and we were all listening to podcasts and paddling in silence. Just after 3:30pm and 27NM, we arrived at Point Macartney and were greeted by John and Greta from Sagebrush Dry. They handed us a beer, loaded Jordan's kayak onto their van, and we set off towards town. As we drove, John informed us that the Hōkūleʻa (a catamaran sailing canoe from Hawaii) had just arrived earlier in the day and that there would be a cultural sharing dinner at the community center. We pulled into the Sagebrush shop just in time to meet Maša and head over to dinner at the community gym.

After dinner, there were a few speeches before the evening concluded with an invitation to visit the canoe in the morning and come for an outdoor lunch at Seal Cove. With tomorrow's plan already taking shape, we left the community center and headed to Masa's sailboat for some wine and a catch-up.

In the morning, we all made our way down to the dock for a tour of the Hōkūleʻa. It's a really incredible ship held together entirely with rope - over six miles of it! We've written a whole blog post about our experience learning from the Hōkūleʻa crew that will be out soon.

Two canoes, a platform, and two sails. All held together with rope

From there, we packed all of Jordan's things onto Maša's boat and waved goodbye as they motored South. Our trip was now back to a dynamic duo. It was sad to see our trip stowaway leave after 35 of paddling together, but we're excited for the next leg of his adventure.

One last family photo before Jordan and Maša head South. You’d hardly know that the two of them had just met 12 hours before

We headed down the logging mains to Seal Cove for a fantastic lunch with Hōkūleʻa. I haven't eaten so many oysters in my life! We chatted with the Hōkūleʻa crew and with local elders and made a few friends. After lunch, we went back to the cultural center for another dinner and an evening of cultural sharing. We took notes at the traditional navigation lecture, watched some beautiful Hula and Tlingit dancing, and were even invoted to participate in a dance. Again, this is all covered in way more detail in out upcoming post.

In the morning, we made a big pot of coffee, and went back down to the dock to bid farewell to the Hōkūleʻa and her crew. Shortly afterwards, we were off to brunch at Eloise's house. What a meal! Cinnamon buns, smoked salmon, orzo salad, coffee, eggs, cheesy bread. We sat and chatted for a few hours and learned a bit about what it means to live in Kake Alaska.

The Sagebrush Dry shop is a manufacturing wonderland tucked away in the small town of Kake

Back at the Sagebrush shop, John gave us a tour of the manufacturing space. He showed off the awesome high frequency radio welder, repaired Sanesh's pants, and prototyped a few special 'A Little Paddle' pieces (stay tuned). We then set up a camera and hosted an Instagram live session to celebrate reaching the halfway point of the trip. No sonner had we turned the camera off, Sanesh got a message from Ken that he was arriving at Point Macartney. We hopped in the van and went to go pick him up.

While we were briefly back to being a dynamic duo, it seems that the threesome is back in action!

This story isn't done yet. Part 2 of the Section 4 recap is coming soon.

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