Tuesday, August 27, 2013

the last kayak trip of the year

"Who left their party yacht at the dock?" I asked, mainly because I was miffed that I was not invited to the party yacht.

Nobody in town seemed to know. It was too small to be a cruise ship, and it was definitely not the Coast Guard...but it was definitely the right size of a boat to be an awesome party boat.  The kind you'd invite TI and the guys from the Lonely Island to join you on and make a music video.  But no one seemed to have a clue what insanely rich guy had brought his boat to shore.

Maybe, I pondered in my head, he was hiding something. Treasure? Booty?  I decided it was time. It was time to become an Arctic pirate and explore. And conquer.

I set out and left shore in my own pirate ship, the  Britney Spears.  The Britney Spears may be only a red kayak, but she's trusty and has pulled through many rough trips with choppy waves and foul weather.   She's smooth and stealthy and was the best vessel for sneaking up on a party boat, pirate-style.

Unfortunately, the party yacht must have seen the Britney Spears approach, because it pulled away suddenly and before I had time to start the chase, it was just a white speck on the horizon. Dammit.  I'll have to party with TI another time.

I had brought along S, who was there for the ride not so much for the  pirate adventure but because he's leaving soon and this would be his last kayaking trip in the Arctic. He suggested that if we couldn't hunt pirate booty, we could just paddle out toward West Arm. If he were a proper pirate, he would have said West Arrrrrrrm.  But he's just Ukrainian, so he didn't, and we headed for West Arm.

On the way there, we encountered the most beautiful sunset.

I love the sky here in Cambridge Bay.  They seem to stretch on forever over the flat tundra, and they are like nothing I have every seen before.  

The waters were calm and the cool breeze seemed to push us along towards our destination.  It was a lovely moment. It didn't feel like the temperature was below zero. We didn't feel it at all.

We stopped at a remote beach.  I love the fact that I am always finding new beaches while out kayaking, and they are always abandoned, without another soul around.

We rested on the beach for a cup of tea.  I found a muskox skull.

But then the weather turned.  The weather changes quickly here in the Arctic; one moment you could be enjoying still waters under a clear sky, and then the next minute the clouds have settled in, the winds have picked up, and you're scrambling to get into your boat while the waves thrash it against the rocky shores.   All of a sudden, we could feel that the windchill was -3°C; we could feel it in our spines.  We were going to have to head home quickly.

The first thing that hit me when I got back into the kayak was how cold my hands were.  You know the kind of cold where it pricks you like a sharp pain and you suddenly can't put your mind on anything else?  I was wearing fishing gloves, but they were soaked all the way through.  The rest of my body was fine, because my wetsuit covered everything else, but I realized that my hands were experiencing exactly what you'd think you would experience if your bare skin was immersed in the Arctic Ocean. A little shock, a lot of pain.  But I couldn't exactly put my paddle down to warm my hands while the kayak drifted, because the fierce winds were pushing me back in the wrong direction.  So time to bear down and just push, push, push.  Try not to pay attention to the fact that my hands hurt.  Try not to pay attention to the fact that my hands no longer hurt...because I was losing sensation in them. Push, push, push.

At least the waves were getting to be fun again.  S had been complaining that the calm waters were getting boring.  Of course, he's the guy who saw the snow storm last week, and the white caps in ocean caused by the 90 km/h winds....and decided to jump right into those waves with his kayak.  People in town were filming him and B, the crazy dudes going kayaking in the middle of the storm where sleet was blowing sideways.

The waves were nowhere near crazy this time around, but they were big and powerful, and I had to concentrate on watching them come in to meet my kayak. Honestly, it's fun.  When the stormy waves drop you down, it's the exact same sensation as riding a roller coaster, and trying to keep the kayak in balance gives you a better core workout than any Pilates ball ever will. I love riding the waves.

Eventually we made it back to our home base, having returned with no Arctic pirate booty. My biceps were starting to look pretty good, though.

As we pulled into shore, I began to regain feeling in my hands, which is also an incredibly painful process.  I knew it in my heart.  This was going to be my last kayaking excursion of the year.  Things would only get colder from now on, and the adrenaline rush from riding stormy waves was no longer going to outweigh the pain of rigid temperatures. At least we had been treated to a beautiful sunset.

Oddly enough, after battling the choppy waves of the Arctic Ocean in sub-zero temperatures and losing all feeling in my hands due to the cold, when I got home I found that I was craving ice cream.