Kayaking in Alaska

ByABC News
May 5, 2004, 11:18 AM

May 10, 2004 -- The sound of my paddle dipping into these frigid waters is like a heartbeat. It has been the defining cadence of our journey into the Alaskan wilderness, a journey we're making entirely by sea.

It takes work to get us where we need to go. Our shoulders sometimes ache miserably as we paddle hard against the current, and when the wind sweeps down from the massive blue glaciers above, it sometimes feels as if we're being slapped by the cold hand of Mother Nature.

We've been paddling for four days now, touring for a week a northern reach of Prince William Sound in southwest Alaska. We've paddled about 25 miles already, having left behind the Swiss-like charm of the port of Valdez and carrying all our belongings with us. At the moment, we're paddling through a system of yawning fjords that are impossibly serene, their vast scale unimaginable to the typical lower-48 landlubber.

The Only Way to Go

This is the only way to tour the Alaskan coast, we've decided. It is mid-June, and there are several tour boats around, massive, offensively white vessels that carry scores of Patagonia-clad adventure wannabes who gawk and snap photos from the deck. As far as we're concerned, they might as well be watching the whole scene on a big screen TV, isolated as they are from the actual touch and thrum of the experience of being on the water. In these sturdy but small sea kayaks, we are a part of this place.

Kayaks afford remarkably easy access to the nooks and beaches of the coastline. Because our approach is nearly silent, the wildlife here has come to see us as one of their own. Bald eagles regularly soar overhead, and curious 600-pound sea lions swim up and stare from just feet away.

Our group of four is loaded into three boats. I'm solo, and two friends of mine paddle ahead in a two-seater. Our guide, Matt, who we recruited out of Valdez from a company called Pangaea Adventures, is a 20-something, amiable and competent fellow. He reads the tides and finds the best beaches for us to set up camp.