“How is it still raining? It’s pouring down harder than yesterday. We woke up at 6am, planning to paddle 10 miles up to Emerald Cove. My kitchen group ate our leftover Cinnamon-Raisin Bread before packing the boats. It’s getting easier to pack them as we eat our rations, but it remains a chore. We kayaked the length of a football field before the instructors ventured ahead to check the conditions. Sure enough, the forecast had been wrong, not accounting for the wind from College Fjord’s glaciers. We were not able to travel…so here I am, hanging out in my tent in Surprise Cove. Trying to stay warm and dry.” -June 25 When I think back to just a month ago, it’s hardly believable that I was 4,000 miles from home on Alaska’s Prince William Sound. I’d spent two years anticipating this kayaking expedition, led by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). The Student Expedition Program would invite me, plus 11 other students, to come if I stayed diligent in school and attended their meetings, meant for low-income students to learn the college application process. Now, my 24 day journey has ended, but the memories haven’t faded. I’ll never forget the plane ride with the other students. For many of us, it was our first time flying. What started out as a nerve racking experience turned humorous as we laughed our way through the turbulence. A flight attendant gave us “Alaskan Airline” pins as souvenirs. We spent a day at the NOLS base in Palmer preparing supplies, kayaks, and food. The next day, we would head out by bus, then by a charter boat which would go to our first beach. That day, when the bus entered the two mile tunnel leading to Whittier, it had been a sunny day. The other side revealed the weather that would be a trademark of the expedition: rain. The fog made it difficult for me to know where I was; all I could see out the boat’s window was fog and endless ocean. I became more nervous about being in the wilderness. Alas, all 12 students were in the same situation. As Tucsonans, we had no experience with rain mixed with cold temperatures. I had never worn more than two layers, but three to four layers became the new norm. Eventually, we all became accustomed to life out on the Sound: pitching tents, cooking from scratch everyday, and paddling ten plus miles from beach to beach. There was always something new to see, like the Nellie Juan Glacier or a pod of whales breaching just a few meters away. Midway through our trip, a bizarre storm hit the Sound. The weather radio called for gale force winds at 65 knots/hr! We were unable to kayak for five days.The waves were so large that we had to relocate camp into the dense forest. At that point, I remember being exhausted from moving our heavy gear. Falling asleep that night, the wind tore at my ears, the rain pelted the tent’s plastic, and the ocean consumed more and more of the beach. I was glad to be on dry land. In total, my expedition kayaked 100 nautical miles. We lived together for 21 days. Now that I’m home, I miss the beauty of Alaska and the company of my friends. I have a goal to go back someday, and revisit the memories that shaped lessons in flexibility, compassion, and patience. “The Sound” (video sent) will always remind me of the value of the places and people I encountered on this marvelous journey.
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