Wed 20/07-2022 Day 699

Pos: 71.2584,-156.2221
Loc: Elson Lagoon
Acc: Hilleberg Keron 4 tent
Dist: 20,0 km
Start: 11:50 End: 19:00

After eleven nights camping in the rescue station, I am finally able to launch with Lilja today. I am glad she jumped in premature, as her slot was originally from Kaktovik to Tuktoyaktuk. That section is now taken by David Yanowski. I picked her yesterday up from the airport late afternoon. Coming from Sweden, she spent only one night in Anchorage with Ed and Nancy, and is understandably still a bit jet lagged. Despite my precise packing list, I had to go with Lilja through her gear to get her kit sorted and organized in the right amount and volume of dry bags. Leftovers were filling a full Ikea bag, like three large beach towels, two surplus jackets, a sleeveless lace nightgown-shorty and two very attractive flowery padded push-up bras. This morning, she sends the surplus stuff away in a parcel from the post office, and is kind of thankful I assisted her to lighten her pack. Not everyone is as organized as I am, but we have to household with our available space and keep the gear as light as possible. And neither the bears nor I care about lacy dessous. And beachlife where one needs more than one small towel does not really happen here either in the Arctic waters.
The food we carry this time is simple pasta and rice with sauce flavor. We add some sausage, cheese, tuna or ham. No bulky or expensive, though very tasty freeze dried food. It fits all nicely into the two kayaks, and we carry only two or three waterbags inside the cockpit, from overall twelve-four-liter bags. The rest finds space inside the hatches, means we are not fully loaded yet. We could have added twenty liters more of water, if in need.
Our rescue station hosts Curtis and Ely are so nice to load kayaks and gear bags plus ourselves sitting on the kayak stern on a flatbad truck to get us down to the beach. Curtis askes the genius question if he shall drive us thse eigtht kilometers up the road north and dump us straight into the lagoon? SURE! I have paddled the stretch from Barrow-Browerville to the lagoon haulover already twice, so it is ‘allowed’ not to launch a second time from Barrow and to save the stressful haul-over. Yeah! We happily see the last houses of Barrow passing before Curtis turns into the lagoon-parking space. We are quickly loaded today, thanks to my preparation and gear limitation. Still both kayaks are heavy barges as always. Lilja is not too much of a solid large frame but rather lean-tough-fragile built, and her first comment was that the lagoon water must be very salty as her homewaters in the Baltic Sea feel less dense to paddle in. Well, I think it is rather the heavy-load and untrained muscles which makes her feeling like she stirs through syrup! But Lilja gets soon used to it, I put her paddle back down to 205 cm length, and suddenly, things go better. We are blessed today with half-sunny sky and a moderate temperature of maybe five degrees Celsius, but have a constant north-easterly side-onshore headwind to punch in. It varies between twelve and eighteen knots, and chops the inland coast sea occasionally slightly up. Nothing to worry about, but paddling on the inside of the barrier island might have been more sheltered. But there might also be more polar bears, if there are still any left at all. Now, they should have all moved out with the pack ice. Inside the lagoon and offshore, we do not see a single bit of ice since I launched with Peter and Traci for this one trial day. Now we are free to chose to rail the inner, landside coast. The last frozen bits are old snowdrifts under wide-overhanging grass sods at the mud cliffs.
At a river mouth, I see a caribou standing on a small sandy spit, almost in the water. It very much looks like the guy is stuck in the lose and a bit muddy sand when I carefully near. He pulls himself away with force, and I see the poor hoofed animal is limping on the front left leg. Oh no! Was he here standing helplessly for already some time, ready to die? He hoppels slowy away, looking very much in pain. We leave him to his peace and paddle away.
Lilja is fighting a bit with the rudder when launching from the shallows, but is getting there to be able to handle and turn the heavy long barge where she wants it to go. One boat is passing us in the distance, towing a small skiff behind him. Another one was launching almost the same time as we did from another ramp. Any time we stop, we carefully scan the ground for signs of bears, but nothing to see beside a stuck half in the mud abandoned ATV. There is still a track leading away from Barrow parallel to our way, I assume it is the fresh water treatment station? Not sure.
We have to pass some shallow sandbanks, and thankfully find a gap where we can just about navigate through without getting stuck. Otherwise we would have to haul over a bank or paddle a long way around the shoal. The wind and chop was just a little easier before this shoal, now it is back to nasty. Lilja is fighting her way, but I notice she gets slower. I offer to land any time, but she likes a ‘convenient’ landing and launching spot, no haul up the grassy low cliff. We find soon a suiatble flat area at another river mouth, and I land first, ready to help her. But she decides to land by herself, gets the kayak sideways in the tiny breakers and the cockpit full of dirty water. Oh well, lesson learned.
We find a flat-ish, dry-ish spot for our tent, and I show Lilja how to rig the bear fence. Later, this will be her camp chore, I set the tent. Not that I expect here ANY bear to come, but as it is halfway sunny and warm-ish, it is a perfect learning and adjusting day. Our paddled distance is moderate with twenty kilometers only, but no need to push it more on the first day. I did not wait so long for my paddling partner to arrive to wear her out or even get injured already on the first day. Frequent forearm stretching is important. We both use our new, self-made ‘pogies’, simple solid ziplock bags aka as odorproof bags form Looksac (the small size). They work perfectly! Easy to slide in, the thin-neoprene-gloved hands suffer no windchill and sweat soon in the plastic bags like in a sauna. I always hated pogies as I felt trapped, cannot slide in easily and cannot open my hands, but with this simple solution, I can and keep my hands warm!