The wife and I have enjoyed the challenge of making peace with the pandemic from the time of its arrival. We count our blessings in being able to do so. We are fortunate the live in rural parts of the country, dividing our time between the Mojave Desert and Southeastern Alaska. Social distancing is the norm out in the country. It is not very difficult to choose the path less traveled out here. Our Klepper Kayak will help guarantee some social distance out on the Chilkoot Lake

Making peace with the pandemic

We recently had the pleasure of stretching our reach out to Chilkoot State Park in Haines, Alaska. The pandemic paradox is the privilege of a local resident being able to enjoy their local park for the first time as it is free from being overrun by tourists and visitors. We had the entire campground to ourselves for three days prior to the onset of the Independence Day weekend. In fact, every local I have spoken with is remarking on how wonderful it is to enjoy the park, its lake and river, without the relentless queue of tour buses and tourists. Yes, we miss the economy. Yes we enjoy the new found peace. When life gives you lemons, it is time to make peace with the pandemic and enjoy a refreshing beverage.

Evolution of a Klepper kayak

If we are going camping next to Chilkoot Lake, let’s do a little kayaking. The original idea for this blog was born in the notion to share a series of photos of the evolution of our Klepper kayak in the process of assembly. The Klepper kayak is a fold-able kayak that packs into several bags for easy transport to out of the way places and adventures. We own an Aerius Expedition double kayak that has seen several extended outings into the back country of Glacier Bay National Park as well and local journeys.

The Klepper kayak consists of a gray reinforced Hypalon hull with a water proof breathable Egyptian cotton deck and is supported by a hand crafted triple dipped Ash and Birch frame. The assembly is a snap, quite literally.

Klepper Kayak
Our Klepper is portable in three bags.
Klepper Kayak
The Klepper consists of a gray reinforced Hypalon Hull with a water proof breathable Egyptian cotton deck and is supported by a hand crafted triple dipped Ash and Birch frame. 
Klepper Kayak
Getting organized. All frame pieces in place relative to their placement in the hull.
Klepper Kayak
Bow and stern assembled and ready to insert into the Klepper hull
Klepper Kayak
The hull takes form
Klepper Kayak
Gunwhales and floorboards ‘slide and snap’ into place
Klepper Kayak
SNAP …. tidy, almost tight. There are inflatable sponsons (air tubes) beneath the gunwhales that tighten the hull around the frame. An extra set of sponsons (we have them) convert the Expedition into a Quatro for extra loads required for extended expeditions.
Klepper Kayak
The coaming in place, sponson inflated, seats installed, we are ready for the water. This model provides the option to install a single seat, if mama wants to stay home.

Around camp

This pleasant corner of the world is only sixteen miles from our house. While we visit the park regularly, we never imagined camping here. With the Canadian border closed to all but essential travel, our opportunities for adventure have become rather limited. With access to the Alaskan Highway cut off, Haines is relatively isolated, especially to easy vehicle travel. Conversely, no one can easily get to us. So the paradox is that locals get to enjoy their local parks. We had our pick of the campsites, and chose the best of course. Carolyn and I are making peace with the pandemic.

Chilkoot State Park, making peace with the pandemic
We named our little motorhome “Homer” because he always takes us on an odyssey.

Our site is usually reserved for the volunteer camp host. I am thinking of applying for the job! The view from camp is heaven sent, and there is very easy access to the water for the kayak launch. Quite a few hours are spent drinking in the view and settling in to the texture of the land. This is something that might be approached, but never completely accomplished in the frame of a shorter visit. Time is necessary for the unfolding and absorption of subtle nuance. While I have often held that less is more, this time more time is more better.

Chilkoot State Park, Chilkoot Lake, making peace with the pandemic
Our fireside view. I think if this state park was found in the lower 48 it would rank as a national park

And as I sit around, out come the spotting scope and big camera lens to preserve not only a moment in time, but a sensation in big spaces.

Chilkoot State Park, glacier
Close up of a distant view. 500 mm lens. Remnant of a glacier in its valley. This glacial valley is visible in the photo preceding this one, far off in the distance at the center of the photo.
Chilkoot State Park
Along the length of the lake, there are more waterfalls than we could count. This is the closest to our camp. Another 500 mm close up of a distant sight.

One of the great advantages of our camp being sixteen miles from home is the convenience of being able to conduct business in town as usual. (Family issues required attention and there is no cell service here … also the garden needs watering with the warm weather.) This also includes a daily trip home to do the dishes and have a shower. Is this cheating?

Out and about on the lake

Day 1

Early morning is the best time to hit the water for a paddle. The air is calm, and the water like glass. What could be more peaceful? We did three days of kayaking, each day extending our reach down the length of the lake. On Day 1 we did a warm-up trip to a local salmon spawning hole.

Chilkoot State Park, Chilkoot Lake, making peace with the pandemic
I kept thinking that anywhere in the lower USA, this would be a national park
Chilkoot State Park, Chilkoot Lake, making peace with the pandemic
Sockeye salmon spawn on the edges of the lake in shallows where fresh water runoff sweetens the deal. This is often a good place to see bear early in the season. (Good reason to stay in the boat from a distance). The salmon run is late this year and we saw no signs of the salmon, or any bears.
The long wispy green tendrils are “witches hair” lichen. This lichen is a barometer of air quality. It only grows in the cleanest of air. We have a lot of this lichen in the Chilkoot. I was also quite impressed with the mass of moss growing on the branches of these spruce.

Day 2

On Day 2 we got another early start to enjoy the mirror-like finish of the water. The lake shore is impenetrable with birch, poplar, hemlock, spruce, alder, cottonwood (stretches of water are covered in a snow of cotton), willow, devil’s club and whatever. The tapestry of verdant texture reflected in the water’s calm is a piece of handiwork offered by the Great Master.

Chilkoot State Park, Chilkoot Lake, making peace with the pandemic

Waterfalls are too numerous to count. Each is a sculpture of kinetic persuasion. A relentless brush upon the design of His expression.

Day 3

On Day 3 we ran the length of the lake. The lake is three miles long. It is formed as a result of a glacial moraine acting as a dam along the course of a drainage through a glacial valley. (Look at the map of the relation of the Chilkoot Lake to Lutak Inlet and you can easily see the topography as being a continuous glacial valley). At the head of the lake the upper Chilkoot River feeds into the lake while at the lower end the lower Chilkoot River cuts through the moraine to Lutak Inlet.

Chilkoot State Park, Chilkoot Lake, Klepper Kayak, making peace with the pandemic
A brief pause on the beach at the far end of Chilkoot Lake

On my “list of things to do in this life,” I want to explore the country of the upper Chilkoot River. One of the big challenges is access, and bears. I do not have easy access to a shallow draft motorized boat, but while we are up on this end of the lake, let’s take the Klepper up the river and see how far we can get. We did not get very far. The river is extremely shallow. Where it is not so shallow, the idea of paddling against the current is exhausting to even contemplate. We did make enough progress that I am able to say we did go up river a ways.

Exiting was interesting to the point of unnerving. Working down current, at the mouth of the lake the water became a bit choppy as currents mixed between river current and a mild head wind on the lake. Positioning toward calmer water off to the side was a mistake. The lake shallowed out abruptly and we were soon grounded. Pushing off with paddles quickly indicated we were sitting on top of quicksand, which meant we stay in the kayak. Paddles pushing against nothing solid, but enough perseverance, and adrenaline (but not panic), mixed with the will to levitate, we broke free and headed for the choppy water where we were glad to enjoy the ride.

Back in camp

The quiet moments between adventures allows the opportunities for adventures of the imagination. Making peace with the pandemic encourages some reading time. Prior to the outset of the trip we stocked Homer’s meager library with some obscure titles we have had sequestered away in forgotten corners of the home. (No Greek classics). Obtained from “who knows where,” we found some titles obviously designed for the “someday maybe.” The someday has come.

We collected the first title, Pissing in the Snow, from the shelves of our vacation rental. We had cleared out the shelves because the vacation rental business went to hell this season and we deferred to a long-term renter. (Again making peace with the pandemic.) This collection of folksy quips and jokes found favor when Carolyn opened it and immediately found a joke I have been telling for years. Apparently it got its start in Arkansas in 1953. Looks like good source material for more camp fire stories and bad jokes.

This second title occupied most of my attention in camp. Rarely did a page go by without an out-and-out laugh. This is a marvelously written little book. It is a cross between warranted, well meaning concern, and humor. The book has been sitting on one of my shelves for more years than I can recount, and I am glad to have finally given it the attention it deserves. In my case it is not so instructive as entertaining and validating. I have been “enjoying the woods” for most of my life. With Kathleen’s tome in mind, I would like to offer one final story, involving essential functions and kayaks. Proceed at your own discretion.

A tale from Glacier Bay

Ms Meyer discusses, among many other things, the importance of proper location, technique, and the importance of a site that is pleasing to the senses. She also covers in some detail the inevitability of mishaps. And she gives reference to kayaks.

It all came together for me long ago on our first Klepper trip into the back country of Glacier Bay National Park. We have been dropped off at Blue Mouse Cove and have spent the afternoon paddling up Skidmore Bay. Toward the head of the bay we position ourselves within easy reach of the mouth of the slough that will flood with the next morning’s high tide and allow us passage into the West Arm.

The morning is glorious. We emerge from our tents to perfect weather (first we have seen in weeks). Coffee and malt-o-meal is prepared. I look for that perfect spot. We have been told by the Park Service that defecation should take place in the inter-tidal zone so that the tides can wash away our waste. There is a LOT of water and very few campers in this area of the park, so it is not an issue and it is the most sanitary option.

I take my Teva’s and TP and cross a rise behind camp to find a smallish lagoon removed from our group’s sight. There I squat (VC style) and contemplate absolute perfection. Before me is a blanket of cottonwood fluff floating upon glassy calm water. American Oystercatchers are dancing around me feigning broken wings in their purpose of distracting me from a nearby nest. As I marvel at the moment a humpback whale gently breaks the surface. Its hump rises and falls several times, hardly breaking the calm of the place and moment. I enjoy perhaps the most satisfying defecation that I have ever delivered. Life is good and all is well. I tidy up, pull up and secure my cargos, and take in the moment one final time.

I turn to return, and step squarely into it. Well, I think … if you have to step in shit, it might as well be your own, and if this is the worst thing that happens all day, it is going to be a great day. (And it was).

May all your missteps be as blessed.

More adventures of social isolation:

Exploring Panamint Valley

Social distancing in Saline Valley