Already I feel like I've fallen into the pages of National Geographic. Nothing seems real. We spot humpbacks and sea lions as the Denali heads to Columbia Glacier. Dan anchors the boat, and we take off in our kayaks. Thankfully, I'm in a tandem with Warren Baldwin, who owns several kayaks ― including one he built. He gently corrects my paddling. "Pretend you're punching someone, you're boxing with the top of the paddle. Use your shoulders, not your arms." I'm so worried about keeping up that I barely notice all the bald eagles. The ice field at the base of the glacier is thick, flowing in mysterious ways. One row of chunks flows left, the one behind flows right, so the path through the field is constantly changing. We turn back when it becomes impassable. Later we stop for a hike. Exhausted, I nap on the beach, unfazed by the light rain falling on us.
Miles paddled: 8
Wildlife everywhere. We head to Cedar Bay, known for containing some of the northernmost yellow cedar stands in the United States. Blue sky and sun. Two Dall's porpoises play with us along the way. We paddle close to shore, through water so clear we can see herring. A sudden rumbling thunder pierces the quiet, and we look up to see an avalanche rolling down a mountain. It's exciting, disconcerting, and beautiful all at once: The contrast of the snowcapped peaks atop the yellow cedar looks like a postcard labeled "Alaska summer." We beach the kayaks and set out for a hike on a boggy trail past wildflowers and snowmelt pools and streams, then up a dense, alder-choked hillside. Bear scat, fresh, is our cue that it's time to turn around. My heart is pounding at the thought that a bear is nearby, and I can't get back in the kayak fast enough. We paddle back to the boat, to safety, and feast on crab and artichoke appetizers.
Miles paddled: 4½