JUNE 7 & 8
We're like family now. We paddle Galena Bay and Jack Bay ― some peaceful paddling at last ― and I begin to feel sad about the idea of our trip coming to a close. As we head to Galena Bay, the seas are rough again with 6-foot swells. It feels like riding in a washing machine. When the seas are calmer, we follow a pod of orcas. Though not as large as the humpbacks, they're fast, powerful, and graceful, at times running under the boat.
Back in Valdez, it's time to say good-bye. Though they were strangers just days before, I feel so bonded with these people that I choke up hugging them. Their camaraderie and enthusiasm for our adventure have been like another life jacket for me.
Miles paddled: 9
Ready for anything. Now it's on to Juneau for my glacier trip. Another group of strangers, another challenge ahead of me. My group of five takes a helicopter up to Mendenhall Glacier. After the whale experience, a helicopter doesn't faze me at all. It's like we're floating on gusts of air. On the glacier, our guides teach us the proper walking technique. I feel like Spider-Man scaling the ice wall. After 30 minutes of exploring the glacier, lead guide Bill Forrest asks us if we want to try the ropes ― rappelling down a three- to four-story drop. I surprise myself by volunteering. As I back over the edge of the glacier and let myself drop, I feel the weight of the world falling away from me. I have a fleeting vision of the whales, a memory of being pulled to the brink, just far enough to glimpse the other side. I feel strong, and free, and ready for whatever comes next.
IF YOU WANT TO TRY IT
Many outfitters offer kayaking, camping, and boat tours around the sound. Pangaea Adventures offers four-, six-, and eight-day mother-ship cruises as well as day trips and kayak/camping trips, all out of Valdez, Alaska. Prices vary widely, but plan to spend a lot for a trip like the one described here ($2,300 per day for four people; 800/660-9637). Flights to Valdez are available daily from Anchorage.
FOR ICIER ADVENTURES
NorthStar Trekking (from $339; 866/590-4530) offers glacier and helicopter tours of various levels of difficulty.
More: Alaska travel guide