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Bald Eagles Everywhere – Alaska Day 2 (Sunday)

When we awoke, we ate a delicious breakfast of crepes before jumping into the pickup to take our kayaks to Cooper Lake. The road was gravel and eventually proved impossible to pass. The snow was very deep in places and without cell phone coverage we did not want to try to plow through. Instead, we hiked down a stream until we reached the lake. The view was superb. We stayed on that shore for some time, enjoying the view while skipping stones into the lake.

A while later, we drove to the Russian River Trail and walked about two miles down a gravel path to see a large Class V rapid. The rapid was quite impressive and made up for the uninteresting trail. We didn’t want to return the same way we had come, so we opted to take the alternative trail back. The trail was noted as un-kept and “not passable in areas.” We quickly found out just what that meant.

The trail followed the river, which had unseasonably high waters. The river was so high, in fact, that much of the trail was submerged and therefore nonexistent. We were going to have to bush-whack our way back to a road. We fought our way through branches and thorn bushes, traversed rock faces over the river, and kept a keen eye out for bear. We had seen scat and plenty of prints along the few usable sections of trail. One print was estimated to be six or seven inches wide! Though there were bear in the area, we were not too concerned because we were in a group of three and had a .44 magnum revolver at the ready.

After getting many scratches and scrapes, and with quite tired bodies, we finally found the road. We were glad to be finished, but had also enjoyed every step we had taken. It was a wonderful day, spent mostly off-trail in the Alaskan mountains. We drove the 100-mile stretch of road back to my friend’s home and enjoyed the beauty of the ride. There were two moose grazing in a marsh on the inland side of the road and on the bay-side were more bald eagles than I had ever imagined could be seen in one place. The tide was low and the eagles landed on the newly uncovered sediment and rocks along the bay. I stopped after counting 15 Bald Eagles  in five minutes of driving. Alaska is so natural and wild. It is a place unlike any other I have ever visited.

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Death is always near – Alaska Day 3 (Monday)

The day began with another trip to REI to check what new items may have found their way onto the returned-items discount rack on the last day of the big sale. Just as we arrived, a cart came out to restock the shelves. A 2-person Eno hammock for $20 was the most appealing of the bunch, but I already owned a 2-person hammock and had no need. We sifted through the surprise items but found nothing we couldn’t pass-up. We then moved on to mowing the one lawn we needed to mow before we could hike.

Me with Anchorage in the background

Our hike was an ascent of not more than 2,000 feet to the top of Flat-Top, Anchorage’s most-summited peak. It was a beautiful view but there were far too many people on the trail. Clouds were coming in quickly and the wind was only getting stronger as we went higher, so we kept a brisk pace to ensure sufficient time to summit in nice weather. The summit boasted a beautiful view of Anchorage and the bay on one side, and the mountain-range on the other. I nearly snapped a picture of a bald eagle with the mountains as a backdrop, but he flew too fast and I could not get to my camera quickly enough.

As we enjoyed the view, the cold wind began to get the better of us and we decided to head back down. The first 100 feet were a sketchy mix of ice and rock. I knew we would be fine, but there were many others around, which made me a bit nervous. Just like driving on the road, it is typically the other drivers one needs to be most worried about. After carefully picking my way down the very icy first few moves, I was perched on a small rock with my friend only inches from a 15-foot drop onto a large rock, and then down a very, very steep and long icy avalanche chute that led directly into a pile of sharp rocks a few hundred feet below. I was firmly planted in my position and am quite accustomed to situations like this where I must be very careful about my movements because a mistake can have deadly consequences. I soon realized, however, that this time was different. I was surrounded by people, rather than doing this on a remote trail where I am the only one who could make a mistake.

I crouched to lower my center of gravity, and grabbed tight to a rock in case of being bumped by one of the people coming up who we were letting pass. The very moment my hand tightened on the rock, I heard a rushing sound and felt a woman plow into me, nearly knocking me off the edge. She hadn’t waited above where she should have, but instead began climbing down towards us – where there was no room to spare. She lost her footing and slid down about ten feet before hitting me with all her force. I thanked God for the urge to take extra precaution in a situation I never had before, and I made her go down the mountain ahead of us. One close-call was enough. I sat down for a moment and pondered how close I had come to death once again. It always seems to happen when the situation is just safe enough for one to think they can let their guard down. Its a good thing I don’t let that happen.

When we reached a less sketchy section of the mountain-side, we watched as others jumped onto the icy snow and rode it down about a hundred feet before digging in their heels to stop before the snow ended and the rocks began. After multiple inexperienced people had gone down the same chute without hitting rocks or losing control, we opted to take this fun short-cut down the mountain. The ride was quite a rush, due in part to the element of danger, but we ended up just fine. Our hands and faces were numb from the snow which was so icy it reminded me of a giant snowcone, but we were having a blast.

When we finally returned to the jeep, we ate peanut M&M’s (an essential for any hike) on our way back to the house. Once there, we enjoyed a barbecue with the neighbors and heard about the mother moose and two baby moose that had come to the house while we were out. It is so cool how many animals we come in contact with here. I wonder what it used to be like in the continental 48 before the human population got out-of-check.

 

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Releasing Baby Sea Turtles and Surfing – Costa Rica day 21

Shortly after lying down in my hammock, a hard rain began to fall. I quickly rolled out of my hammock and threw my belongings sloppily into one of the tents that had room for an additional guy. Everyone scrambled to put the rain flies on the tents because we had chosen to sleep without them during the trip due to in the Costa Rican heat.

Around 5:00 AM came the almost daily interruption of our morning. This time, however, it was not a rooster, goose, or other fowl, but rather a new bird with a far more annoying call than any had previously made. It literally made the Dolby Surround Sound warm-up noise repeatedly for the entire morning. We were not amused.

Upon leaving our tents in the morning, we were greeted with a wonderful surprise. In the night, one of the turtle nests had hatched in the sanctuary and we were going to release them before breakfast.

A full bucket of baby sea turtles (they were carefully places in their by a man with a glove on) was brought to the beach and the turtles were poured out in a line on the sand. Some had not yet woken up from their slumber and were put back in the bucket so they could be released later that day when they become conscious. The rest began their long journey down the beach with us protecting them from the birds.

We had to release the turtles high on the beach because their journey across the beach is crucial for them to be able to return to this specific beach in order to lay eggs in successive years (The turtles have glands that learn the exact sand composition of the beach and the turtle will return to the same beach for the entirety of their life).

When all of the baby turtles had made their struggle into the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, I took a walk down the beach. I was amazed at the variety of shells and lack of trash on the beach. It was so clean and natural looking.

Eventually, I wandered back to our camp for breakfast. The waves were not yet sufficient for surfing, so everyone helped do community service around the grounds where we stayed. Some helped with the turtle hatchery while others removed debris from the ground. Coconuts were thrown into the jungle and fallen branches stacked at the edge of the jungle.

When the waves had built enough for surfing, everyone went to the storage room and grabbed boards. Since I had previous experience surfing and have done nearly every board-sport imaginable, I was permitted to forego the padded noob boards and take a hard board. The instructor was really cool about this and took time to teach me how to properly wax a surf board and what to look for should I ever be in the market to purchase one.

After waxing my board, I joined the others in the surf and began catching waves.  I found the board to be a lot of fun and began practicing my turns. It was challenging, but I was successful in making a few turns and was happy with the speed at which I was picking up the sport. I don’t know what it is with myself and water sports, but we just work well together.

Consumed by hunger, we took a break from the waves and went in for lunch. We had fresh pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, coconut, and sandwiches. It was healthy, filling, and delectable. Everyone left the meal with full stomachs and bodies tired from surfing (which is a lot more work that it appears to be!).

I went and laid in my hammock while the rest of the group grabbed their sleeping mats and lay in the shade around me. It was siesta time as the afternoon sun turned the sand too hot to stand. Several members of the group talked and laughed quite loudly, so none slept, but it sure was nice to rest in such a warm beautiful place. It was 88 degrees in the shade with a light breeze. Life could not be better.

Eventually, the group grabbed their boards, I grabbed mine, and together we headed down to the water. We surfed non-stop for hours. As the gigantic sun began to drown into the aquatic horizon, it painted the canvas of the sky a luminescent watercolor of every pink and purple hue imaginable.

Having paddled myself beyond the breakers, I laid half-submerged with my back atop my surfboard in order to watch as the glowing bauble in the sky sank below the horizon. I had never seen the sun so large. Viewing it from a surfboard that was gently bobbing in the warm, Pacific Ocean water made it an unbeatable experience. I found myself having one of the few moments of my life that stand above the rest. Life was pure – Pura Vida.

Upon returning to the beach, we were informed that the other group from our college would be arriving soon. We were all a little nervous as our group had formed a very tranquil atmosphere and the other group was much louder and outspoken. Their arrival, with shouts and song that could be heard from far down the road only made us more nervous. Fortunately their energy did not stay too high for very long and the two groups quickly blended together as they had in the first day of the trip.

Later that evening, everyone was asked to sign up for a one-hour shift watching and protecting the turtle nests during the night. I signed up with a girl whom I had been friends with for a long time but rarely spoke to outside the trip. We got along very well and had many things in common. It was fun to sit and catch up on the last few years where we had been near to one another, but so few words were exchanged.

While everyone got ready to go to bed, our surf instructor broke out his guitar and began to serenade the camp in his Costa Rican accent. He was a well built man with dark complexion and gnarly dreads. The girls all melted when he played “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson, but I rather preferred his renditions of “Jammin” by Bob Marley and “The General” by Dispatch.

I quickly fell asleep because I had essentially been up since 5:00 AM thanks to the Dolby-Surround-Sound-bird and had signed up for a turtle-watch shift in the middle of the night. My hammock was comfortable and I was happy to be in it again (if only for a while).

 

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So That’s Why You Wear a Helmet – Costa Rica day 20

An early morning and a brisk pace allowed us to break camp and be on the river by 7:30 AM. It was going to be a long day and we needed all the time we could get. We headed downriver and quickly came to some challenging rapids. Some flipped in their duckies but the kayaks remained upright through the first few rapids.

I flipped in a rapid called “Rattlesnake.” It was my fault, I tried to go to the right of a boulder but the river pushed left. I hit the pillow and began to roll. A good brace would have saved me, but I didn’t manage a good brace. I flipped just as I flowed off the pillow and onto the tongue to the left of the boulder.

As the current quickly pulled me downriver, I tried to get my paddle in position to flip myself back over, but it collided with rocks and was impossible to get into position. A second or two later, my head met a large boulder that was submerged. It collided hard enough that with my solid hip-snap, I nearly rolled my kayak upright from the force of the collision. I caught a breath as my head came out of the water for a moment, but my paddle was still in a very awkward position and my combat rolls were not yet perfected.

My head splashed back under water, but only momentarily. I had gotten my paddle back to a decent position for rolling and I went for the roll with everything I had. It worked and I was right side up once again. Everything had happened so fast, I couldn’t believe how well I had done with recovering after my mistake had lead me to flip. I certainly still showed signs of being a noob, but I was picking up the sport very quickly.

As I passed Felipe, he began to laugh. I inquired as to what he was laughing about and he replied by telling me to take off my helmet and look for myself. I did and was surprised by the amount of damage the rock had caused. The helmet had a 4×4 inch patch of deep gouges and scratches. I can only imagine how my head would have looked if the hard-shelled helmet was not there to protect it. I looked back at Felipe and said, “So that’s why you wear a helmet” and thank God I had. The helmet worked so well I didn’t even have a headache from the collision.

Another bit of excitement came when we took a break for lunch. We made our buffet on some rocks and began preparing the meal. After a minute or two of peaceful, quiet work, someone shouted something about a crocodile. Sure enough, about 30 yards from us a crocodile was swimming past. Throughout lunch, several other crocs were spotted across the river.

A few members of the group were a little nervous about such a powerful animal being so close. The guides tried to reassure them that it would be fine and that these were “little” crocodiles, only about 8-feet. The students who were nervous didn’t think that little was an adequate description of an eight-foot croc, but considering how large they can grow to, it was a fair assessment.

In the afternoon, the group pulled all of the gear out from the river and began the drive back to headquarters to return the rafting gear. Once that was accomplished, everyone piled into a touring van and were driven to Playa Hermosa, where we would spend the last days of our trip learning to surf and helping with the ongoing sea turtle restoration project (There will be a cool video of this coming soon so stay posted!).

 

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Exploring the Rio General II – Costa Rica day 19

Our second day of kayaking down the Rio General was filled with large rapids, interesting history, and lots of play. Felipe was enjoying watching my excitement for kayaking and showed me how to do some cool tricks (if you missed the video of me kayaking the Rio General, click here to view it!).

The first thing he taught me was how to enter the water from a great height. He had me bring my kayak to the top of a large boulder, about 8 feet out of the water, and launch back into the river. This would be very similar to what I would need to do if I ever am fortunate enough to go over a waterfall in one of theseboats. Felipe made sure that I knew what he felt was the most important step: holding the paddle above your head so it does not knock out teeth. I was careful to follow his suggestion.

Another trick I was taught was sculling (skip to 2:24 in the video to see what sculling is). It is a very useful skill as a good scull can mate with a roll and allow a kayaker the ability to right themselves from nearly any position. When rapids are large and the water is strong, this can prove invaluable to the kayaker as they are tossed around by the waves.

           A little further down river, Santiago flipped one of the girl’s duckies. It was hilarious hearing the scream of surprise and seeing the splash. While he was flipping her ducky, however, I positioned myself to flip him. He was distracted and did not notice me coming up quickly.

In order to flip the ducky, Santiago had to set his paddle down next to him in the river. When I flipped him, he could not hand-roll and did not ask for a T-rescue, he instead simply pulled off the spray skirt and bailed. Everyone laughed because in flipping someone else’s boat, he was flipped worse.

Santiago picked up his kayak (full of water, and therefore extremely heavy) in the middle of the river and drained it over his head. He decided to try to jump in to the kayak from standing on a rock in the river. The kayak bobbed once and spat him back out. He gave up and swam the kayak to shore to drain again and re-enter. I had quite a sense of success in having gotten a guide so well with a flip.

We found a ball in the river and played with it for a while

Challenging rapids awaited us down river. Two were on the border of Class III or IV and really could have gone either way. I managed to make it through both without flipping, but the second rapid was quite an experience. The kayak in front of me flipped so I turned around and surfed a hole in the middle of the rapids to give him space. There was only one kayak behind me and it was Felipe who had eddied out so we could pass him.

I soon found out that Felipe had left the eddy and was quickly coming down towards me. I turned as much as I could and he glided right over my bow and kept going. I turned back around and continued down river. I was very excited about the control I had gained over my kayak and the fact that I had just successfully surfed a hole without any preparation. I had just turned around and did everything I needed with instinct.

Besides running rapids, we also spent time where we learning about the history in the area where we were kayaking. at one point, we pulled off the river to look at ancient rock carvings that lie inconspicuously on boulders along the river. We were also informed that this was one of the areas littered with the famous rock spheres several of us had read about before embarking on the trip.

Hitting a hole backwards for fun

Our last exciting lesson of the day was watching a Jesus Christ Lizard run across the water. The guides scared it so it would run away from us over the water. The lizard earned its name because of its ability to run on the surface of the water. It was quite an amazing sight.

We finally made camp for the last time along the river. We made a large fire on the beach and enjoyed the warm night. Everyone was all-too-aware that our amazing adventure was quickly coming to en end. We would leave in the morning for Playa Hermosa, spend a couple days there, and head home. We resolved to make every remaining moment count.

 

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Exploring the Rio General – Costa Rica day 18

Larger, more technical rapids were the norm in the Rio General. In higher water, this river would become a world-class whitewater paradise. Fortunately, for us, however, the water was lower and we mainly experienced class III rapids.

With my occasional flipping in rapids, I was very glad to have practiced my rolling skills as much as I had. I found myself able to roll in a rapid and pop right back up to keep going. This ability caught the instructor’s eye and he told me that he wished he had picked up kayaking as fast as I was. The comment encouraged me and gave me confidence in my abilities.

While I paddled, the sun beat down. It felt warm, but the water splashing on me to kept cool. The sun was relentless however, and sunscreen was a must-have. I applied it more than usual, but the water washed it off my hands. I soon found hundreds, maybe even thousands, of sun-blisters forming on my hands. There were so many blisters that they were running together and seemingly stacking on top of one another. It hurt.

I ended up needing to cover my hands with athletic tape in order to shelter them from the sun. I guess that in future tropical kayaking trips – should I be so lucky to have some – I will need to bring rowing gloves in case that sort of thing starts up again

When we made camp at night, I was one of the group-members in charge of cooking dinner. We had the best dinner I have ever tasted in the backcountry. We made mashed potatoes, a mix of cooked veggies, and blue marlin. I could not get enough of the marlin. It was fantastic and I had never had such a delicacy which on a backcountry trip. Without a doubt, that meal raised the standard for meals in the backcountry.
As the fire died down, we prepared for bed. Everyone slept under a large tarp on the beach. The stars were bright, and the jungle had a pleasant ambiance from all of the animals singing their songs.While we cooked, other members of our group made fire and the men regressed into little boys. They even got into a sword fight with sticks at one point. It was great to see grown men, many of whom work very professional jobs and internships back home, completely letting loose and playing around with their imaginations in a way usually only children can do. For some unfortunate reason, most adults leave their imagination behind as they grow up, but these individuals had certainly found them again and it was a joy to see.

 

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Whitewater Kayaking Costa Rica

Here is a video of me Whitewater kayaking in Costa Rica, There will be posts to follow that will break down these days and the turtle rescue/surfing we did in Playa Hermosa. Until then, I hope you enjoy my video:

To my readers:

A special thanks to all of my followers, ‘like”-ers, and commenters. I really appreciate everyones involvement with my stories. As you will know if you read my bio, I am aspiring to become a gear-tester. This month is the first month where I have had enough traffic to be considered by the website who I have been in contact with (one of their pre-requisites was being an established blogger). Thanks to everyone who has come back to read my posts multiple times and to those who have used the share buttons on the bottom of my posts or simply shared through word-of-mouth. I am grateful for any exposure you help me get.

As for my posts over the next week, they may be erratic and less frequent because I will be taking my girlfriend on a rock climbing trip in Tennessee and visiting her parents. Please continue to check in and I will do my best to keep to the every-other-day schedule that I have been keeping.

P.S. My video of the baby turtles is available to be viewed if you navigate to my YouTube channel (big button on the right bar of the website) and a reminder to sign up for the Clymb if you haven’t yet! They have great deals on all sorts of gear for anything remotely athletic (and whoever is the 1 millionth to sign up will win $1000 credit for themselves and $1000 for the person who invited them – why not at least sign up, you have nothing to lose!).

 

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