It’s day six in the field. Chrissy and I eat breakfast among the exposed seaweed of the intertidal area, counting on the incoming tide to dissipate any food scent. Bear sign and moose tracks are the only evidence of other users on this tiny beach, and we want to be good neighbors.
I’m nearly done loading my kayak back up when the first cruise ship appears across Endicott Arm. Chrissy, already afloat, pricks up instantly. Time to get in the water, she says. I throw what remains on shore into the kayak helter-skelter, dog the hatch covers and push off as the first swells come into sight. I’m barely out of the shallows when they hit us, the water rearing up into four-foot swells that seem alarmingly close to curling over. I crest the first and see the next bigger swell is riding right behind. The kayak feels like a dolphin as it bucks up and down, over and over as I concentrate on keeping the bow facing right into the onslaught. Behind me, the incoming train demolishes the thin strip of sand we just left, rumbling as it smacks into the rocks.
Welcome to the wilderness.
I’m a Southeast Alaskan first, Alaskan second. There’s something about the land and sea here that seeps into your bones, something just as pervasive as the rain wicking up your sleeves. For me, it’s the feeling of living on the edge. My hometown, Juneau, is a tiny smear of civilization scrunched between the edge of the sea and the foot of the mountains. Waves lick beneath the docks on one side, while, a few blocks away, avalanches and landslides push at our backdoors. It’s an extraordinary place. But, as I’ve come to appreciate, the land is not the boundless, untouched wilderness it appears to be. The wild places we have left aren’t there because we can’t push in. They’re there because we decided to stay out.