Shame, no radios

Posted by Ice - Phil on Mar 6, 2005

Here is a copy of an article I just got from the Baltimore Sun. A friend has also paddled Alaska 3 times and his photos of the bears are unbelievable. He just got back from his annual Everglades trip, 10 days without seeing humans along the way. Just passing the article along.

"Paddling toward adventure Kayak: An Elkton couple who love risk-taking - and bears - brave the Alaskan wilderness for a closer look. By Karen Nitkin Special To The Sun Originally published March 6, 2005 On their annual kayak trips, Tim and Vicki Johnson have been charged by grizzlies, tossed by rough seas and terrorized by sea lions. Tim once almost ran out of drinking water and another time sank in quicksand up to his thigh. Despite - or maybe because of - these brushes with danger, the couple from Elkton both say they feel most alive when they're on the water in their kayaks, paddling around such remote areas as Alaska's Inner Passage. "We've paddled with orcas," Vicki said. They've also traveled alongside hundreds of thousands of salmon. They've seen eagles, wolverines and lynxes. Every summer, the Johnsons pack their kayaks and about 200 pounds of food and equipment and head north. They paddle for two or three weeks, camping in the wild and snapping photographs of wildlife. The photographs - of grizzlies catching fish in rushing rivers, of mother bears and their cubs, of a lone wolf standing at watchful attention - adorn the walls of their home. They've sold some at craft shows and to friends; now they are hoping to start a business selling the pictures. The Johnsons took their first kayak trip in 1988, touring the Kenai Fjords in the Gulf of Alaska. Friends and co-workers thought they were a little crazy because they had never kayaked before, but once they started, they were hooked. They traveled with guides for their first two trips and have gone out on their own since. A few times, Tim, 46, has gone without Vicki, 41, and she says she might go solo in the future, too. They pack light, taking freeze-dried food, cookstoves, first-aid kits and little else. They fly to Anchorage, then take a bush plane into the fjords. From there, they are on their own. The daylight lasts about 20 hours during Alaskan summers, with temperatures typically in the 50s and 60s, Tim said. They have logged more than 10,000 miles kayaking, including 5,000 in such local waters as the Susquehanna River and Lums Pond in Delaware to stay in shape for their expeditions. They kayak because they love the adventure and the bears. Tim said he became fascinated with grizzlies at age 7, when he visited Yellowstone National Park with his family. Why does he like them? "Their intelligence, their power," he said. "I think they're beautiful creatures, really. And I think they're misunderstood by so many people." Though Tim has been charged by grizzlies on four occasions, he says the enormous animals are gentle creatures that would prefer to be left alone. Grizzlies typically attack only in very specific conditions - if they are surprised or if someone comes between a mother and a cub, for example. "Every time I've been charged, it's been a surprise encounter," Tim said. Vicki said she hasn't been charged, though she added: "I have been approached at very close range." During each attack, Tim said he managed to remain calm. He didn't run, but instead spoke quietly and slowly waved his arms over his head to create the impression of size. The Johnsons don't carry guns on their expeditions and say they would never harm a bear. "We're putting ourselves in their world," Vicki said. To avoid unwanted encounters, they steer clear of food odors. When they eat, they don't lean over their laps, because crumbs could attract bears. When they camp, they tie their food in a tree far from their tent. They don't even pick up foods such as peanuts with their fingers, but instead eat them directly from plastic bags. But the Johnsons say bears are not the most frightening part of their journeys. "The most terrifying moments are in the boat," Tim said. Vicki agreed. "Rough seas," she said. "Deep swells where we lose sight of each other. You say prayers." They can be as far as five miles from shore, and they carry no radios, cell phones or walkie-talkies with them. They leave their trip routes with Tim's parents and with the bush pilot. It's critical that they stick together, or they could easily lose track of each other in the water. A few times, however, Tim has gone kayaking on his own. He said he enjoyed the solitude, though he recognizes the increased danger of being without a kayaking partner. In possibly his most frightening experience, he pulled up on shore to eat lunch. He fell asleep against a rock, and his kayak floated away with the tide. If he hadn't awakened in time to dash in the water and catch it, he would have been stranded. Vicki and Tim said life on the water requires physical and mental stamina. Small mistakes could turn deadly. For them, the danger is worthwhile. "You get to experience life with the critters," Vicki said. "


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