My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Alaska: Paddling her own canoe at 60, 70 and 80

2012/11/16by Vera Marie Badertscher

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Kayaking in Thomas Bay, Alaska’s Inside Passage while on an adventure cruise excursion.

Are you ready to be inspired by a book? After Vera Marie Badertscher’s review of Paddling North, I predict you’ll be booking a trip to Alaska that includes a kayaking excursion.

“The philosophy is still the same. Go Simple, go solo, go now.”

Audrey Sutherland, in Paddling North

Hawaiian resident Audrey Sutherland was no stranger to the sea when she headed for Alaska.  She had worked on a fishing boat and paddled extensively around her home state. But she had a yearning to paddle her 9-foot-long inflatable boat up the Inside Passage of Alaska. Since she is a list maker and a goal setter, she made it happen. She says:

“Doing what you want to do isn’t a question of can you or can’t you, yes or no, but deciding what your ultimate desire and capability is and then figuring out the steps to accomplishment.”

She makes it sound easy, doesn’t she?

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Inside Passage near Ketchikan, Alaska

Audrey Sutherland took a kayak trip up the inside passage of Alaska from Ketchikan to Skagway, Alaska in the 1980s. A little beyond the boomer generation, she was 60 at the time. She kept doing the summer kayak trips in Alaska for the next 22 years. Sutherland turned 90 in 2012 (see a 2012 interview here) and published her third book–detailing an early Alaska trip–850 miles in 85 days. She was sixty years old when she did that solo paddle.

While  not all baby boomers want to brave the “one good day to five hard ones” she aims for, which she later admits turns into “one good day for 10 hard ones,” reading Paddling North‘s philosophical musings will inspire you, her love of nature will make you more observant if you take a cruise ship up the passage, her humor will keep you entertained,  and her gourmet dining in the rough will give you a new perspective on camping in the wilderness.

At times it is hard to remember what a difficult trip this is, as she describes a campsite and her meal:

“…a flat patch of grass above high tide, a small stream, wild lupine and shooting-star flowers, and a mossy spot for the tent.  Dinner was a sour-cream noodle Stroganoff with goose-tongue salad.  The wine was Hut Creek Winery white.”

About that food–she includes recipes for tasty pasta dishes, paella, chicken tetrazzini, fruit dumplings and more.  Her meals, paired with wine chilled in a stream near the campground are made possible by lots of work in advance freeze drying, and a few re-supply stops  along the way where she has shipped herself packages and picks up a few fresh items at a grocery store. After dinner tends to be brandy in tea or warmed saki. She makes the most of mussels, catches a couple of salmon, and cooks various wild plant and sea weed dishes.

If your idea of roughing it must include a spa–Sutherland includes that luxury, too.  Hot springs are marked on her topo maps and she sets off in search of them. Unfortunately many have stopped spouting since the maps were drawn, but when she finds one, she luxuriates in an old wooden tub or horse watering trough filled with natural hot water.

Staying warm is a challenge and she admits to her journal that the weather affects her strongly. When she is “warm and dry with sunshine, I can tackle anything.” ‘Anything’ includes rowing long stretches against the wind and tide, observing whales diving under her tiny boat, and confronting a wolf near her camp. Her biggest fear—an irate grizzly bear does not threaten on this trip, although she notes that she sees many of them on future trips.

Not much room (or purpose) for vanity on a trip like this.  On a sunny day, she stretches out with her boots off—a rarity.

“I lay bare in the sun, listening, dreaming, melting like a lighted candle into the earth. It was strange to see my bare feet again…They looked quite fragile. My hands, however, are tools–pliers, carabiners, vise grips, antennae, turnbuckles. I should spray them with Rustoleum. No sense traying to grow long nails or putting on polish. Only my toenails are painted pink.”

Age is relative, she says, with a paragraph that sounds just right to me.

“At 29 you say 30 isn’t old, but 40 is.  At 59 you say 60 isn’t old, but 70 is. At 89, a lovely friend is saving for her old age.”

Although I’m not prepared by my life to strike out solo in a small kayak, Audrey Sutherland’s Paddling North has opened my eyes to the possibilities of life and I know that when I get to Alaska I will see it in sharper detail. Thank you Ms. Sutherland, for an excellent book for everyone who wonders if adventure is over at sixty.

 

I have included an Amazon Link to Paddling North for your convenience. However My Itchy Travel Feet does receive a small percentage for purchases made at Amazon.com.

Vera Marie Badertscher writes about books and movies that influence travel at A Traveler's Library. For more about the books that Audrey Sutherland recommends on Alaska see A Traveler's Library's review.

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