Interviewed by Georgie Fulford and Mitchell Currie about our trip down the Inside Passage in 2017.
Kelly and Paul, how would you describe each other?
Kelly - Paul is a creator, he loves and excels at building anything he sets his mind to. Whether it’s building a Bike car, a log raft like Huckleberry Finn, or a shelter out of driftwood he gets completely immersed until he’s happy with the results. He’s definitely handy to have around when something needs to be fixed. Paul’s also extremely charismatic and loves to chat up the locals and to learn about them, he has loads of entertaining stories to tell and will do so enthusiastically. This works well to balance us out as I’m more introverted.
Paul - Well Kelly’s the dreamer and grit behind our journeys. She knows when to push hard and motivate others when things get tricky. It’s important for me to listen to what Kelly has to offer during trips as I sometimes can easily get blindsided. Over the last 5 years I’ve learnt a lot about strengths and weaknesses from listening to Kelly. She’s definitely someone you would want on your next trip.
When and how did the idea come about to kayak the Inner Passage?
Paul - We normally bounce a number of ideas back and forward. Kayaking the Inside Passage wasn’t our main plan for the summer of 2017, we actually had another journey in mind.
Kelly - For a few months we had been extremely focused on exploring more of Canada and were conjuring up plans to paddle the Yukon River. The idea of exploring somewhere more remote with plenty of wildlife was a dream of ours and the only thing holding us back was the cost and logistics of getting to and from the river with kayaks. Then by chance one evening we discovered a video online of a women who took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry up to Skagway for her own hiking and kayaking adventure. She towed her kayak on board and pitched her tent on the bow and we were instantly sold on the idea. We began researching the Inside Passage and it all clicked as we’d been wanting another paddling journey since our trip on the Baltic Sea in 2013. So the mission was to pick up our kayaks in Seattle, ferry with them up to Skagway, and then paddle them south towards Vancouver where we’d sell them to fund a bicycle tour back to our home in Canmore.
Did it take much convincing to get the other on board?
Paul - Our first trip together was Kayaking the Baltic Sea in 2013. We hadn’t been together long and as soon as the idea came about to take on this journey it didn’t take too much to convince Kelly... I think? We both also have a great fondness for North America and it's extensive wilderness, so to have the opportunity and time to kayak the Inside Passage would be a hard one to turn down for either of us.
Kelly - It’s true that on our first trip we hadn't known each other long and neither of us had spent time in a kayak, so it wasn’t a logical idea to take on a three month kayaking trip together. However I couldn’t resist the great escape and said yes pretty quickly, fast forward 5 years and we’ve had plenty adventures since. Kayaking the Inside Passage took zero convincing since we both simultaneously fell in love with the idea and wanted to be back in a kayak.
Why did you choose modular kayaks, and specifically the Mercury?
Paul - I personally trusted the Mercury after living from it for 3 months while kayaking from 2013 from Oslo to Helsinki with Kelly. So to use the Mercury only felt right on the next big journey. Even though the Alaskan coastline was far more dramatic and wild I still felt safe, even in the intense swells. You will be surprised at what this specific modular kayak is capable off, we definitely pushed it beyond its capabilities to success.
Kelly - The Mercury proved stable and reliable in rough waters during our trip on the Baltic Sea in 2013. We hadn’t spent time in a kayak before so the ease we had with the Mercury was extremely attractive. It’s also a really fun kayak and draws plenty of attention which can be beneficial in helping us start a conversation with the locals, we’ve met plenty of new friends this way. And finally the modular pieces are really handy to move up and down the shoreline when landing or launching. I could pick each piece up as if it were a suitcase with all my belongings still inside.
How did you find the Mercury kayaks paddling long distances (in terms of comfort, storage, handling the conditions etc.), day after day?
Kelly - I found the Mercury’s adjustable AIR seat to be really supportive to my low back which allowed me to maintain good posture hours into paddling. I’m much shorter than Paul and was still able to use the Mercury with it's adjustable foot pedals, with the extra room at my feet I was able to store a dry bag or drinking water. The storage compartments held all of my belongings as well as spare food for up to 10 days.
The Mercury handled well in most conditions with the use of its skeg and rudder system. At first we were worried the buckles wouldn't hold up against large swells and rough conditions but they proved themselves and never let us down.
Paul - Comfort on long journeys is something I’m not used too, I either get the wrong bicycle and make it work or build awkwardly heavy things to move around like the timber raft down the Mississippi or the bikecar. Also being over 6 ft 3 has its drawbacks when it comes to finding comfort, thankfully the Mercury was very kind to me and my long legs.
I opted for the Tandem Mercury while taking on the Inside Passage. The main reasons for this was extra storage. I had a whole cockpit section to load up with water, dry firewood for the hard times and my gold pan.
What made you decide to use separate kayaks for this particular adventure, when you used a tandem for your Baltic expedition?
Paul - Well Kelly will give the better answer to this, but for me the safety of having a second boat around in case something happened.
Kelly - The tandem was fun for our first trip because we experienced everything together and there was comfort in that, however after a few hours of paddling I would become distracted or bored as I had little control in the front. I found this frustrating when I wanted to explore something, slow down, or speed up. I also wanted more of a challenge and to grow my confidence as a kayaker. Having our own kayaks brought a sense of freedom and exploration to the journey for and allowed us to experience things together and solo all at once.
How did it feel to first launch your kayaks in the water? What was running through your head?
Paul - I’m pretty sure I dropped a few naughty words in my mind. It was a stressful moment as we had to fight a fast approaching tide. We had to walk our boats down to a small section of sea in a rocky area - This took a while. Once all of the sections were on the beach we had minutes to arrange our kit and connect the boats. We didn’t have a huge window, but once everything was connected and we were finally floating the stress levels lowered... until we had to navigate a crappy head on wind. At this point though we hadn’t been in the Mercury since 2013, but thankfully it instantly felt like home.
Kelly - It was scary, stressful, and exciting all at once. Thankfully we were so consumed with focus and effort in trying to launch the kayaks that it all happened really quickly and like Paul said it instantly felt like home. Hopping into that kayak in Alaska with only a direction in mind gave me the biggest sense of freedom I've ever felt and was absolute bliss.
On long trips such as these, most people get into a groove and establish a day-to-day routine. Was this the case for you? And if so, what was your typical day like?
Paul - Having many years behind us of doing long distance journeys we both know our strengths and weaknesses. But my typical day would start with annoying Kelly in the hammock above, once I knew that I’d annoyed her into being fully awake I’d start with packing my sleeping kit away. Then either Kelly or I would make the coffee and breakfast - Kelly did this better than me.
Once the kit was packed into the kayaks and we had all our paddling clothes/spray skirt on the coffee would have worked its magic to screw me over and delay things. We would often move with the tide, so it was a waiting game at times too. But then for the rest of the day we would just paddle for a few hours, stop to eat and most importantly catch the sun rays to dry off.
We would paddle then until we found that perfect spot to camp, this could sometimes take us late into the evening. Our latest night's paddle was to near midnight as we approached Butedale, BC.
Kelly - We quickly fell into a routine and both gravitated towards certain tasks. Brewing coffee in the morning and collecting firewood in the evening were my favourites.
What kind of wildlife could you see from the kayak?
Kelly - So much wildlife! Being in a kayak really allows us to immerse in nature. There’s very little noise pollution and the animals are generally more curious of us as opposed to skittish, they viewed us just as we viewed them. The seals and sea lions entertained and stalked us each day. We saw a beautiful grizzly from the shoreline, plenty of bald eagles, whales, orcas, dolphins, and plenty of other creatures on land. We even camped on a tiny island called deer island which was named appropriately as they were everywhere with their young ones.
Paul - Lots of dear, a number of black and brown bears, so many bald eagles and the odd sea otter... These were my favourite creatures to spot. I felt safer spending a moment on a beach with a bear than I did with what's in the water - I’ve not mention yet that I hate water. Whales scared me so much, I would have a panic attack and paddle my socks off to put distance between us. I would forget about Kelly, it was every man for himself.
The Inside Passage is a common route for cruise ships, freighters, and other large boats. What were the conditions typically like on the water? Did you feel vulnerable?
Paul - There was an essence of vulnerability daily depending on where we were. Approaching big towns/cities would be stressful due to the big boats and heavy water traffic, but we would always approach with caution. For the most part the water was kind, we had a handful of areas in which the swell got pretty hairy.
Kelly - In addition the boats, cruise ships, and freighters would cause big turbulence in the waters. This left us scrambling from the beach to our boats to hold them steady and keep them from washing away or getting smashed up as we enjoyed our midday siestas. Hopefully the proposed pipeline doesn’t go through as this will be detrimental to the Inside Passage as more freighters will be using these waterways.
What was your biggest ‘WOW!!’ moment of the trip?
Kelly - There were a few but the whales were it for me. There was one week where we had humpback whales feeding in each bay we camped every evening. On one particular day we were paddling and a humpback swam right up to us and dove within an arms length of my kayak. Paul was petrified but I almost cried because it was the one thing I had wanted experience on the trip. I won’t ever forget finally seeing the texture of it's skin and the enormity of it's tale as it dove past me.
Paul - For me it was a section in Canada just south of Prince Rupert called Flora's bank. The water conditions felt like they changed in a heartbeat. I’ve never really had that close call feeling with death, but I got it there. I’m shocked that Kelly and I managed to paddle to safety, but I was impressed with the balance and durability of the Mercury... We should have capsized as the waves were so intense and unpredictable. I watched Kelly get fully engulfed in a wave to only appear still paddling strong and focused on getting out of this rough water safely. This was that wow moment that made me realize how precious life can be.
What was the most challenging aspect of the whole trip?
Kelly - The most challenging part was kayaking back into civilization, as we paddled south of Cape Caution the waters became busier with summer traffic and tour companies. I really missed the quiet and the feeling of remoteness. The extra boat traffic was overstimulating and it also became more difficult to find a quiet and secluded camp spot. We were really spoiled with beautiful camping in the earlier days of our trip.
The tidal range was also something to consider, we were dealing with tides up to 25ft which left us with little room to pitch a tent at times. We wouldn’t get much sleep as the water inched it’s way closer and closer to us, one night it was within a couple of feet of our tent door.
Paul - Food, this was a problem at times for me. I shed a few tears for food. I could never fill my stomach and Kelly had to step in and ration my food as I would have eaten it all in the first few days. We would often be 7-10 days between towns so keeping an eye on what I ate was important. Also the lack of a good doughnut, this has a challenge to find too.
Did everything go according to plan?
Kelly - The only thing we planned for the trip was our ferry from Bellingham to Skagway and that went smoothly. Besides that I find it best not to plan too much as things always change which leaves room for disappointment and stress, instead we tend to just pick a direction, a timeline and then we just go.
Paul - I think so, and like Kelly said we only had that one plan set in stone which was to get to Skagway with all our kit and kayaks. I believe we made the most of out time and situations. We don’t normally have a set plan either when it comes to our trips, just a time frame to get from A-B and whatever happens in between goes.
Was there anything you would have done differently?
Paul - For me it would have been spending more time in Alaska. This section felt like it went to quickly. I guess that means we will just have to go back.
Kelly - Ageed! More of Alaska, it’s the most stunning place I have ever been and gave me the feeling that I was on a timeless adventure. I would like to spend a summer season on the Southeast coast paddling, camping, and living off the land. It would have been great to know more about the many wild edibles growing in this area.
What advice would you give to other people wanting to attempt this expedition?
Kelly - We didn’t plan much but we did make sure we were prepared for most situations with the right gear and mindset. The weather and water is not to be taken lightly and can change at a moments notice. Besides that the Inside Passage is a beautiful trip so take your time and soak it all in.
Paul - Don’t overdo the research, give yourself ample of time for adjustments and buy a gold pan. The Inside Passage has to be one of my favorite trips and despite its remoteness the locals you will encounter will surprise you with their knowledge and generosity to fill in the hidden blanks along the way.
Paul, in your interview with your friend, Sarah-Louise, you commented that often your idea for your next adventure usually comes to you whilst dreaming on the current adventure you are on! Where can we expect to find you two next?!
Paul - We normally have a goal or a vision, but at the moment we’re both currently focused on working hard at our jobs so we can embrace the next journey in our lives. I know there are a few things we’d love to do and especially another journey in a Point 65 Mercury or maybe one of their other modular boats.
We have however just purchased a van to convert so we can explore Europe in 2019. We will use the van as a hub to explore more roads with our bicycles or packrafts... maybe even a kayak on the roof rack. Scandinavia and the Balkan countries would be a joy to visit again.
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