Learning How To Kayak Among Ice Bergs

Carole Gibson, mentor for the Thomson group on the Sea Wolf, demonstrates the proper stroking technique for kayakers

DAY FIVE — We are standing in a misting drizzle on the top deck of our home for the next week — the 12 person wooden boat Sea Wolf (www.seawolfadventures.net), getting a lesson in kayaking before we venture out in Glacier Bay for the first time.

There’s not another boat in site. “Our aim is to keep your wilderness experience from being impacted by the cruise ships,” says Kimber Owen, who found her way to her boat and Alaska from a Texas horse farm after she was widowed in her early forties. “It was too sad to stay,” she explained. Here, the 52 year-old Owen is totally in her element, whether she’s launching the kayaks, serving soup, showing us a slide presentation on bears or explaining the geology of glaciers.
But first we learn we must dress in layers. Rubber boots, rain pants and rain jackets are a must!

Then there are the three L’s — loose, low and leverage — keep your paddles loose, low and how you leverage the paddle (keeping a rectangle when you put your arms above your head. Keep the rectangle as you paddle instead of shifting all of your body).

After a hearty lunch of chicken salad sandwiches (on croissants) and soup — and a flurry of looking for the right clothes (where are my long underwear bottoms?!), we head into our kayaks. It takes nearly an hour to get going but it is worth it. There are clouds hovering on the mountains, snow, patches and water so calm that it looks like a mirror.

We’re in Geikie Inlet, about 20 miles north of Gustavus, kayaking around Shag Cove. “About 90 percent of the people on this boat have never been in a kayak before,” Owen said. “We only paddle for about an hour in very calm water — nice! My partner is Laurie and we have a good conversation as we paddle.”

Kimber takes Miles and Carole Gibson takes Max — less stressful for me for sure. She has a lot of experience leading family trips.

“When I was I a kid I never got to do anything like this — not even close,” says Laurie Redmond, my kayaking partner.

Gail Blacutt pipes in that she didn’t even fly until she was in eighth grade.

These kids, we agree, may not appreciate the opportunity they’ve been afforded.

Back on the boat, we are motoring north to the Reid Glacier. The kids are busy playing cards in the cozy saloon, sprawled out on the leather couches.
And we adults are trying to get the inside scoop from Owen. Meanwhile, I ask Carole Gibson, our mentor, how parents can engage their kids. “It has to come from them,” she says. “Some kids won’t engage and it is very hard. It needs to be part of your conversation — the value of the landscape but you have to leave space for self discovery and if there are other kids who are interested of course that helps.”

But even if they are disinterested at first, she says — and I agree — there is great value to get them out of their comfort zone, away from the computer, their cell phones and the TV. “You just have to remember that they haven’t had enough life experience to appreciate the value until later.

I hope so!

Next: Watch out for icebergs!

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