Without A Paddle

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Sandi and I had escaped, kid free…which says a lot considering between us we have thirteen children…and were laughing our way across Tustumena lake headed for Nikolai Creek to spot some grizzly bears through our telephotos. We intended to stake out the creek until dark if we had to, just for the perfect shot.  Photo, that is…

We’d pulled the boat across a shallow section where the island connects to the main land to avoid going all the way around.  Well, I pulled and Sandi took pictures.  We eyed the weather and the water, and shot out across the 27 miles long wide open waters, the glacier in view and clouds thinning to blue.

Thwump…slam…urrrccchhhh…the boat came to a dead stop. Instinctively, I hit the key and shut down the engine, leaving us bobbing and silent in the chaotic and unpredictable glacial waters of Tustumena Lake.

“What the….did we hit something?”

It seemed impossible we could have hit something so far out into the deep waters of the lake, but possibly a floating log.  Or the Loch Ness Monster.  I looked around expecting the slithering head of a sea creature to appear. When none did, we lifted the motor to inspect the prop. Nothing. We’d hit nothing.  I restarted the engine, engaged the shifter.  Nothing.  She wouldn’t shift into forward or revers.  I shut her back down.

The silence of the dead motor was accentuated by the slosh of small waves against the side of the aluminum boat, rocking it gently back and forth.  I surveyed the situation, eyed the distant shore, and licked my finger to check the wind direction…because I’d seen it on television and it made me look smart.

Sandi, the coolest Eskimo I know, calmly smiles and says, “I’ve harpooned whales in smaller boats.  We’ll be fine.”

I expected her to whip out a harpoon and skewer our lunch, but she whipped out her I-phone instead and called for help.  Apparently her Eskimo survival skills have gone modern.

While I was busy freaking out, Sandi dug out the paddles. I swim like a cat and I’m not a big fan of hypothermia.  My stress level doubled when she held up a paddle that looked like it had been chewed in half by piranha.  Mental note…check the boat for paddles prior to crossing a 27 miles long lake.

After five minutes of maniacal laughter followed by some deep breathing and tear wiping, we scanned the area all around us to judge which shore would be less work.  We chose the nearest destination…which as our dwindling luck would have it was against the wind…and we started paddling as fast as we could.  Which was really more like the pace of a dead snail.

Have you ever seen one of those hallways in a movie where the further you go, the longer it gets?  This was like that, only the hallway was an  icy ocean and the shore was a tiny dot on the horizon.  We paddled, the wind blew, and we switched off to compensate for the broken paddle so we didn’t just turn in circles.  We thought that was bright.

Eventually we made shore, tied the boat off to a tree and looked around.  The area around us had been burned a few years back in a forest fire so we could see far enough to know there were no bears nearby.  Regardless, I harnessed my 44 on my side and prepared myself for battle.

Sandi headed up the embankment, camera in hand, to shoot some wild roses and I stood guard.  She screamed.  I went for my weapon and nearly took the mighty hunters head off as she was attacked by a viscous bee.  Well, I didn’t actually draw, but we did make a pact that she not scream and I wouldn’t shoot her.

Content that help was coming and a little disappointed we didn’t get the chance to write SOS in rocks or build a shelter and forage for food, we rested on the warm rocks to wait.  We took turns photographing each other doing weird things. Well, not that weird.


Soon our ears picked up the roar of an engine in the distance and we knew we would be saved.  Weak from hunger and longing for civilization…(oh wait, that’s another story…) Stuffing our faces with cheese slices and snicker-doodles, we watched our rescue boat arrive, waved cheerfully from shore and said goodbye to our little piece of Gilligans Isle.

 Tied off to the back of the rescue boat, we climbed aboard, opened the sunflower seeds and kicked our feet up on the dash to enjoy the free ride home, glad to have good friends, good food and good fun.  After all, any day on the lake beats any day at home.  Any day at all.

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6 Responses to "Without A Paddle"
  1. ienvan says:

    Great read, and stunning landscapes. 

  2. Lks says:

    Great story, especially if you know this glacier fed lake, the dangerous wind and that you really were in serious danger.  Gotta love goofy alaskan girls, giggling all the way!  I want to go next time, i have more guns and food to bring!! 

  3. jackie (cutler) allen says:

    What fun to read this again and look at the lovely pictures.  I just read this to my husband and he asked what happened to the boat to stop it?  L&P

  4. This story is told in South Louisiana, too. Except the bears are gators. 🙂

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