It seems strange not to be dressed in XtraTufs and my favorite knit cap on a Tuesday. Last week, and the week before, Tuesday found me with a plethora of young, active guests aboard the Un-Cruise Adventures vessel Wilderness Adventurer, sailing around the hidden nooks and crannies of southeast Alaska. I’m home this week, catching up on projects, gearing AK Kid up for his week of mountain bike camp, and doing stack after stack of laundry. Saturday morning will find me on a plane bound for Ketchikan, and a final week aboard the WAV before returning to Anchorage and the beginning of another Alaska autumn. It hardly seems possible.
I never return from an Un-Cruise without some nugget of clarity in my pocket, and these past few weeks have been no different. Below is a blog post I wrote for the company after a particularly toothsome bushwhack through southeast Alaska’s boggiest, wettest, and wildest landscape. I’m still grinning, and I bet these kids are too, back home.
“This is the best hike, ever!”
Echoes of similar sentiments traveled up and down the line as 14 pairs of hands reached out to clutch wild blueberries from their stems, 14 pairs of boots sloshed wildly through shallow streams, and 14 pairs of eyes scanned the horizon for eagles lazily soaring breezy skies. No trail, no set destination, and no other people; just kids, parents and guides experiencing wildness in a nook of southeast Alaska known as Port Houghton.
That’s the Un-Cruise way.
‘Bushwhack’ hikes are among the most popular activities on an Un-Cruise, especially during Kids in Nature weeks, when the simple joy of outdoor recreation meets concentration, wayfinding, and teamwork. Expedition guides set a tentative route; it may be along a creek, game trail, or shoreline, for example, but hikers set the tone and pace. Criss-crossing through dense vegetation and towering evergreen trees, guides make sure to point out various species of native plants, animals, and unique characteristics of southeast Alaska. It’s a bonanza of sights, smells, and tastes, offering everyone a new perspective of the world around them.
Why spend a few hours dodging alder branches and boggy holes that suck boots right from unsuspecting feet, rather than sticking to established trails? The Un-Cruise philosophy of truly immersing guests in Alaska’s remote bays and forests is especially meaningful for youngsters, many of whom have never experienced such wild places before. Playing tag on a rocky beach, navigating a slippery log, and learning about wild animals sharing the same dirt under their feet all transfer to a sense of awareness of place, and how it might differ from home.
Expedition guides are well-equipped to lead their young assistants into the Alaska wilderness. Carrying maps, GPS units, and other tools for safely charging through the forest, guides make sure safety and teamwork play a pivotal role in any bushwhack hike, no matter how short. Hole ahead? Tell the people behind you so they don’t get wet socks. Wet bushes? Hold the branch to prevent an unpleasant face wash from your hiking partner. Bear country? Sing the bear-aware song and let ‘em know you’re coming.
And at the end, when the group breaks through the tree line and starts walking back to the skiff, muscles aching and pants covered with mud, guides wait for it…
“This was the best hike, ever.”
~Erin Kirkland, (Youth Specialist, WAV)