Wet, Cold, and Happy

skilak lake, kenai peninsula

Despite the near miss of both a record trout and spotting a bear today, I couldn’t help but smile.

Here I was, in the middle of a lake in the back country of Alaska, and headed to sleep in a cabin built by a trapper in the early 1900s. There was just one small problem…

Getting there!

Skilak lake, the lake I loved so much last year, had suddenly turned into a frothing, pissed off, obstacle. After threatening us all day, the weather finally turned and a strong wind was creating whitecaps all over the lake. Skip fired up the small 15-horsepower Evinrude motor and pointed us in the direction of the cabin, but the lake had no interest in cooperating. The wind was so strong that the motor would not stay under the water, so after 15 minutes we had made no progress. It was obvious that we had to make something happen — fast.

We jumped overboard in thigh-deep water and began trying to move weight to the rear of our bouncing raft. I was trying to stay on my feet — a fall now would have filled waders with water and caused a hypothermia disaster — as well as lift heavy boxes onto the bouncing boat. My cold, numb hands could barely work the straps to get everything tightened down before we made another attempt.

Skip fired up the motor and our weight strategy had worked, just barely. We were making very slow progress toward Doroshin Bay on the remote end of the lake. The nose of the boat would come up out of the water and then crash down, sending a spray of freezing water into our faces. The small 30-year-old motor was straining against the load, and with every sputter my heart would jump. If the motor decided to quit, we would be completely screwed where we were, without a chance of rowing to safety in this weather.

Even though I was soaking wet, cold, (Alaska is the only place I will gladly be cold in August), and in a nervous situation, I was extremely happy and positive. I felt alive, more so than I have in months. I gave myself the “button test” a psychologist friend once told me about. To get the honest truth about yourself, you pretend that you have a virtual button in your hand that could change whatever situation you were presently in.

I know that I would not have pushed it.

We motored on, and I had to move to sit precariously on the front of the pitching boat just to hold down the nose. This felt like real danger on a real adventure.

Skilak lake alaska

To our extreme relief, we reached the cabin before dark and pulled the boat onto the gravel beach. The wind was still raising hell on the lake, but we would soon have a fire going, bellies full, and be warm. All that matters is surviving to play another day.

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