One Fall Day

The boat scraped the rocks and halted with a thud. Wedescended the ladder and jumped to shore. I’d been looking forward to this hike for weeks, but the day was all wrong. Wind, rain, choppy seas, low visibility. I pulled my wool hat over my ears and cinched up my rain jacket. We gathered around Dale, our naturalist/guide for the hike up Grace Ridge.

“Isn’t it grand to get out a day like this?” he said. “Once you get out it’s not too bad. I’ve seen some of the most spectacular birds and whales in bad weather.”

Sure, Dale.

Berries and Birds. A fundraiser for the local land trust. It promised fall colors, a panoramic view of Kachemak Bay, plants and critters along the way. But, this was not the crisp fall day I pictured. Also, I worried, could I keep up with the others on the long, steep climb?

Weeks of rain left a slick, oozy, muck of a trail. No worry about keeping up. We trudged through the obstacle course, stopping often as Dale identified plants and pointed to thrushes flitting through the trees. A Northern goshawk streaked overhead. Several uprooted spruce trees, killed by bark beetles, spawned fingerling sprouts in the rich, newly-opened soil. At an overlook, a misty view of the bay revealed scattered splotches of land called the Herring Islands. I had never seen them from above. I was warm and dry, except for my feet, soaked in my mud-encrusted shoes. I had opted for traction over waterproofing.

We reached a roaring stream and tucked under the shelter of a giant spruce to eat lunch. After sharing smoked salmon and vegan sausage, we lifted our stiffening joints, and kept going.

 “Let’s get up to alpine country,” Dale urged.

The slope steepened; the trail degraded. Finally, we stepped out of the trees into the driving rain. Green rolling tundra, yellow dwarf birch, crimson leaves of the blue-black crowberry plants, a perfect fall scene except for the weather. No blueberries ripened in this cold, rainy summer. I shivered beneath my four layers of clothing. Wet gloves, cold hands, soggy feet. Running out of time to meet our water taxi, we turned back. The real challenge was about to begin.

Downhill, the trail transformed from just annoying to treacherous. Hiking boots and rubber Xtratufs were no match for this trail. People slipped, fell, rose, slid again. Thuds, moans, and curses. We pulled each other up and eased each other down. My husband Jim slammed hard into the mud several times. I pictured his patched-up body splitting in new places. But, we were all Alaskans, doing our best to save face by not complaining. Smug in my aggressively-treaded trail shoes, I made it almost down without falling. Then, a spectacular slide threw me off the trail, legs in different directions, mud up my pants. I heaved myself back to the trail.

My legs trembled as we reached the beach. Holding back takes more work than moving forward. We sat on driftwood logs waiting for the water taxi, rubbing our bruises, laughing at our mud-slathered clothes.

“Wasn’t it great to get out today?” said Dale.

“Yes,” I said. It did feel good to take a risk, accomplish something new. But, I don’t need to do this again.

Blog: One Fall Day
Mid-September, Kachemak Bay, Alaska