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First Days of 2023

“You’re not going to believe this”

Of course, I’m thinking BEAR? I write Karl back asking for more detail.

“I’ve been abducted.”

Well, THAT wasn’t what I expected to hear, although it brings up a whole new slew of worries. As I wrote about last year, the Arctic coastline is studded with DEW Line Stations: military outposts that are still highly active due to the geopolitical tensions between the US, Canada, and Russia in the Northwest Passage. Bear fears reduced; I’m now thinking about international relations. Did Karl paddle into a military operation? How does one bail out a paddleboarder from the US Military? More details please.

“Folks at the fish camp put me up in a cabin. Going to have caribou stew for dinner.”

In fact, Karl had pulled ashore near a fish camp, a group of cabins where a family will go during the summer away from the villages to hunt and fish. This one belonged to George, an older man from Kugluktuk. George, along with his wife Mariah; their adult daughter and her children, had ‘abducted’ Karl as soon as he got to shore and wouldn’t hear of him sleeping ‘out’. They fed him, made sure he was comfortable, talked well into the evening about the land, the history of the area and what to expect for the next few days.

“Eye contact with George was special. I felt seen.”

Karl’s is on Day 4 of his Arctic Paddle, having left Paulatuk on Thursday of last week and is currently nestled in just west of Deas Thompson Point, about 80 miles from Paulatuk. The land is different from last year’s flat water and distant beaches, he says. This part of the Arctic “the shoreline is very severe and unrelenting. Last year, the shore was a featherbed, right over there if needed. Not here.”

Now Karl has a shoreline with steep cliffs over 100 feet tall with snow hanging on the bases, sea stacks, very few beaches, just rock piles where the cliff is crumbling. Karl says it is “in your face gorgeous”, although the paddling is more complex. The wind will swirl around the headlands and Karl will go from 12-15 kts to nothing, or vice versa. Waves are choppy and quartering seas along with swell, creating a chaotic experience around each headland.

Yesterday was a challenging paddle day, where Karl fought against a NW wind that kept trying to push him into the steep cliffs where waves were bashing and frothing. He was able to make it to a tiny point of land near a creek where he pulled in and texted me:

“Today was F’ed up hard. A lot of everything. Rocky shore, lots of waves, really taxing. I just got out of the fog. Couldn’t see the shore, just hear the booms. Scary AF… I’m way over the line here... the risk profile here is stratospheric.”

Karl took a needed rest day today to recoup and eat. He’ll head out again tomorrow to try to get to a stretch of beaches where a series of small rivers empty into the Arctic Ocean. There is a three day blow on the horizon, an Easterly of 15 kts with gusts of 20 kts. He’ll plan to find a spot to stay until it blows through and then continue East down the coastline.

The risks have the rewards, however: “The water is a color I’ve never seen before. It’s the brightest blue I’ve ever seen.”

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