Kayaking Around Ice to Discover Emotional Freedom

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Happy couple at the face of Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

It’s been a while since I’ve written; my entire 8th season guiding in Alaska has passed. I’ll use the excuse that I was too busy pondering my emotional freedom while paddling around icebergs. I’m currently in Panama, eagerly awaiting my first sea kayaking trip to Guna Yala next week. That will kick off a busy paddling season here! (Promotional plug: There are still trips with space available. Contact me.) 

When the owner of Best Marine & Outdoors, a company that sells kayak accessories and safety equipment (available in the USA, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, & Spain), invited me to contribute to their wonderful blog about the benefits of kayaking, I happily got to writing. Check out their blog and website here. I wanted to write something both relevant to our current rapidly changing environment, as well as something that encourages us to think about transformation in nature in a different way; that can invite acceptance and freedom from emotional turmoil, which we all experience in life.

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Finding emotional freedom at the face of Columbia Glacier (& rocking the double glasses!), Prince William Sound

Kayaking can make us better human beings. In addition to the more obvious physical benefits of any type of exercise, kayaking has the ability to positively impact our emotional and mental states. How does this look for me? Read on to learn how paddling specifically in Alaska around icebergs has affected my mental/emotional health and ability to go through life with more grace, non-attachment, and joy, especially through difficult times, so that you might give it a try too and enjoy these same benefits.

Icebergs are one of the most beautiful things in this world, and one of my favorite parts of paddling in Alaska. There is ice everywhere, even in the warmer months of summer. I’ve spent countless hours marveling that ice can take such diverse form, size, color, and density. . . each piece unique in its stage of life and movement. I love to observe the different sounds that emerge from ice: popping, hissing, sizzling, and groaning. I’ve sat in a kayak and watched icebergs the size of an apartment building split in half and roll around seeking equilibrium, water and ice cascading and spraying into the air. Oh, how marvelous!

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Iceberg, Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound

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Ice transforms to water, Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

I look to ice as a great teacher, offering a sense of freedom, as well as pacifying turbulent times in life. Contemplating the transient nature of ice teaches me to approach life in the same way, especially uncomfortable situations. Ice is in a constant state of transformation (not for one second is it ever the same as before); melting and freezing, breaking apart and floating away, becoming water. No piece of ice will ever exist again in that same way. This sentiment is extremely liberating, as it can be applied to all feelings and thoughts, which we know can be quite terrorizing and overwhelming. Whether it’s sadness, anger or even ecstatic happiness that I’m experiencing I look to the ice and a sense of tranquility immediately passes over me. It will pass. Whatever it is. . . It will pass. There is nothing to hold on to, just as the ice does not struggle to hold on to the water that comprises it nor the ocean in which it’s floating. That’s comforting, isn’t it?

I’d like to share an excerpt from my journal on October 15, 2016, the day that I left Alaska after my fifth season kayak guiding for Anadyr Adventures in Prince William Sound.

. . . All of these natural wonders take away the clutter in my mind. . . teach me the value of letting go of what does not matter in life, and to cherish what does, which is the present moment, love, compassion, and gratitude. Somehow these wonders are teachers. Somehow a floating chunk of ice teaches me that nothing ever stays the same. . . everything is constantly in a state of transformation; thoughts, feelings, and emotions included. I learn to let go of all of them, watch them pass by as I watch floating ice pass by, never to be experienced quite the same way again. Just like the ice I will watch millions of thoughts go by, and I must let go of each and every one of them. It is a struggle, for sure. Yet, does the ice struggle? I think not! 

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Amongst the ice, Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound

There you have it. Ice. Is. Amazing. If anyone has any thoughts they’d like to share, I’d love to read them. How does kayaking benefit you? How has paddling around ice (or nature, in general) impacted your life? Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more. I won’t let another full season go by without writing more blogs. Take great care, everyone! Peruse my website, blog, and contact me for information on day and multi-day sea kayaking trips based out of Valdez, Alaska, as well as Caribbean & Pacific coasts of Panama.

 

SEE YOU SOON VALDEZ, ALASKA: 8 Things a Sea Kayak Guide Gets Excited For (For her 8th Season)

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One of my favorite places on Earth, the face of Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

Although currently finishing up the guiding season in Panama, my thoughts are starting to wander north; to a wild land of calving glaciers, glistening icebergs, bobbing Sea Otters, soaring Bald Eagles, enticing ice caves, midnight “sunsets”, and extravagant dance parties with the other Anadyr Adventures sea kayaking guides. They say that a guide’s 8th season is her best!

When writing about Alaska it’s all too easy to enumerate the state’s exceptional qualities, spitting out superlatives left and right. I’ll leave that for David Attenborough (sounds better in his charming accent anyway). Having returned for so many seasons as a sea kayak guide for Anadyr Adventures, it’s the subtle things that I most look forward to; special moments that I wake up excited for. Without further ado and in no particular order: What I am MOST excited about:

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Yipeeeeeeee, Columbia Bay

1) The precise moment at the start of an ocean kayaking tour in Prince William Sound when our water taxi gets “on step” (the boat speeds up enough to climb on top of the water. . and we’re off!). This is almost a daily occurrence for me and my heart still races with anticipatory excitement for what the day will bring. It is the moment that we leave the Valdez small boat harbor behind and we are all about to experience the magic of eastern Prince William Sound.

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Getting “on step” in Prince William Sound

2) We’ve spotted a whale. I repeat a whale has been spotted! Could be a glimmering dorsal fin in the distance. . maybe the dissipating mist from its breath. Maybe a slight disturbance on the surface of the water. Maybe everyone saw it, or just one of us. It’s as if our breathing simultaneously pauses, and heart rates accelerate as we wait in silence for what comes next. . .

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My heart skipped a beat!

3) Client’s reactions (sometimes silent awe, more often gasps of varying intensities) to a slightly elevated vista of the iceberg-dotted Columbia Bay, where we have just been paddling at sea level. After gazing up at majestic icebergs from our kayak seats we are now treated to a vast expanse of ice and water below us. It’s lunchtime and we have crested a hill called The Mojave. During this 5-minute climb I tell the clients No matter what, do not look to your right! (where the view is) Wait until we’re at the top. Trust me, it’s worth it. It always is.

4) The Secret Passage. If I divulge too much info. . well, then it wouldn’t be the Secret Passage, now would it? I’ll allow this much; getting to paddle through this magical passageway in Heather Bay (on a Columbia Glacier day tour or overnight trip)  involves impeccable timing by the guide.

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This is what impeccable timing allows, The Secret Passage

5) Jump shots! After telling people that I am a professional jump-shot photographer, I am met with enthusiastic consent or nervous acquiescence. Either way no one has ever regretted a jump shot. It goes without saying that watching people zoom in on faces in a jump-shot photo elicits just as much delight as the photo itself.

6) When clients walk away and give me the silent treatment. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. You just go ahead and take a moment to take this all in.

7) Paddles in the air. Put your hands where I can see them, ma’am. Gets me every time. Just lights my heart right up:) Sometimes it’s solicited, but it’s the best when it happens naturally.

8) Last, but definitely not least: Celebrating the spectacularly unique and wonderful Anadyr guides (we cleverly call ourselves the Anadamily). The friends and co-workers who I have shared multiple seasons with in Valdez are like family. This family grows every season. Sure, we work hard, but we play even harder. And we dress up and dance to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” (best music video ever). . and we cook fried chicken and kimchi waffles (yea, they’re delicious). . and we party on a deck with the most amazing view in town. . and we gallivant in search of adventure in our breathtaking Valdez. They are the most fun and weirdest (in the best way) group of individuals who I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with, as well as the most open-hearted and open-minded. (Seasonal guides are all a bit weird, aren’t they?) The love, passion, and playfulness that the guides (and staff. . I’m not leaving out the water taxi captains and office staff!) put into each and every kayaking trip to make it memorable for guests are sincerely inspiring. This is what I look forward to.

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Best view in town, Anadyr Adventures

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Cuddle Puddle to keep warm near Denali

Because I’m sure you’re curiosity has been piqued. . .

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Tommy’s famous chicken and kimchi waffles

Well there you have it. Still excited after all these years, and looking forward to what lucky season #8 has in store for me, the Anadamily, and all of my future kayaking guests. If you or someone you know wants to experience the beauty and wonder of Prince William Sound with me or one of the aforementioned wonderful kayaking guides in Valdez, Alaska contact me. I’d love to hear from you. Let me know which one you’d be most excited about!

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Steller Sea Lions as our kayaking chaperones, Glacier Island

Along with day trips to the area’s many glaciers and wildlife viewing hot-spots, there are wilderness lodge, mothership (sailboat), and overnight camping kayaking tours available. Check out the options here, or visit Anadyr Adventures. We also offer ACA accredited (American Canoe Association) Levels 1 and 2 Coastal Kayaking courses, which are a safe and fun way to develop kayaking skills. . in one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Subscribe and stay tuned for an upcoming blog about my recent 24,000,000 centimeter kayaking expedition in Guna Yala, Panama (aka San Blas Islands) to the Colombian border! Join me and Her Odyssey for a wild Caribbean adventure. You don’t want to miss it!

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I’D DIP MY PADDLE IN THAT: Lake Superior Kayaking + 12 Reasons to Visit the Keweenaw Peninsula

*If you’re reading this in email format, please visit the website version.*

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What a good-lookin’ fleet!

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Beauty in nature is found by those who seek it, Lake Superior

When I received an enthusiastic invitation from Keweenaw Adventure Company (pronounced kinda like Kee-wah-naw) to partake in a sea kayaking tour in exchange for writing a blog, I answered an even more enthusiastic “Yes!” (truthfully, it was more like “Yaaaaaasss!”) Wow, I was finally going to dip my paddle in the waters of the famous Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes. This was a pretty big deal for me. And if I had to use one word to describe my experience? Friggin’awesome (that’s one word, right? It is now).

I strive to surround myself with good people in beautiful places doing fun things. Let me tell ya. . . Keweenaw folks are good people in a beautiful place doing fun things:) The take-away message here is Keweenaw Adventure Company is amazing. Copper Harbor is amazing. Lake Superior is amazing. Sea kayaking on Lake Superior in Copper Harbor with Keweenaw Adventure Company is amazing.


Keweenaw Adventure Company Highlights

Guided sea kayaking day trips, overnight camping and kayaking trips to Isle Royale National Park, kayaking lessons and rentals, mountain biking tours and rentals, vacation rentals, shuttles, retail shop, and more. Visit their website.KAC logo- 25th finalThey also offer Group Adventures (youth groups, scouts, camps, staff retreats, and yoga/wellness retreats). Any group of 8 or more receives a 15% Group Discount. The more the merrier! They also have a great adventure blog. Check out A Kayaking Yoga Routine, from Keweenaw staffer and Michiganer (artist, musician, and yogi), Lena Wilson, the first person who I met upon my arrival to the Keweenaw Peninsula. She graciously served as my personal tour guide during our drive, regaling me with fun Michigan facts, and making the necessary visit to the renowned Jampot, where I purchased some truly divine gifts for my parents. . . and myself. Industrious monks from this Byzantine Catholic Monastery make jams, jellies, preserves, and impossible-to-resist baked goods and fruitcakes using the finest local, regional, and organic ingredients. They offer a surprisingly large selection of baked goods soaked in liquor. I guess they know what sells:) A must-stop if you’re driving the Scenic Highway M26!

 

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Rule #1: Look good. My guide, Matt, perfecting his hair before our first paddle on Lake Superior together

Let’s take a closer look at what makes this place unique, shall we? Fun facts: Copper Harbor is the northernmost town in Michigan, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior. The Keweenaw Peninsula is the largest and northernmost county in Michigan, and the least populated. It is believed that “Keweenaw” is a Native American word that means “portage or place where portage is made”. Copper Harbor, the name alluding to its’ former role of shipping copper mined from local deposits during the mid-19th century, is the farthest away you can get from an Interstate Highway in the lower 48. How cool! Lake Superior is generally considered the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area (31,700 square miles), which is 10% of the earth’s fresh surface water. Fed by over 200 rivers and containing 2,900 cubic miles of water, it is the third-largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, and the largest by volume in North America. With 2,726 miles of shoreline to explore (including over 400 islands), it is also the cleanest and the clearest of the Great Lakes (underwater visibility averages 27 feet, and can reach 100 feet!). One more fun fact, which blows my mind: Waves of over 40 ft. in height have been recorded on Lake Superior (all the more reason to hire an experienced guide)! Don’t worry, the good folks at Keweenaw Adventure Company wouldn’t dare take you out in those conditions.

Keep it local! Copper Harbor has no chain businesses. None. Zero. If you’re looking for a picturesque place with an off-the-beaten-path local vibe that offers fun adventures for the whole family, lovely accommodations, great restaurants, brewpubs, and artisan shops, you’ve arrived (scroll down for my top finds). This place is on point! With a year-round population of 80 that swells to a few hundred in the summer months, Copper Harbor offers a unique escape into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a place renowned for breathtaking wilderness and intriguing local culture. I need to go back to delve deeper into what makes a Yooper a Yooper (someone born and raised, or accepted as a transplant to the Upper Peninsula), because Yoopers sure are proud of who they are and where they come from!

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View of Copper Harbor from the Brockway Mountain Overlook. (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Keweenaw Adventure Company Offers Multi-Day Sea Kayaking Trips to Isle Royale National Park

Copper Harbor is known as the gateway to Isle Royale National Park, which is the largest island in Lake Superior at an impressive 207 square miles, and one of only 2 of the nation’s island national parks. Apparently, Yellowstone National Park receives more visitors in a single day than Isle Royale does in an entire season! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to paddle here (frowny face), so I’m already scheming a trip for the future. From what I’ve heard Isle Royale offers some of the best wilderness kayaking in Michigan. I’ve pored over enough photos to confirm this claim. Who wouldn’t want to kayak past some of the oldest exposed rock in the world! No vehicles are allowed on the island, so hiking and boating are the only options to explore the more than 150 miles of shoreline, numerous barrier islands, and fjord-like bays. These are best explored in a sea kayak with a local guide. The island is teeming with flora and fauna; eagles, loons, many species of birds and waterfowl, as well as wolves, moose, and otters.

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This will be me someday paddling at Isle Royale, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Good Times in Copper Harbor

Now that I’ve regaled you with fun facts about the location, here’s a run-down of what I actually did during my 4 days of fun in Copper Harbor. Because if you’re going to trek all the way out to this small town, you might as well stay a while and go local; sample the best of nature and adventure with the various tours offered by Keweenaw Adventure Company, and hit up some of these other spots too!

  1. Acquainted myself with the wonderful staff of Keweenaw Adventure Company, met my guide, checked out the kayaks and gear, and settled into my cozy and private accommodations at the Chalet Adventure Lodge, next to the company shop. They offer seasonal and different styles of cozy accommodations (cabin, house, cottage, chalet) in Copper Harbor. Fully furnished and equipped, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here.
  2. Went sea kayaking on Lake Superior. I chose the Bare Bluffs day tour, enticed by sea stacks and sea caves. Although sunny, it was a bit blustery, so Matt and I turned back a tad early before the waves could build up too much. I loved the interesting shoreline and did get to see a few sea caves and the sea stack in the distance. Part of what made the trip so great was getting to know yet another quirky kayak guide:) Luckily, guides always have calm paddling spots up their sleeves, so we explored a serene slough, beautified by the reflection of vibrant fall foliage, as I described sea kayaking in Alaska to Matt. As an avid sea kayaker and guide I could immediately see the truth in everything that I’d heard of paddling on Lake Superior; it’s a gorgeous world-class paddling destination. It offers kayaking for all abilities, from flat and glassy, to big waves that only the most experienced “storm chaser” paddlers seek. . . and everything in between.

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    Sea Stack on the Bare Bluffs Day Tour, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.

  3.  Enjoyed an afternoon of hiking on the Copper Harbor Trail System. Due to guiding commitments in Alaska, my trip to Michigan took place in October, a lovely time of year to enjoy vibrant fall colors. (I got to enjoy 3 falls; Alaska, Michigan, and Philadelphia.) On my way to the trailhead I passed a lovely community garden surrounded by apple trees. I hiked for miles, undisturbed and at peace (I hardly saw anybody else, except for a few mountain bikers).
  4. Learned about mountain biking in Copper Harbor, the “Moab of the Midwest”. The Copper Harbor Trail System, which boasts over 40 miles of marked and mapped trails is designated for hiking and mountain biking. I had no idea that Copper Harbor is such a hotspot for singletrack mountain biking! Apparently it’s some of the most unique, scenic, and thrilling mountain biking in Upper Michigan. The area won the prestigious “Silver Level Ride Center” designation from the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association), and has an ever-growing community of biking enthusiasts who dedicate thousands of cumulative hours each season to maintain and create trails, as well as promote eco-tourism to the area. Keweenaw Adventure Company is a major supporter of the Copper Harbor Trails Club, which is now recognized as a “model club” on both the regional and national level. In fact, the owner of the Keweenaw Adventure Company, Sam Raymond (avid mountain biker), helped to formally establish the Trails Club, and has personally dedicated 1000s of sweaty hours to building trails. Good people doing cool things. Next time I visit I’m going to do some mountain biking with one of their guides!
  5. Did yoga in the forest. I don’t normally photograph myself doing yoga. In fact, it would never occur to me to document such a thing. However, for the purpose of this blog, here you go:) Beautiful and peaceful places abound in this area for exercise, yoga, and healthy living in general. The air is fresh, crowds are easily avoidable, and nature-based activities pervade the community. Besides, visitors from more populous areas may have a slightly different notion as to what defines a crowd.
  6. Caught a gorgeous sunset from Brockway Mountain. Wow! This was a highlight, and a short drive from town. The scenic road is 10 miles long, with many pull-offs to take in the views. At the top you’ll be rewarded with a 360° view of Lake Superior, the surrounding woodlands, and inland lakes. At 735 feet above the lake, you can see Isle Royale about 50 miles away. Next visit I want to catch a sunrise here.
  7. Ate a Lake Superior Whitefish sandwich at the Mariner North restaurant. Visiting a new place always includes indulging my taste buds in the local fare, as well as learning about the food heritage of the area. Lake Superior is home to about 88 species of fish, including carp and varieties of trout, salmon, and perch. I’ve heard they’re all delicious! Fish from the lake are rich in omega-3 fatty acids because the lake is very cold and deep. Hundreds of years ago the Ojibwe and Chippewa Indians hunted Lake Superior trout, whitefish, and sturgeon from birch bark canoes using nets crafted from willow bark. European settlers began to arrive and commercial fishing was born as a result in 1820. Due to the usual culprits of pollution, over-fishing, and introduction of invasive species, trout and whitefish numbers severely declined and by the 1950’s the heyday of this commercial fishery was over. Currently, there are strict regulations to limit commercial fishing in Lake Superior.

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    Damn that was a tasty Whitefish sandwich at the Mariner North

  8. Introduced a new friend to packrafting at Hunter’s Point Park. For those who have sat in a packraft, it’s a pretty tight ride. But I only had one raft and we needed it just for a short crossing to a small island. It was in the name of exploration! Hunter’s Point Park is a beautiful area with a few trails that follow the shoreline of Lake Superior. Great for birding, as well as abundant flora (wildflowers, mushrooms, lichen, mosses, and cedars, hardwoods, and pines). The geological formations are especially unique here. The basalt in this area is the oldest rock on earth. Consider a visit here like a window to the past.
  9. Took a stroll on the Cathedral Grove Trail at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, which is home to the oldest stands of virgin White Pine trees in Michigan. Owned and cared for by the Michigan Nature Association, the sanctuary has two short and easy trails that feature pines that are more than 100 feet tall and 200 years old. There are also Maple, Birch, and Cedar trees. I was there in the fall and got to see a bounty of mushrooms in many shapes and colors. In the summer and spring you can see many rare fern species, as well as orchids and other delicate woodland plants.
  10. Grooved to the juke box at Zik’s Bar with the endearing couple who own and operate Keweenaw Adventure Company (Sam and Shelby). Is it sacrilegious to have spent even a few hours in Michigan without drinking beer? I think so. I’m guilty. I just don’t like beer. However, I did drink wine at this fine local establishment. This is the place to be if you want to check out the Copper Harbor nightlife, while being immersed in local history, as the walls are covered with photos and memorabilia depicting local lore. Copper Harbor has at least one microbrewery called Brickside Brewery, which I did not visit. Next time.

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    Zik’s Bar, (C) Zik’s Bar

  11. Coffee and fresh muffins from Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery. Local, delicious, and right on the waterfront:)

  12. Received an unexpected farewell gift of homemade jams from front yard blueberries and raspberries. I got a ride from a new friend to the airport, and when we stopped at her house to check the tire pressure, her landlord handed me two large jars of homemade jam! It was such a moving gesture. That sealed the deal. . .I’m going back for more:)
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    Copper Harbor Trail System


    Even though I’m a sea kayaker who went to Copper Harbor to go sea kayaking on Lake Superior, I came away with far more experiences. It was an unexpected whirlwind of meeting some of the most warm-hearted people I’d ever met. I made new friends and connected with people on a level that made me feel like I was visiting old friends. I discovered an adventure company that strives to keep things local, human, and sustainable.

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Agate Harbor Day Trip, (C) Keweenaw Adventure Co.


Parting Shot. . .

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Spreading a bit of Alaska Glacial Facial love to new friends, Matt and Gabbey. Cheers!


I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this special blog as much as I enjoyed reliving the fond memories as I wrote it. Check out my other paddling-related blogs about Panama, Alaska, and Croatia. Follow me on Instagram


Don’t forget to check out my website for upcoming summer sea kayaking trips in Alaska and Croatia. . . or if you’re one to plan well in advance, in Panama for next “winter” season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOIN ME IN ALASKA JULY 5-9: Lodge-Based Sea Kayaking Adventures

*If you’re reading this from an email, it looks way better on my website:)*

TWO SPACES AVAILABLE FOR A 5-DAY LODGE-BASED KAYAKING TRIP

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A day trip from the lodge, Paddling past Steller Sea Lions, Glacier Island

Here’s what a client had to say after doing a 7-day lodge trip: “We will treasure our 7 day kayak experience for life. We had so much fun and enjoyed every minute of this experience.”

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Sunset view from the lodge, Prince William Sound


TWO SPACES AVAILABLE FOR A 5-DAY LODGE-BASED KAYAKING TRIP

JULY 5 – 9, 2019        Cost: $2,420/person

Includes: 4 nights accommodations in a wilderness lodge, professionally-cooked meals, water taxis to-and-from the lodge, all kayaking equipment, a professional sea kayak guide (yours truly), a day trip to the south side of Glacier Island, and a day trip to the face of the iconic Columbia Glacier (the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound).

If you’d prefer different dates, or wish to inquire about my other Alaska sea kayaking trips, please contact me! There are lots of camping trips available too. I also have upcoming trips available in Croatia and Panama.


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A day trip from the lodge, Ice in Columbia Bay


You know the saying “If I had a nickel for every time I heard . . . “? Well, I’d be at a whopping $2 if I earned a nickel for every time I’ve been told, “I’d love to join you for a multi-day sea kayaking trip in Alaska. . I just don’t want to camp!” You do the math. That’s actually a lot of people:) Get ready for a grand announcement: You don’t have to camp to enjoy a multi-day sea kayaking trip in Alaska! On the contrary, you can experience the best of coastal Alaska from the incomparable vantage point of a kayak while enjoying all of the luxuries that a wilderness lodge has to offer.


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Find serenity at the lodge

Paddle to your heart’s content in serene coves and the ice-filled Columbia Bay, giggle as Sea Otters twirl past your kayak, explore life in the inter-tidal zone, photograph Bald Eagles soaring overhead, marvel at the snow-capped Chugach Mountains, and gasp as Steller Sea Lions leap out of the water on Glacier Island. All of this. . . and you also get to enjoy hot showers, electricity, a cozy bed, delicious home-cooked meals, a deck with a firepit overlooking a peaceful bay, a wood-fired sauna, plenty of space for relaxation, and even a wood-fired studio space for yoga and other activities (a huge bonus if the weather turns rainy).

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Low tide view from the lodge, Virgin Bay

The first and final days of this lodge trip will be day trips to the south side of Glacier Island, home to a raucous Steller Sea Lion haul-out, and to the face of the iconic Columbia Glacier. The remaining three days will be spent on paddling excursions from the lodge, located in Virgin Bay, which is home to many marine mammals, including Sea Otters and Harbor Seals, as well as numerous bird and duck species.

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A day trip from the lodge, The face of the iconic Columbia Glacier

Thanks for checking this out. Stay connected @ileneinakayak See you next time!

HIKING THE VELEBIT MOUNTAINS OF CROATIA: The Perfect Accompaniment to Paddling the Northern Dalmatian Coast

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Perfect day for hiking in the Velebit Mountains, Paklenica National Park, Croatia

*If you’re reading this in your email, it looks far better on my website.*

Hola! Although I’m amidst the current sea kayaking season in Panama, my sights are set ahead on an exciting offering in Croatia, June 1-9, 2019. Some of you know that I completed an exploratory trip to Croatia in October 2018. After that trip the deal was sealed, and I’m excited to return in June as a guide in collaboration with Venture Outside to share the tranquility, adventure, and beauty of Croatian coast and mountains. Check out part one of this blog about sea kayaking in the Adriatic Sea in Northern Dalmatia. Enjoy:)

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Velebit Mountains, Paklenica National Park, Croatia

*The trip that I completed with a friend in October was so wonderful that this upcoming trip in June is almost identical. No use in changing something that’s already amazing! This blog highlights two days of hiking in Paklenica National Park, which is included in my 9-day June Kayak/Bike/Hike Croatia trip.*

Croatia Trip Part Two: After 4 days of spectacular sea kayaking in the Adriatic Sea off the Northern Dalmatian Coast, we transferred to the Velebit Mountains and Paklenica National Park, which lies about 47km northeast from Zadar. A beautiful coastal city in North Dalmatia famous for its Old Town, Zadar is completely pedestrianized and chock-full of fascinating history. Don’t miss sampling delicious local food (like octopus salad and cuttlefish risotto) and a visit to the Sea Organ. Oh, how I loved the Sea Organ! This cleverly engineered musical instrument was designed to allow water and air to flow through resonant chambers and to be pushed out through channels on stairs that you can walk on. The undulating sounds created by the energy of waves and tide are spectacular. So loved is the Sea Organ that the Croatian architect who designed it, Nikola Bašić, received the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2006, as the best among 207 candidate projects from across Europe.

I don’t know about you, but when I travel to a new place I purposefully avoid looking at too many photos beforehand. I enjoy being surprised by new surroundings. The Velebit mountains and Paklenica National Park were worth seeing for the first time in person! Prior to this trip I was unaware that Croatia had such rugged mountains.

Background Info: Paklenica National Park covers an area of 59 sq. miles (95 km) and is located on the southern slopes of the Velebit mountains, which is the largest mountain range in Croatia and part of the Dinaric Alps. Famous for hiking, the park was established in 1949, mainly to protect  the largest and best preserved forest ecosystem in Dalmatia against exploitation. The name Paklenica likely comes from black pine sap called “paklina”, which locals used in traditional medicine for wound treatment, as well as coating wooden boats. Interesting.

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Enjoying the view in the Velebit Mountains, Paklenica National Park

The topography of the region is known as karst, which results from the excavating effects of underground water on underlying soluble rock, such as limestone, gypsum, and dolomite. The resulting landscape consists of features like caves, sinkholes, underground rivers, and barren, rocky ground. Combine expansive views of the Adriatic Sea on one side and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other with dramatic sculpted cliffs, wooded valleys, and mountain meadows, and you get a world class hiking destination. The area is also rich in flora and fauna, home to numerous endemic species. In 1978 the entire Velebit range was included in the world network of biosphere reserves within the UNESCO program of Man and the Biosphere.

Upon entering Paklenica National Park, we passed what is considered to be one of Europe’s most famous climbing areas. With light packs we hiked gradually uphill to a mountain hut, our home for the next 2 nights. As a kayaker, I don’t spend too much time carrying things on my back nor using my legs to propel me forward. However, it was a wonderful challenge and change from the previous days of paddling. Spectacular views, excellent food, and lively conversation were the theme at the mountain hut.

Upon arrival the hut caretaker cheerfully greeted us with a shot of “medicine”. I admit that I don’t remember what it was, nor was I totally confident that I ever knew; all I can say is that it burned on the way down. We were also served plates of steaming burek. I could write an entire blog about burek, as I sampled plenty of it in Croatia, however someone else more knowledgeable already has, and it’s worth reading here. Basically, burek is a baked pastry made of thin flaky dough, filled with meat or cheese. . and it’s damn delicious!

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Burek and a shot of “medicine” upon arrival at the mountain hut

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Summit Pic! Vaganski Vrh 5764ft

Vaganski Vrh Summit Day: Early to bed, early to rise. A gorgeous and challenging-at-times (also flat-at-times) hike brought us through Beech, Black and Mountain Pine forests, where we enjoyed forest bathing (never heard of it? It’s pretty cool, google it!) and mountain meadows. At one such meadow we arrived at the exact moment when the sun began to burn off the morning dew, creating a mesmerizing effect. A few hours and many snack breaks later we were standing on Vaganski Vrh, the highest peak in the entire Velebit mountain range at 5,764 ft (1,757m). What a magnificent blue-sky sunny day. I had no idea the views would be so vast and spectacular! We could see to the Adriatic Sea on one side and to Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other side. Maybe I ought to hike more often. As much as I love sea kayaking, it’s pretty difficult to get summit views at altitude from your kayak!

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Hiking in Paklenica National Park

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Hiking in Paklenica National Park

That about wraps it up for now. The best way to explore the Northern Dalmatian coast is in a sea kayak, and the best way to explore the Velebit mountains and Paklenica National Park is hiking! Amazing views, fresh air, great climate, delicious food, and always something exciting to discover around the next corner. If your senses have been piqued by Croatia I invite you to join me in June. Contact me!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more blogs about Croatia, Panama, and Alaska, where you can join me for sea kayaking, yoga, and cultural adventures. It’s not too early to start planning your summer holiday in Alaska. Stay connected and follow me on Instagram @ileneinakayak

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Summer in Alaska awaits, Meares Glacier, Prince William Sound

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM ONE “YAKKER” TO ANOTHER

Greetings and happy holidays from sunny Panama! It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog. I’ve been relishing the heat in Panama for nearly a month and have enjoyed many sea kayaking trips already. One in Guna Yala (aka San Blas) on the Caribbean and most recently a trip to Isla Coiba National Park on the Pacific.

 

Keep your eyes out for upcoming blogs about travel and kayaking in Panama, as well as sea kayaking trips in Croatia and Alaska! For now I’d love to share with you an interview that I had the pleasure of conducting over cyberspace with a fellow kayaker and nature-lover. His name is Donald Yackel, and although I haven’t had the pleasure of paddling with him personally (maybe some day!), his passion and respect for kayaking, water and the natural environment are evident in his book The Idling Bulldozer and Other Paddling Adventures. Check it out here. My curiosity was piqued by someone who loves paddling so much that he wrote a book about his adventures! Even more so when I read in his bio that “along the way he built a sailboat and a kayak, before learning that his great, great, grandfather was a boat builder too, who built boats and barges for the Erie Canal.” Pretty cool, eh? Without further ado I present to you Don Yackel.

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Don on Lake George, New York


1) What’s your first memory in a kayak?

I have an old memory of riding in a neighbor’s Klepper folding
kayak that had been converted to sail. That was a long time ago when I
was about six. My first real experience with kayaking came in 1995
when, on a lark, Lisa and I registered for a three day wilderness
kayaking trip off the coast of Maine. We had never been in a kayak
before. We paddled from Castine, camping on two different offshore
islands before ending our trip in Bar Harbor. Our group consisted of an
older couple of experienced paddlers and our guide. We paddled 21
foot fiberglass Wilderness Systems tandem cockpit boats. They were
big, stable and very heavy. We were obviously novice paddlers, only
using our arms and chest muscles on those 10 and 15 mile passages on
the ocean. We hurt a lot, but we loved it and the whole experience. We
haven’t been interested in another type of boat since.

2) What is it about kayaking that keeps you coming back for more? How
long do you plan to continue kayaking for?

I love the feeling of wilderness and the experience of living in the
outdoors, of having to accommodate nature’s many moods both benign
and difficult, with everything in between. I love the way a kayak
connects you to the water, the way it becomes a part of your body when
you paddle. I love the close connection with wildlife, a connection that is
usually impossible in bigger, noisier, less maneuverable craft. I’ll be
seventy-six in February. I recently completed a 15 day trip to Mexico,
ten of those days paddling along the wild shore of the Baja peninsula
between Loreto and La Paz. It was a wonderful experience, and will be
featured in my next book. I had no problems paddling long distances,
sometimes in very rough conditions, so I guess I’ll keep paddling and camping until I no longer can. I have paddled on trips with a handful of
people, men and women, in their eighties, so that’s my goal.

Don on a spoil island in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

Don on the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

4) How do you think your life would be different if you hadn’t found a
passion for kayaking?

Well, I’ve always had a passion for the water and boats. I explain this a
little in my book The Idling Bulldozer, noting that I was born under the
water sign, Aquarius. I go into this in much greater detail in the opening
chapter of my next book. So, if it wasn’t kayaking, it would probably be
something else like sailing or canoeing. Kayaking however has inspired
me to write about my experiences, to create a website (www.yackman.com)
where I can share my adventures on the water, and the people I meet
there. I have maintained the site for over ten years now. Many of the
stories in my current book are based on postings on the site.

5) What inspires you to write about your kayaking adventures?

I seem to have a need to tell (retell, summarize, etc.) the story of my
adventures. I don’t do too many day paddles anymore, preferring longer
multi-day trips as the way to experience wilderness and the closeness to
nature that I seek. Sometimes I think I need to tell the story of these
trips so that I understand them better, so that I come to terms with what
ever happened or whoever I met and paddled with. In the end, I write for
myself, because I can never be sure that anyone will ever read my
stories. But on some level it doesn’t matter, because years after the
event, I can re-read the stories and relive the experiences again and
again.

Arbuckle Creek, Florida

Arbuckle Creek, Florida

6) What is your most memorable “oh shit!” or “that was close!” moment in
a kayak?

That’s a great question, one that’s fun to contemplate. My “oh shit”
moments are mostly connected to inconvenience. Like the time I got
into camp on an isolated island in an Adirondack Mountain lake at the
start of a three day trip, only to find that I had left my dry shoes behind,
leaving only my wet neoprene booties (They never dry out. I got rid of
them long ago), or my bare feet to hike in. Or the several times I’ve
started a long trip only to find that my expensive air mattress was
leaking, leaving me to re-inflate the thing several times each night or
sleep on what ever surface was available (at least one of these incidents
was mentioned in my book).
My “that was close” moments have come mostly while paddling in heavy
weather on big lakes or salt water. More than once I’ve come close to
taking a swim in rough conditions, only to be saved by a timely brace, a
hip snap, luck, or a combination of these. The most memorable of these
events came on the sea off the Florida Keys, in the winding narrows of
the Sagunay Fjord in Quebec, and most recently, in six foot breaking
waves on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. But my favorite “oh shit, that was
close” moment came when a beluga whale quietly surfaced just out-of-sight
behind my left shoulder and exhaled. I believe I actually said, “Oh shit!
That was close!”.

7) Where would you kayak if you were given the option for a trip
anywhere in the world? Why?

Well, the trip that had been on my bucket list for some time was the
paddle from Loreto to La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, along Baja, California
in Mexico, that I completed last April. Lisa and I had base camp paddled
from Espiritu Santo Island fourteen years ago and I had been coveting
this trip ever since. I never thought I’d get back there, but Lisa gave me
the trip for my 75th birthday. It was a wonderful gift. That being said, I suppose I’m always looking forward to my next trip. I paddle the Perdido
River that rises in Florida and enters the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama in
March. I’m also investigating trips in Cuba and Portugal. I don’t know
just which trip will develop, but they both sound like interesting
adventures. I guess I’d be open to paddling anywhere in the world.
However, I don’t really want to paddle in Greenland or Iceland. The
paddling looks intriguing, but it’s just too cold for this Florida boy.

St. Sebastian River

St. Sebastian River, Florida

8) If you had to be stuck in a tandem kayak with anyone (dead or alive)
for a 20-mile crossing, who would it be? Why?

Well, I suppose I should come up with someone famous, Teddy Roosevelt
for instance. But while Teddy might be interesting, my guess is that he
might be a little overbearing. Besides, my experience on a long paddle,
especially in a tandem, is that there isn’t much time for “getting to know
you”. You need to paddle, communicate about what you’re doing, and
maintain a consistent paddling rhythm. This speaks more to experience
and compatibility than to exploring new relationships. That being said,
I’d first choose my wife Lisa. Even though tandems have been derisively
called “divorce boats”, we have always been able to establish and
maintain a good paddling pattern in a tandem. If the pace were relaxed
enough and we could take breaks, she could probably do it, but 20 miles
is a lot of distance for her.
My second choice would be my buddy, Bruce Romanchak. Bruce and I
have completed more trips together than I can count. Our paddling
pace, rhythm, and stamina are similar. However, we have never paddled
in a tandem boat before, and since Bruce does better when he is in
charge (or thinks he is), he would have to occupy the rear cockpit unless
I could convince him to switch off from time to time. Of course, if given
the choice, I’d really rather paddle my own boat.

9) Could please share more about the story of your great, great
grandfather who was also a boat builder?

John Vermilyea (the boat builder) was one of a long line of Vermilyeas
connected to my mother’s side of the family. The original Vermilyea,
Johannas, immigrated to New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) in 1662.
While it’s not clear in the information I have, John Vermilyea may have
been the grandson of William Vermilyea, a Revolutionary War soldier
who died at an advanced age in 1851.
John (the boat builder) was born in 1830 in the town of Mohawk on the
Mohawk River in New York State, about half way between Cohoes, near
Albany, and Oneida Lake. He died one month shy of his eighty-seventh
birthday in Lenox, NY. Lenox is along the route of the Original (1817-
1825) and widened (1835-1862) Erie Canal, and is very near the
southeast end of Oneida Lake. His death certificate lists his occupation
as “boat builder”. My sister who researched all of this said he built
“boats” a.k.a. barges for the Erie Canal and lived, at least for some time,
on Oneida Lake.
My connection to John is through my love of the water and boats, the
many summers I spent on Oneida lake, my travels on the Erie/Barge
Canal, and the fact that I have also been a boat builder, building both a
small sailboat and a beautiful wood/fiberglass kayak. Though I can only
know him through the few official documents my sister collected, I still
wonder if there is something in the genes; a love of the outdoors, of
water, and boating, that we share.


I hope that you have enjoyed meeting Don Yackel as much as I have. It’s always fun to learn about the adventures of fellow paddlers who respect and seek inspiration from nature. Maybe it has inspired you to write about your own experiences.

 

 

KAYAKING THE NORTHERN DALMATIAN COAST OF CROATIA: A Dreamy Destination

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Amazed at our dreamy paddling conditions near Molat, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

I’m back from a brief hiatus; a whirlwind of travel, family, friends, and new experiences this past month. It’s been a while since I’ve done any writing. Here’s what I’ve been up to (instead of writing blogs):

  • Wrapped up my 7th season kayak guiding with Anadyr Adventures in Valdez, Alaska. Woohoo!
  • Went sea kayaking and hiking in Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan (on lake Superior) for the first time. Get excited for an upcoming blog about what this adventure-filled area has to offer, highlighting the awesome Keweenaw Adventure Company.
  • Enjoyed some family time (and Asian food) in my hometown of Philadelphia
  • Completed a 3-week exploratory trip to Croatia and Slovenia, including sea kayaking off the Northern Dalmatian coast (read on), hosted by Malik Adventures, with whom I am excited to collaborate to offer a Sea Kayaking & Multisport Trip in Croatia this May (will include biking, hiking, probably SUP & Yoga). More on that at the end of this blog.
  • I’m currently watching 3 dogs and 4 cats in Vermont for a few weeks before I thaw out in . . . PANAMA!

On with the show! Croatia and the dreamy Dalmatian Coast

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The northwestern tip of Dugi otok, Northern Dalmatian coast, Croatia

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We spent a few hours relaxing on the limestone rocks, near Molat, Croatia

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Those sunsets!

It’s hard to put into words such a recent experience that has had a profound impact on me. One word: MESMERIZING. (Which, according to the dictionary means hypnotizing, spellbinding, fascinating. . . yes, yes, and yes!) Everything about sea kayaking in the Adriatic Sea mesmerized me. The intricate design of the limestone, the subtle patterns on the water driven by different winds (yes, there are 8 wind words based on the direction from where it’s coming. . How neat is that?!), walking through fields of rosemary, colorful roses outside of every house, the sight of bees pollinating flowers, and those sunsets, oh my god! those sunsets.  They’re in a whole other league of sunsets. Best part: they happened every single night!

 

Our Trip

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Kayaking with good friends, Croatia

After our first couple days exploring Dubrovnik, my friend and I took a 55-minute ferry from Zadar, which is a beautiful city on the Dalmatian coast (worth a visit), to an island called Molat, where we were warmly welcomed by Marko Mrše. Our guide, new friend, and now collaborator for my upcoming Kayak & Multisport trip Croatia, is the founder of Malik Adventures, a wonderful company that offers multi-day and multi-sport (sea kayaking, SUP, yoga, hiking, biking, & even ski touring in the Slovenian Alps) adventures in the Northern Dalmatia archipelago. Marko is a living representation of Malik’s mission: to discover and get inspired by nature, adventure and culture. And that we did! We spent 6 inspiring and adventure-filled days with Marko; 4 on Molat and 2 hiking in Paklenica National Park. *This blog focuses on kayaking in Molat. Stay tuned for my next blog highlighting the incredibly scenic Paklenica N.P. and the mountain hut where we stayed.*

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Sparkly surroundings near Molat, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

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Hiking in Paklenica National Park, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

As a kayak guide I have not too often had the privilege of going on a guided trip as a client. After this experience, I could get used to it:) Truth be told, I wasn’t a full-on client. The purpose of my Croatian journey this past October was to experience the trip so that I can guide here in the future. Marko regaled us with stories of visiting these islands as a child, invoking our curiosity by painting a picture of how these places have changed.  This was not simply a mundane “paddle from A to B, then from B to C” type of trip. This was a full experience, enriched with the fascinating history of the area, the delicious local foods we got to taste, and the self-discovery that accompanies any true adventure. This is the type of destination that you truly feel each trip is unique, offering to guests what they are seeking, even if that is unknown to them.

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Croatia’s spectacular crystalline coastline (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

 

On Molat we stayed in a lovely apartment owned by a local family (a welcome change from my usual camping and hammocking in Panama and Alaska) and had delicious multi-course meals served to us, using local ingredients for the yummy honeys, jams and fruits at breakfast. Dinner always included a stout aperitif homemade from local herbs. Definitely got the job done of whetting our appetites for the amazing meals showcasing local seafood, such as cuttlefish, squid and octopus (I’ve got a thing for Cephalopods). I must say how impressed I was with this Croatian cuisine, and I have pretty high standards when it comes to local cuisines:) Fun fact: “Molat” comes from the Greek word mellitus, meaning “tastes like honey”, which is also the name of Marko’s wife (& Malik co-owner), Ivana’s line of natural body products (Mellitus) that she was so kind to give us samples of her face cream and lip balm that I am still enjoying. It’s a very fitting name, as honey and honey-scented products are very prominent in Croatia. Bring back those bees!

 

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Falling in love with the Greenland-style paddle and the Croatian coastline, Ist

 

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Fishing boat near Molat, Croatia (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

What was the coolest paddle, you ask?

No need for me to think about this too hard. Paddling into a submarine cave was definitely a highlight, and something that I can’t say I’ve ever done before. Croatia was part of former Yugoslavia, and there exists fascinating relics all over the place as a nod to the country’s military past, some of which Marko introduced us to. The layout of the islands created strategic hiding places to house submarines, tunnels, bunkers, and barracks. What a cool place to kayak!

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Mesmerized by a submarine cave (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

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From our bike ride across Molat

In addition to the dreamy kayaking we also worked our legs biking and hiking. It is a magnificent 9km bike ride from one end of the island to the other. From the community of Molat the road takes you through another community called Brgulje, then on to Zapuntel at the other end. I delighted in passing through these small villages, resplendent in color from flowers and gardens. From there we paddled to another island called Ist, where we hiked up to a beautiful white church to earn spectacular views of the surrounding islands.

Inspired to Join me in Croatia?

Croatia is gaining momentum as a destination to experience adventure, culture and nature. It certainly piqued my senses, with its tastes, scents, history, and culture. As you can see from my photos it also offers world-class paddling and hiking. If this blog has enticed you in any way to add Croatia to your “next up” destination, please consider joining my upcoming all-inclusive 9-day trip and experience the magic (and sunsets) of Croatia for yourself. Along with the exciting collaboration with Malik Adventures, I am also thrilled to team up with another exceptional adventure company called Venture Outside in offering this Croatia trip. Contact me! Also find me on Facebook and Instagram @ileneinakayak

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Stay tuned for my next blog highlighting the hiking in Paklenica National Park       (Photo: Marko Mrše, Malik Adventures)

Upcoming Panama Trip Plug:

Before Croatia calls me back, I will be spending the next 5 months guiding kayaking trips on both the Caribbean (in the San Blas Islands, aka Guna Yala) and the Pacific (Isla Coiba National Park) of Panama. For those yoga and kayaking lovers I am excited to join yoga instructor, Leigh Lubin to offer our second annual unique all-inclusive 9-day Yoga/Kayak Retreat that explores both coasts of Panama. Check it out here for more info. I’m biased. . . but it’s an amazing trip that we’re really excited about! We are now extending the following discount:

  • If you sign up with two other people, you get a 50% discount
  • If you sign up with three other people, you only pay $1,000 (an incredible deal!)

Parting Croatia Pics: