A whale of a time

In recent posts, I’ve talked about Gitte and Jill, both who inspired me by the choices they made about how they are living their lives. The subject of career choices comes up frequently in conversations I have with my work but I didn’t really expect this to be one of the main themes that resonated with me from my vacation.

While Grace was back in New Hampshire, sunning herself in a friend’s back yard and being entertained by chipmunks, Pete and I were exploring Alaska’s Inside Passage. One of main things that drew us to Alaska was the idea of the landscape and wildlife, so it was our hope to get out and experience it as much as possible. We enjoy kayaking here at home and felt like it would be a fitting way to see the coast there.

Before our trip, we would check the weather and this is what we saw, so we weren’t expecting the gorgeous sunny we had. At the time, we didn’t realize this was the normal weather pattern. But once there, we heard that between May and September, there had been 14 sunny days. And we were there for the 14th!

When you arrive in downtown Ketchikan, there is an enormous “Liquid Sunshine Gauge” which announces the propensity for rainfall in the area. Their typical annual rainfall measures an average of 12 ½ feet! So far this year, they have received about 100” inches. So when Greg of Southeast Sea Kayakspicked us up for an afternoon of kayaking, he quickly remarked at the day’s sunny weather.

As Greg introduced us to our guide, Robert, we immediately felt his friendly and confident demeanor. He was entertaining and informative as he gave us a quick overview of paddling do’s and don’ts, then he helped us ease our way into a tandem boat. After instructing us how to steer the tandem with our feet to turn the rudder (instead of our oars as we normally do with our single kayaks), we headed out to a quaint cove to start our journey. We paddled for several hours together, just the three of us, exploring nooks and crannies, learning about the tides, the winds, the centuries-old markings on stone, stories of the native birds and the shy group of seals who watched us tentatively nearby. Robert taught us about the bull kelp, which I thought was a rubber hose but I learned it’s the fastest growing seaweed in the ocean.

As we meandered and talked, the breaching of a humpback whale immediately got our attention. This handsome and enormous animal had joined our threesome and delighted us with his eating and swimming nearby. Very nearby. Robert was instrumental in helping us be a witness to this amazing animal, up close and personal – and safe for us and the whale.

Robert offered to take pictures of us; look closely and you can see the “blow” from the whale ahead of us

“Remember, we’re in 200 feet of water so he can come up anywhere,” Robert said to us. He directed us where to paddle so we’d have the best chance of visibility without disturbing the animal or upturning our kayak. Even though Pete and I have never been upside down in a kayak, we were both wondering if this might be a first. But neither of us was too worried. Totally mesmerized. Robert offered to take our camera and snap some pictures.

As we scanned the water for bubbles, a sign of his next upward breach in the water, Robert told us that one person had recently asked him if ever got tired of this. I knew what his response would be, which was basically, “Are you nuts? How could anyone get tired of this?”

Watch this incredible view of a humpback whale from our kayak!

That afternoon on the water was one of the most memorable days I will ever have. Yet the moment of the conversation that captured my attention with Robert happened almost as soon as we started. After the kayak-related necessities were out of the way, Robert had asked, “What do you do for work back home?” After we replied and we talked about our work for a few moments, he offered two words that spoke volumes: “I kayak.”

That short statement was followed by a gleeful laugh, one that told us he knew it might not sound too serious of a job, but it was an important job to him and he took it seriously – while having fun. His occupational announcement was matter-of-fact. It was what it was, and he was elated about it. That was what impressed me so much. He talked about taking a captain’s course and thinking about kayaking the Inside Passage; he knew he would be continuing to learn this craft. Far too often, I hear about people who turn away from their dreams and pursue things that they feel are more acceptable. Some are driven by financial needs, but those are self-imposed, too.

Here we had found another person who was pursuing his passion. Robert was combining his untold skills that involved knowledge of the sea with his ability to connect easily and comfortably with strangers who had come to witness this land.

How many times do we encourage someone (or even ourselves) to move up that proverbial corporate ladder to achieve professional success? Perhaps we get enticed to work in an industry that has more opportunities that what we really want to do, or offers larger paychecks, or we get motivated by an impressive sounding title, and that pushes us towards positions that aren’t really enticing to us but we feel compelled to them.

At the young age of 23, Robert had already figured that out. He was wise beyond his years when he said, “I kayak.”

Pete and I had a whale of a time in Ketchikan. Sharing waters with a humpback is something that I’ll never forget. Having Robert as a guide reminded me of the importance of doing what you love.

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6 comments

  1. didiwright says:

    What an adventure, Robin! Although I’m drawn to water like a duck, I’ve never been kayaking, so I really enjoy ‘living’ your adventure second-hand!
    One of the things that strike me the most is how many inspirational people – who have worked out who they are and what they want to do in life – you’ve met. I am impressed and inspired.

  2. Wow, I’ve been whale watching but that was in a big boat, not a kayak. What a wonderful, memorable experience for you:) You’ve met so many interesting people on your holiday. It’s great to read about them and be inspired, like Didi!

  3. One day I was in my kayak, paddling alone and watching an osprey. My attention wandered for a moment, and when I looked back, there was a big splash. I thought it was the osprey diving for a fish, but it never came back up. I’d heard they sometimes try to grab a fish that is too large and can drown, because they can’t let go. I sprinted over to where the splash had been. Imagine my surprise when the whale came up spouting next to me.

    I’d never been near a whale before, and was very scared and nervous at first. I eventually relaxed into the experience, and it was one of the most amazing days of my life. It would have made it much easier, and much less nerve racking if I had had someone like Robert with me. You were fortunate to have someone so competent yet friendly to guide you.

    • Wow, that does sound like an amazing adventure. I checked your blog and love the photos you have captured while kayaking. Amazing shots of the hawk with the octopus, and the seals are wonderful. It seems you love nature as much as I do. I feel we can learn alot from animals, in addition to admiring their beauty. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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