So looking out at endless fog and icebergs was sending tremors down my spine, even from the safety of the shore.
I was about to experience stand up paddle boarding (SUP) for the first time, and the pictures I'd seen of bronzed beach bodies, azure seas and tropical climes, seemed a world away. This was Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, where the steely northern Pacific meets the half-frozen land. Separated from the sea by a spit of glacial deposit is a five-mile-long lagoon into which the mighty Bear Glacier calves and crumbles, giving birth to gigantic icebergs which float around the still waters until they melt away.
I wriggled into my GORE-TEX Pro dry suit and prepared myself for a completely new, albeit exciting excursion. As I pushed away from shore on what amounts to an inflatable raft, I wasn't filled with confidence. This was the wildest place I'd ever seen, complete with freezing waters, warehouse-sized icebergs, and an impenetrable bank of low cloud hanging ominously overhead—not exactly ideal conditions to learn a new sport. Miles from the town of Seward—my base for this trip—and with no living thing in sight save a lone bald eagle perched on a berg, the dangers seemed very real and the consequences, dire.
I'd arrived with a small group from Liquid Adventures, who provided the board gear and the guiding. Though none of us had SUP'ed before, in general we found the paddling to be easy, helped as we were by the glassy-still waters of the lagoon and the improbable stability of the board. I was on my feet within minutes, and my fear of falling into the water disappeared soon after.
The vulnerability I felt was humbling, but I soon lost that edge of panic. The pace of the paddle board made it a vehicle sympathetic to its surroundings, which in turn made for a very contemplative way to experience this environment. Surfer Tom Blake described the outdoors as our "Church of the Open Sky" and this was quickly turning into a divine experience.
Surfer Tom Blake described the outdoors as our 'Church of the Open Sky' and this was quickly turning into a divine experience."
I lost myself in the wonder of the experience, marveling at the scale of the icebergs and the intricacy of their shape. With each passing stroke of my paddle, the intimidation factor gave way to hypnotic delight. I felt cosseted by the low cloud, and comforted by being cut off from everything outside my immediate surroundings. I simply let the serenity of it all wash over me.
Our entire group passed within 10 meters of the aforementioned bald eagle, and he barely gave us a second glance. I'd become a part of the environment, connected to it, leaving no trace. And as if I truly belonged there, I hadn't even felt the cold.