A pair of sea kayaks prepare to play the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park earlier this summer. (Photo by Kat Sorensen)

Tangled up in blue: A tourist in your own town

There are four negative reviews for Kenai Fjords National Park on TripAdvisor.

The first is a reviewer from New Zealand. The title of the one-star review is “AMAZING!” So I think there may have been a miscommunication between the hemispheres.

The other three negative reviews raise complaints about not seeing whales and seasickness, with BrianTheTraveler77 claiming his day in the Kenai Fjords National Park was five hours of his life that he’ll never get back.

“I can only assume that the others who wrote glowing reviews for this would be excited at watching grass grow,” he continued.

Well, BrianTheTraveler77, I’ve never been one to keep tabs on the height of grasses but I would like to write a glowing review for Kenai Fjords National Park.

Reviewed June 14, 2018 – FIVE STARS

When the lunge-feeding humpback broke the surface of Resurrection Bay to gobble up a hooligan-rich breakfast just yards away from the boat, I thought I might lose my cool. Moments later, the mountainous whale resurfaced on the opposite side of the stern, showing and splashing its fluke before diving down deep after another shoal of prey.

“Oh my gosh,” I yelped, before apologizing to the rest of the boat’s passengers, including two tourists from the Bay Area of California, a seasoned kayaking guide and the boat’s captain, a lifelong Sewardite. “I’m going full tourist today,” I said.

In the time since I’ve moved from New Jersey to Soldotna and, now, to Seward, I’ve found myself immersed in adventures at the summits of mountains or along the banks of rivers, but most of those have been planned with a shoestring budget and limited by the distance my legs, skis or 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee could get me.

My trip throughout Kenai Fjords National Park was different. I had the opportunity to travel farther than I ever had before on the boat, and then go even farther than that via kayak. I knew it was going to be a great day, but I thought I could keep it together.

I was wrong.

After Resurrection Bay finished showing off, we traveled throughout the Kenai Fjords.

If we were playing national park tour Bingo, I would have been stamping squares left and right. But instead of calling out as a winner, I yelped with excitement each time I saw something I didn’t even know I wanted to see, like a mountain goat and its baby scaling the ragged sides of a steep cliff.

Or a flock of puffins skimming the surface of the sea. Or an eagle zooming past with a bounty of fish clenched in its talons. Or, like I told everyone in line at the grocery store after the trip, a black bear munching on a beached whale carcass. I repeat, I saw a black bear feasting on a beached whale carcass in the Holgate Arm.

The bear was having a good day, but I know I was having a better one.

After miles of travel, we found ourselves on a rocky beach just a kayak trip away from Holgate Glacier. I landed in the front of a kayak with Brooke, who has guided along the coasts of Alaska, the San Juan Islands and Antartica. She even, as I learned while trying to put in my fair share of paddling, traveled Alaska’s Inside Passage in her kayak, camping all along the way.

The magnanimous land treated me well during the trip, but traveling with a knowledgeable person turns a day of exploration into a learning experience.

While dipping my paddle into the slushy water extending far into the bay from Holgate Glacier, Brooke explained the nuances of the landscape we were exploring. From sea stars to katabatic winds to the thunderous calvings, I got a crash course in ecology, meteorology and glaciology.

And on top of all that, on the boat ride home, as I struggled to keep my eyes open after a long day of looking and learning, an orca whale and her calf swam majestically through the calm seas, their black fins piercing the surface of the water just often enough to remind us they were there.

So, I’ll submit this five-star review of Kenai Fjords National Park, but I promise there’s a point besides proving those four negative reviews wrong.

Before heading out on the boat that morning, I kept my expectations low. I was just looking forward to spending the day on a boat in the rare Seward sunshine, maybe watching some grass grow or the glacier recede. But, the park decided to pull out all the stops that day and I quickly learned that being a tourist in your own town can be a wonderful thing. You get to see and learn about the intricacies of the land that surrounds you.

And, on some rare occasions, you get to see a bear eating a whale.

Kat Sorensen lives in Seward, writes a freelance column for the Clarion once every two weeks, and is working with the guiding company Liquid Adventures, with which she was able to take the trip mentioned. She can be reached at katsorensen.nj@gmail.com.

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