Inian Islands, Alaska 2015

With the sun warming us as we paddled on our last morning at Point Adolphus a plan was hatched to jump off the boat and into Icy Strait. Ten years ago I would have demurred but in my live-with-no-regrets mantra for my 40s (which might also be construed as a mid-life crisis and desire not to let the 20-something guides out do me), I found myself standing on thebow of Keith's boat and leaping into the crystal clear water before I could rethink this plan. Having refused to take the swimming test at camp in the San Juans as a child because I don't like swimming in cold water, this was a particularly odd decision. But where the swimming test was just a never ending drudgery, jumping in to Icy Strait felt like a celebration of all the joy we've found in this place. It also taught me all I ever need to know about my husband and my marriage. He let me indulge my crazy impulse and then he put his hand out and pulled me back into the boat (which was especially helpful as there was more current than I expected). With thatlast act, we waved good-bye to Point Adolphus and our wonderful camp on the point of Pinta Cove and headed to the Inian Islands and the outer coast. When Stephen suggested that we spend two nights at The Hobbit Hole Lodge it seemed the perfect solution to having the trip we wanted without forcing my parents to camp for four nights. We would get to see a different part of the area heading out to the outer coast and everyone could have a soft bed for a couple of nights. Just as the passage to the outer coast came into view, Keith turned out of the strait and into a quiet cluster of islands. There was a floating dock in front of us but it wasn't clear where exactly we were headed. A slight turn and an entrance to a cover that hadn't been visible before appeared and we entered the magic of The Hobbit Hole. If you close your eyes and think of what the perfect wilderness retreat would be, you might come close to imagining it - a peaceful cove to protect youfrom the widest weather, water deep enough to moor your boat, a cosy complex of houses to shelter you, tall trees providing cover and soaring beauty, a vegetable garden for food and a lovely garden to relax at the end of a long day. The Tolkien quote from the beginning of The Hobbit was perfect, "it was a hobbit-hole and that means comfort".

Far from a compromise to keep everyone happy, it was clear that this was going to be a very special part of the trip. Jane and the dogs came down to meet us on the dock (Walter the cat put in an appearance a bit later). The guest house was warm and inviting and there were cold beers waiting for us in the stream. Time to clean up and shower after camping was much appreciated but Hamish soon had everyone back on their feet to go play volleyball in the garden. Dinner was a beautifully barbecued salmon, fresh bread, and beautiful salads from the garden. Dessert was Rhubarb Crumble and rich homemade ice cream. I'm not sure Greg expected to be peppered with technical questions about the electrical system from all of the mechanically minded engineers at the table but he was a good sport about it. As a family, we all begin our recitation about where we're from with a laugh as it some times sounds more like we are describing the formation of the UN or some global logistics company but it fit right into the conversation about how Jane and Greg ended up in this magical spot.

Hamish and Iain managed to sneak the last of the rhubarb crumble onto their breakfast plates of homemade granola and yogurt. Just as well as the morning paddle through Mosquito Pass and part way around the island was the longest they have ever done, both in mileage and time. The water was once again mirror calm and wisps of fog hung over the tops of the islands. A few of the sea lions hauled out on one of the beaches came to check us out. Once one or two popped up, the group grew and it felt as though the praetorian guard was escorting us through the pass. One of them swam next to us and popped his head out while swimming on his back with his teeth bared startling a surprised yelp from me. A sea otter swam by. A lone humpback was crossing the strait. We had a little fast water to play in around the headland but stayed in the quiet waters immediately inshore.

While the boys and my parents opted for a walk around the cove and over a small headland to Magic Beach, Peter and I opted for the scramble through the trees toward the 1200' top of the island. My fitbit clocked it at 2.5 miles and 52 flights of stairs. We reached the false summit but as the path to the top required hacking through Alders, we stopped just shy of the peak. The fog was good enough to break enough for us to have some great views down to Icy Strait. Peter, Iain and I had a final paddle with Jessi the opposite direction from the day before. We didn't quite complete a circumnavigation of the island but we gave it a good shot. The calm weather meant Icy Strait didn't feel too wild and wooly but I can see how with the current running and waves it would be a little too exciting for my current fitness level. Fabulous paddle around to a rocky beach where we had a last cup of hot cider before paddling back and packing up. Meanwhile, Hamish finished his book, Dad did some fishing and Geda had been in the kitchen with Jane exchanging recipes. Jane's "almost no knead bread" became a morning staple as soon as we got back to the beach (though I've yet to attempt it in the Aga at home). All too soon it was timeto load everything up on the boats and head back to Gustavus then Juneau