When Dogs Hitchhike

By 11 pm I was too tired to drive any further.  I saw a sign for a hiking trail an hour or so past Jasper and decided to sneak in to park my car and sleep there.  It was very dark.  No moon that night.  I began rummaging around the front seat trying to figure out where on earth I had left my headlamp when a noise became audible and began to grow louder.  It was coming closer.  It was coming towards me.  It almost sounded like a bell.   I held my breath and strained my ears.  Just as my fingers grasped the band of my headlamp the sound of a thud came from outside the car.  Something had rammed into the parked car.  I was in grizzly country . . .


It had been a week since I had left home.  3,000 miles down and 2,000 miles to go to Denali Park in Alaska for a winter job.  Every inch further north I went, I felt less and less sure about my decision.  Leaving family and friends on the east coast is always hard and leaving them for a job that will have me living outside in Alaska’s interior with temperatures down to 50 below to patrol Denali Park by dog team is probably crazy.  I noticed the job on a website called sleddogcentral.com.  I check the site a couple of times a month – mostly because I have been missing dog mushing.  I saw the description for the park job and couldn’t resist applying . . .

historical photo

Denali Park will turn 100 years old in 2017.  The sled-dog patrols are just as old and have changed little since 1917.  The rangers still deal with the awful cold, wild winds, navigating river ice and overflow, angry moose and storms.  The patrols last from one day up to six weeks, increasing in length throughout the winter as the dogs build up endurance.  The dogs help transport scientists doing research in the park as well as supplies for cabin building and restoration projects.  The dog trails can be used by winter recreationists to ski and snowshoe on.  The winter patrols also help deter illegal activities in the park.

park map

It sounded like a great adventure and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the 4 person team and began driving north a few weeks later.

. . .

Another thud against the car.  It’s gotta be a bear.  I turned on my head lamp and aimed it out the driver’s window.  It only illuminated empty space.  Shaken, I put my key back into the ignition and turned on the headlights ready to move forward.

A dog wearing a bear bell sat squarely in front of the car staring back at me.  He was maybe 55 pounds and had dark marble coloring and handsome eyes.  He was wearing a green backpack.  He ran over to the driver’s door and jumped up on the side.  I turned off the car and opened the door cautiously and found myself in the company of a very friendly kid.


There was one other car on the far side of the parking lot but no one was there.  The dog had no tag on his collar and his backpack contained a water bowl and three bags of kibble.  I gave him some of my water and some of the food in his bag and settled in for the night, deciding that I’d take him to the ranger station an hour or so drive down the road the next morning if his owners hadn’t materialized.

As I drifted off to sleep, I became increasingly certain that the dog had been trained as a decoy to lure in unsuspecting travelers as his owner, a clever axe murderer, waited in the trees.  Luckily, this turned out not to be the case.


In the morning, my new friend was still looking at me expectantly.  I invited him into the passenger seat and drove to the Mt. Robson Visitor Center.  He curled up and fell asleep immediately.  It was very nice to have company in the car for a few miles.  At the visitor center a very nice girl named Sarah took the dog in and recorded the information about where I had found him.  I called back to see what happened today.  It turned out that his owners had been hiking and the dog had gotten lost in all of his enthusiasm to run around.  The owners had continued to look for him out on the trail and camped out there overnight while he ran back to the parking lot.  They were very relieved to find him at the visitor center.



. . .



I probably should have researched my route through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory a little more thoroughly than just eye balling it on a terrible map and tracing it with my finger once.  I did not realize that I was heading straight for the Cassiar Highway – which apparently has a reputation of being worse than Alaska’s Dalton (ice road truckers) Highway – until I was sitting in a grocery store parking lot in Prince Rupert a few hours’ drive away.  Well, this will be an adventure, I thought.


I also didn’t realize that I was driving the “Highway of Tears”- an infamous area where 40 unsolved disappearances and murders of young women have occurred since 1969.  I was relieved to leave the Highway of Tears behind and made it to the Cassiar by dark.  I feel safer hiking alone in the backcountry than traveling alone in the front country.


The first sign I had seen with the word “Alaska” on it stood right there, so I knew I was heading in the right direction!  It was good to see.  I continued north for a few more hours.  The road was in very good condition.  I parked my car by a quiet lake just south of the Bell II River crossing.  I organized the back of my car for sleeping.  No mysterious creatures of the night jumped up on it this time.

There was a faint green band in the sky when I had parked the car and I was surprised when the color deepened and the lights began to dance around a few minutes later.  I could see them out of the car’s front window as I lay on my belly wrapped up in my sleeping bag.  There were even some darker pinks in the coloring.

It is good to be back in the north.

Women’s Dive Day

This weekend a geophysicist, a jellyfish venom expert, a doctor specializing in hyperbaric medicine, a professional photographer, a veteran Pacific Northwest Coast diver, a film crew, and a writer met at a marina just south of Seattle and set off into Puget Sound.  The skies were pure blue and the temperatures so warm, that all parties were eager to jump in the water.  It was Women’s Dive Day and what better way to celebrate?

George and Andrea from Ocean Quest took us to several snorkel/dive sites this weekend.  One with a great view of the Seattle skyline.

I was excited about the Sedna Epic Expedition before this trip, but meeting the team members in person, seeing how knowledgeable they are and the eagerness in their eyes brought the whole trip to life for me.

Caroline, Susan and Lisa!

We went snorkeling, diving, and learned to use Dive Xtras Piranha scooters.   This was all a blast and I felt like a kid again as I reeled around in circles, flying past pilings and practicing figure eights all while listening to my new friends laughing in delight as they swung around behind their own piranhas.

Susan and Lisa, the founders of “Synchronized Scootering”

The best part of the trip by far though, was meeting Susan, Angel, Caroline and Lisa all for the first time.  What incredible women.  I am just in awe of them.

Caroline, Lisa and Angel getting ready to head out into Puget Sound

Angel Yanagihara is a jellyfish venom expert.  After a nasty encounter with a box jellyfish while swimming in Waikiki, the biochemist began researching and developing a treatment.  After all of this experience, she was asked to accompany Diana Nyad on her legendary swim across the Florida Straits from Cuba to Key West.  Angel’s job was to swim along with Diana in the night to protect her from box jellyfish.  Click here to listen to a TED Talk Angel gave!

Caroline suited up and ready to go!

Caroline has recently returned from an archaeological expedition in Mongolia!  She is a doctor specializing in hyperbaric medicine and will be the expedition doctor in the Northwest Passage.  Among her other accomplishments, Caroline has dived and snorkeled all over the world including Antarctica and has trekked to base camp on Everest.

Lisa and Nick

Lisa is a professional photographer who is working to build awareness and create change to protect the Arctic through photography.  Lisa will be heading up to the Arctic this August on Sylvia Earle’s Expedition:  Elysium Artists for the Arctic.  Learn more and view her amazing images here!

Brad and Nick on our way to the first dive site

It was fun to meet Brad and Nick who filmed the adventure and let me pick their brains about camera equipment and past adventures.  Brad has already spent a lot of time in the far north filming Ice Pilots and is full of wild stories.

George, Susan and the Dive Xtra crew

And then of course there is Susan, the expedition leader, bringing all of these amazing people together from the far corners of the globe.  She came up with the idea to snorkel the Northwest Passage after hearing about a sailboat that made it through a couple of years ago.  Susan has explored the world’s oceans in the snorkel zone and has traveled to both the Arctic and Antarctica multiple times.  She is a geologist, geophysicist, conservationist and journalist.


I feel completely humbled to be a part of this team and am eager to learn everything I can.

With a group of such incredible women, amazing things are sure to be accomplished.  We are going to snorkel the 3,000 km Northwest Passage.  We are going to build a platform to speak about ocean and climate change.  We are going to work with the villages along the coast to learn more about how the environment is changing.  We are going build an educational outreach program.  We are going to inspire women and girls to think BIG.  We are going to do it!

Follow us on Sedna’s facebook page to watch as the progress continues.


Ocean Dive



At first I wanted to panic.

My world was reduced to the narrow corridor of vision that my mask allowed.  Visibility was only 10 feet and the bottom was far out of view.

If Mike, my dive instructor swam more than 8 feet away, I could barely see him.

We kept following the anchor line down into the gloom.

We were diving by Graves Light, the lighthouse that sits atop “the Graves” – the outermost island in Boston Harbor.  It had taken us 45 minutes to get there by boat from East Boston.  A beautiful trip that revealed a side of Boston I never knew existed.  I was excited for my first ocean dive.

It was a relief to finally reach the ocean floor at 45 feet and to be able to see more than foggy water.

We followed the floor, swimming parallel to the island.  The underwater world surprised me.  My initial moment of panic was quickly forgotten as we swam on.

There were giant, jungle gym rocks covered in plant life.  We swam in canyons between them and swooped next to overhangs, often finding lobsters hiding in the dark spaces between the rocks.

Mike picked a lobster up and handed it to me.  The creature, which was easily larger than both of my hands, sat for a moment and then propelled itself backwards, disappearing into the deep.

The following day we returned to the same spot and practiced the skills we had learned in the pool.  We reviewed how to clear a mask, retrieve a regulator and navigate at the ocean floor- an important thing to know when you can only see 10 feet!



The water temperature at the surface was 62 F and in the low 50s F near the bottom, but with my thick wet suit, hood, boots and gloves, I never was cold.

We returned to the docks at the end of the day and a little paperwork later, I was Open Water certified!

The other people heading out on the boat that day were diving for lobsters and came back to the boat with bags just bursting with them.

A big thanks to Boston Scuba!  For the fantastic class.

Open Water Certification


“I am learning to scuba dive for a vacation in Mexico.”

“I am taking this class so that I can dive during a trip to the Philippines.”

“My family goes to the Caribbean every winter, so I want to be able to dive there with my sister and Dad who are already certified.”

Everyone in my Open Water Course with Boston Scuba had exciting reasons to learn to dive and big plans to head to exotic, tropical locations for their check-out dives.  Most of them professed that they’d never want to swim, even in Boston’s water, because of the cold temperatures and limited visibility.


I was the last one reached in the circle as we went around explaining our reason for attending the introductory class, “I am learning to dive for a trip through the Northwest Passage,” I said and looked out into a room of surprised faces.


In order to prepare for the start of the Sedna Epic Expedition through the Northwest Passage next summer, I will be taking as many scuba diving classes as I can get my hands on.  The first course for beginners is the “Open Water Course,” which trains you in two classroom sessions, two confined water dives, and two open water dives.

At my Dad’s recommendation, the night before the class, I was careful to watch several episodes of “Sea Hunt” to supplement my education.

sea hunt

After a classroom session and a swim test to make sure we weren’t going to drown by accident while learning to scuba dive, our teacher had us assemble and disassemble our scuba gear several times for practice.  Finally, all sweating in our wet suits, we put on the full accouterments one last time.  The set ups weighed about forty pounds.

It was a relief to finally step into the pool water.


They say you will never forget your first breaths underwater.   Mine were in the pool of a Middle School in East Boston renowned for its “band aid fish” and underwater hairband collection.

We started by going through a handful of skills.  After practicing snorkel/regulator exchange and clearing out masks underwater, the teacher had us experiment with buoyancy until we all had achieved neutral buoyancy and were floating in the water, rising and falling with each breath.  It was incredible.

During our second day of confined water diving, we practiced cramp removal, the tired dive tow, getting into the water without the help of a ladder and a few other skills.


The Padi book we had all read in preparation for our Open Water Diving Certification had described Scuba Diving as being like flying.  I was skeptical.  I’ve been swimming before.  How different would this be?  But soon enough we were all swimming around like otters – floating upside down, flipping around, sitting cross legged, hovering in the middle of the pool – what fun they must have!


Next stop?  The ocean!

Sedna Epic Expedition

I was sitting on a plastic chair on the second floor of the Explorers Club in New York City when it happened.


The day had been filled to the brim with lectures, each one more fascinating than the last.  It was my second time visiting the Explorers Club, only having become a member last spring, and I still couldn’t believe the incredible people in the room.  Every person I met either held a record for the 7 summits, had jumped from space or sailed all of the seas using only the stars to navigate.  I felt out of my league and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a bouncer suddenly materialized to escort me off the premises.

“Wait.  You’ve never been to the moon?  Get out.”


Luckily that never happened and I was still in my seat for the second to last lecture given by Susan R. Eaton.  The title of the talk was “Snorkeling Census of Northern Water Biology.”


I did not suspect that my life was about to change.

Susan stood up and began speaking.  She spoke about a group of ten women scientists, explorers and divers that she led to the Arctic in 2014 on a “proof of concept expedition.”  Their ultimate goal is to snorkel the entire Northwest Passage in order to study and create a platform to speak about climate change, learn from and build an educational outreach program with Inuit and Inuvialuit villages along the way and inspire women and girls to “think big.”


The Northwest Passage is 3,000 km long, occupied by polar bears, Greenland sharks, walruses, narwhals, pack ice and unbelievable history.  The history of the incredibly tough and wise residents who figured out how to live in such extreme conditions, a history of Viking ships and wild polar expeditions, some of which still lie in the depths of the passage.

sedna map

I sat on the edge of my seat for the entire talk, eyes wide and heart beating fast.  What an idea!  What purpose!

Then the last slide appeared:

SusanThey were looking for more expedition members.

At this point, I was so far forward in my chair, that I was in very real danger of falling off.  My new friends, Steve and Paula Mae were sitting one row in front of me and looked back to say “that sounds right up your alley.”  I nodded, trying my best to remain composed and not leap out of my seat and disrupt the entire event to speak with Susan.

An all women team in the Arctic?  Working to study and speak about the future of the far north?  Working with Inuit and Inuvialuit communities?  Working to empower women and girls?  It wasn’t just the adventure that caught a hold of me, it was the fact that everything the group is working towards is so important to me.


There was one more lecture immediately after Susan’s- I have no memory of what it was about- all I could think of was the Northwest Passage.  After the last lecture, I went from room to crowded room of the Explorers Club looking for Susan, but had to leave to catch my train before I could find her.


I wrote down Susan’s name and the name of the expedition so that I wouldn’t forget.  Later I looked it up and quickly found the team’s website: http://www.sednaepic.com/

The more I read about the expedition, the more fascinated I became and I finally sent Susan an e-mail asking if there was any space for someone with my experience on the expedition.  I must be the luckiest girl in the world because there was and it looks like I am heading to Nunavut next summer with the most amazing group of women – technical divers, a biologist, an ecologist, a geoscientist, educators, a doctor, professional camera operators and photographers.  I am so thrilled to be a part of this important project and cannot wait to learn everything I can.

I grew up snorkeling in New Hampshire’s lakes, but have never been diving before and will be getting my certification to prepare for the expedition- which should be a great adventure in itself!

Check back here and follow Sedna’s facebook page to watch as the adventure unfolds!


Western Arctic

dec 25 011

When I close my eyes, I can trace Alaska’s western Arctic in my mind.  I know the major drainages by heart- a result of spending far too much time day dreaming over maps.


When I picture it, I always start at the Koyukuk- the first place I knew.  I see it reaching north, hands spread like arteries towards the divide and then diving south, south, south past those regal Endicott peaks and Phillip Smith Mountains, past my old haunts in Wiseman and Coldfoot, forks joining and then twisting all the way down to that bend around Koyukuk Mountain where the river meets the Yukon.

lower kobuk

Leaving the Koyukuk and traveling up the Alatna, you will find yourself nearing the Schwatka Mountains which feed the great Kobuk River.  The kind of healthy, clean river that has helped sustain entire villages for as long as anyone can remember.

pre road 3

A hop north from there lies the Noatak which swings west and then south, sharing the same terminus as its sister, the Kobuk, in Kobuk Lake at the Chukchi Sea.


Even further north is the mysterious Colville River which sweeps out from the DeLong Mountains west and then north to the Beaufort Sea.

I am beginning to understand where the road to Ambler would fall.   I hate to think of it, so sometimes I try not to.  I can barely look at its map to see how close the mine would come to Nakmaktuak Pass and places that I fell in love with during my time in the Brooks Range.  With funding cuts, the project isn’t moving forward as quickly but it is not over.


It was not more than a generation ago that wilderness conservationists were talking about keeping all of the land north of the Yukon River untouched by development.  There has already been so much compromise.  After another generation, what will be left?

“In response to people who say you can’t go back. Well, what happens when you get to the cliff?  Do you take one step forward or do you make a 180 degree turn and take . . . one step forward? Which way are you going? Which is progress?” – Tompkins

“The solution might be to turn around and take a forward step.” -Chouinard


On Foot Insoles

I remember playing barefoot one summer on my grandparent’s porch when I was a kid.  My Grampa, Alfred Gates, was sitting in his rocking chair reading a book.  He took one look at my bare feet, shook his head and said “Kristin.  You have Gates feet.”

Gates feet?

I didn’t know what that meant but my chest swelled with pride.  Gates feet!  I have Gates feet.  Feet like my Dad, feet like my cousins, feet like my Grampa!  Gates feet. 


Lots of “Gates Feet” on my Grandparent’s porch


I bragged about the finding to my Dad later that evening.

“Dad!  Grampa says I have Gates feet!” I confided excitedly.

“Hmmm.” My Dad looked thoughtful “I don’t know if Gates feet are a good thing.”

It turns out “Gates feet” aren’t the ideal pieces of equipment to work with.  Especially when you are a long distance hiker.  They are over-pronating, flat feet that are prone to a host of issues including tendonitis.


Over 12,000 miles of long distance hiking, I have had plenty of time to figure out how to keep my feet and legs happy.  I quickly discovered that I preferred trail runners over hiking boots but found that they didn’t always offer all of the support that I need with my over-pronating flat feet.

I have experimented with taping and a number of different insoles to help with this.  You can buy insoles at most stores that sell running or backpacking equipment and they are used in place of the more flexible insoles that come with the shoe.  Many of my friends like to use Superfeet, but I found that they didn’t fit my foot quite right.


I recently discovered FootBalance’s QuickFit which you can mold to the shape of your foot in about ten minutes with the help of an oven.  With this method I was able to get a fit that works great with my foot and it offers the little bit of extra support that I need.


They are very simple to fit:

Step 1: Trim the insole to match the factory footbed.


Step 2: Warm the insole in the oven for 5 minutes at 175 F


Step 3: Put the insoles in your shoes, lace up and walk around for five minutes to allow the insoles to adjust to your feet.


On long trails, I have definitely been guilty of using shoes well past their expiration date to save money- using the same pair for 700, 1,000, even 2,000 miles- until the soles are near paper thin and I can feel the whole world underneath them.  In order to extend the life of a pair of shoes, I have found that replacing the insoles can also be helpful if your feet do need that little bit of extra support.