Clarence Strait looked reasonably calm as I emerged from my hammock, licorice root fern tea in hand. Our crossing from Prince of Wales Island the day before had been easy, flat seas and warm sunshine. We had called it an early day when we found the campsite called Shachx’aan (“Women Drying Fish” in Tlingit). The beach and forest felt too comfortable to leave and the weather seemed stable enough to let the extra miles be the next day’s responsibility. Yet as we packed our kayaks in the morning to continue south the water began to ripple and the fog started rolling in.
We turned the corner that divided the northern and southern aspects of the Cleveland Peninsula and found out what it means to be exposed to the open ocean on a storm day. Pushing hard into wind, waves and rain, we hooted and hollered for face shots of spray. Floating in the chop, Lucas Merli found a large yellow plastic shovel; a quality tool inevitably lost from a fishing boat. I didn’t realize it as I helped strap the shovel to his deck, but this tool would soon inspire ingenious creativity, fulfilling entertainment and rich educational opportunities.
Although we were thoroughly enjoying the energy of the storm, we weren’t making much progress, so we pulled into a beach about a quarter-mile from where we had started. Aside from needing to stay warm in the blustery downpour, it was July 1, and Chris Hinkley was turning 23 years old. We needed to make the day special somehow. David McCasland called for all hands on deck; everyone must gather sap, tinder and driftwood.
Twenty minutes later, we had the biggest bonfire of the trip blazing. The raindrops evaporated before they could hit us as the flames shot double overhead. I looked over to Merli and saw that he was scheming. New yellow shovel in hand, he had the creek to his right, the fire to his left.
“We could totally make a hot tub right now,” he said.
Since it was Hinkley’s birthday, we decided that we were doing whatever he wanted. He gave the go-ahead, so we went to work.
Everyone assumed the job of their choice, freely collaborating creative ideas with meaningful labor. Hinkley was our Chancellor of Redneck Operations, directing the labor and managing the project. Will Geiger (The Pipe Man) and Andrew Flansaas (The Bull Kelp Bully) set up our plumbing system. A hose manufactured from connecting lengths of bull kelp diverted flow from the stream into an old muffler pipe. This pipe then delivered the water onto an iron I-beam that sat on the raging fire, sloped at just the right angle to cook the water before it trickled into our three foot deep, tarp-lined hole. McCasland (Strong Iron) managed the I-beam, maintaining the angle and support system while Merli (The Belly Man) fed the beast, keeping the fire burning hot.
The Kettle Krew, consisting of Mallory Story (The Kettle Keeper), Lia Heifetz (The Kettle Whisperer) and Elise Kennedy (The Kettle Wench) boiled water with our wood-powered Kelly Kettles. Lucy Squibb (The Water Girl) poured the boiling water into the pit and pumped additional creek water onto the I beam with a bilge pump. Colin Flynn (The Hole Patcher) searched for leaks in the system and set up our insulation layer, consisting of five large styrofoam blocks and a tarp. Max Stanley was the Supreme Laborer, hauling materials and providing the muscle, while I personally assumed the role of Scrapper, searching the beach and forest for supplies and keeping the crew stocked with resources.
Coal-red rocks from the fire were tossed in just before we all entered. After five hours of dedicated labor we were sitting in hot water on a wilderness beach in a rainstorm. The feeling of success was wet and warm.
Along with being an excellent way to celebrate a birthday, Hinkley’s Hot Tub taught us lessons about teamwork. In our journey from Alaska to Argentina, we are searching for the essence of community. COMM-UNITY. What does it take to unify a group of people toward a common purpose? Our own nomadic tribe of 12 kayakers seems to be an ideal population to experiment with this concept.
Through our travels, we are not only able to visit a variety of towns, villages and cities, but we are also able to witness the complexities of our own group dynamics. The main lesson that I took away from the hot tub experience is that every community needs a mutual goal. Our group’s commitment to the project allowed every member of the group to contribute in their own way. Regardless of individual interests, backgrounds, or personalities, we were all dedicated to the vision of sitting in a hot puddle. While our group of early-20s, middle class Juneauites may not be the most demographically diverse population, the idea still holds true.
In order to provide effective and fulfilling lives in a community, every member needs to know explicitly what it is they are all working towards. I learned that good teamwork comes from clear, intentional goals and unifying projects that work towards those intentions. To take this lesson to a larger scale, one must simply ask themselves and their neighbors: What is that goal?
• Kanaan Bausler is a member of A Trip South. Read more about their adventures at atripsouth.com.