Weekend Warm-Up: 40 Years Later

Oceans Reviews
Alan and Andy with the homemade canoes they used to paddle the Inside Passage.

Back in 1974, Alan and Andy Dappen became two of the first modern canoeists to paddle the full  length of the Inside Passage between Canada and Alaska. Their journey didn’t make much of a splash in the larger public, but in their family, they created a legendary tale, recited countless times.

Alan’s sons, Nate and Ben, soaked in this adventure that their father and uncle had made in their early 20s. The adventure played a big part in their lives in a more basic way: Their mother Sara had joined the two brothers for a time on that original adventure, and the blooming romance led to a family and the two boys.

“For me, it was like something done by the Great Adventurers you grew up reading about,” said Nate. “Some people see things that others have accomplished and say, ‘Oh, that’s something I could never do.’ My parents have never been like that, and that’s something I think my brother and I both emulate.”

Just out of college, in 1974, Alan and Andy built their own wooden canoes in a shed. Armed with a sense of adventure and undeterred by caution, they planned to paddle 1,600km from Washington State through British Columbia to Juneau, Alaska.

Their adventure lasted two glorious months, joined for stretches by Sara and other friends. They fished for food and camped ashore each night. Eventually, the brothers cut the trip a little short, ending when that summer did, in Ketchikan rather than Juneau. “The whole thing was awesome,” said Alan.

Occasionally, friends — including Alan’s future wife Sara — joined the brothers on their 1974 trip.

Ben and Nate’s upbringing centred around the outdoors and adventures such as safaris to East Africa and camping along the Shenandoah River. They knew their parents were energized by the outdoors, free-spirited souls who were, in their children’s minds, limitless.

In 2017, 43 years after the journey that had defined them all, Ben, Nate, Alan, and Andy decided to complete the last section of the original itinerary, paddling 500km from Ketchikan to Juneau.

The Inside Passage is popular with cargo and cruise ships, as well as private sailboats. Its many islands mostly shelter the channel from storms. Aside from the glacial blue waters and snowy mountaintops and lush rainforests, the Inside Passage abounds in sea otters, humpback whales, Steller sea lions and bald eagles by the thousands.

Acting as props to the mystical legend they’d heard over the years, the original canoes featured prominently in Nate and Ben’s childhood, and they wanted to use them on this second adventure. First, they needed to be prepared for the water once again. Finally, the foursome loaded their gear and canoes onto a ferry, spent two days sailing between Bellingham, Washington and Ketchikan and began the last, undone leg of the old route at the exact spot where the previous trip had ended.

They paddled north as brothers, Ben and Nate in one boat, Alan and Andy in the other. Following the original formula, they fished for food during the day and beach camped every night.

Camp amid bleached old giant cedars in the Inside Passage.

They watched whales jumping near their canoe and slowed to savor the views that Alan and Andy vividly remembered from their inaugural experience. But Ben and Nate also noted their Dad’s physical decline for the first time. Alan struggled to lug the boats ashore and wasn’t quite as nimble. Time was disappearing for Alan and Andy, and in some ways, for Ben and Nate too.

The brothers’ second journey along the Inside Passage was different from the first, but it wasn’t a lesser adventure. Although the intervening years had eclipsed their youth and highlighted signs of ageing, Nate and Ben’s father had evolved. “My Dad never stopped being that person who paddled the Inside Passage in 1974,” said Nate. “He just became other things too.”

About the Author

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall

A travel journalist born of her own mini adventures into far flung destinations. What began as a passion for guiding others to explore, evolved into journaling, blogging and booking. Find out more at https://chasingdreamstravel.co.nz/

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