In her 4,000-mile trek from Bellingham to Kotzebue, Alaska, through wild and spectacular country by boat, ski and foot, what made Caroline Van Hemert question what she was doing wasn't the length of the journey or the nasty weather.
It was swarms of hungry mosquitoes.
"The mosquitoes were out of control," she said of the biting hordes that made the days and nights wretched for her and husband Patrick Farrell as they toiled for two weeks through the web of slow-moving waterways of the Mackenzie Delta on their way to the Arctic Ocean.
She described that experience - in which they paddled 300 miles by packraft over flat water - as "this awful boredom and misery."
The Western Washington University alums, who now live in Anchorage for much of the year, will recount their 2012 adventures during a presentation Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Backcountry Essentials in Bellingham.
The couple's travels took them through regions that included the Inside Passage, the Coast Mountains, the length of the Yukon Territory, the Arctic Coast, and the Brooks Range.
The experienced mountaineers hatched the idea for the adventure while waiting out a snowstorm on the Ferebee Glacier in Southeast Alaska near Skagway. What's more, they decided they would make the trip through the wildly varying terrain using only their own muscles, and in areas free of roads and trails.
"A big part of it is you experience and see things differently when you are under your own power," the 34-year-old Van Hemert said.
Farrell, 32, added: "There's something so pure about it, that's just kind of raw, to be walking among everything else that's walking. You realize the connection between places."
Their backcountry adventure began St. Patrick's Day when they put two rowboats built by Farrell that winter into Squalicum Harbor on the first leg north through the Inside Passage.
It was hailing.
"Over the next seven weeks we rowed in the company of raging storms, raucous sea lions and thousands of migrating birds," they wrote on their blog.
Van Hemert said traveling the Inside Passage in March was pushing it because conditions were still stormy that time of year. But they had to time their travels for seasonal changes, so rivers in the Yukon Territory would be ice-free once they arrived, for example, and so they could finish before the freeze-up in the fall.
As for their mode of transportation, that changed with the landscape.
They used rowboats for the Inside Passage, skis for the Coast Mountains and a canoe for the Yukon and Noatak rivers. For the other parts of the journey, they used hiking shoes and packrafts, inflatable boats that each weighed less than seven pounds when fully equipped with paddles.
Along the way, they would endure 28 straight days of rain or snow, avalanche danger, mosquitoes that nearly drove them mad, and a standoff with a black bear that stalked them in the upper Nahtuk and Pingaluk drainages of the Brooks Range.
"It was really odd behavior," Farrell said of the bear, which would saunter away when the couple yelled at it, threw their poles at it and sprayed it with bear spray - only to circle back, unnerving them.
"I think if we would have sat down, it would have attacked us," he said.
But they also described the grandeur of thousands of swans in fading light, islands shrouded in mist, Western Arctic caribou on a fall migration, and bearded seals and belugas surfacing near icebergs.
(They document their journey, including with stunning photos, on their blog at carolineandpat.wordpress.com.)
For Van Hemert, the best part was the Arctic Coast.
"It's other-worldly. The sense of scale there is deceiving. It's difficult to trust what your eyes are seeing, which makes it interesting," said Van Hemert, a research biologist at the Alaska Science Center.
Singling out a particular region was difficult for Farrell, but he also talked about the Arctic Coast as a highlight, with its 24 hours of sunlight and its lack of trees.
"It's so foreign a landscape," said Farrell, who owns a design and building company in Anchorage.
Their trip ended Sept. 9 as they crossed into Kotzebue Sound with a mix of emotions, including sadness at the journey's end.
Months later, they're sharing the incredible landscapes they traveled through - and what they've carried with them since completing a journey of such scale and magnitude.
"It has made us realize what's possible," Van Hemert said.
IF YOU GO
What: Multimedia presentation by Alaska residents Caroline Van Hemert and Patrick Farrell about their 4,000-mile backcountry journey from Bellingham to Kotzebue, Alaska, in 2012. The event is a benefit for Whatcom Land Trust.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Where: Backcountry Essentials, 214 W. Holly St., Bellingham.
Suggested donation: $8 per person.
Reach KIE RELYEA at email@example.com or call 715-2234.