The Bering Sea

Low Tide: 10:36 am

High Tide: 2:45pm

I wrote the times on my hand.

 

I left the fish plant barracks just after 4 am.  I wanted to give myself more than enough time to get to the ocean before the tide came in.  11 miles there and 11 back.

The sky took me by surprise when I stepped outside.  Seeing a good starry sky after an Alaskan summer is a special thing.  Imagine it.  24 hours of day all summer and then, that first night it is dark enough to see the stars.  It is pure magic.

The village was quiet.  I tip toed down the wooden pathway onto the muddy road and followed it to the boat landing.

Even in the dark, I could tell right away that someone had gone through my gear.  I had left my kayak upside down as usual to guard against the elements but it was flipped over . . .  cockpit open to the sky and my belongings in a disarray.  I hadn’t left much in the boat.  I keep my valuables with me but I still had my life vest, bilge pump, seat and repair kit in the boat- and those are all pretty essential.  Superman was there too of course.  I always leave him with the kayak as a guard, hoping that any passersby who get a little too friendly with my gear might have a sense of humor and leave my stuff alone after seeing my sentry.

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Nothing was taken.  Phewff.  Everything was soaked through from an evening rainstorm.  I turned the boat upside down to drain out the water and then carried it down the beach to the edge of the Yukon.  It always makes me a little uneasy to leave my kayak at boat landings but I can’t carry it around town with me like a pocket book.  This was the only time any of my things had been touched the entire trip and I would not be surprised if it was just some curious kids.

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I was on the river before 5.  I looked back to see the silhouette of the village against the morning sky.  It was perfect.

To the Bering!

There was barely a breeze, so I stuck right in the current which carried me west.  A few seagulls circled overhead, curious.  One followed me for a couple of miles, squawking with disapproval.  I had some trouble navigating the mud bars – which change so often, no one bothers mapping them -but my Kodiak has such a shallow draft, that I was able to escape quickly.

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And so the current carried me past a bend in the river, past a handful of islands.  The sun rose in a clear sky and then it came into sight.  The Bering Sea.  Water forever.

I was planning on parking on a spit of land on the left bank but it was so muddy I ended up paddling to the island that divides Kwiguk Pass.  A good solid island.  Grassy, firm ground.  I paddled to where it met the sea and hauled my gear on a bank well above the water.

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I stayed for a few hours.  The edge of the world is quite a place.

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I decided to start heading back an hour before the tide turned (since there was no way I’d make it all the way back to town in the 4.5 hours between low and high tide).  I carried my Folbot back down to the water and readied my sail.  There was a eastward breeze now.  Enough to help me back up river to Emmonak a little bit at least.

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I started paddling up river.  About ten minutes later, the wind changed and what do ya know but a head wind was slapping me in the face.  Couldn’t help but laugh.

The going was slow against the current but I stuck like glue to the banks, taking advantage of the occasional slough, and was able to make progress.  Some locals heading out on a beluga hunt passed by and paused to say hello.  I had met two of them in town and they said they’d rescue me if I hadn’t made it back to Emmonak by the time they returned.

I crossed back to river right to be on the same side as Emmonak and hugged the inside of a bend.  Emo finally came into view hours later.  It was a relief to see town.  It was still miles away, but once the village was in view, I knew I could make it.  I inched closer and closer and before I knew it I was paddling past the camps on the far edge of town.  It was a hot summer day.  Kids were swimming all over the place and everyone I paddled by waved and said hello.  “Welcome to Emmonak!”

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It was good to be back!

My arms were dead tired by the time I made it to the boat landing.  But I made it!  I pulled my boat out of the water and brought it to an out of the way spot where I could pack up.  Before jumping into that process, I walked up to the village store and treated myself to a half liter of ice cold lemonade.  Yum.

Then it was time to pack and that was that.  I organized my gear and unassembled my Folbot.  Here is a picture of the skin and frame before I put it in my bag to fly out.

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Not bad for a first kayaking trip.  I like this river travel business.

Koyukuk?  Porcupine?  Tanana?  Nigu?  Alatna?  Kuskokwim?  I’m coming for ya!

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