It is a 3 hour drive from where the Yukon River crosses the Dalton Highway and since the weather was too rough for river travel, I thought I might as well (or at least that was my excuse as I was dying to go!) . . . I was able to hop on a tour that my friend Patrick was giving heading north (THANK YOU PATRICK!). When we arrived, I ran down to the Koyukuk through the rain on that old dirt path. How I miss it all. I was surprised to see how much the river has eaten into the land there. Right into the dirt road where we used to pick up the rafts when I worked at the truck stop so long ago. Golly, I’m getting old.
The river is high. Most of the gravel bar by the runway is underwater. I went down to what’s left of the bar. I lay down on the rocks and mud and stared up at the stormy sky, watery eyes. I miss this country. If I ever had a home in Alaska, it was right here.
I quite accidentally took an entire week off at the road. It was wonderful! A few days in Wiseman, a few days in Fairbanks and suddenly it was a week. Maybe even 8 days! oops. It was hard to tear myself away after getting to visit with friends. I was so spoiled with fresh vegetables from the Reakoff garden and was sent away with an entire bag full of greenery! I will be eating well.
My friend Eyal let me stay at his cabin in Fairbanks and eat fresh eggs from the chickens there! We watched “Paddle to Seattle” – a video about two guys who kayaked from Skagway all the way to Seattle- for inspiration. Eyal has been on some pretty amazing adventures himself! Having horseback ridden across Mongolia.
Weather on the river has been rough. I don’t mind the rain. I don’t mind the mosquitoes or the horseflies or the heat or the cold. It is the wind that bothers me. It is the wind that makes things dangerous. Right now there are high winds day and night. No break. Up to 30 mph. Driving rain. 4 ft+ standing waves. And once you float beyond the Haul Road on the Yukon River, that’s it. Last road access period. Last road access and over 900 miles to go. 933 to be exact . . . not that I am counting.
This second half of the trip was always the part that made me nervous. The river gets bigger and wider. The current is slowing down. The wind is getting wilder. There are stretches where the wind builds up against the current and can create waves up to 8 feet tall forcing paddlers to shore for days. The first half of the river was fun. The rest though will be a more serious business. No room for mistakes. No safety net.
The wind calmed down some that afternoon and I was able to set off, a little hesitantly. One last goodbye to Lacey, David and Brody. Then down to the river and into my Kodiak and the current took us onward. I turned around to watch the road disappear from view.
And what will these next 933 miles bring? I don’t know but I do know that I am setting off warm and clean and well fed thanks to my friends in Wiseman, Fairbanks and the Yukon River Camp. How could I be so lucky to know so many great people?
I have been enormously spoiled over this last week. A big thank you to the Reakoffs, Eyal, Lacey, David, Brody, Sundance and Patrick! So fantastic seeing you all!