Sorry, this story has sat in my drafts folder for a while. I got so busy with life I forgot that I need to take time for writing as well. It’s good for me and I enjoy it. So, I’m back to finish the story, post it, and start planning more adventures.
I seriously thought about naming this blog post “Taking Life by the Throat and Showing It Who’s Boss” but decided for the much more mild and descriptive “Yukon River Paddle, 2015”. What do you think?
I had been keeping an eye on Craigslist for a canoe for the previous two years. They are pretty expensive up here and I didn’t want to spend as much as most of them cost. It just so happened that I found one for a good deal a year ago this last spring. The owner had died and all his family were in the lower 48. His landlord told his family to not worry about his stuff until they could make it up. The canoe is one of the things they gave him when they were able to make it up the following summer. So, he was selling it cheap. The moment it was unloaded and sitting in front of my cabin, I started thinking of taking it on a grand adventure on the Yukon River!
The previous summer was a record breaking wet one. Our rivers remained in flood stage for most of the summer so I didn’t get as much practice in as I wanted. I’ve only been in a canoe a few times in my life and while I have been in a boat on the Yukon, they all have had motors and I wasn’t driving them! This spring however, I was determined to go, by myself if necessary. None of my friends wanted to or could go so I called one of my sisters in Ft. Worth to see if she wanted to and she jumped at the chance. She was just as excited about this trip as I was so that helped make it really fun.
This quote came to mind once I started planning this adventure. I don’t remember where I know it from or where I got it. “Adversity can actually pay big dividends that wouldn’t have been paid under any other circumstances.” So while this trip was the scariest adventure I have been on in a long time, it also had the biggest payouts in the satisfaction department!
This is food that will go in the bear resistant food container (the blue barrel to the right.) I was told by my friend Peter Kamper of Alaska Expedition Service that I could really bring as much food as I wanted (or beer lol) as the extra weight is helpful in stabilization. I really brought too much though. I thought we would be more hungry then we were. We ate well though! (Note to self, next time bring less food, more beer.)
I brought my gun and bought a new can of bear spray for Char to wear. We had fun trying to figure out the shoulder holster configuration. We were successful though it took us some funny moments. She can shoot too of course since we were both brought up around guns but I wanted one of each type of protection.
My friend Scarlett of Bush Alaska Expeditions was kind enough to coordinate one of her shopping trips to town and give us a ride back to Eagle.
We got stuck in the parade going through Delta Junction. That was kind of fun.
We were dropped off in Eagle and packed our canoe while Wayne, Scarlet, and one of their guides Ben, went down the river on their own boat (with a motor). They had their own load of supplies to get home. We took a while because we had to pack the canoe and also, we were a bit nervous. Hey, it’s a big river, we didn’t have a lot of experience, it was scary. It was windy and the river looked so big now that we were right there. We finally got into the boat and started to paddle. As this was our first time on a river this big, we felt the need to stay near the bank. The wind was picking up and the rain started to fall. We didn’t want to try to pull over to unpack and get at our rain gear because we knew the crew was waiting on us down the river to take us up to their cabin on the ATVs. Matter of fact, we took so long that they got to their “parking” spot, unloaded all their supplies and came back for us. We were still several miles up river. We were sure glad to see them. Ben threw Char a rope up front, told her to hang on as I grabbed the side of their boat from my place in the back. We were handily “motored” down the river the rest of the way.
We spent the night and as always, had a great time visiting with Wayne and Scarlett. The next morning the weather was much, much better. It only took a couple of hours to feel much more comfortable on the river.
I really can’t explain the original fear. I mean, it’s not rocket science. It’s not a technical river. There are no rapids. But it is big. It is overwhelming. It is empty of people. It is an adventure worth having!
We passed the Windfall Mountain coal seam fire. Continuously burning since 2012.
About 4:00 pm we took our first break. We saw a couple in a canoe pass us. We waved. They waved. The magnitude of our aloneness increased. We had a snack and got back on the river. Every thing we did, including pulling up to a bank and getting out of the boat, were learning experiences for us.
About 8:00 we found a good spot to camp. I started gathering drift wood to cook dinner and Char started setting up the tent. That was the routine we would stick to. I’ll do the cooking and cleaning and she would set up the tent. One thing I love about Alaskan summer nights, the sunsets. It doesn’t get totally dark but we get extremely long sunsets and sunrises.
We camped on gravel bars when possible. We quickly learned not to try and pull up on a beach that looked smooth and sandy. That stuff is quicksand and I almost lost a sandal.
It really is a huge, lonely country.
We originally thought this was a caribou crossing the river. It was so weird.
I took my lighter sleeping bag and gave Char the heavier one so brought an extra blanket with just in case. It got a bit wet so I draped it over a bush to dry.
Most meals were cooked over the fire. I love campfire cooking.
Black bear crossing a small channel as he heard us talking and wanted off our gravel bar.
Snacking with bear spray.
Moving the canoe closer to good camp spot.
Some things did better with the finesse of the burner.
Somewhere along the way we passed the couple who passed us the first day. We met up and hung out at Slaven’s Roadhouse for a few hours.
Frank Slaven and the Roadhouses of the Yukon River
While many historic roadhouses have burned or have rotted away, Slaven’s Roadhouse has been restored and now serves as a public use cabin and landmark along the river between Eagle and Circle.
From 1990 through 1996, the National Park Service restored Slaven’s Roadhouse to its original 1938-42 condition.
Slaven’s Roadhouse continues to serve the public as a landmark along the Yukon River. It is open to public access and frequently has people spending the night while traveling up and down the river.
Each February, it serves as a dog drop point during the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. At times, the roadhouse also serves as quarters for volunteers working for the National Park Service.
I also finally got to meet Kae. Wayne and Scarlet told me to make sure and look her up. We continue to be friends.
One of the best things about playing the fiddle.
We had to sit out one storm for 3-4 hours. We snacked and napped and played Farkle.
The last morning we were woken with a pretty bad storm at about 4 am. We decided to sit and try to wait it out. We were so close but really didn’t want to break camp only to have to get off the river again soon. We waited until about 3 pm. The whitecaps had died down so we decided to paddle like hell and try to make Circle.
I was really worried about getting the right slough that exits to Circle City. The river is all channel upon channel upon channel. Instructions by various people in the know:
Just hang to the left bank.
The mountains on the right will peter out, then you know to exit.
You’ll see an old fish camp with a blue tarp on it.
We were getting frustrated and nervous and wondering if we missed it when all of a sudden, there it was. Big and beautiful as anything we had seen on the whole trip; the slough!
Celebratory cocktails we had been saving for the end of our journey!
It was cold. Char is from Texas. I wrapped her in a sleeping bag and started a fire in the cooker to dry our socks and shoes while we waited for Moe and Jim to pick us up. I had bought a SPOT for our trip so our friends and family could follow us online and so our pick up could see when they should be in Circle. Eh, technology sucks sometimes.
It was 29 degrees that night. They got there at 3:30 am.
I could write a lot of things about this journey. It was not simply moving from point A to point B. It was one more thing I felt I needed to accomplish in order to be the person I wanted to be. And the rest I just feel very private about so wont share it here. Maybe it is the break from writing. Maybe it is that I am just not feeling the philosophical thoughts that I was thinking at that time now, so much later. But it was a good trip, meaningful to my life. I want to do it again!
I was so happy that my sister could come with me. I hadn’t seen her since Justin’s funeral in 2011 and that is too long. I have 4 sister and miss them all.
Here are the videos from the trip. We have some adventures on camera as well as the bear and “log jam” that I did not write about.
5 days, 4 nights.