River Trip Journal 11

8/7/2017

Woke up early this morning and busted a move. Potstickers and salmon at midnight tided us over until now.

The Chandalar is much colder than the Yukon. No more baths, alas! When we came out of Cutoff Slough, it felt like walking into a grocery store in an Arkansas summer: a sudden arctic blast.

We drove through a bit of burning forest just now. Thick, smoky air, bright sunlight catching in the billows, red-topped, dead-needled spruce. Lots of eagles today.

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Later:

The faster current is a little scary. I had to navigate some really shallow gravel bars and riffles as we left Venetie at dusk heading into the sun. It was definitely the toughest section of river I’ve driven yet.

happy keely lower chan drive

It was really lovely to see M. and get hugs from kids. Everyone was helpful and curious and welcoming. Sometimes I miss Venetie a lot.

Getting gas was a little tough. They don’t take cards. We worked it out after a few tries.

Surprise plane wreckage beside the river tonight. Not sure what to make of that. It’s only four miles from Venetie, but I’ve never heard of it. It’s filled with names and initials that I recognize, though, painted on or smudged into the dust and grime on the inside.
(Editor’s note: this plane crashed in 1997 after taking off from Venetie. No one was killed, though the wreck looks pretty terrifying)

planeplane tailGeoff plane inside

We had a harder time finding a camp than we have in the past. The shores are mostly cobble now, where before they were sand.

keely boobs?

I’m nervous about navigating the canyon as we turn onto the East Fork, probably tomorrow night. We will be gaining a lot of elevation, and I’m not sure what to expect exactly. Everyone says we’re doing well to try this at high water, and that now is the highest it’s been all summer, so our chances are good, whatever that means.

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River Trip Journal 9

7/18/17

Everyone in Beaver was very helpful. We met friendly little girls named E and R whose grandma made calls so we could get gas on a Sunday. Paul Jr. was not around, so we gave up on our plan to stay and, after we got fuel, boogied on, none the richer in junk food, alas!

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As we were leaving, I drove over a barely-submerged log. It was completely undetectable, but rolling over it felt like hitting a whale or a manatee or a sea-monster! The deck buckled and warped, then sprang back into shape. I’d hate to do that in a fast skiff: it would rip the bottom right out.

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At this point, I want to mention that we have been eating with skewers for chopsticks this whole time. We have no silverware to our names. I am looking forward very, very much to eating a salad with a fork when we get back on the road system. The plan is to leave the boat in Fort Yukon and spend a few days fishing after all.DSC06509

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The night of the 16th we spent on an island with a clear slough and lots of bear tracks. We had a beautiful sunset. Last night, we camped on a dry slough sheltered behind a ridge of willows. It felt great to finally get out of the wind that had been taunting us all day, blowing spray over the engine onto the helmsman’s back.

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The river is really wide now. The Chandalar pours in just up from here. It’s shallow and seamless-looking. Very tricky.  We are running aground pretty regularly now in the flats. We step out into the ankle-deep water and Lyra floats free, for the most part. It’s hard to tell shoals in the wind, though.

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I was divebombed by an arctic tern this morning while availing myself of the facilities. Scary, but very cool. They are really beautiful, graceful birds. Audubon’s tern is not an exaggeration: the terns are every bit as swift and sharp and dramatic as he paints them.

I took a bath today off a steep bank. I had to hold the end of the bowline, which was staked to the shore, so that I wouldn’t slip and be swept away in the powerful eddy. When I dunked my head, I could hear the silty water whooshing by my ears.

The horseflies are as bad as ever.

Our dog food from Yukon Jeremy at the Bridge is still holding out.

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We are camping tonight on Inservice Island, just up from Fort Yukon. I just crept up on a couple of beavers swimming up our slough. When the first beaver finally caught sight of me, he slapped his tail and dived dramatically, then came up only a few feet farther away.

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We got to town around ten. Lance wasn’t in Fort Yukon and we passed Tony on the river. So far, we are not having much luck figuring out how to leave the boat. Better luck tomorrow.

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(editor’s note: we made it happen after a rough start with a flat tire and some plane troubles. The Kenai was great! We are heading back out in the next few days. Arctic Village, here we come.)

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River Trip Journal 7

Later 7/13:

Stevens Village was like a beautiful ghost town full of fireweed, foxtails, and ripening raspberries. We walked all along the main streets in the still, hot, hazy evening and didn’t see or hear a soul. There were no dogs barking or chainsaws in the distance.

Finally, I knocked on a door, and a friendly, smiling young woman sent me down the road to “the house with all the dogs” to talk to the agent about picking up our package from the plane. The agent walked us to the post office where she had left my box. We chatted about folks from Arctic that we both knew, and about how the families with kids have left Stevens because the school closed a few years ago.
“How many children are there in Stevens?”
“None. They all went to Fairbanks.”
Isn’t that strange? A whole community with no children. I saw a toddler on a four-wheeler with a young woman. How heartwrenching it must be for everyone when the kids leave.

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River Trip Journal 5

7/9

It’s beautiful here in the mountainous section of the Yukon. We’re in sort of a canyon, and the walls tell an impressive geological story.

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We stopped last night to see a friend of Geoff’s from years back when Geoff worked a summer kids’ camp with him at his fish camp. We were going to stay, but it didn’t feel quite right. We pushed on up the rapids at an impressive five miles per hour. The rapids weren’t all that rapid or rocky. I had been nervous, expecting something more formidable, but it was no sweat. There were lots of fish wheels, but I still have not actually seen one catch a fish.

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Just at the end of the rapids, we were greeted by a really lovely family. Geoff was acquainted with the older man from his time working that camp in the rapids. There were two smart, funny, personable middle-school-age boys and their parents, whom I liked a lot. He was happy-natured and friendly, and she was a badass musher and homeschool mom. She had three seven month old pups and let Daazhraii play with the pack. They were lanky sled-dogs, and they made him look short, stocky and clumsy.

We ate dinner with this wonderful family last night, and they fed us breakfast this morning and sent us on our way with king backs for the dog and canned king for ourselves. This is the first year in a while that kings have been open for subsistence. Folks are pleased, but it sounds like they’re not getting the numbers they were hoping for.

I like the way drying fish looks, hanging on racks in long evening light, all pink and translucent. I like the smell of smoke and smoking fish. It’s a lovely thing. People talk about greasy hands and hair and joke about the endless work, but that’s nothing I couldn’t handle. I can see spending a summer or summers on fish someday, if I’m lucky enough to have the chance. The snack breaks are pretty great, and the view beats any corner office I’ve ever heard of.

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Running for the right reasons 2

Visiting West Virginia transports me back to Warren Wilson. The afternoon thunderstorms stir up familiar smells, and the forest is full of old friends, softly lullabying in the breeze. Cercis canadensis, Hamamelis virginiana, Quercus alba, Robinia Pseudoacacia: The back of my memory whispers the Latin names of the trees, though I can’t seem to recall the common names as easily. Perhaps I have forgotten them because they are less musical.

The pup and I went for a run this morning. Daazhraii chased the deer until they disappeared in the dense understory, then returned, and a few minutes later chased off after the next white tail, bounced back, flew off again. There was a good rhythm to our run.

As I struggled up one of the ridiculously steep hills on this gravel road, I heard the voice in my head saying “you can do it! Keep going! Your body is sometimes your only tool in an emergency, and you want it to be a damned good tool! Push!”

Now, if my inner voice hadn’t just instructed me to keep going, this would have stopped me in my tracks. I have never felt quite this thing quite so deeply. When I dug in and dug for strength, I found this voice in the bedrock of my resolve. What an awesome reason to run.

I am not serious about running or yoga or even skiing, which I love best of all. I am not consistent or skillful or strong, but I like to feel good about my strength and I like that there is now a voice in my head that speaks of the need for reliable power in case of trouble. The river trip up the Chandalar is coming, and winter adventures in ANWR after that. I want my body to be able to handle the things I’ll put it through, and I want enough on top of that to enjoy walking in the woods after the work is done.

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I brought my dog home just in time to visit the place where I grew up. Mom and Dad may have finally sold the house!

It has been a good summer so far: Geoff and I went to a lovely graduation in Petersburg, and climbed Petersburg mountain with the pup. I got to see my dear, dear friends in Baltimore and Vermont, and visit a 5th grade classroom with Alaska stories and a sled dog for show and tell. Daazhraii ate a snow-cone on the national mall and met the ocean head-first off the dock in Belfast. I saw my best friend and my favorite kiddo and the kiddo called my dog “Cool Doggie!” We played games and went out in the boat with my family. We drove two days with no AC in a heat wave, dreaming of the arctic: I tied ice cubes into my bandana and fed more ice cubes to the snowpuppy and was completely insufferable to be around. Geoff and I cooled off in a pool, listening to sixties music and then watched a sudden mountain thunderstorm drench the towels we’d left hanging out to dry in the sun. I bought totally-for-sure-legal fireworks and made forty chocolate chip cookies, and tonight I’ll listen to the moths jitterbugging on the window screens until I get tired of reading and turn out the light.

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The dog is still damp from diving into the harbor.

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Three of the people closest to my heart out for a cruise in my hometown harbor

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Geoff and Daazhraii in Petersburg after the pup’s first (terrifying) sip of ocean water.

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Boat dog!