River Trip Stats:

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  1. Freight Canoe Lyra traveled 800 miles on the Tanana, the Yukon and the Chandalar.
  2. Daazhraii, Geoff and I spent 26 days on the water and ran the engine for over 100 hours.
  3. Our fastest speed was 15 mph, and our slowest was 2 mph.
  4. We navigated class II rapids, carried, at most, 45 gallons of gas, and climbed 1500 feet in elevation, mostly in the last hundred miles.
  5. On Wednesday, I shot 2 different guns and cut down 1 tree.
  6. School starts in 2 days. We made it just in time.

When my computer arrives (it is currently stuck in Fort Yukon) I will post my journal entries and pictures from the Chandalar.

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 8

7/15/17

I love the lessons in succession that are so evident in the flats. One bank is cut away and the other grows. Trees fall into the river, sandbars build, grasses take hold, then willows, then cottonwood and spruce.

Today, we weathered a nasty thunderstorm. Geoff built us a temporary shelter by sticking a log into a pileup of driftwood and staking a tarp over it. Before the storm, we had a strong tailwind and, for a while, a “following sea” on particularly long, straight stretches of river where there was fetch enough to build up white caps. We surfed a little and wallowed in the troughs between waves. The smoky haze from distant fires lent the dark clouds some camouflage, so the storm almost crept up on us. Lightning scares me, and the sound of thunder on the river (when we can hear it – usually the engine has to be off). This storm with its wind and heavy rain scared me. We built a fire under our tarp – there was plenty of wood – and watched the rain froth in the river and bounce off the beach. Our fire was just enough to make sure that we never felt the lightning was the brightest thing in the world.

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Now we are camping with a group of canoers. There are nine of them. They stopped in this slough to shelter from that same storm. We continued on from our temporary shelter and stopped here to chat after the storm. They are making a documentary and are currently one month into their two-month trip.

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 6

7/10

I’m dealing with hideous, debilitating rashes. I’ve always had eczema outbreaks from time to time, and I have a good ointment that clears it up quickly, but I left it in the door of Geoff’s truck, thinking there’s no way I would need it. I rarely have to use it in Alaska because the air is so dry, but I guess bathing in a silty river and wearing the same clothes every day is taking its toll.

Rainy morning. We are having a hard time keeping the dog’s fish dry. We should reach the Yukon River Bridge tomorrow. We’re talking about trying to make a run to town from the Bridge to pick up groceries and my itchy cream. It’s several hours’ drive, and one of us would have to hitch in, take care of everything, and hitch back the next day while the other waited with the dog. What a pain. We’ll see.

7/13

We are currently being buzzed by a couple of daredevil seagulls. They swoop low to the water, then up at the last second to just clear the boat. We left the bridge today and are now in the flats.

Earlier I saw hundreds of dragonflies in the air over a patch of willows so thick, straight, and uniform that they might have been bamboo.

The air is full of smoke from fires upriver. Hopefully the plane came to Stevens Village with my itchy cream (sent by a wonderful friend in Fairbanks) in spite of the poor visibility.

The Bridge was pretty lame. No liquor store, not even a convenience store, just an overpriced roadhouse with barracks out back. We stayed two nights in the barracks. The construction crew that was working there was really nice, and it was good to get showers, but I’m very, very glad to be back on the river.

We didn’t end up going to town for supplies. I packed for ten days, and it looks like we’ll be going a little longer, but we have canned fish from the rapids and Geoff scored some supplies (though nothing worth mentioning really) from a dude called Yukon Jeremy at the bridge. The food box still has rice and pasta, a little jar of pesto, curry paste, coconut milk from Tanana (!?), spices galore, dehydrated veggies, peanut butter and jelly, and a few potatoes. We’re doing fine.

The day we got to the Bridge, we started late, as usual. We picked the fish off of Daazhraii’s king backs, burned the bones, and then took off at four in the afternoon or something.

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Geoff napped while I drove for the first few hours. I saw a magnificent young eagle, brown splashed with white, which kept pace with us for a while. I rocked out at the top of my lungs in the canyon as evening came on. Between the nap and the engine and the hearing protection, Geoff couldn’t hear me. I sang to the moose and the eagle. Badly, probably. I couldn’t hear either.

I watched mist drift in from a distant bend and skirted a jewel of an island, mounted in the middle of the rippling silver Yukon.

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The water is predictable in the canyon. If we hug shore and stay in the shallows, we can find still water and boost our speed and fuel efficiency. We make five miles per hour in the current and seven miles per hour in good upriver conditions (shallow water, lucky back-eddies). We’re still burning a gallon an hour, so we are carrying a lot of gas. I bought thirty-six gallons today for $199.10 at the Bridge. We’re not sure whether we’ll be able to fill up in Beaver, but if not, we may not make it to Fort Yukon. We’ll try to be careful with our fuel as we navigate the maze of the flats.

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On to Stevens Village in hopes of itchy cream. Hurrah!