Epic Yukon River Journey: Days 18-20
|It must have been a cold day on Thursday, June 23, because in my journal I had written Thursday, January 23, 2006!
Despite the rain, I left the Slavens Roadhouse cabin at 8:00. It had begun to rain again that night and had continued for another three hours when, at last (Praise the Lord!) the clouds broke up and sunlight poked through the holes. Kenneth didn't feel like getting up and continued to sleep. Who says young people don't have any sense?
|Doing more drifting and sight-seeing than paddling allowed Kenneth to catch up to me late in the day. We paddled the rest of the way to Circle City together. Now, Circle is no more a “city” than is Eagle. As a matter of fact Eagle is bigger in both size and in population. And yet, somebody, some time ago decided to call Circle a city. Probably in hopes of attracting more people from places such as Fairbanks, which is about 180 miles south of Circle City. The two places are connected by a road. But a greater gaffe was made by the city founders in naming it Circle City in the first place. They had miscalculated the exact location of the village and thought it was at, or above, the Arctic Circle. They were off by about 100 miles. I guess somebody had goofed in programming the GPS unit.||
Calico Bluffs, downstream from Eagle, Alaska. Folded limestone and shale layers. Mature spruce trees at upper left show perspective. © Ray Zvirbulis
Circle City Trading Post – Liquor Cache, Store, Café & Saloon – unfortunately it was closed. © Ray Zvirbulis
|As we paddled around the downstream end of a large island, Circle came into sight. A very large, new two-story lodge was the first building to appear. It was new to me because seven years ago it hadn’t been there. The building was so large it obscured the store/liquor store/cafe/bar where I had bought groceries the first time I came through. The lodge stood on a low hill between the store and the river. After carrying the kayak to my tent site, I went to the lodge and saw that it was unfinished, abandoned and open to anyone who wanted to wander around inside. The store was closed and boarded up which was very unfortunate and disappointing to me because I had eaten several very good meals there on my first trip and had hoped to have some good meals there again.|
I also wanted to buy some groceries there. Fortunately, there is another store in Circle and I went there to get what I needed. While I was shopping, Kenneth stayed at our campsite. When I got back, he left for the store. He was justifiably very leery of leaving his belongings unguarded.
After his Lake Laberge incident, Kenneth was somewhat concerned about continuing his trip to the Bering Sea. He almost abandoned it when he got to Carmacks. On his way there he had passed the pay-per-night campground where I had stayed, but decided to push on to Carmacks, five miles downstream. He set up his tent at the public campground by the river on the upstream edge of town. He was the only one there. Needing to take care of some things in town, he walked off, bought what needed to be replenished and returned to the campground. He checked his tent right away when he noticed the door unzipped and found that a lot of his gear was gone. He, of course, went to the police and reported the theft. After waiting around for two days none of his gear was found. He set off for Dawson City after calling home to have replacement gear sent there. But during the two days spent waiting in Carmacks, he nearly abandoned the trip because he felt so depressed. Kenneth then had to wait in Dawson for nearly one week until his gear finally came. Later he told me he was happy he had continued on after he met me.
As I mentioned earlier, the public campground in Carmacks had looked desolate and dreary as I drifted by it. Once again I was happy I had not stayed there.
There was another person camped at Circle, just across the broad roadway leading to the boat launch area. He was from Germany and was paddling a canoe as far as the Alaska Highway and then going on by road to other parts of Alaska. From Circle City to the Alaska Highway is about 200 river miles. That section of the river is called the Yukon Flats, and can be anywhere from five to twenty miles wide, depending on the season. The midpoint of the Flats is around Fort Yukon, which is above the Arctic Circle.
While Kenneth and I were eating our supper, I noticed that the German, who was also eating, had been joined by a drunken local who was talking very loudly. At first the German tried to carry on a conversation but was unable to do so because he was speaking logically while the native was speaking illogically. Soon, the German stopped talking but the drunk did not. He just kept going. But after a while, when no food or drink was forthcoming, the local staggered off, fortunately not in our direction.
The next morning, Kenneth, the German and I cooked our meals and ate them at a picnic table in the very large, but very empty dining room of the lodge. During the night, the locals had cruised the local streets and the boat launch area, drinking and partying until about 4:00 in the morning. When I got up there was no one in sight.
Kenneth and I left after breakfast and began paddling through the Flats. We had a hard time finding a good (that's dry) place to camp. We finally stopped at a place called Bar Island. It was muddy and messy but had a small area that was almost dry. That's where we were able to pitch out tents. The island was inhabited by a flock of gulls that had made their nests there. I found several of them, some with eggs in them and some with chicks and eggs. I didn't bother the gulls so they did not bother me.
The next morning, Kenneth and I were ready to leave at about the same time. Usually, I had my breakfast first and then took down my tent and packed my gear. Kenneth did it backwards. Maybe it is a Norwegian habit. Or maybe I did it backwards. At any rate, we left Gull (Bar) Island together.
|We had paddled only two hours that Sunday when we crossed the Arctic Circle. As we crossed the Circle I looked for something significant to show the enormity of the event. But, there was no monument nor even a marker or a hand painted sign. There was no frigid drop in the temperature. No banners stretched across the river. No bands played. No crowds cheered. I didn't even know the precise location where the invisible line of the Circle stretched across the Yukon. Soon after crossing the line we arrived in Fort Yukon. It is the only village on the river that is above the Arctic Circle.||
Scenery in Fort Yukon, Alaska. Ray standing in front of cabin on left. © Kenneth Urnes
When I was in Fort Yukon in 1999, accompanied by Dick and Danny (our former exchange student from Germany), we had to paddle past the village and land below it because the water was so low it exposed a large mud flat in front of Fort Yukon. When we beached the kayaks back then, a person accompanied by two women, and sitting in a pickup said, "If you are going into town, don't leave anything that is of value in the kayaks. Kids like to mess with the stuff." That translated to, "They'll steal everything they can carry away." Back then I stayed with the kayaks while the guy drove Danny and Dick into town and back.
This time the river was at the highest that it had been in 25 years and we did not have to deal with the mud flat. We were able to paddle to the retaining wall in front of the village and take advantage of an eddy to land the kayaks on the bank.
While Kenneth was tightening a bolt on his kayak, I set off to look for the village store. As I climbed the bank, I saw a man and a woman sitting on a second floor, screened deck of a large house which also had a ten foot high fence around it (remember kids like to "mess around") with barbed wire on top. I asked for directions to the store. The man pointed and gave directions but added that the store was closed because it was Sunday. Disappointing news. His wife then asked if I wanted to go to church with them (I think the man was the minister because he drove a van with a church's name on it). I thanked her but said I was traveling with someone and that I had read my Bible lesson earlier that day. She seemed surprised and pleased to hear that. I guess I wanted her to know that not everyone who kayaked the Yukon was a heathen infidel.
Kenneth standing north of the Arctic Circle in Fort Yukon, Alaska. © Ray Zvirbulis
|Kenneth was finished with his repair work when I got back. He had wanted to get water at the store. I told him the store was closed but added that if he hurried he could probably get it from the couple I had spoken with before they left for church. While he was gone, I took some photos from the dike along the village. Then Kenneth and I took photos of each other to prove we had been above the Arctic Circle in Fort Yukon. Again, as I mentioned earlier, being above the Arctic Circle was not quite what it sounds like. No frigid, howling winds battered us as we stood by our kayaks along the Yukon. As a matter of fact, we stood under a hot sun and applied generous amounts of sunscreen to prevent serious sunburn.|
We left Fort Yukon at 11:30 after eating a light lunch. I just had a couple of slices of bread and a small can of sardines—there were only three of the critters in the can. I was so hungry I mopped up the oil and the goop in the can with the bread. Have you ever been that hungry? I gag when I think about doing that now.
At 2:00 the trailing clouds finally caught us and we had rain for about an hour. Putting on rain gear was always a big deal for me. I would pull to shore, get out of the kayak, take off my life jacket (or to be nautically correct: my Personal Flotation Device), put on my breathable pants, put on my breathable jacket, put on my PFD, put on my NRS baseball cap (the bill kept the rain jacket hood well out in front of my face) and finally got back into the kayak. Anyway, the river turned south and west (we re-crossed the Arctic Circle becoming, in the process, double crossers) while the rain clouds kept going west. Soon I was paddling in the sun with just my T-shirt under the life jacket (after going through the above process but in reverse). Kenneth took off his shirt so that he could get some sun. He said the sun felt good because they had had a long winter in Norway. They had snow in May. I will not be moving to Norway anytime soon.
At 6:00 we began to look for a place to stop for the night. At 7:30 we found another gravel bar, beached our kayaks and tied them to some shrubs. That Sunday we had paddled about 70 miles, far enough for one day. Across from our tent site was a large, long island called Deadman's Island. Not wanting to make Deadman's into its plural, we chose the gravel bar. Deadman's Island is about two hours upstream from the village of Beaver.
As soon as the kayak was secured, I hurried to set up my tent and get my gear into it. I was hungry! Those three little sardines did not come close to pacifying my stomach. I got my supper ready as quickly as I could so that I could silence my stomach. I had begun to fear it would consume me from the inside out. Supper was a large can of corned beef hash and a can of corn mixed in with the hash. The cook pot was full to the brim. When I finished it, I was full to the brim. To wash it down, I had a cup of Thai tea and two cups of green tea with just a hint of jasmine—class, really high class on the Yukon. I drank the tea from my plastic cup with my pinkie extended.
The last thing I did that day was to make my journal entry before pulling the sleeping bag over my head to create some "night."
Show Low, Arizona