Epic Yukon River Journey: Days 13 & 14
I left Dawson City on a full stomach, wide awake on extra strong decaf. Really pumped up. It was just 10:00 am and another beautiful, sunny day. Great to be out on the river. Some hours later I stopped at a homestead called Cassiar Creek. It can only be reached by boat or float plane in the summer and by dog sled or snowmobile in the winter. There is a two-story log home, a smaller guest cabin, an old telegraph cabin/store, a cache which had collapsed due to a broken leg, a fenced in weed garden and some other out-buildings. The place sits 20 feet above the river, has a beautiful view and is for sale. It was not for sale when I stopped there in 1999. There was no one there then nor was anyone there this time.
The telegraph cabin at Cassiar Creek. © Ray Zvirbulis
At around 8:00 pm I began to look for Sylvain and Chris' place, using my binoculars to scan the shoreline to my right. Sylvain had said their fish camp was on right side of the river and just before a bend. In the distance I saw some cabins and got to them at 8:30. I knew it was the right place because Sylvain had said they had put up a large totem pole in the front yard facing the river. It was a long climb from the river to the top of the bluff.
Once there, Sylvain said I would have to carefully step over an electric fence, go to the control panel and turn the power off. Then I could get my gear into the cabin without lighting up and curling my hair. Posted on the cabin door was an invitation for river travelers to stop for the night.
Their cabin is for summer use only. It is a one-room structure, the walls are screened from the ceiling to four feet above the floor and the screen has plastic sheets over it for the winter. There is a propane stove, beds along one wall and assorted gear and tools hanging from the rafters and walls. In addition to the cabin, there is a very long fish cleaning table in a very large building that also has walk-in freezers, refrigerators and cold storage lockers—all run by propane and diesel fuel (I think). Part way down to the river was a sauna covered with clear plastic. When I went inside it was quite warm and I almost decided to sleep there.
Sylvain and Chris’ cabin, with the newly affixed plastic,
by the local hero.
Back at the cabin I boiled water for coffee, tea and my dehydrated food. A note said the propane could be turned on for the stove but I just used my MSR Whisperlite stove. The plastic over the screen windows had been blown part way off during the winter. Sylvain had told me a friend who passed by their cabin had seen the plastic flapping in the wind and reported it to her. I found a large stapler and staples, went outside and fastened the plastic back up as best as I could. I left a note in their guest book. Later that evening a couple of kayaks went by the cabin. They were followed by a lone kayaker about one hour later.
Before I left in the morning I turned the power back on for the fence, took some photos of the cabin, the fish processing building, the totem pole, the view from the cabin overlooking the river and some pictures of small stone sculptures made by Sylvain.
From their place to the U.S. border is a 2-1/2 hour paddle. The border is clearly indicated by a wide, absolutely straight swath cut through the forest. A Canadian flag flies at the border but no U.S. flag. Now for some statistics and paddling time between points where I stopped: It is five hours from Dawson to Cassiar Creek, six hours from Dawson to Forty Mile (an abandoned RCMP outpost) and eleven hours from Dawson to Sylvain's place. From her and her husband’s place it is 4-1/2 hours to the village of Eagle, Alaska.
I left Sylvain’s place at 9:00 am and soon I was back in the U.S. From the border to Eagle is another two hours of paddling. When I reached Eagle, I was going to tie the kayak to a cable just below the metal wall erected to keep the river from washing away the riverbank, the road and the stores facing the river. But as in the earlier stops on the river, the water was much higher than on the first trip. I think that starting two weeks earlier was the reason I found the river so high. The snow and ice on the lakes had melted just a couple of weeks before I got to Atlin.
I could not tie off the kayak to the cable and climb the metal steps to the road (the metal wall was about 20 feet high) because the cable was underwater. I turned the kayak around and paddled back upstream a short distance to the mouth of a small creek I had passed at the edge of town. There it was easier to tie off and get out.
Once that was done, I walked to the post office to pick up a package from my wife—it contained my passport. As I walked, I hoped that the Customs Agent wouldn’t accost me. I made it safely. There was not only a package from my wife, but also one from my friend Chuck. There was also a letter from one of my sons. It was great to get the two care packages and the letter. Things were looking good.
The flag at the US/Canadian border.
© Ray Zvirbulis
When I got to the general store I asked where I might find the Customs Agent. The cashier made a phone call and told me "The Man" would be right over to check me into the country. "The Man" had on a uniform, a pistol and handcuffs—the whole works. Passage into the U.S. on the first trip was quite different. That Customs Agent sat on a bench above the river drinking sodas waiting for border crossers. He wore jeans and a tee shirt. When I came up the steps from the river, he asked where I lived. When I told him St. Louis, he replied that the Customs process was completed and sat back down on the bench. If he had not been wearing his Secret Service sunglasses I would have wondered if he really was the Customs Agent.
When the current agent finished filling out a stack of forms in quadruplicate, finished checking me in and finished checking me out, I went back to my kayak to take my gear to the yard of the burned out church (it still had not been rebuilt). On the first trip I had been invited to put up my tent in the churchyard. It was on a high bluff above the river with a wonderful view of the forests and the mountains and nearby Eagle Mountain. From my kayak to the churchyard was about a quarter mile. On the way with some of my gear I was stopped by John and Theresa, a brother and sister Good Samaritan team, who after a short conversation offered to drive my gear from the kayak to the churchyard. I happily accepted their offer and began to set up my tent after they dropped the stuff off.
Cabins in Eagle, Alaska. The cabin in the
background is the City Hall; still in use, since 1901.
© Ray Zvirbulis
Just as I was getting ready to put my things into the tent, a woman on a bike rode up and asked if I planned to camp on the churchyard. I looked at her, then at my tent and sensed that something bad was coming. I replied, "Yes, and back in 1999 when I came through, I had been invited to camp there." She answered coldly, "You can't camp here. This property belongs to the Historical Society and you can't camp here!" She turned her back to me, walked to her bike, mounted and rode off… I was left standing mutely.
In the process of being interrogated by the Customs Agent, I was told that a kayaker from Norway was also paddling to the Bering Sea. The agent said he would send the kayaker my way when he arrived in Eagle. Apparently there is some sort of surveillance and communication going on between the US and Canada. The agent even said that he was expecting me. Kind of creepy.
So, anyway, the person from Norway found me, we introduced ourselves to each other (his first name had a very Norwegian ring to it—Kenneth Urnes) and he had brought some of his gear to my pile of stuff. When he came back with the rest of his things, I told him we had been evicted and had to find a different place to set up the tents.
I walked across a large empty field, the BLM landing strip, to their office and information center to see if we could put up our tents on the bluff above the river by their buildings. Once again the answer was, "No." Back at the churchyard I noticed a small space, between the churchyard owned by the Hysterical Society and a large B&B, which seemed to be public property. We carried our things there, set them down and prepared to set up our tents when a woman emerged from the B&B, came up to us and said a wedding was to take place there in an hour of so and the bridal couple would have to walk right past out tents. I sighed in resignation and told her we would not put up our tents there.
While Kenneth watched our things, I went to the store and told the store owner our tale of woe. I asked him if we could set up our tents on his property. He said we could go back to where our kayaks were, at the end of the street and set up the tents because that was public property. He added that if anyone complained we should tell them to see him.
We carried our gear back to where we had started and were about to set up when a guy came out of a nearby house and told us he was renting the property and the property line was the street and our gear was on the property line. Without a word we moved our things about 10 feet and set them down. I walked back to the guy, showed him where the street line ran and told him we were not moving. He muttered under his breath something about losing his lease if the owner found us camped there. I told him one more time that we were not going anywhere and began to set up our tents. He got into his car and drove off. A short time later a couple of other guys arrived in a canoe and set up their tent next to ours. I suspected they were on the wrong side of "the line," but said nothing.
I grabbed my towel and soap and went to take a shower, which was located at the back of the store. The shower cost $4.00 but was effective in washing the grime from by body and the sour feeling from my mind regarding the hunt for the tent site. When I felt I was clean enough, I went to the restaurant next to the store and had a great meal. That lifted my spirits even more.
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