July 29, 2018
About 9 AM I spot Campion Bluffs. Ice Age animal bones often erode from these steep bluffs so I watch carefully. A young fox trots along the face of the hillside. As I scan for ancient bones I notice the soft soil is laced with fox tracks. Another fox pup sniffs his way along the bluff, sending little landslides of silty soil down beneath him. By the time I reach the end of the bluffs I’ve seen six foxes! There’s obviously a den hidden nearby.
Near Galena, the crumbling river bank reveals cables and pipes and small structures that are being claimed by the changing Yukon channel. A steel river wall, the one that protects the runway and Galena itself, appears ahead. I land just upstream of the wall, hauling my kayak and gear up through the jumble of rip-rap rocks. I sort through everything for my dirty laundry and trash, then hide everything else in the willows. Mike Roos, an old smokejumper buddy, is working out here. I give him a call and wait for him at the baseball field. A couple of Native ladies in a pickup stop to see if I need any help. Nice of them!
Pretty soon Mike pulls up in a Rhino. We shake hands and immediately start joking as if we were on a smokejumper planeload here 25 years ago. He catches me up on the local fire news as he drives me to the familiar old fire station and gives me my heavy resupply box. Mike is an extremely smart and competent fellow. I walk into the back of the old mess haul to sort out my resupply, and there I am surprised to see another old smokejumper buddy and good friend, John Lyons, by chance in Galena while on Air Attack fire duty. Yet another sharp, competent fellow with a great sense of humor. It’s a fun reunion.
We all sit down for the standard, epic Galena mess hall meal. What an incredible treat. It’s also an extreme case of deja vu. It seems like a pretty, curly-headed, red-haired cook should be here, giggling behind the counter. My smokejumper gear should be layed out beneath the wing of a CASA parked outside. And somewhere out on the Seward Peninsula, a lightning storm, sparking a fire we’ll jump at midnight.
I walk over to the barracks and run a load of laundry while I enjoy a hot shower. Wow. Back at dispatch they copy off all my photos for me just in case, heaven forbid, I have some camera disaster. I check my email and the news and download some podcasts. By the time I’ve come back with my laundry it’s dinner time.
J.L. gives me a ride back to the river. We carry my stuff down to the water. He laughs when I pour all of my food resupply out onto the river bank to sort it out. It’s all packaged of course, but it looks chaotic. We shake hands and he leaves me to my packing.
I paddle a few miles until I find a nice island where I carry my gear up the bank to camp. It’s a few minutes shy of midnight.
Since I didn’t get to sleep until late, I don’t start paddling until 7 AM. I listen to some podcasts to catch up on the news. It’s a little disheartening. One advantage of being away from the news I guess.
The wind seems to be changing directions, but as much as anything the apparent wind direction depends on where I am on river bends. At 1300 the wind has risen enough so dust clouds are being swept off sand bars. Waves are building. I decide to call it a day early, having come only 16 crow miles. In my tent I read and relax for awhile. I tally up some mileages. I figure at Galena I’d come about 878 miles. So I probably crossed the 900 mile mark for the trip sometime today.
Today, I actually started paddling at 9 PM yesterday. Kinda confusing. The current was slower today, and the night darker. The moon clearly stood out in the sky. Very soon it will be too dark to paddle through the night.
Yesterday, in Galena, I’d read a post a fellow hiker had written about another route I’d planned that he had just hiked. He complained bitterly, questioning my competence. It was not what he’d expected. AT ALL. His reaction seemed strange because I’d posted many photos, a video, maps, and a written description, and personally told him what lay ahead. Of course, it was in issue he’d created in his own head, but I wish I hadn’t seen his post. After all I’d done to help him! Tonight, all alone on this quiet river, I have to struggle to put it out of my mind. It serves no purpose to be angry with him.
In the early morning I paddle past the lights of Nulato. I took a Nulato village fire crew to the Lower 48, one summer many years ago. I wonder if there’s anyone who would still recognize me?
I’ve been watching for a spot to land for breakfast, and finally run out of patience, landing at a spot that looks good enough. It’s the worst break spot of the trip. The mud is deep and clinging. When I go to scoop river water for cooking, I look down at a dead, mossy-looking salmon. I struggle through the mud a few feet upstream. Despite all that, I cook up some good, hot breakfast cereal. I pour in a rich mix of instant coffee and dried whole milk and dried coconut milk and sugar.
I follow a long, straight side channel of the river, lost in my thoughts. Tired, I call it a day at 9 AM, after nearly 12 hours on the river. My home is a warm sleeping bag in a small tent in a stand of young cottonwoods.