Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaving Our Safe Harbor on the Thirty Mile River: Day 12 of the Yukon River Trip

As we make preparations to leave the security of our oasis in the wild Yukon, my eyes swell with tears, and I turn from Jake to try and hide my fear.  It's been decided that I would paddle first today.  If I could turn back the calendar, I think I might actually stifle my will to make this dream of floating the Yukon River come true.  I don't want to leave this place.  I don't want to row again--not this boat and not this river.  Doubt & fear claw at my neck, and I can't shake myself into sanity.  I'm not thinking of the fun we've already had navigating and exploring or of my confidence that has gradually grown in the previous days.  I'm thinking of the far away winds & waves of Lake Laberge and the menacing wind of the Yukon that seems to be out to get us.

I take my seat and begin to paddle the 11' oars to take us away from our safe harbor.  As I near the end of the pool that fingered off the Yukon River, the tears fell and the confidence of being able to handle the Sundowner was replaced by the certainty that the wind would return to dominate me.  I shake my head--I'm not sure if it's because I'm saying No, I can't do this or No, Susan, don't paddle out into the river.

Paddling across the running water to catch the current felt natural, but everything in my mind screams You can't do this!  The wind seems to feel sorry for me and shows some mercy on me at the beginning of my shift, and my body takes over as my fears continue to fester and quietly torture me.  Having Jake close helps immensely, but I deeply yearn for him to say, "How about I row the rest of the trip?"  I know this is not probable or practical or safe.  Slowly, fear loosens it choke hold, and the current sweeps me farther from the pile of self-doubt that I had allowed to smolder for far too long.


Our travel on the river later that day ended as Jake jumped out onto Cassier Bar with NRS straps in hand (thanks, Nurpu!), and we tied to shabby shrub at the end of the small sandy island, once a rather profitable prospecting site.  We panned late into the evening--all night rather--and focused on finding our own little nugget or glittering flake that made the Yukon waters a destination of so many before us.  In the wee hours of the morning, we realized we would be spending the duration of the night tethered to the sand bar due to the now lower visibility of the obstacles that lurked in the downstream waters of the Yukon River.  Again, we panned and panned until our fingers shriveled from the water and our bodies shook from the dropping temperatures.  This time we came up empty handed--either because we really had no idea what we were doing or because all the gold had been claimed long ago.  I would like to think it was the latter.

Our bodies cried for a break from the elements.  Crawling into the shelter of our cabin, we felt the Sundowner make a major shift in the water, and some of the half-sand-half-gravel island that we were anchored to gave away and washed into the river.  You see, this was a very fast part of the river.  The only way we could secure our boat was to a tiny tattered shrub at the downstream end of the island.  The stern of our boat was facing downstream, while the two swift currents from each side of the sandbar swept past the sides of the Sundowner.  The pitiful shrub that held our boat was now dangerously closer to the sandy edge.  We decided that it was not safe to have our weight in the cabin, seeing as how the stern was facing downstream.  If our anchor (the sad little shrub) would have given way, we would've joined the rapid current and traveled backwards into the dimly lit waters.  Furthermore, getting off the Sundowner and waiting on the sandbar for more light was also not an option for fear of the boat breaking loose without us aboard.  So, we grabbed our blankets to cover our damp clothes and sat on our deck, facing upstream and the taunting, chilly Yukon wind.  We shivered and shook through the early morning hours until the sun provided enough traveling light over the high Yukon bluffs.

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