Sunday, July 17, 2011

65 Miles of Rain on the Yukon River: Day 15 of the Yukon River Trip

Today was our 12th wedding anniversary, and I awoke to rain but no wind.  I considered the "no wind" part to be a superb gift.  I woke Jake, and we decided to hit the river.  "Better rain than wind" quickly became our motto for the day.  Over the next 13 or so hours, we stopped once for a rushed bathroom break at a perilous tie up to a tree on the shore of the Yukon River.  Other than that, it was nonstop rowing, and we covered 65 miles.  All the while, the rain varied from slow drizzles to heavy downpours. 

A day or so back we adjusted the oars and started paddling together, which was a blessing with a few curses.  The blessing was that the physical strain on our bodies was significantly lessened.  One curse was that we were now both tied to rowing, whereas before one of us would row while the other managed the map, GPS, and binoculars (which were used to scope out our way and any upcoming obstacles).  So, trying to keep the binoculars dry while passing the GPS back and forth and following the map (which was posted behind us on the starboard wall of the boat) proved to be somewhat cumbersome and awkward.  Another curse was that there were no free hands to grab this or to adjust that.  And perhaps the biggest curse of all was my inability to read the water as well as Jake.  Though I had grown mostly independent while paddling, I was not as savvy as Jake was when it came to choosing the most efficient course down the river.  This caused us to fight against each other at times, which sometimes resulted in throwing us off course and always resulted in us using more physical exertion than necessary.  And Jake--bless his heart--tried to help me during these frequent situations by telling me how to row while manning his own oar.  This usually meant that he pushing while telling me to pull…or vice versa.  Nevertheless, the blessing of paddling together outweighed the curses.

The 65 miles of nonstop rowing was due primarily to the inhospitable landscape of the gorgeous Yukon River banks.  If one of us did discover a place to pull over, it was without exception on the opposite side of ever widening river, which was impossible to paddle the Sundowner across in the swift current.  We were past our destination before we could make it half way through the current, and traveling down the middle did not improve our chances of reaching a resting place.  Thirteen hours of nonstop rowing meant that we were unable to make food.  Thoroughly sick of our peanuts and peanut butter and out of trail mix and other munchies, we resorted to the only food left that did not need preparing:  a 2 ft. long stick of pepperoni.  Yep, that's all we ate on July 17, 2011.  When our stomachs would growl uncomfortably, one of us would cut off two chunks off the fatty stick, and the constant rain would soon wash all the grease away from our mouths, our hands, and our oars.

The rain was steady and soaked us in the places our rain gear did not protect, such as our ankles, cheeks, and hands.  Though our hands were gloved, we found ourselves making tight fists every 5 minutes or so to wring out the excess water they absorbed.  And somehow my hair was saturated.  At one point we had our cookware, cups, and bowls strategically placed about the cabin to catch the leaks that the rain had not previously showed us on our journey.  When I found myself very wet and cold, I was shocked at how four words could instantly lift my morale:  "better rain than wind." 

Sometime later in our day as we approached Little Salmon Village, the rain decided to ease off and let us regain a few notches on the sanity meter.  After a few minutes of no water washing down upon us, the rain gear was stripped off.  The sun soon peaked out, and our layers of clothing suddenly felt claustrophobic.  We zipped off our pant legs and shed our long sleeves.  Our short sleeves were soon to follow, and we were back down to tank tops, shorts, & sandals (and life vests, of course!).  Talk of making it to Carmacks that night was no longer on a wing and a prayer; it seemed possible--no probable.  The warm sunlight made us cheerful and giddy.  We said and did silly things.  We felt we were in the clear with the last 42 miles. 

When all thoughts of the day's dismal rain seemed farther than the half hour of reprieve we were granted, something stopped our jovial mood dead in its tracks.  We both heard it.  Our heads turned and our eyes met as we tried to discern the far off noise that threatened our new festivities.  A finger came to my lips, and we tried to decipher the sound that eerily and gradually grew louder in our ears.  "Wind?" Jake asked, and my head jerked up to the sky and then to the banks.  I was half expecting to see some fist of a cloud ready to bash up our newly conjured merriment or perhaps the trees high on the bank bending at the tops from the horrid Yukon wind that had not yet reached the Sundowner.  Nothing.  Our eyes met again, and I know Jake saw fear in my eyes.  I saw confusion in his.  What was this ever growing whir of a sound?  And then simultaneous comprehension clicked:  "A car!" we both shouted out with elated relief.  We never saw the vehicle that bumped and skidded along the pothole-ridden Robert Campbell Highway that now met up with and ran parallel to the Yukon River.  After 15 days of not hearing the sound of a car and after several days of not seeing any sign of humans, it took us nearly 30 seconds to detect a sound that we've heard on a daily basis since birth.  Long after the sound of the vehicle battling Hwy 4, our laughter continued to echo off the Yukon River.


  1. That was all wonderful but a perilous story you had Susan. I'm not an adventurous person but watching and reading a story that is full of adventure like this arouse my interest to do so.