Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back Home Again in Indiana...

After driving through the night one last time, I am happy to announce that WE ARE FINALLY HOME!  

How strange it was to pull into our driveway early this morning (around 7:00 AM).  As we approached our neighborhood, excitement festered and oozed out of us.  We wanted nothing more than to be out of the Expedition and done with our week-long drive, but as we pulled into our beloved neighborhood, a surrealness blanketed me.  The houses that led the way to our home were not as I remembered.  They seemed...smaller and...closer together.  The expected and anticipated familiarity of home did not embrace me.  The previous five years of residency seemed a lifetime away, not just a mere five weeks.  

After unhooking the Sundowner, we decided that it would be best to unload the boat & Expedition before getting too comfortable.  But before unpacking, we first explored our home, and thanks to our most awesome neighbor Karis, our air had been turned on the previous day and our fridge stocked with a few necessities (which included a couple of pizzas from Papa Murphy's, bread & deli meat...).  How blessed we are to have such awesome neighbors!  It truly is good to be home.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jake & Susan Are Back on Dry Land!: Day 19 of the Yukon River Trip

     Jake & I are happy to announce that we have finished our Yukon River Trip adventure!  We pulled into Carmacks on the evening of our 12th anniversary, covering 202 miles of the mighty Yukon River.  Early on in our quest, we decided to forego our original destination of Dawson City for a number of reasons.  Though we definitely could have made the 460 miles to Dawson City, it became quite clear that we were losing sight of some of our original trip goals.
     Our venture quickly took on the feel of all work and no play.  Yes, we knew we had our work cut out for us, but even before we left town, we began to feel as though the planning of this trip was a second job.  Then when it was finally time to depart, the six-day drive wore us down even more (we only stopped at three motels--the rest of the nights we drove on through to cover the 3,300 miles to Whitehorse.  The weight and aerodynamics of the trailer and boat slowed us down much more than we anticipated.
     Once arriving in Whitehorse (finally!), we took two nights at the Yukon Inn to recover...or so we thought we would.  We quickly found ourselves running here and there--getting fishing licenses, last-minute gear, checking the river and launching sites, reorganizing our gear from the drive, making arrangements for storing our truck and trailer (thank you Sports North!), etc.  When we finally hit the river on the afternoon of July 3rd, we were still exhausted from the months of planning, the 3,300 miles of driving, and the preparations once reaching Whitehorse.
     As we got a handle on how the Sundowner maneuvered on the Yukon River, a river so different from any back home, we soon discovered that the wind was going to be our biggest challenge.  Lake Laberge, the 30-mile lake we had to cross early in our route, surprised us by how calm she appeared to be as we entered her waters.  At first, the glass-like surface and windless skies deceived us, as we later found ourselves battling the horrific winds and waves that Laberge is known to produce without notice.  The structure of the Sundowner took quite a beating from Lake Laberge (and so did we).
     After sneaking out of Laberge late in the evening and rowing through the night because her winds seemed to be the calmest then (thankgoodness for the almost 20-hours of sunlight), we found ourselves taking on the wind during the next stretch of Yukon River, known as the Thirty Mile River.  It was apparent that we would most likely continue to battle the wind--not the river--the whole way.  Jake & I found that we had not had any time to explore, play, recover, or even feed ourselves properly, and I wasn't journaling--simply recording the miles of the day and basic events.  We were just too worn down.  We felt we were putting in overtime covering miles, ignoring what the real purpose of our trip was.
     So, we decided to take a couple of days off to rest up, reorganize the cabin, and play.  Panning for gold and fishing were the highlights of this break; they were the first "just for fun" moments of the trip.  This made us revisit our goals and begin thinking about changing our final destination.  You see, Dawson City was not our goal; working together to live on our boat as we explored the awesome Yukon River and followed in the paddle strokes of so many before us.  We weren't exploring; we were simply covering miles and wearing ourselves out as we battled the wind with our boat, watching the canoes and kayaks zip by us.  
     We did the math daily; we could still make it to Dawson City, but with the frequent and unpredictable winds the Yukon blows, we knew we needed to readjust the final destination in order to meet our goals.  We worked hard, played a bit, and learned much during our fifteen days as we covered 202 miles of the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Carmacks.

(As we travel home we will be posting journal portions, pictures, 
and memories of our trip.  So, check back soon!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Departing from Carmacks & the Yukon River: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

...continued from "Jake's Return to Carmacks:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip"

In spite of the last 24 sleepless hours of bootless fishing, incessant gold panning, ill-intentioned visitors, relentless packing, and drawn out shuttle rides, we somehow managed to load up the Expedition for our impending departure.  Without reprieve, our next challenge awaited us:  getting the Sundowner on the trailer (and eventually out of the Yukon River!).   We knew battling the strong, swift Yukon current was unavoidable.

This picture is from the Sundowner's deck.  Our plan was to back the stern away from the bank & use NRS straps to pull the boat upstream a short distance to load the Sundowner onto the trailer before having the Expedition pull both trailer & boat up the ramp & out of the Yukon River.

Experience taught us to prepare for the worst-possible scenario:  losing the Sundowner to the current.  No boat ramps existed downriver, not even for the boat alone.  Overpowered by the current, the Sundowner would surely wreck, creating an expensive & nearly impossible retrieval.  Taking precautions, we tied one end of a blue NRS strap to our boat & anchored the other end to the trees until we combined the other NRS straps into two longer straps, securing both from our boat to the trailer.  These would serve as guide ropes, aligning the boat & trailer while also pulling the Sundowner close enough to attach the manual winch strap, which when cranked secures her into position.  We also hitched our battery powered winch on the bow of the Sundowner in anticipation of needing more than just muscle to load our boat.  And once again, we had an audience; a local couple materialized & watched us from their parked car on the circle drive (which, of course, added to the already escalating stress & pressure we were under).

Anchored by NRS Straps in Carmacks, YT

Backing the trailer down the boat ramp & into the water triggered yet another onslaught from the Yukon's unrelenting campaign to deny us any predictability.  As Jake inched the trailer farther out toward the necessary depth to receive the Sundowner, the river's powerful waters waged full force against the trailer.  The Yukon River strove for victory as its surging current grabbed onto the tail of our 2000 lb. trailer, threatening to carry it downstream.  The unforgiving water pledged one of three outcomes:  to mangle the trailer beyond use, to break the trailer from the Expedition, or to claim both the trailer & the Expedition as casualties in its assault.  My frantic screams & gestures sent the Expedition & the trailer lurching forward as Jake drove back up the ramp and broke the water's promise of demise.  And still, the couple brazenly watched our struggles unfold from the circle drive (a little help would have been nice!).

Onlookers usually parked on the left side of the circle drive
near the Carmacks boat launch.

Plan B transpired and then soaked in my anxiety & worst-case scenarios as Jake backed the trailer & the Expedition off the soft, squishy river bank & into a shallow pool just upstream of and next to the ramp.  From there, we followed our original idea of using NRS straps to secure & guide the Sundowner onto the trailer.  The forceful, icy current taunted me, and doubt stole my courage as I balanced on submerged bars of the slippery trailer & fought rushing water up past my knees.  I gave up trying to guide our boat toward the trailer with the NRS straps; Jake took over & grappled with the reigns to align the boat before we both wrestled the Sundowner into her secure position (and not without help from both the manual & battery powered winches).  The river just didn't want to let her go.

Climbing back into the Expedition, Jake stomped on the gas daring the mighty Yukon River to give the Sundowner up to its soft, mushy bank.  I yelled for Jake to stop after watching slushy sand & pebbles hinder the departure.  Tension rose as I shared my hesitation with Jake, and incredibly, two sets of eyes still stared out at us from behind the windshield of the parked car on the circle drive.  Jake ignored my disbelief & the gawking locals and floored the pedal again, this time spurring movement (& hope!).  The Expedition roared as it slowly inched forward.  My heart pounded as the back tires grabbed for pavement.  Holding my breath, I watched the trailer's first set of tires slide through the soggy sand.  Jake didn't let up, and the engine dominated with a slow, steady pace as the stern of the Sundowner left the water and the trailer's last set of wheels finally mounted the paved road!  I imagine the inquisitive locals parked on the circle drive expected their curious, doubting stupor to last longer.  Now what would they do?  I stood in my own lingering fog of skepticism & marveled at our first stroke of luck since our departure from Whitehorse nearly 3 weeks ago on Day 1 of our Yukon River Trip.  

Jake put the truck in park & joined me on the bank of the Yukon River to celebrate our latest feat before saying goodbye to our beloved spot in Carmacks.  Exhausted, we stood together trying to absorb the sobering reality & surreal finality of our exit off the Yukon River.

Click here to continue by reading 
"Returning to Whitehorse:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip."

Jake's Return to Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

...continued from "Alone & Anxiously Awaiting Jake's Return to Carmacks:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip"

The Expedition continued toward me & the Yukon River until the circle drive rounded it away from the water's edge to grant easier access to Carmacks' public boat launch.  Backing up, Jake plunged the trailer into the water and then turned the Expedition to point back up the road for our impending departure from the mighty Yukon River.  Driving forward, Jake perched the trailer to wait on the edge of the bank while we would load the truck & plan how to combat the swift & powerful current in order to get the Sundowner onto the trailer.

Jake's exhaustion advertised itself on his face, showing me fatigue had claimed him as well.  After our reunion kiss & hug, Jake credited his delay to the bossy Germans that shared the shuttle with him & a friendly Swiss couple.  The Germans evidently mistook the canoe shuttle service for a chauffeur service when they so rudely commanded the shuttle driver to "Halt," making the other shuttle passengers & driver wait while they dropped in on & visited with a friend.  A second unscheduled stop at the Braeburn Lodge had also prolonged Jake's return from Whitehorse while the Swiss & German couples savored the famous, oversized cinnamon buns that nicknamed the Braeburn Airport as the Cinnamon Bun Airstrip.

Braeburn Lodge, photo by James Brooks

Braeburn Airstrip, photo by Luigi Zanasi, Wikimedia Commons Contributer

Before loading up, I started to share my vexing encounter of the ill-intentioned, pushy girl & her two creepy accomplices.  Because I was pleased with my performance, I presumed Jake would be also.  I expected showers of praise on how I handled this or that but was instead rebuked: "I knew it!  I told you!  ...That is exactly what I feared by letting you stay here alone....  Do you know how bad this could've been?!..."

"But Jake, nothing happened!" I would counter again & again after each chiding interruption.  The fact that nothing happened didn't seem to make a difference to him.  It was the could-haves that stoked Jake's temper (and still does years later).  

We will never see eye-to-eye on the decision made to our dilemma in Carmacks.  Jake will always regret letting me stay behind alone with the Sundowner because of the--in his mind--almost atrocious ending to our Yukon River Trip, and I will forever rejoice not fetching the Expedition & trailer all alone from Whitehorse, which excused me from facing the concocted possibilities of Worst-Case Scenario Girl.

Click here to continue by reading "Departing from Carmacks & the Yukon River:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip."

Alone & Anxiously Awaiting Jake's Return to Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

...continued from "A Worst-Case Scenario in Carmacks:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip"

Once my talkative, curious visitor and her two mysterious men in the magically appearing truck vanished--CUT!  Yeah, that's not really how I saw the whole situation.  "Talkative" and "Curious" and "Mysterious" are quite honestly lip service at best.  The Truth:  These three were up to no good--period.  
So, let me start again:  Once the ill-intentioned, pushy girl and her two creepy accomplices in the eerily stealthy truck slithered away after their failed mission (much better), I welcomed relief, regained focus, and once again engaged myself in the monstrous goal of organizing the Sundowner and all her contents, which had sustained us for nearly three weeks on our 202-mile Yukon River Trip.
Clothes & toiletries, uneaten food & kitchen essentials, fishing poles & tackle, knives & tools, sleeping pads & bags, towels & tarps, maps & cameras, dry suits & waders, rain gear & extra boots, books & writing necessities, and survival gear along with a wench all had to be prepped to be logically packed into our vehicle upon Jake's return to Carmacks.
I wanted all the boxes, trunks, bags, crates, & many, many piles of gear to be prudently laid out, ready to load up before Jake's return for two reasons:  1.)  I yearned for a near-perfect organization system because we would be spending the next 7-8 days riding in & living out of our Expedition, and 2.)  I wanted Jake to return to a job well done and appreciate (& maybe even be happy) that I stayed behind in Carmacks while he retrieved our truck & the Sundowner's trailer from Whitehorse.

Each glance at the clock showed advancing numbers that represented the growing time that separated Jake & I for the first time since our June 25 departure date over three weeks ago.  For 24 days Jake was virtually an arm's reach away from me; rarely was he out of my sight, except the handful of times one of us would wander a couple of streets away for a food run in one of the few towns where we grabbed a bed to alleviate the laborious task of hauling the Sundowner 3300 miles from Indiana to the Yukon River. 

Enough time had not passed to merit serious worry, but the sudden separation left me feeling strangely incomplete, allowing anxiety to fill the newly vacant space Jake's absence created.  The once seemingly impossible chore of prepping all of our gear for the arrival of Jake & the Expedition proved to be a blessing with the distraction it offered.  
Once Jake's earliest possible estimated arrival time had passed, my mind would frequently steal away & wonder--or worry, rather--how Jake's chore was playing out:  I wonder if he has made it back to Whitehorse yet....  Will our 12-year-old truck start after sitting so long?  What if the Expedition has been stolen?  Or it breaks down--or worse--wrecks on the lonesome & treacherous road between Whitehorse & Carmacks?  What will I do if he's not back before the town sleeps and foragers lurk & scheme in the nearby shadowy foliage?  Just about the time Worst-Case-Scenario-Girl was ready to permanently stake herself a tent in the land of anxiety, Sanity would intervene and chase the worry back into my subconscious where it festered before surfacing again.
The Gravel Road I Routinely Scanned in Anticipation of Jake's Return 

As the afternoon matured, I debated on transferring the contents of the Sundowner onto the bank in hopes of shortening our load time once Jake returned.  I knew this was a gamble; if the culprits with the duplicitous dealings from earlier returned, I may not manage as well in a second strike.  On the other hand, if I cut our work in half, Jake & I could make an earlier departure for our 112-mile drive to Whitehorse.  (Google Maps estimated the travel time as 2 hours and 17 minutes; however, during our 6-and-a-half-day drive to the Yukon, nearly doubling those estimates better matched the pace our Expedition chose while hauling the Sundowner.)  

Time or safety: that was the question.  I resolved to chance it & unload the aggregation of paraphernalia from the Sundowner onto the bank of the Yukon River.  Any time that I could cut to accelerate our departure meant that much less time between me and a shower & clean bed.  So, I sorted & shuffled our gear into a mock-up of our packed Expedition, following the blueprint my mind drew during earlier hours of my scrupulous packing.
The New Holding Plot for Our Gear    

At last, while grabbing another load from the bow of the Sundowner, I turned & beheld our trusty Expedition with trailer in tow heading my way.  Pure joy saturated me when I caught my first glimpse of Jake's handsome face through the windshield camouflaged by the reflection of the surrounding trees.  

A Worst-Case Scenario in Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

...continued from "Jake's Fear Becomes a Reality during His Absence from Carkmacks:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip"

Even though Jake was miles and hours away, I heard his voice clearly weave through the chaos in my brain:  This is why I didn't want you to stay in Carmacks…alone.  The tone wasn't I-told-you-so; it was more of a sincerely, concerned why-didn't-you-listen-to-me?

Why didn't I listen to him? 

Well, I made this bed….so, I countered her proposal:  "If your friends want to meet me, they'll have to come over here."  I hoped I wouldn't soon regret my recommendation.  My suspicious agitation surged into consternation as I waited for her reply.

"They over there," she said, pointing again to the truck that had magically materialized into my world just moments ago.  This time I looked over at the halfway hidden truck.  My peripheral vision had not deceived me; two males sat in the truck. 

She interrupted my brain trying to discern the situation:  "Just for a minute.  They just over there." 

Pulling up to the red structure with the power lines, the gray pickup nestled between the Carmacks bridge & the brush just off the circle drive, providing them with a clear view of me and allowing me to see into the cab of the truck (after their presence was brought to my attention).

Something's not right (no, I didn't just then draw that conclusion…fraudulent motivations inched toward obvious from the moment I detected this girl).  Something within the obvious creeped me out and caused alarm to claw up my back and scratch its jagged nails up my neck.  This girl wasn't the source of my fear.  So, what was?  The two guys…in the truck….?  My intuition told me I was fine as long as I stayed on the Sundowner.  So…what was causing panic to fester within me? 

Finally, it clicked:  not once since my "discovery" of the two men in the truck--not once--had I seen either of them look my way.  They both just sat in that truck staring straight across the Yukon River.  Why?  They sat there waiting…waiting without wanting to clearly be seen by me.  It was as though they were anticipating a cue…my arrival to their truck perhaps?   A signal from the girl?  From someone else?  Oh God, no--not someone else!  My consternation snapped into fearful exasperation, and my eyes frantically scanned splotches of brush, the nearby bank, far-off tree lines, the distant boardwalk….   

Am I reading too much into this situation?  Or is Worst-Case-Scenario Girl having a heyday because she's missing the threats of daily life on the river?  Maybe I'm being too cautious….

The girl broke into my paranoid rationalizations and tried one last appeal:  "Come.  Meet my friends.  You will see boat from over there," she pressed.  "It's not far.  You still see boat over there." 

And that's what did it--she was offering me a solution to a problem I hadn't voiced.  I quickly drew three possible conclusions about this girl:  she was  1.) smarter than I had realized or  2.) coached well by someone that was taking advantage of her or  3.) the best damn actress I had ever encountered in person.  The skeptic in me highly doubted the latter.  Regardless of which conclusion was closest to the truth, I was done fooling around with the girl and her probable accomplices--no matter how many waited out of sight until a sign was given to move in and carry out their scheme.

Going for something stronger than my previous "subliminal emphasis," I moved to the side & peered into the cabin--as though to assess my unfinished work--knowing her curious, wandering eyes would fall upon the 12 gauge shotgun that was strapped to the center pole of the Sundowner's cabin.  With my hands on my hips, I swung back around, my KA-BAR Kukri Machete flared and flapped more dramatically than before.  "Well, it's time for me to get back to packing up this boat." 

My KA-BAR Kukri Machete

I'm guessing she saw the shotgun, for her presence soon drifted into a memory.  I wasn't trying to threaten her, only trying to plant the idea of the possibility that I could be trouble to her and others if they pushed me too far.  I don't feel that I angered or insulted her…probably just disappointed her--no matter what the real story was. 

True to my word, I got back to work and accomplished Goal #3 by making sure each item that accompanied us on the Sundowner was packed in a logical & memorable place.  Tackling Goal #4 pushed me physically after an already long day…week…month.  Nonetheless, I balanced back and forth between the deck and the boat ramp on our makeshift ramp (part of a tree stand ladder that we used to access the roof of our boat).  I hauled what I could off the boat and grouped items in anticipation of Jake's arrival.

After my time-for-work declaration to the girl, I can't recall if any more words were exchanged between us.  I also don't remember her walking off or the truck with the two males driving away (which still puzzles me--how did they get in and out of there without me hearing or seeing them?).  I just know I looked up from my work at one point, and they were gone.  In retrospect, what do I really believe could have happened had I gotten off the Sundowner?  I'm not thinking worst-case scenario like I did during the ordeal (and I believe most would do so in a similar potentially threatening situation).  Rarely does a predicament escalate into a worst-case scenario.  For survival's sake, I had to explore and assume the unimaginable to build a strong defense and eventually offense. 

However, hindsight leads me to believe that once I climbed off the Sundowner and trotted over to meet the "friends" in the creepy gray truck, others (unbeknownst to me) would have popped out of their hiding places to grab what they could before I came charging back with my kukri high above my head promising bloodshed if my gear wasn't returned (that is to say if I would have caught up with any of them).  A little more serious possibility could have led to a stolen boat; I shudder to even describe that picture.  Worst-case scenario?  To my knowledge, it didn't come close to that, so I'm not going to go there. 

I'm choosing to reflect on this memory as a learning experience with the following lessons:  1.) Being caught off guard always comes after letting your guard down.  2.) In future situations that I perceive as potentially dangerous, I only need to say "no" once.  If my requests/denials are not respected, I will not feel obligated to stay polite.  How I am perceived and how I make the opposing force feel no longer matters once I feel my safety is being jeopardized.  3.) Acknowledge your suspicions and intuitions, yet keep your paranoia in check so that you can think and act rationally to appear in control of yourself and the outcome of the threatening situation.  4.)  Maybe my perception of the situation was entirely wrong.  Maybe the two guys in the truck just wanted to ask about my Yukon River Trip, and they were just too shy to strike up the conversation.  Maybe…I doubt it, but…maybe.


Jake's Fear Becomes a Reality during His Absence from Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

Prior to Packing Up the Sundowner in Carmacks, YT

I threw a "Well, hello!" her way as I sized up my visitor & surrounding areas.  She seemed to be alone, and she seemed to be somewhat young.  How young?  I could not tell.  Based on only appearances, I would have guessed her age to be mid to late teens or maybe early twenties (at most).  She appeared short, though I was aware that her height could've been dwarfed by the difference in our elevations, me on the deck of the Sundowner and her on bank of the Yukon River.  Her dark hair hung straight & long on both sides of her round Indian face.  She smiled a Jack-o-Lantern smile, and among the spaces where I assumed teeth once were, a rotted, black tooth jutted up from her lower gum line.

"Why you have a pirate boat?" she asked.  I knew she was referring to Nurpu's large logo on the sides of our boat and concluded she had been the one, along with others, that had been yelling "Pirate boat!  Pirate boat!" from the Carmacks bridge over the past few days.  

"It's the logo of a gear shop where we're from," I responded.

"But why?" she asked.

Does she not understand me?  Am I not understanding her question? "Because they are one of our sponsors for this trip," I offered, hoping to appease her question.

"Why pirates?  Are you a pirate?"

Am I dealing with a language barrier or what?  She spoke child-like, but why?  I tried another answer:  "No, we're not pirates; we just like pirates."  That seemed to satisfy her interest, or maybe I was frustrating her by not understanding what she really wanted to know.

"I come on your boat?" she asked while pointing to the deck of the Sundowner.

"Uh, I don't think that's such a good idea."  Oh, nice one, Susan.  My response lacked tack yet oozed truth.  I was shocked at how rude I sounded for two reasons:  1.) I wasn't accustomed to being so blunt, especially to strangers, and 2.) I recognized that apprehension prompted my crass reply.  If Jake was here, he would validate my frank words right after criticizing my self-inflicted abashment.

"Why?" she pushed, and uneasiness began to take root in the presence of my mind.

If Jake was here, he would have no problem telling her exactly why.  "Well...I've got such a mess up here; I wouldn't want you to you trip over anything and hurt yourself--"

"I won't hurt myself," she insisted as she inched toward our makeshift ramp.  Obviously, what I wanted didn't matter to her.  Or, maybe she just wasn't picking up on the fact that I did not want her on my boat.

"I really don't have the time to talk.  I've got so much to do; I've got to get this boat cleaned and packed up before my husband returns."  If Jake was here, he would disapprove of me needing to justify my refusal to her request.

"I just wanna look," she implored.

"You can look from down there while I work up here," I retorted, but somehow I didn't feel she would comply.  If Jake was here....Jake's not here.  Trying to subliminally & further emphasize my stance in the circumlocution of my words, I twisted a bit--like I was stretching out my back.  I did this to make sure she had not missed seeing the black kukri machete attached to my belt.  Mildly flaring out from my waist down as I turned, my knife separated from my profile to reveal 17 inches of "subliminal emphasis."

Something stopped her from boarding the Sundowner.  Was it my kukri or my tone?  In that moment I yearned that both appeared inflexible and serious.  Whatever it was dissuaded her from pursuing her prior plan.  If Jake was here, he would commend my deliberate--though nonverbal--attempt to assert my message.

"I'm sorry that I don't really have time to talk.  I really do need to keep packing," I offered.  Jake would roll his eyes at my apology and politely enhanced tone.

"Why?" she questioned.  Here we go again, I thought.

"I told you that I've got to get this boat all cleaned up and packed before my husband gets back."

"Why?"  Seriously?! Is she presumptuous or just shamelessly curious?  Or worse...?

"Well...we've got a long drive ahead of us, and I want to have everything ready by the time he gets back."

"Where's he at?"

Geez!  Is there no end to this girl's questions?  "He went to get our truck and will be right back."  That statement was half true and half not so true.  Jake was getting our truck, but he was hours away from being "right back."

Why was I not surprised when she produced another question?  "Where's your truck?"

Knowing that my reply probably wouldn't pacify her inquiry, I said, "I told you...with my husband." 

"And where's he?"  Okay, where's the hidden camera?  I'm about to blow a gasket; this girl is not for real!

"Getting our truck so that we can haul our boat home."  I knew I was sending this conversation in circles, but I did not want to provide her with any more information, and I just didn't have what it would take to tell her to go away.

A brief moment fluttered in the air between us as she seemed to decipher my words...or perhaps change her tactics.  "Come meet my friends," she insisted. "They want to meet you."

Wait--what friends?!  And before my mouth could form the words, she pointed to her right, toward the bridge. 

Suspicious agitation shattered my uneasiness.  Out of the corner of my eye emerged a gray pickup truck--not even 40 yards from me--nestled between the Carmacks bridge and some unkempt brush just off the circle drive.  My peripheral vision detected two male passengers.  Questions spewed and clamored in my head:  When did they get here?  How long have they been here?  How did I not hear their truck?  What did they want? 

Packing Up the Sundowner in Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

...continued from "A Dilemma & Departure in Carmacks:  Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip"

Jake's departure propelled me into action; I probably had more work than I could fit into his anticipated 4-hour absence.  I welcomed the work that sprawled around me because it left no time to ponder & fret over Jake's journey.  A strategy surfaced, and I launched my campaign to triumph over the endless job of prepping & packing for our long drive home. 

I had four major goals:
1.)  dress man-like in order to not draw attention to myself as a lone female on our alluring boat that surely held desirable souvenirs for those with bold, corrupt intentions
2.)  dry out the boat, tarps, floor mats, gear, shoes, and clothes to avoid mildew & ruin on the week-long return drive home
3.)  put away all belongings in a logical & memorable place
4.)  group tubs, bags, & gear according to where they should be placed in the Expedition for possible access or non-access for the 3,300-mile journey

To attempt Goal #1, I dressed in gray North Face zipoff pants, my heavy boots, a zipped-up black fleece jacket, and a camo baseball cap that hid my long hair from distant, curious onlookers that might bring unwanted distractions & delays to my day's objective.  Feeling alone & possibly vulnerable, I randomly caught myself at times mimicking mannish mannerisms & movements, hoping to convince onlookers that I was able to hold my own--whether or not they bought my masculine character.

Initiating Goal #2, I began to gather & spread various items, ranging from damp to drenched, on any & all available spaces that would possibly catch a draft of the Yukon wind blowing through Carmacks that morning.  Due to the limited sites that captured the Yukon sun & wind in the Sundowner's position, I was continually draping & redraping our first batch of saturated possessions to capitalize on sunlight & wind before swapping the thoroughly dried items with the next significant soggy set.

At some point, I realized that I was not the only being hard at work; I noticed locals working their fishing nets on the opposing bank of the Yukon River.

First Nation Families Attending to Their Fishing Nets Across the Yukon River
Carmacks, YT, Canada

While the welcomed & much appreciated summer sun dried our gear, it also forced me to shed the layers of my manly costume to make my vigorous task bearable.  Well aware that I would no longer possibly pass as the opposite sex, I continued my work in my camo hat, black tank top, gray pants, & Chacos...still trying to appear as valiant as possible.

It was during my employment of Goal #3 when Jake's dreaded prediction of trouble became a reality & paid me a visit.  As I hopped and balanced and maneuvered through the maze of my organized stacks & piles on the deck of the Sundowner, I detected my approaching visitor.  She was already 10 feet from boarding the Sundowner when I first saw her.  How did she get this close without me noticing?  Jake would not approve.

A Dilemma & Departure in Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

Our last night on the Yukon River was sprinkled with squabbles about the approaching solo journey to & from Whitehorse.  Jake & I had opposing views about which one of us should catch the shuttle with Kanoe People back to Whitehorse and retrieve our Expedition & trailer to then drive the 112 road miles back to Carmacks.

I wanted to stay with the Sundowner, even though that meant I would be responsible for organizing all of our belongings (wet tarps & clothing, scattered toiletries, survival gear, bedding, kitchen & food supplies....) to fit into the Expedition for our 3,300-mile return drive home.  That daunting task was overshadowed by my abhorrent fear of--in my mind--the likely possibility that the Expedition would either A.) not start or B.) break down along the desolate drive back to Carmacks on the Klondike Highway (HWY 2).  Worst-Case-Scenario Girl envisioned the Expedition conking out halfway between Whitehorse & Carmacks and encountering a massive and aggressively destructive grizzly bear with an unquenchable curiosity for the shaking, mortified me trapped inside the easily penetrable shell where I prayerfully took refuge....  Or, perhaps an up-to-no-good wilderness-dwelling savage that preys on helplessly stranded Americans without a cell signal would materialize from the backcountry and drag me off into the bush where I would never be found but forever wander aimlessly after my abductor tired of my unceasing vociferations of anguish....  Without much acknowledgment of my worst case scenarios, Jake assured me that our Expedition with nearly 160,000 miles would start and get back to Carmacks devoid of problems.  I was not convinced.

Jake preferred for me not to stay in Carmacks alone with the boat & our gear.  Before our journey, we had read warnings to watch your gear and your back while camping near the Carmacks bridge area.  Locals also advised us not to leave our boat unattended, and for the past three days we felt like the center of attention for many in and around the Villiage of Carmacks.  I assured Jake that I could hold my own & our gear-loaded boat, especially with the Mossberg 500 and my KA-BAR Kukri Machete as my companions (that's a 12-gauge shot gun & tactical machete for those unschooled in weaponry like I was before this trip).  I had just survived nearly 3 weeks of the wild Yukon River; I wasn't going to let human beings threaten or impose afflictions upon me.  Still, Jake was not convinced.

I'm sure it wasn't that he thought I couldn't handle unwanted, pesky--and possibly harmful--visitors.  I just think he didn't want that experience for me (nor did I), but in my mind that was a situation I preferred to combat over a broken-down vehicle in the middle of nowhere--literally--with the inept ability to diagnose & repair anything much more than a flat tire, empty tank of gas, or dead battery.  I wanted to stay; the Sundowner and Carmacks promised familiarity and thus security in my mind.  With the impending 10:00 a.m. pickup time charging my anxiety, torturous what-ifs and the unknown fate of our Expedition and its return journey strangled my gumption.  Reasoning with Worst-Case-Scenario Girl & her extinguished common sense was hopeless, and Jake begrudgingly boarded the shuttle against his better judgment.  

Watching the white van with its canoe trailer in tow carry Jake away from me, I felt relieved, alone, and ashamed.  Explaining my relief is unnecessary.  I felt alone because I had not been farther than 50 yards from Jake since we left our home almost a month ago.  The ever-present option of communication ceased as the shuttle drove out of sight.  Contact would have to wait until his return.  Without a cell signal, I had no way of connecting with him, which meant no way of learning of his safe arrival to way of knowing if the Expedition started after sitting for almost 20 way of knowing if he encountered obstacles on the Klondike Hwy...and no way of alerting him if I was in trouble.  I could not leave the boat to place a call to Sports North (where we had parked the Expedition) to get a message to Jake or to see if he had arrived.  It was just me and the Sundowner on the edge of Carmacks until Jake's return.  I was ashamed because I felt as though I had let Jake down in some way.  Not mustering the courage to follow his reasoning made me feel out of sorts and ungrateful.  Jake is my captain, my love, my friend, my protector.  Never has his instruction or directions misguided me.  This trip reaffirmed my life & safety to be foremost in his mind.  And, this is how I repay him?  By not trusting this decision? 

We guessed the round trip to be around 4 hours, but most of our previous estimated driving times on this trip seemed to take up to twice as long.  I was left to ponder his whereabouts & fortune while I prepared the Sundowner and our gear for the long drive that was still before us.

Savoring Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip

We passed our last night on the Yukon River by fishing, panning, and snatching bites of instant mashed potatoes. 

Susan Fishing with the Carmacks Bridge in the Background

The Yukon River's swift current sent my fishing line speeding back to the shore directly following every one of my casts, making my attempts of catching a fish fruitless.  But, that didn't stop me from hours of trying this and that from Jake's tackle box.  I yearned for a fish but accepted that I probably wouldn't get one.  Regardless, I kept fishing, mostly to savor my last hours of interacting with the mighty Yukon River.

During one of my evening fishing spells, a beaver swam startlingly close to my spot on the bank before seeing me.  The loud cracking sound of his tail slapping the water told me I was in his territory.  When I didn't scare off, curiosity lured him back again and again to investigate the stranger along his river bank.  For a good part of an hour, I watched him gracefully glide and twist through the water before me, breaking his fluid movements now and then to smack his tail on the river's surface, sending chaotic splashes of water my way, before diving deep and swimming away only to repeat his agile advances toward me. 

Panning for gold was the interlude between my bouts of fishing.  As the temperature dropped, my fingertips winced with each dip into the frigid water of my pan.  My shriveled fingertips poked and grabbed at the tiny rubble of jagged pebbles, mud, silt, and sand, trying to remove what I could to lessen the excess in my pan.  My hands shuddered from the cold as I dipped the lip of my pan just below the surface of the river to take on just a tad more water for the next swirl of my pan.  Accidental splashes of water would escape my pan and drench my wrist and the cuff of my sleeve, sending shivers through my body to try and ward off the cold.  After finishing a pan, I would look at my battered fingers to judge if my hands could take another round. My chapped hands and cracked fingers advertise a fragment of the wrath the Yukon River has rendered upon us during the last three weeks of paddling and surviving in the wilderness.  The ends of my fingers are tender and feel bruised, making simple tasks like grasping and pulling a zipper annoyingly painful.

And once again, we let the Midnight Sun sneak an entire night away; by the time the darkening sky squealed on Time, we figured it would be best to push through and burn some coffee to combat the chilly morning air.  I won't mourn for last night's missed sleep, even though we have a big day of packing, shuttling, taking out, and driving still ahead of us.  The Yukon's unexpected blessing of extra time during our last night on the river built a finale of memories befitting our Yukon River Trip.

Click here to continue by reading "A Dilemma & Departure in Carmacks: Day 18 of the Yukon River Trip."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Still in Carmacks: Day 17 of the Yukon River Trip

Drying out The Sundowner on the Yukon River in Carmacks

Technically, we're still on the Yukon River, though we are tied to a tree at a public boat launch in Carmacks.  The .7 miles it takes to walk to town is a welcome to our legs that have seemed unused since we left our home in Indiana almost four weeks ago.  We take turns going into town for supplies or to explore while the other stays with the boat.  We were told not to leave our boat unattended (not that we would have anyway).  The locals are welcoming; it is nice to be around people again.

The rain has been on & off with brief visits from the warming sun.  So, it's been a constant battle to dry out our boat and gear.  When we think the soaking rain is almost at an end, it returns to drench us again.  We've been told that it's unseasonable wet this year in Carmacks…what, with 12 straight days of rain--ugh.  We were blessed not to encounter much rain while we were traveling the last 202 miles of the Yukon River (besides the last 65 miles), and I am grateful for that. 

I'm not sure if word has gotten around or if people are just happy the rain has let up, but we are most certainly peaking the interest of the citizens of Carmacks and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation people, who reside across the river from us.  You would think a band of traveling players had arrived in town by the way they slowly drive around the circle drive…sometimes more than once.  Others put their vehicles in park and just stare at us.  And still others get out and talk with us about our journey down the Yukon River.  The village of Carmacks is used to seeing all sorts of paddlers, but I dare to say there's probably not been a pair quite like us with our camouflaged cabin donning the Nurpu skull and crossbones.  Actually, our visitors are providing us with our own sort of entertainment.  We've never seen so much rubber-necking in one spot.  We just hope that it's only curiosity that brings on the long stares.

Tonight is our last night on the Yukon River.  I am thankful we've been able to spend a few days on the river here in Carmacks once we finished paddling.  Carmacks is so quaint and friendly, and I know it will be hard tomorrow to say goodbye not only to the Yukon River but also to the sweet village of Carmacks.  

How will we spend our last night on the Yukon River?  Besides warming our feet by the fire, I'm guessing we've got gold panning & fishing on this evening's agenda.  

Point6 Spoiled Us with the Best Socks on the Planet

Waiting in Carmacks: Day 16 of the Yukon River Trip

Our View of the Carmacks Bridge from the Public Boat Launch

So, I hiked into Carmacks earlier today to purchase a few (very expensive!) groceries.  While at the grocery store (which also serves as the village's hardware store, video store, souvenir shop, & gas station), I learned that there is no bus or public transportation running between Carmacks and Whitehorse.  We can't figure out why.  Buses run from Whitehorse to Dawson & vice-versa, and Carmacks is right on the way; those buses have to go over the bridge that sits about 50 yards from our boat.  Locals are telling me to hitch a ride to Whitehorse; it seems like a popular and acceptable mode of transportation up here.  "Just hang out there by the gas pumps," one guy told me, "Somebody will take you."  Uh, no, I thought to myself as I thanked him for his help.  I'm just not comfortable getting into a stranger's car in this isolated place and trusting that I'll safely reach Whitehorse in one piece.

Jake later hiked into town to the Conservation Office, where he was able to call Kanoe People, an outfitter in Whitehorse, to see about the possibility of catching a shuttle from Carmacks to Whitehorse.  They were happy to exchange a free shuttle for a link to their business on our Yukon River Trip website.  The shuttle is scheduled to arrive the morning after tomorrow.  We haven't decided who will shuttle back to get the truck and trailer, but I hope it's Jake. 

Carmacks is a tiny village with a population just under 500, I believe.  We're at the public launch site, and so far, no one has come or gone since our arrival.   It's rained here off and on today.  I guess it's been raining here for about 12 days. A local said that it should clear up today or tomorrow.  We've managed to dry out much of our gear and clothing and bits of the boat, but we could use a sunny--rain free--day.

Looking Towards the Village of Carmacks
from the Public Boat Launch

I feel kind of hippie-ish living on the side of the river and walking to town from our boat.  This morning, I tried my best not to smell like I haven't seen a bathtub in over 15 days by lathering on lotion and applying extra deodorant.  Once inside the local store, I became highly self-conscience of the possibility that I might be emanating a nasty, reeking stench, the kind that makes you jerk your head away or hold your breath until you hope the coast is clear.  I couldn't smell myself, but I was worried that might not be the case for those so unlucky to cross my path.  Upon arriving in Carmacks, Jake & I boiled water and washed our faces, necks, arms, etc, but I haven't washed my hair in a while.  Only twice was I courageous enough to dunk my scalp into the freezing Yukon River to wash my hair.  But since it rained all day yesterday during our 65 miles of paddling, my hair got soaked.  So, it's a little better--still greasy & bugging me, but not as bad as it was.  Really, my clothes are probably as much of a culprit as anything.  Sure, I've washed them on our trip, but I think that was close to 9 days ago.  Knowing that clean clothes wait in our truck has cut out all motivation for washing clothes again in the chilly Yukon waters.  What's one more day?

Oh, I can't wait to take a shower!  The hotel here has coin showers, but I have no Canadian cash, so I'll have to see what we can work out.  If nothing, then I guess I'll be getting a hotel room--and soon!  I also miss a toilet very much--what a pain it's been, especially since our boat was impossible to pull over most of the time. 

What I find really fascinating is how little I can eat now.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to get down my entire bratwurst--just a plain bratwurst and bun--and chips were out of the question.  I am amazed at how much our stomachs have shrank and how many pounds were lost on the river.  I see a noticeable change in Jake and feel the difference in my now loose-fitting clothes.

Tied to a Trusty Tree in Carmacks on the Shores of the Yukon River
with NRS Straps from Nurpu River & Mountain Supply

Monday, July 18, 2011

Arriving in the Village of Carmacks: Day 16 of the Yukon River Trip

The Carmacks Bridge on the Yukon River

As we slowed our approach to Carmacks, talk of maybe anchoring to a small island for the night echoed off of the river.  Having one last night on the Yukon River to ourselves before entering the village of Carmacks seemed appealing.  We were so ready to reach our destination yet not quite ready to accept our beloved trip's imminent end.  Uncertainties of what to expect and what to do once we passed under the bridge also fueled this talk.  We knew the boat launch was "past the bridge in swift water."  But how far past?  Would the current sweep us past the only public boat launch?  Would we be able to keep our boat in the water once we arrived?  Our truck and trailer were 200 miles up river, and we weren't exactly sure how we were going to get back to them.  As questions and water swirled all around the Sundowner, we decided to float into Carmacks.

Upon paddling under the first bridge of our 202-mile journey, the boat launch appeared to be directly past the bridge.  The adrenaline primed our muscles for one final fight against the Yukon's powerful current.  We pushed, pulled, grunted, and groaned our way through the swift waters and finally anchored the Sundowner for the last time on the Yukon River.  We tied her to a sturdy tree on the bank and made plans for a trip into town to buy food for a celebration meal.

The late hour and our hungry bellies prompted Jake to quickly make his way up the trail with a shotgun over his shoulder and begin the almost-mile hike into the village.  Sitting on the boat alone, I watched Jake walk farther away from me than he had in over two weeks.  Before anxiety had a chance to set in, Jake reappeared and called me to check out the walk.  The dirt road was bordered by thick brush and trees.  All was eerily quiet.  The trees shadowed the long dirt road, making the walk the darkest it had been on our entire trip.  The scene before us made it all too easy for a bear to pop out of the treeline without much notice.

Jake decided to climb the steep embankment up to the bridge and highway (that had yet to produce more than a car or two).  I returned to and climbed back on the boat and sat down in the cabin, while keeping one hand on a gun and both eyes glued to Jake as he disappeared on the road above me.  After a few minutes, I relaxed a bit and began to entertain myself with thoughts of the food and drink Jake would bring back with him.  Time passed.  He later returned empty-handed and said,  "I don't understand.  The sign said it closed at 10:00 p.m.; it wasn't even 10:00 when I arrived.  It's just now after ten.  Why would they close early?"

"Maybe there's a time change here," I suggested and went to dig out my phone to see if it could provide us with an answer--the iPhone always has an answer.  After powering on my phone, the time popped up as 3:12 a.m.  That can't be right, I thought.  I showed Jake, and that prompted him to search out his phone, only to find the same time displayed.  "Well, I don't have a signal, so maybe it's messed up; it hasn't been on in so long."  For once, we just couldn't accept what our trusty iPhones were telling us.

Jake finally offered, "My watch must be wrong; I've been wearing on the other hand.  I must have knocked the buttons somehow while rowing or sleeping."  Then, it all made sense.  Being 3:12 in the morning would explain why everything was closed in the little village of Carmacks.  How many days had his watch been off?  "Oh well, Ramen noodles again?"

"Sure…anything but pepperoni," I replied and got to work on digging out our pans to heat up water for our first meal on the banks of Carmacks.  We ate and crawled into our warm sleeping bags for a few hours of sleep while the soft rain misted around the Sundowner in the early morning hours.