43 miles paddled
I have the wild dreams characteristic of my deepest outdoors sleep and wake up dehydrated but happy. I must try and drink more water today. The boats are where we left them on the beach; we have them all packed up and ready to shove off by 9:30. We are getting faster. I’m not sore from yesterday, which seems promising. I can’t wait to grow paddling muscles.
The sun is out today and it’s warm and things feel good and bright. We’ve got our solar chargers strapped onto our boats and we’re alternately paddling through “class one rapids” or rotating gently in “Lake Noatak,” waiting for the current to return. I paddle a lot, in spite of the times I just let myself float; to keep my boat straight, to avoid gravel and the drowned willows along the bottom of the cut bank, to stick with the main channel as the silty river splits and rejoins itself again and again. I work on my paddling form and technique so my arms don’t get as tired. The parts where the water goes fast and has wave trains and even a boulder now and then!! are exciting; the parts where I just float along are relaxing. We pass valley after valley with its attendant small gravel river and uplifts of mountains, some of the mountains with sheer ridges and patches of snow, still, and some gentle and more rounded as though I could walk up their slopes all the way to their distant summits that touch the clouds. I stare at these mountains, wishing that I could get out of the boat and do just that. But no, I love boats. I am grateful for boats!
Yesterday I kept having to stop to eat, but today I’ve figured out how to eat in my boat. This morning I packed all my daytime food in a drybag that’s clipped just behind my seat. I have two salami sandwiches in there on gluten free bread, some dried cherries, very dark and not so dark chocolate, meat sticks, wavy lays, a couple of bars and a ziploc of kale chips. All I have to do is wait until the river turns to Lake Noatak and then monch my food while my boat slowly and hypnotically spins. I made a thermos of green tea this morning too- I found a nice thermos at the same value village in Fairbanks where I got the extra fleece layers for this trip- but it turns out the gasket is missing and the thermos dribbles tea. No matter, when it’s time to drink it most of the tea is still there. Eating in my boat saves a lot of time- I only have to go to shore to pee, and I can do that pretty quickly. We’re scooting right along today, as Bunny says.
The day grows hotter by the hour. Soon our faces are roasted, even though we’re both wearing ridiculous sun hats. I take off all my extra layers. Oppressively warm and bright- now THIS is the arctic summer I was imagining. The forecast for the rest of the week looks good as well. Summer at last!
Before we know it it’s 5:30 pm and we’ve gone 26 miles. Traveling through such wild country at such speed makes me feel giddy with power. Boats! Rivers! I tell you what! Presently we find a gravel beach with a bench of dry, flat tundra above it, and drag our boats ashore. We’re both exhausted, our bodies sore and stiff from fighting our way in the current. I feel like I’ve been flipping tractor tires across a stripmall parking lot all day. Even my legs are sore! We sit in the sun on the beach, cooking dinner, and then retreat to our tents, which are like greenhouses, to escape the mosquitoes and lay prone, at last.