97 miles paddled
The sky clouds over and I sleep; I wake several times in the grey hours to pee and one last time at 7 a.m. I drink the cold tea I steeped in my gatorade bottle overnight and eat some granola in protein powder; I’m ready to go.
Not quite, tho. I’ve got to drag my boat back to the edge of the water (“stop dragging your boat across the gravel,” I tell myself- “you’re going to pop it!”), carry the steel bear barrel over to the boat, set it in the bow and strap it down with cam straps, set my huge drybag in the stern and strap that down, then my ULA pack with my smaller bear can gets strapped onto that, and my two small drybags with the day’s snacks and various sundries are clipped in behind my seat. I use my steripen to purify enough clear water, gathered right where the river meets the gravel shore, to drink for the day, and fill up the large plastic lemonade jug I’ll keep at my feet. I braid my hair and put on my thin synthetic pants and long sleeve button down (it’s warm today, if it was cold I’d be wearing a wool long sleeve, heavy fleece pants and two fleece jackets with my rain jacket- it’s freezing on the water when it’s cold!). I put on sunscreen, my patagonia duckbill cap with the shade bandana that attaches to the snaps I sewed onto the brim and lastly, my drysuit. The bottom half at least, I refuse to wear the top with its stranglegasket. Oh and I also put on my PFD, with my phone and inreach and lip balm in the pockets. And my fingerless neoprene paddling gloves.
Bunny has outfitted herself and her boat similarly, with the addition of a waterproof bluetooth speaker blasting rap music and her blender bottle of soylent, and so we shove off in this warm sunny arctic morning, into the last few sets of rapids. An hour later we’ve left the first canyon-ish section for the great open plain that stretches around us in all directions, with creampuff clouds that race across the sky, and the rapids are gone. We’re back in lazy lake Noatak, or the Sloatak. Although I know we’re jinxing ourselves by calling this part of the river slow, as we drift along at 3mph, which objectively isn’t slow at all.
I binge listen to podcasts and eat jerky and potato chips while I alternate between paddling until my shoulders scream and letting myself spin lazily while watching the clouds, only pulling ashore when I have to pee, and by 2pm we’ve gone 20 miles. We’re amazed at this, so by 5pm we do 31. I could go forever I guess- you’re always moving forward as long as you don’t get out of your boat. And as long as you have enough strength to paddle across the wide channel from cut bank to cut bank lest you lose the current entirely, navigate around eddies, persistent gravel beds and the occasional rock.
I could go forever except I’m tired and I don’t really want to, and Bunny feels the same. In particular my lower back is hollerin, as they say. Something about the way I sit in the boat makes it feel all crunched up and sore and the only way to get relief is to stretch, and the boat’s too small for that. It’s not horrible pain, just persistent. I guess I’ve traded the persistent foot pain of long distance hiking for this other persistent pain. So it goes.
I finally get to stretch and jump in the shallow part of the river naked and then I eat my noodle dinner while sitting cross legged on the rocky beach, roasting in the evening sun. The mosquitoes swarm and I retreat to my tent where I roast some more, dripping sweat onto my neo air and texting Muffy on the inreach.
It’s really frustrating to use this newly released inreach mini after having used the old one when I was out here in June- on the inreach mini, messages take 40 minutes to 3 hours to send, and just as long to receive the response, whereas with the old one it was more like 5-10 minutes for each. It’s hard because with the mini it never feels like a real conversation, just like postcards thrown out into the void. I miss Muffy and I wish I could talk to her better. That is all.
Storm clouds appear and mercifully smother the beating sun. A little rain begins to fall. Perfect for sleeping.