218 miles paddled
Just before drifting off I hear a loud honking near the edge of camp, like my chihuahua when she reverse sneezes. At first I think that Bunny is having some sort of weird dream, but then Bunny pokes her head out of her tent.
“Did you hear that?” She says. Just then a long legged red fox comes sauntering past our tents, relaxed as can be. Was that noise… the fox? The birds cry in alarm as the fox passes through camp, and quiet again once it’s gone.
I’m starting to drift off again when the honking returns, from another direction this time. Grabbing my bearspray, I crawl out of the tent and walk barefoot on the soft sand towards the sound. There is the fox, standing in the bushes watching us. It’s beautiful.
“What are you doing, fox friend?” I say. It turns and trots into the alders, where the birds erupt in a chorus of alarm cries.
In the morning I remember the fox.
“Remember that youtube video, What Does The Fox Say?” I say to Bunny. “Well, now we know.” We both start honking.
It’s another warm peaceful day on the river and I alternate paddling with drifting, watch the water slip away underneath me, listen to my audiobook and before I know it it’s afternoon. We’re headed straight for a mountain range in the distance- tomorrow we leave this open country for those mountains, or at least their foothills. It’s nice to have some distant peaks to look at, something to give perspective to the clouds.
The salmon are starting to arrive- I hear them jumping and see the fins on their backs cut the water like small sharks. The grizzly prints have grown more numerous as well- the huge indentations pace up and down the sand on every beach where I stop to pee. I’ve managed to pack a resupply that’s not too sweet, for once in my life, and in the afternoon I start craving sugar so badly I can’t stand it. There’s no town to be had anywhere but Bunny has two dozen extra candy bars, on account of we packed 25 days of food but are making much better time than we though we would, and she gives me two snickers and I hold them in my hands, heavy like gold, before eating one- so sweet it burns my mouth- and stashing the other away, buried deep in my bear can where it will stay cool.
I get my period- it must be the full moon. The way that a period will sync to the moon when one spends enough time outside never ceases to please me- more proof that we know absolutely nothing, in spite of how we pretend to know everything. Bunny and I pull off into a tributary of the Noatak that’s wide and clear, still like a lake, and search, out of curiosity, for a cabin on the map that isn’t, in the end, where it once was. I swim in the clear water, cooling my skin and escaping, for a moment, the level 6 mosquitoes. At 5 p.m. we camp on another sandy river bank, pulling our boats way up against the inevitable rise of the water, should it rain even just a little bit, and searching all over for stones large enough to reinforce our tent stakes. I’m exhausted and I crawl into my tent to hide from the mosquitoes, wiping the sand from my feet and settling down with my kindle as the evening sun bears down, heating the cuben fiber. I’m not sore from paddling anymore- I’m starting to grow strong, my biceps and shoulders are harder than I can ever remember them being. And my back, those muscles that run down the middle of it, and the lats on the side. It feels good on my skeleton, muscles pulling everything straight. I make a mental note to find some way to stay strong, once the summer is over. I put away my kindle and try to sleep but I can’t- the thoughts won’t stop going round and round in my head. Full moon and my period, that’s why. Anxieties and fears and longings, bubbling to the surface and then sinking again. I miss my girlfriend, I miss my dogs. I worry about the state of the world, police brutality, ICE, white supremacists. I listen to the birds moving around in the willows, and the way the sound of the river changes hour by hour. The night turns grey and drops its heat and at last it’s cool enough to unfurl my sleeping quilt, and I fall into a fitful sleep.