The Happy Ending

by Steve on October 13, 2015

Paul is up at first light every morning to make the coffee. “The good news is that the weather cannot get any worse” he announces cheerfully one morning; the next “The bad news is it can only get worse—5000ft ceiling and 20 mile visibility!” And, what occurs to me…… Bettles and the pass each have their own conditions, so what it looks like here is pretty irrelevant. This is my internal mechanism to avoid further disappointment, as we had a few days back. I just want to hear the roar of the Otter’s engine and see it breaking through the skyline into my view.

fishfryBuzz, one of the camp “worker bees”, decides to break out his fishing gear and before we even know what he’s up to he lands an 18 inch Lake Trout! The word rings out through the camp and Scott joins him. Within a couple hours they are deciding “enough”, and, throw back the sixth equally large fish. They shift gears to wood gathering, both for warmth and the fish fry. The fish tacos fill our bellies and provide a much needed lift of spirits. Apparently, we won’t starve out here, even if our lake freezes and the float planes cannot get back in to lift us out.

By this time we are thinking about possible emergency rescue measures…… jet helicopters dispatched from Prudoe Bay….. money being no object….. National Park choppers for search and rescue, but the sad truth is that those things never happen up here…. unless, someone is actually dying. In truth, we are nowhere near the implementation of such extreme measures, much to the dismay of those who might pay whatever the cost.

As you know, we made it out….. on the fifth day. The bad weather finally broke. We found out from our pilot that Brooks Range Aviation had 40 people stranded out in the bush, some of whom had not only been out longer than us, but had no SAT phone; some who were at a lake that actually did freeze requiring them to hike to a deeper one still accessible to a float plane; others who had food but no fuel or firewood to cook it; and some who watched their food (caribou) disappear to a hungry Grizz …… so, all things considered we actually had it pretty easy.

noatakgroupWe all missed our flights back home and were prepared to spend one more night in the Bettles hangar, but much to our surprise, the folks at Brooks Aviation had a plane waiting (from Wright Air, handling the small commercial flights) to scoot us on back to Fairbanks. Seems they had had enough of us from the lower 48, who just didn’t seem to fully understand being at the mercy of the elements the same way as those born and raised part of the food chain did.


Sea of Anxiety

by Steve on October 12, 2015

Now, the third day into our wait for the float plane pick up at Matcharak Lake, our minds drift on a sea of anxiety, fearing more bad weather while hoping for enough clearing ……just three hours would do. The weather pattern is fickle. Good weather here at the lake has very small meaning. Perhaps even the pass is clear, but what is the ceiling in Bettles? Can the planes even get off the ground?

With the snow flurries and the wind coming and going, and the hours of anything resembling warmth diminishing daily, we spend many hours in the tents. Most of us read a lot and trade books back and forth. Kim and I play a lot of Rummy 500 and then cribbage (without a board).

My mind goes where it goes and I just watch it, to see how seriously I will take it. Reading is not to big a part of how I spend my time. Distraction is not much of an exploration. When the fears rise to serious levels I wonder if I will live to see my grandchildren again?

imageOur food supply is still OK, meaning that even though we have eaten the emergency food for two extra days of waiting, we have rationed what is left to two small meals a day and it seems three more days of some eating are possible. The food situation is not too worrisome yet as I note that some of my pre trip thoughts regarding my 190 pound chubbiness with both an appreciation of extra insulation and a desire to return to my optimal “playing weight”. Voila!! A golden opportunity to manifest my imaginings. I know how to fast; have done it several times before. But when low blood sugar arrives, look out! Recent reality checks reveal a strong trend toward quick crankiness!

I, semi-consciously, chose not to fill my mind with the thoughts of others through books on this trip, preferring to just watch my own. I sometimes call this my meditation “practice”, lacking any other formal, spiritual discipline. The one book I did throw into the dry bag on the way out of town was Buddhist Anam Thubten’s, “No Self, No Problem”. Waking up to a snow covered tent for the second straight morning, my monkey mind took me into that most definitive No Self possibility! Fearful thinking is nothing new to me, but when circumstances such as these surround fearful tendencies of thinking (i.e. worst possible outcomes) death can easily seem uncomfortably near.

What are my lingering attachments that impede letting go?
What relationships have not had adequate expressions of love?
What remains in need of my forgiveness?
What future experiences are still deeply desired?

Suddenly the NFL opener does not seem too important!

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Getting Out

October 10, 2015

Chapter III — Getting Out Float planes usually land on lake water unless a river is remarkably calm and deep (not true for us on the Noatak). The quarter mile portage was, as it had been seven years ago, arduous. Each of us needed to make four or five trips with as much gear as […]

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Grizzly Encounters

October 8, 2015

A few days into our float the weather turned clear, and cold at first, but then calm days warmed into gorgeous Vit D collecting sunbathing. Clear night skies meant Aurora Borealis sightings during weak bladder moments. Those up between midnight and 2AM were often rewarded. The oohing and awing, at times, made getting out of […]

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The Waiting Game

October 6, 2015

Noatak River— Late August 2015 Bettles to Nelson Walker Lake After a three day weather delay in Bettles, three of us got the sudden call to get ready to fly in the mid afternoon. The expected break in an early winter weather pattern, impinging on our late fall river/wildlife expedition had arrived. Some of us […]

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Westy World

April 16, 2015

There is a reason we named our VW Campervan, Good Dog. Well before we bought our ’91 Westfalia we had been warned about the love affair mentality the majority of owners indulged in……. as in Love/Hate. The vehicle seemed to have its way with a vast majority of its owners and had such sex appeal […]

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Our Southern Border

April 15, 2015

It used to be that travel to our neighboring countries, Canada and Mexico, did not require a passport. Our recent proximity to the Mexican border and witnessing of the Border Patrol drives home the “new” post 911 reality. And, supposedly, this is quite an improvement over the immediate aftermath of the 911 tragedy. Here in […]

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More Hot Water (in the dark)

April 1, 2015

Without much forethought and circumstantially driven, I found myself soaking in a very well known and wonderful hot spring near Rio Grand Village at Big Bend National Park. Even in the prime temperate, wildflower season here it can be hot and water hot is not so appealing. We thought that maybe an evening soak would […]

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A Unique Canyon Journey

March 24, 2015

This was a first time Canyon experience for me in many ways………… My thirteenth time in the Grand Canyon was the first in which I hiked in from the rim; first time I joined an ongoing river trip late and left a trip early; first time I had as many days floating as not floating […]

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Whitmore Alone

March 24, 2015

On a late afternoon stroll up Whitmore Wash yesterday we walled out a mile or so up the wash and discovered a huge multi tiered 600 ft drop that made the canyoneers among us drool. The mental wheels were immediately turning and the plans to layover at Parashant were dissolving rapidly. The decision was made […]

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Big Water

March 23, 2015

The rain continued for over 24 hours. We sat under the rain shelter with a gas burning “fire”, the kind of thing one might employ by the pool side for atmosphere. It was a small source of heat for those fortunate enough to be “fireside”, but mostly it was for a psychological rallying point as […]

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Moving to Flash Flood Safety

March 23, 2015

Sitting in the bow of a raft is not what I am used to. I thought I had dressed adequately for the 6-8 miles of very mild rapids, however it was February and the amount of sunlight hitting the water was minimal. Two layers of warm synthetics plus a paddle jacket and pants did not […]

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Havasu Drainage

March 22, 2015

I did sleep well and it was a real blessing to have the last taste of civilization in the middle of our hike in. My body was already beginning to feeling the effects of the descent which we had only begun in the first eight miles. Due to the work hours of the lodge manager […]

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Into the Supai Village

March 21, 2015

My expectations were quite low. Hiking a horse path into the village from the plateau did not seem likely to be of extreme beauty. Todd said it was “run of the mill” and the real beauty would be the second day. Rich, on the other, was not specific but referred to the Havasu Drainage as […]

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Getting Out

March 18, 2015

What a treat to be alive in this day and age! Add a little intuition to common sense and then throw in the amazing technological capabilities of these times and it is amazing to feel the connections in Life. I left Saline Valley a bit earlier than anticipated as I was told by a guy […]

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Saline Valley

March 17, 2015

Saline Valley contains an oasis of classic proportions. The photos will tell that story. Even now, in the winter it is hot (in the 80’s by day and 50’s by night). The “locals” are easily recognizable by their lack of clothing and deep brown bodies (no tan lines!) This is a very chill place (in […]

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Choosing the Voice to Follow

March 15, 2015

Leaving Big Pine and Highway 395 and heading east I was having some nagging thoughts about the wisdom of going remote with a van that was still acting up. Merle”s last words of advice when I told him I was heading to Texas were, “Ohhhh, …………just take it easy.” Fifteen miles up the road, still […]

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Midnight Soak

March 10, 2015

This is my opening journal entry after a very eventful first day on the road from Mount Shasta to Austin Texas, a trip which is expected to last for nearly two months before I return home. The first “destination” planned is Saline Valley after a one night stand at Whitmore Hot Spring.   Checking my […]

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Unexpected Gift of Nature

June 25, 2014

It was a long time coming…….. 26 years to be exact………but finally we gathered to honor and celebrate Shon and his life’s accomplishments.  And, as many of you know, it had to be celebrated on the Klamath river, where Shon had his first taste of the river in a front pack, sleeping to the bounce […]

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In the Simple Things

May 11, 2014

Into our final two days here and I am finding myself probing for the essence of our sweet time on Rarotonga. Last night we went to a dinner show at an old style Cook Island venue recommended by the lady who gave us the ride to Aremango the first morning we arrived. The Staircase, an […]

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