Submitted November 3, 2009

Rolled the canoe, and took on water!

It is hard to decide what story to relate, as I have many, as an Alaskan homesteader, and wonder what would benefit the masses in the long run. Hopefully you will never be caught in the wilds with a full pack and at the mercy of mama moose or take a step and the ground not be there, going in over your head into a swamp!

So, think of Labor Day, 1985, my friend and I were going in to get his gear from his homestead, as he was done with it. We left about light, which was about 7am, and canoed to my place, grabbed what I wanted, and left for his place, many miles away. I was the only one who knew the way, hence, he took me along.

About the time we left my place, it started to drizzle. We wore military field jackets with a liners and whatever we took along. No canteens, no food. Let that sink in as mistake number one, as we were counting on a simple extraction of his gear and to meet his son and wife down at the Slana River bridge near Slana, Alaska. We did eat what food I offered at my cabin, then whatever was portable from his. We portaged most of the way upstream to cut time and found we bypassed as unseen bridge we knew nothing about.

Once loaded, we started our descent of the creek and found the bridge, rolled the canoe, and took on water! We were soaked to the bone by now, but pulled the canoe up onto land, bailed it out, and then continued. The gear remained in one place, thanks to wise tying practices!

It started to get dark when we left the mouth of the creek and headed downriver. Since I had just paddled the river that previous year, I knew where the 1-inch cable crossed and where the rapids started. I knew the proper channels to take, but that was about all.

We saw his wife and boy leave to go get blankets and a catalytic heater in their Toyota pickup. I had no spare clothes and only my sleeping bag, which was good to below zero, thankfully. We tried yelling, to no avail, over the rapids, but landed safely onshore near the bridge. Once ashore, we started shivering uncontrollably, for our paddling was what kept us warm! I had the homesteader mind to take matches in a waterproof container and he had his lighter. Together we built a fire under the bridge from driftwood and waited for their return. We stayed in a large tent that night and warmed slowly.

Lesson learned? Wisdom of carrying fire-making ability was not lost and we underestimated the cold of late fall temperatures, especially with an all-day rain.

Rick from Alaska

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