Sunday, November 23, 2008

Show me the snow!

Brrrrrrrr! It is getting pretty cold here in late November. The sun rises about 9 am and sets around 5:30pm around the time of year. When the sun is up, it doesn't get more than about five finger widths above the horizon. Non the less, Katja and I still manage to get out and explore the frozen wilderness. Yesterday, I hitched Katja up to my Mtn. bike and we rode up the hill, around the thumb, and down and around the back side of the hill. There is almost too much snow to ride a bike, especially without a powerhouse dog pulling you, however there still isn't enough snow to break the skis out. So, we have to keep using the bike and power through the deep crusty drifts of snow, looking for patches of exposed ground so that I can actually get traction and ride the bike. In these pictures of course, you can see that actual riding isn't very realistic. From this point in our ride, we head down this hill to the bottom of the valley, then follow the bottom of the hill around to the left and back to the village. We have to cross a couple of frozen streams along the way, which makes me appreciate my studded mtn. bike tires that I've been using for the past month or so now.
Katja has been amazing with the whole bikejoring experience. She loves to pull and when she gets on a trail, just wants to go go go. I was amazed at some of the deep drifts she was able to pull me through. You can see that the bay in the background of this picture is starting to freeze up as well. By the time I get back from Christmas break, it will be time for ice fishing again and there will be plenty of snow for skijoring
Classes have been very energetic lately. The students are very jittery and I think we are all in need of a little break. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and Christmas is soon to follow. My how time flies.
Thanks for reading,

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Happy Halloween!

So Halloween in the small native village of Toksook Bay is just like most other towns across America. It’s all about the candy! There are a few adults that do actually dress up, but mostly it’s kids….4th grade and down. I was going to go for something subtle, like wear my glasses that I have never worn in public yet, but I decided go with something a little more creative.

Side note…

We have been trying to attack our behavioral problems in more a positive manner. That is, instead of telling students “don’t do this” and “don’t do that”, we are focusing on the students that are doing what they are expected and giving them kudos or props. Telling them they are doing a great job. We do that through four mantras; be respectful, be responsible, be helpful, and be safe. When students are doing what they are expected to we give them a “Gotcha Card.” It’s amazing how this effects student’s behavior.

Back to original thought…

I decided to dress up as a human “Gotcha Card.” It went pretty well. Even some of the kids got it. Halloween doesn't always have to be "Who are you." It could be "What are you." Some of you might be saying, "what a dork", but who knows, maybe my quick sketch of a generic piece of paper on a white cotton shirt will be mass produced and sold all over the village. My legacy will have manifested itself.

Thanks for reading.
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The River of Frozen Dreams

Winter seems to have taken a firm grip on the land over the past 4 weeks, but we still don’t have much snow. I figure that it will probably warm up around the beginning of November, although I really hope it doesn’t. The snow that we got 3 weeks ago is still hanging around and towards the end of this week, we got another inch of powder. The temps have not gotten above freezing the whole time though, so the ground (aka soggy spongy mattress ground) has been hard as a rock for some time now. This makes it perfect to ride on, so Katja and I have been cruising up along the river for evening rides. The river itself is a little sketchy to ride on yet, although I have seen 4 wheeler donuts out on the middle of ice. I’m not going to risk it though. We can ride about six miles in about an hour, but only 2 miles of that is on the tundra. Tundra riding is still pretty slow going.
Fishing would be so much easier if I could ride all the way up to where the Dollys are hanging out. It takes me about an hour to get to the fish when the ground is soggy and boggy, but only 30 minutes from my house when the ground is frozen. It is hard to believe that I was fishing this same water about 1 month ago. Many things take forever up here, the mail, traveling, etc. The weather happens very suddenly.

Today, Katja and I went on our mountain circuit ride where we ride up to the top and then maneuver our way down the other side without getting killed. With snow on the ground it’s a little softer falling, but you end up falling more often, so I guess it evens out. I went over the bars a couple of times today. We had a great ride though. I must have been really focused on keeping the rubber side down, because all of the sudden, I saw blackness in front of me and hit the breaks as hard as I could. Too late, my front wheel sunk into the murky blackness and I had to catch myself, which meant that my foot sunk down into the bogginess as well. Surprisingly I was able to pull my foot out quick enough so that I didn’t get too wet. I tried to sneak around where the ice seemed a little thicker, but I broke through again. I quickly decided that I made a wrong turn and backtracked to another trail that headed up towards higher ground. Katja did amazingly well the whole time we were out. She is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was last year as far as skijoring (bikejoring) is concerned. I’m really looking forward to this winter when we get the skis out.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Changing of Seasons

I know that I'm getting too excited too early, but I can't help being energized with the first snow fall. Katja was pretty excited as well. Once again, she can get a mouth full of snow, which quickly becomes ice cold water, at full stride to stay hydrated on our endurance adventures. Early this week, we took a quick spin around the 3 mile x-country course after the ground has frozen hard and there was a light dusting of snow. The trail is alittle easier to pick out with a light snow. It's pretty difficult even in the best conditions. The wind was blowing pretty hard up on top of the ridge, so it meant that I cooled down quickly when I had to stop and round up my adventurous run away dog, who had taken off on another quick side venture. She has gotten much better at staying near me when we run, but there is just so much to explore out there, she just can't help herself sometimes. She healed the rest of the way back to the village, so I treated her to a left over steak bone in my fridge. The next day she in turn treated me with a nice steamy pile of poo outside my bedroom door. I guess on top of the dog food, the steak pushed over the edge. I decided to leave out any photos. That hasn't happened since the first few months she lived with me.

Today we rode to the top of the hill and then when off trail over the side towards "the thumb" to pick up another trail that winds around behind this ridge and follows the wide valley below. Again, Katja took off returning after a period of shouting for her. I was getting concerned that she had come across a fox and gave chase, which could last for a long while. I hope that never happens. Upon returning, I scolded her for running off and then we continued down the hill, following the snow filled tracks of the 4 wheeler trail. We flushed a nice size covy of ptarmigan, which normally would entice Katja to take off again, but she was able to contain herself this time. I guess she connected the dots. It has been cold enough that even the swampy ground is fairly frozen enough so that I don't sink my front wheel through boggy sections of the trail. We got back to the town relatively dry and worn out. Another successful outdoor adventure.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fishing in the Fall

So last weekend, I made one last voyage up the Alakugaq to fill my freezer. I actually wasn't planning to keep any fish, but when I caught some good size fish, I changed my mind. I had decided to hike farther up river than I had ever been before. I also had dinner plans for 6 pm, so I knew that I couldn't spend too much time exploring.
I rode my bike as far as I could over the squishy tundra and then hiked the rest of the way. There were still many salmon swimming up the river, so I assumed that there would also be many Dollys following them to suck up their eggs. There were indeed a lot of fish in my usual fishing hole, but I wanted to explore farther up river, so I caught a few and then continued hiking
I knew that I was going to be wiped out at the end of the day, because I was already feeling tired as I hiked across the soggy landscape. Parts of the ground were solid and other parts were totally exhausting to get through. As I got farther up stream, the river got very narrow and the fish would spook and dart around

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The "Hinter" of Hinterlands"

Nunuvak Island is beautiful, with its diverse coastline, its rolling hills and larger mountains in beyond, and its highly fish populated rivers. The village, Mekoryuk, sits on the eastern end of the island and the rest of the island rarely gets visited except by circumnavigating the island by boat or taking a painstakingly slow, bumpy, and sometimes barely navigable 4 wheeler ride across the tundra. One nice thing about the village of Mekoryuk is that it is more sand than muddy, which is much easier to deal with as far as keeping your house and yourself clean.

It’s always exciting for me to see and explore a new place. Friday evening we to a 4 wheeler out to some big sand dunes on the coast and walked out over tidal flats and rocks as the tide slowly crept in. After taking some death defying leaps off the dune tops, we cruised back to town and starting cooking up a vegetable medley, many veggies we couldn’t even identify. A short jam session with Kale on Ukulele and me on guitar followed by some vaguely interesting tele and I headed to bead. Our plan for Saturday was to take a slow, bumpy, and sometimes barely navigable 4 wheeler ride over the tundra past the tidal section of the Mekoryuk river to search for Dolly Varden. Saturday, we slept in till 7:30ish, ate a quick breaky and head to the fishing grounds. Kale fished with a heavy duty spin rod and me with my 6 weight fly rod. The section of water was beautiful. A long slow, deep section of water in between to steep, bouldery rapid sections that held fish by the hundreds. We spent about 4 hours catching many Dollys and Kale even caught 4 nice silver salmon. It was much different than fishing the little river outside of Toksook. First of all, the Dollys didn’t aggressively take salmon egg imitations, which are an easy and rich source of food for them. Instead, they wanted to chase some kind, any kind, of streamer. Unfortunately, I only had a couple of flies that made the cut for appearance and actually caught fish. The weather had gotten cold over the past couple of nights and the wind combined with dipping your hands in water to release fish quickly turned my hands into numb clubs of wood. This lead to me dropping one the four flies, that was working for me, in the water, never to be seen again. Luckily I still had a couple of large nymph patterns that surprisingly worked just fine. I caught many fish, some 10 – 12 inches, but most 15 -18 inches. This was okay with me, because between Kale and I combined, we probably caught 80 – 100 fish in four hours. Sometimes on every cast you would have a fish. It was great.

After arriving back to Toksook the next day, I had felt like I had taken a week long vacation. But alas, back to work. I’m pretty happy that I got to see another part of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta and I hope to get back out to Mekoryuk for another visit. Maybe Katja will join me next time.

Getting to the "Hinter" of "Hinterlands"

This past weekend, I made arrangements with my friend Kale, to visit him and some other friends at their current residence in Mekoryuk on Nunuvak Island. Then came the unpredictable adventure of making reservations to fly there. It isn’t far, just a short 20 min. hop across the Etolin strait. There are only approximately 170 people that live on the island, so there isn’t a high priority to fly there during all the scheduled flight times, morning, noonish, and evening. I made reservations to fly there on the Friday evening flight and return on the Saturday evening flight with one of the aviation companies, however on Friday evening when I went to confirm my flight, the plane was full. Aaaarrrrrrrrgh! Now my understanding of the concept of “reservation” was that my name was to be on one of those seats on the plane for that flight. After contacting the headquarters in Bethel, I dropped it and quickly checked another aviation company that was flying out to Mekoryuk as well to see if they had room for me. They did and I made it out to see Kale. Unfortunately I had to go through a similar scenario for my flight back to Toksook. I ended up making all my flights as I had originally planned, but I was never quite sure I would be flying until I was sitting on that plane. I should be used to this by now, because I have been jumping flights to and fro for almost 2 ½ years now, but I’m still surprised and frustrated when I’m really wanting or needing to make a flight and the plane just might be full or not come at all. To make a long story longer, there is always a certain amount of finger crossing that has to be done in order to get some places in the Alaskan Bush.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Euphoric fishing

This year has been challenging and rewarding in many ways already. I've been trying to get my feet under me in the classroom. Each new batch of 7th graders that get thrown my way try to test their new teacher by driving them crazy. This years group is trying hard, but they aren't getting anywhere. Tough love! There is always so much work to get up to date for the new year as well that it takes me until about October to find my feet. I am almost there and it is still the 3rd week of September, so I think I'm doing pretty well.

As for fishing, I have been rewarded and disappointed. The beginning of the Silver Salmon season was great. My first trip out, I landed 4 beautiful silvers as bright as the sun. Unfortunately, you will have to take my word on it, because I lost the pictures when my work computer crashed. I caught a few more after that and this is a couple of older males that were caught about a week later. I've also engaged my friend and colleague Marty into some flyfishing. He picked it up rather quickly and found success with a few fish. After a couple of weeks of being in the river though, the fish just shut down. Maybe they get too skittish. Maybe they are getting too much fishing pressure from all the kids that try to snag them. Maybe they just can't be distracted from their spawning rituals and don't even bother to chase the colorful flies I throw their way. Either way, I can't get them to bite anymore. I would like to try a different river and see if less fishing pressure has an effect, but the other rivers require a fairly long 4 wheeler drive over the tundra. I don't think that I could even hike there and back in a day and still have time to fish. So I am left to fish the nearby Alukucaq.

Yesterday I hiked way up river and saw a couple of amazing things. First, there are many beavers that inhabit the river and build extensive dams and lodges along the river, sometimes backing the water up for long sections. Second, many many salmon still get up stream through the beaver dams and find spawning grounds way up river. Third, there are a couple of areas that have large groups of Dolly Varden swimming spastically around following Salmon and sipping eggs that drift down stream. On one of my first casts, I hooked with two fish at the same time. Eventually one of them shook the hook, but it was pretty exciting having two fish darting around on my line.

The fishing is starting to come to a close around here though and soon, winter will set in and I'll be forced to fish through the ice. Not a favorite of mine. This fishing season has been a good one. Maybe there will be one more adventure to Nunuvak Island next weekend for some more fishing. I'll keep you posted.

Until next time,
thanks for reading my sporadic blog


Friday, August 08, 2008

Summer Adventures

Well, the summer is coming to a close, so I guess I owe you a summary of my adventures. After the trip to Denali with Erin, I returned to hot and humid east coast, Taylor's Landing, Maryland and spent much of the summer fishing on the Potomac river with my Dad and uncle. The river has only gotten better over the years, so fishing was pretty good and we all ended up catching nice Smallmouth Bass. It is quite a spectacle watching three people fly fishing out of a 17 foot bass boat, but we managed to do all right with it.

In between fishing trips this summer, I went to Asheville, N.C. with my friend Nadia to be a part of our friends, Katymae and Will’s wedding. It was a great time and a beautiful ceremony. While visiting the south, I was able to stop in a spend some time with more friends in Atlanta. Sometimes I think that Charlie Bowles is the reason that I ended up moving to Oregon for two years. He is getting married to his beautiful fiancĂ©, Eloise, in October. I only wish that I could attend that ceremony, but I’ll be over 5000 miles away in the middle of my unit on Ecology with my 7th graders. Mozeltov Charlie and Eloise!

The next big adventure for the entire Martin family was a trip to Idaho and Montana. There were several reasons for this trip, but the main focus was visiting family, looking for potential retirement possibilities for my Mom and Dad, and of course, fishing. We started out in Ennis, MT where we spent the first night and got to spend some time on the Madison river. We also got to check out a couple of interesting properties. Visiting with family was great. My Dad has an aunt and uncle that live in Big Fork, MT who we stayed with for most of the trip. Aunt Sarah and my Mom spent time catching up, window shopping in Big Fork, and doing some baking and cooking for when the men returned from fishing. Uncle Leon and my second cousin Dwight drove us all over the northwestern region of Montana looking for trout. We found a couple on the Spotted Bear river, the Swan river, the Thompson river, and some of the small lakes around the area too. In addition, we all got to do some hiking in Glacier National Park. We also got to visit an old family friend, Ian and his wife, Christine, and their son. We did a great hike in the Jewel Basin. Mom got to spend some time with the mountain goats in the area while we hiked to the summit.

Many of you that know my faithful companion, Katja, might be asking…”Where is the dog?” While we were in Montana, Katja was spending time with my cycling friend, Beth, back at Taylors Landing, running and biking a lot. Beth and Katja became best buds during our 10 day vacation. Katja even got to go fishing with Mom, Dad, and I once. Katja and I also got to visit Kent County, Maryland and stay with my friend's Michael and Beth Brownley. Got to do a nice ride with some of the boys of Bike Work in Chestertown and got to catch up with a lot of other friends in the land of pleasant living. Mmmmm, Maryland Blue Crabs. Thanks Capt. Andy and Betsy.

All in all, we had a very relaxing and refreshing summer. I got to see a lot of family members and catch up on our busy lives. My parents aren’t moving away from Taylor’s Landing anytime soon. Katja managed to run off the day I was leaving Maryland, but I managed to find her and still get packed and make my flight on time. Crazy dog!!!

Hope you all enjoyed my summer update. Starting my 3rd year in Alaska, teaching 7th grade at Nelson Island School. I can tell it’s going to be an exciting year, so get ready for more exciting posts coming from Toksook Bay, Alaska.

Thanks for reading,
Dirk and Katja

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dirk and Erin's Denali Adventure

Dirk and Erin’s Denali Adventure began on the 25th of May with our arrival in Anchorage. After securing our rental car we were on our way! Erin’s friends, Miranda and Brody opened their house to us and we spent the night of the 25th running some errands and just chilling out in Anchortown for the night. We met Erin’s roommate Christina and her friend Richard for dinner and returned back to Miranda and Brody’s early so we could get an early start for Fairbanks the next morning.
We woke up the next morning and after eating breakfast and getting some beer for Miranda and Brody (it’s the Wisconsin way of reciprocating hospitality) we were packed up and on the road by 10 am. However, we didn’t leave Anchorage until well after noon. Dirk’s dog, Katja, having a sore tummy from dumpster diving and feeling a little ill from the motions of the car decided to throw up…three times. We had to stop three separate times to clean up the mess and finally stopped at Fred Meyer and bought some Dramamine for her. After feeding a pill hidden in peanut butter we were once again on our way.
Apparently, the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks takes about 6 hours. We made it in 10 due to stops in Talkeetna, Denali and frequent doggie breaks. We arrived in Fairbanks around 10 pm and easily found Pat’s house. Pat was Dirk’s teacher mentor this past year and is awesome! She opened her house up to us and was so cool about letting us come and go. We spent two nights there and prepared for our big adventure into Denali.
Dirk has a thing for trains and insisted on taking the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Denali. We had decided to board the dogs at a place called the Holy Dog Ranch. The name apparently has something to do with the introduction of horses into native cultures in Alaska. Since the majority of people then used dogs for work when the horse was introduced the natives were amazed by it’s size and called it the "holy dog". The people at the kennel also boarded horses and therefore called the ranch the Holy Dog Ranch. Since our train was early on the 28th we had to bring our four legged friends to the Ranch the night before. We woke up early on the 28th and headed to the Fairbanks Depot.
The train ride down to Denali was amazing. The scenery was beautiful. Other passengers on the train provided endless amusement. Our favorite passenger was the one who boarded the train confused as to whether she was the engineer or the passenger. She wore head to toe engineer’s stripes, an engineer’s cap, and top off the ensemble with a little red handkerchief in her back pocket. Her long blonde hair had been curled in little ringlets and hung down her back. She was traveling with a man named Mike (whom we called "The Professor" –because he looked like a professor) and halfway through the train ride approached Mike with a souvenir bubble blower/train whistle in the shape of a train. She then made him blow bubbles and try out the whistle. She was cool.
We arrived in Denali around noon and set about organizing our trip into the backcountry. We hiked down to the Backcountry information Center (BIC) to plan our trip. Denali is over 2 million acres in size and is split up into perhaps 32 or 33 "units" of varying size. When planning a backcountry trip people have to decide not only which unit they want to explore but also when they will be in said unit. After studying a binder full of descriptions and pictures of each unit and staring a ginormous wall map we had our trip planned out. We would spend that night in Unit 26, then take the bus down to Unit 7, hike into Unit 6 then take the bus back down to Unit 25.
Once we had made our itinerary we had to fill out paperwork that informed the BIC of our previous on and off trail hiking experience, the color of our clothes, packs and tent as well as emergency contract information. After the ranger approved our itinerary and our paperwork we were sent into another room to watch a backcountry safety video. The video informed us of all sorts of important things, like how to cross a stream safely, how to set up our camp, how to store our food and how to deal with a bear encounter and a bear interaction. In fact, much of the video focused on bear encounters and interactions that left us feeling a littler nervous but pretty pumped to get out there.
While we had been watching the video our handy backcountry ranger had processed all our paperwork and had printed off our backcountry permit. He handed us our Bear Resistant Food Container (BRFC) and sent us on our merry way.
Now armed with our BRFC we hiked back us to the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) and tore our packs apart in order to accommodate the BRFC. We had about 2 hours before our bus left to bring us to our first unit and spent that time rearranging our food and other supplies. After sawing the ends of our toothbrushes off we were pleased to see that we had crammed our entire food supply as well as all hygiene products into one BRFC. After we were all packed up again we called our mothers to tell them if they didn’t hear from us by June 2nd to call Denali to initiate a search and rescue mission. Erin’s mother seemed really concerned about bears but was relieved when Erin informed her that they would be carrying bear spray.
We met our bus and rode it out to Savage River. Since it was late in the afternoon we had decided that we would hike in a short ways and set up camp, make dinner and get a good night’s sleep so we would be rested our the big hike the next day. Since it had started raining/snowing out the going was a little slow. We were also dismayed to find out that our plan was being foiled by steep terrain. After hiking for a couple of hours we decided to climb up the slope to see if we could find some flat ground to set up camp. On the way up we encountered a local who informed us as best he could that flat ground at that elevation was pretty much nonexistent. We eventually found what looked like a good place as any to set up camp and once the tent was up we made dinner. Since we were both cold and wet dinner was an exciting process. It delayed however when Dirk decided to go the bathroom and knocked over our stove, pan, and all the boiling water. Eventually our first meal, veggie lasagna was cooked and we crawled into the tent tired and excited by the upcoming adventure.
The night was long. Not only was it a little chilly but also we each woke up about a million times to crawl out of the bottom of the tent and to find a place to wedge ourselves in at the top of the tent. Once settled, we would drift off to sleep only to awaken to find ourselves at the bottom of the tent a short time later. This delightful process continued throughout the evening, which resulted in very little sleep for either one of us.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast of oatmeal, packed up camp and hiked back to the road to meet our bus. Our bus driver’s name that day was Sam and Sam was very cool. After showing him the map of where we wanted to go he dropped us off at a little ranger cabin on the East Fork of the Toklat River. We hiked down to the cabin as snowflakes began to fall. We decided to eat a quick lunch and set up on the tiny little porch in back of the ranger cabin. We watched, as the snowflakes quickly became a mini snowstorm, which dumped about an inch of snow in about 15 minutes. After lunch Erin went off to use the little out house that was near the cabin. When she emerged a short time later Dirk was standing there and excitedly pointed up the trail a little way. There, about a hundred yards away was a much larger cabin with a much larger, cleaner, and well-covered porch. A short distance away from that, he explained excitedly, was a "pimp daddy privy". Erin, not believing him went to investigate and sure enough, there was a much nicer out house than the one she had just used.
We had decided to follow the East Fork up to the head of the drainage to see if we could see some glaciers that were back there. The hike up the braided riverbed was amazing. We had a few small streams to cross and there was plenty of ice still remaining that we had to cross carefully. At one point Dirk stopped in the trail and pointed at some bushes and said something was moving in there. After seeing a flash of brown we both froze and whispered. "BEAR!" The flash of brown turned out to be caribou and we stood quietly as we watched about 15 caribou cross the ice pack. Once most of the caribou were out of the way we continued walking. A few stragglers were still hanging around and a few circled back around to check us out.
After the caribou encounter we continued our†hike on the riverbed. The rocks were quite large and eventually our feet began to feel sore from walking on such uneven ground. We started looking around for a place to make camp that night and agreed that the first flat spot we found would be our stopping point. One of the backcountry rules is that you can camp anywhere as long as you are at least a half-mile away from and out of sight of the road. Since Denali is largely tundra and quite open it is much harder to be out of sight of the road than one would think. Although we had hiked about 4 or 5 miles by that point we could still see the road off in the distance. We spotted what looked to be a nice spot of tundra a little ways ahead and found to our delight that not only was it flat but we were tucked out of sight of the road as well. We quickly set up camp. Dirk was putting his sleeping bag in the tent and Erin was eating a Clif bar when Erin looked up and saw a fox right in front of her. Unable to communicate due to the large amount of granola in her mouth she proceeded to get his attention by kicking him directly in the ass with her hiking boot. He quickly whipped around ready to retaliate only to see Erin, mouth full, trying not to laugh, pointing at something in front of her. It was a nice fox.
After dinner we hiked further up the riverbed to investigate Pendleton Glacier. As soon as we set out another snowstorm set in and it lasted the entire hike. It was nice to walk without our packs on. Although the rocks still hurt our feet we covered quite a bit of ground before turning around to head back to camp.
That night was bliss. We were lying flat on a soft bed of tundra. We slept well and when we awoke the next morning we were greeted by a clear sky and bright sunshine. We made breakfast, filtered some more water and planned our venture from Unit 7 into Unit 6.
To move from Unit 7 to Unit 6 we had to walk around the backside of Cathedral Mountain and cross some low ridges. We crossed the riverbed once more and started our ascent. The open landscape of Denali makes judging distances difficult at times. From looking at the map the distance between Unit 7 and Unit 6 didn’t seemed feasible However, once we were on the ridge line and looked across to see snowfield after snowfield we knew we would have our work cut out for us that day.
Most of the day was spent walking across three ridgelines intermittently covered with snow. We had to walk lightly across the snowfields because breaking through the snow meant crawling out of hip deep snow to try to find solid footing again. Although it was irritating to continuously sink into hip deep snow we had a lot of fun playing around. Dirk threw snowball after snowball at Erin and thought he was quite funny. Erin didn’t think so. After negotiating across some partially frozen streams we found ourselves at the top of the final ridge and the Teklanika Riverbed was below us.
Getting down to the riverbed was trickier than we thought. As we walked down we had to navigate around many small lakes and observed some magnificent architectural feats by the local beaver population. We also found a kick ass caribou rack in the tundra.
Once down into the riverbed we started to hike down it. After hiking for a couple of miles we stopped to make camp and once again were excited to be sleeping on flat ground. Dinner that evening was Turkey Tetrazzini and both Dirk and Erin gave it two thumbs up. It was by far the best meal we had the entire week. Since both of us were exhausted we crawled into our sleeping bags early and then tried to remember how to play card games. Our conversation that night went something like this…
"Do you know how to play Kings Around the Corner?"
"Hmmm…I don’t really remember how to play either."
"Do you know how to play Cutback?"
"Let me think. I can’t remember how to play."
It was stimulating. So stimulating that we put the cards away early and went to sleep.
The next morning the sun was shining again and we tenderly touched our sun burnt faces and asked each other how we looked. After assuring each other that we looked stunning (as always) sporting our summer looks we cleaned up camp and headed out for another day.
Our plan for the day was to hike up the Teklanika River and then cut across through the woods. Dirk was pumped because we had some pretty decent sized river crossings to deal with that day. Dirk likes water…just in case there is someone out there who doesn’t know that. The entire time we were out there Dirk would walk by rivers and stare at the water and then look at me and say, "I bet there are some fish in there." It was quite charming actually.
After walking for a little while and getting our feet wet we came to our last big obstacle…the tundra!!
Dirk became excited by the prospect of bushwhacking out way back to the road. He took out his compass and after looking at the map we decided our course and with a few yells of "Hey bear", we began our trek to the road.
After awhile Dirk offered a quick orienteering course to Erin and in a few shakes of a lamb’s tail Erin was leading the way. Dirk had told Erin to pick a point off in the distance, walk to that point and then to use the compass to find another point and walk to that one. It was quite a simple process. However, since Erin has an attention span of a gnat the simple process was complicated by the fact that she kept losing her reference point. She would pick one out and as they began walking towards it she would forget which tree was her reference point. Instead of stopping and taking another point of reference (which would have been the smart thing to do) Erin just pretended she knew where she was going. When she felt she had walked in the general direction for long enough she would stop and then find another reference point. Then, once on the right track again she would begin to walk towards the next reference point. She would then promptly lose the reference point. This lasted about an hour or so and when Erin got tired of compassing she handed it back off to Dirk who did a much better and more accurate job of leading the way.
After walking for a little while more we finally hit a trail and we knew we were close to the road. We followed the trail around until we came to a stream. We could see Igloo Campground on the other side and as we looked at the rushing water Dirk immediately began to develop an intricate plan as to how we would cross this body of water. It was Erin who pointed out that since there was an established trail on the shore opposite of the campground that there must be a footbridge or path across the stream. Sure enough, after walking about another hundred feet upstream Dirk and Erin came to a nice bridge.
As we climbed up towards the bridge it was a bittersweet moment for we knew our Denali adventure was almost over. The sun was shining bright and as we lay down in the grass to rest and soak up some sun it was almost impossible to imagine that we had been in a snowstorm only two nights earlier. We ate some lunch in the presence of some Michiganders and just talked (as if we hadn’t done enough of that in the last few days). We slowly packed up out lunch and walked down to the road to meet our bus back to the WAC.
After getting on the bus we sat where our body odor would cause the least amount of distress to those around us. We finally got to see a moose from the bus window. We had decided earlier to not stay in the backcountry for one more night. Instead we rode the bus to the BIC, turned in our bear canister and caught another shuttle to the Riley Creek Campground. After setting up camp we walked to the mercantile and bought some beer and ice cream and sat outside in the sun eating and drinking and doing some more talking. Erin carried the heavy load of firewood back to the campground. And after she unloaded her burden the two of them enjoyed eating dinner by the fire and drank yet another beer or two. The fire died out quickly and afterwards we walked down to check out Riley Creek.
We finally figured out some card games that night and spent some time in the tent talking some more and playing cards. We got the maps out (something that had become a nightly ritual) and instead of planning our route for the next day we looked at where we had been. We also got the camera out and looked at our pictures from that day (another nightly ritual). After a little while we drifted off to sleep, anxious to see our dogs the next day, amazed at how much fun we just had and already thinking about our next adventure.