Galena is a large village of about 800 people. This is the last option to stock up on food and other necessities for the next 500 miles, and is a favorite stop for paddlers. But Imre heard news about recent vandalisms here and did his shopping yesterday in Ruby. The Spot messages show that he did stop in Galena for about 30 minutes but probably did not leave his kayak (he didn’t turn off the device). Maybe he was just talking to people, getting current information about river, weather and bear conditions. No way to know.
Imre called. He said decided to have an easy day today. His original plan was to do grocery shopping and laundry, to mail another set of SD photos and call home from Galena, he wasn’t planning on staying in Ruby. He changed his mind for two reasons. First of all, he was tired, yesterday he had a hard time when he got caught in a storm. He is several days ahead of schedule, so it’s OK. When in Ruby, he heard that in Galena vandals ruined two kayaks/canoes in the past few days, so he decided to stay away from that village and spend the night and do the chores in Ruby.
Imre had met a couple interesting people since our last phone call. He says the villagers are just as curious about white people arriving on kayaks, as the paddlers are interested in learning about the Native Alaskans. Imre mentioned his bear encounter (Day #11) to someone, and was surprised when later several people approached him asking “Tell me how was that bear story?”
A few days ago someone introduced Imre to a fellow Hungarian. The man was very happy: “I’ve been waiting for 30 years for a Hungarian to stumble upon here!” He made a nice breakfast for Imre and they talked for a long time. The man is a bear expert, he explained that a grizzly doesn’t know the concept of a kayak and seeing the moving paddles, she probably thought this whole thing was a moose, and attacked it.
Imre stocked up on food as there will be no grocery store for the next 500 miles, almost all the way to the sea. He mailed the second set of SD cards, which will probably be the last ones as he doesn’t expect to ring any more post offices. He might not even find a public phone until he is almost at the mouth of the river.
Imre passed a potentially dangerous part of the Yukon named Big Eddy. 7-8 foot waves are not unusual here. Luckily The Book clearly shows the path to choose to avoid the most dangerous area.
The Book also mentions that the surrounding area covers the bodies of mammals that lived here 10,000 years ago, during the ice age. As the Yukon cuts through the permafrost, the bodies of these animals often get exposed and one can smell the rotting flesh.
Let’s finish the post with some refreshing pictures.
During the day, Imre stopped in the village named Tanana. He spent about 3 hours there but apparently he wasn’t able to call home. The Tanana River is Alaska’s second largest river. From here on, the Yukon is huge, one mile wide on average. The Book suggest that small boats keep to the shore as even a little breeze can stir up 5-6 foot waves.
Imre safely passed some significant rapids. The Book says the rocks and swirls are in the middle of the river and they are easy to avoid.
In this area the surrounding canyons drive the wind to the water in a way that small boats might need to wait days for the water to calm down. Luckily Imre had good weather and quickly passed this area.
We received the first package of pictures and videos! It took them from Tuesday to Monday (including the 4th of July holiday) to get from Circle, AK to the California Bay Area.
Here are a few photos. Please note that these pictures are at least a week old now, and they are getting less and less recent as we post them. They show mountains and a swift Yukon, while Imre just left the Yukon Flats and is paddling on a huge river.
For most of the day the river was extremely slow, almost not moving at all. By the end of the day Imre is among hills again, and the river starts to pick up the pace a little bit.
Yukon Crossing is where the Dalton highway meets the Yukon River. Imre paddled under the bridge where Peter just rode his bicycle across the Yukon just seven days ago!
Imre called. He is doing well, except that one wrist is causing him a lot of pain. We applauded that he is so much ahead of schedule: He got halfway in only 15 days and has another 29 days to finish the second half. He reminded us that the river will go very slow and as he is getting closer to the Bering Sea, he will be able to go less and less of a distance each day, as the current won’t help any more. Also as the river becomes wider, even a little wind can stir big waves that his inexpensive kayak cannot handle.
Rather than looking at total miles, he is judging his progress by The Book. Each chapter of The Book describes a section of the river, and gives a minimum and maximum number of days one could expect to need to cover that section. This is extremely valuable information. If we add up the minimum days for the sections Imre has already finished, he has 3 days advance. (i.e. the earliest day he should be here is day #18) But he is saving those 3 days for “storm days”, when weather conditions would not allow him to get on the water at all.
By the end of the day, after passing Kings Slough Island, the river almost stops. Imre will have to work that much harder for every mile.
We can’t wait for his pictures to arrive. Until then we use the last photo we have from the Whitehorse area:
The Yukon Flats don’t seem to be easy to navigate. Take a look. Not your typical river.
The Yukon constantly erodes and builds its riverbed (it’s more like many beds), the landscape changes each year, so no map, no GPS can be completely reliable. The river flows very slow here. The Book says, if you stop paddling for a while, you will still feel where the main current is steering the kayak. If not, and you happen to select the “wrong way”, you are still making progress, it just takes longer.
Imre uses Dan Maclean’s Paddling the Yukon River and its Tributaries. We finally got a copy of the book and have an easier time following him. The book lists all landmarks along his way so from now on we will have a better idea of the area around him and no longer need to estimate the distance he has covered. (We updated estimations in some previous posts.) Detailed maps describe each section of the river. Because this is such a great source of information, from now on we will simple refer to this publication as The Book.
According to… The Book, Imre just arrived at the part of the river called Yukon Flats. This is a desert with less than 10 inches of rain each year. One dangerous spot is the current named Halfway Whirlpool, where The Book suggests to keep to the left. Imre did take the advice (flag #14):
Fort Yukon is the village where the river crosses the Arctic Circle. After just 20 miles it turns back to us here in the Northern Temperate Zone. Imre spent the night above the Arctic Circle.
PS: The Book also gave answer to our question a few days earlier: How do you know you just crossed the Canada-US border? – It is a distinctive clearing through the trees that gives a hint.
The picture below was taken close to Whitehorse, in the mountainous area.
We got another phone call from Imre!
He stopped earlier than usual to be able to reach the post office. He sent home SD cards with photos, regular videos and GoPro videos. (Thank you to the Blind Judo Foundation for letting Imre borrow their GoPro camera for this trip.)
Unfortunately the camera was not on when Imre had what we think will become one of the most memorable experiences of his life. The rest of the story is actually extremely lucky. It happened two days ago, just before leaving Canada. The river is extremely shallow there, with large dry or almost dry areas protruding from the shore, each like a peninsula. Imre was trying to find a shortcut by paddling over a very shallow area, when he noticed a grizzly bear at the end of the little peninsula. A second later the bear noticed him too. The animal was surprised by a strange, bright orange-yellow colored creature watching her. Her instinct was to “fight or flight” but there was no way for her to run away since she had water all around. The only dry route, towards the forest was blocked by Imre. So the bear started running towards him. Imre quickly got out the horn he keeps handy for situations like this. The bear stopped for a second as she heard the sound. When the second horn sounded she didn’t slow down any more. She was running in the shallow water and Imre started paddling with all his might. He counted 20 strikes then looked back. The bear was still following him, now swimming. After 5 or 6 counts of twenty strokes, the bear seemingly slowed down and finally she gave up.
Imre says this was a very unlikely situation. The reason the grizzly had attacked him was that she was scared. Imre thinks it is extremely unlikely that he would drive another bear into a corner, but he will try to be even more cautious. (Of course we have no way to know if the grizzly was male or female; we keep saying “she” for clarity.)
We asked Imre about his wrist pain. He answered: “See, I don’t worry about it that much any more. My shoulders and my elbows hurt just as much by now, so every day I pick the one area which hurts most, and worry only about that one.”