Day 6, June 19, 2014
45 miles packrafting through the Arctic Refuge on the Ivishak River.
A 7 day, 170 mile wilderness backpack and packraft trip along the Ribdon, Ivishak and Sagavanirktok rivers in Alaska’s Brooks Range from June 14-20.
While we would have welcomed the sunshine on this fine morning, it was not to be seen today. A short break in the rain allowed us to break camp in a relatively dry state. Thanks to a slight breeze, we could partially air dry some of our gear.
The clouds hung low along the hills, and I could see an occasional geographic feature sticking out, which made me find that inner “soul counsel” that says, “you have to suck it up, this is the way of the mountains, sometimes you score with photos, sometimes you don’t.” This was our second day packrafting through the Arctic Refuge, the area that I really wanted to photograph. But, we simply could not see much. I’ve been at this business long enough to learn that one must look at the big picture and not get too discouraged. If you put in your time in Alaska’s wild county, opportunities will happen. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Today was a “don’t” but in spite of that we still had fun…in an odd sort of way.
This brings me to rule #5 in The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda (sorry, i forgot this step in the last post). “Differences” because “Simplicity and complexity need each other”. The idea here is that if everything was ultimately simple, life would be boring. Simplicity, although dearly loved for many reasons, needs complexity to keep it in balance. A sunny day needs a rainy one to keep it well appreciated. Because wilderness trips like this one embody a little bit of misery and a little bit of suffering, some people ask why I do it. The answer is that trips like this also embody some of the greatest experiences of discovery and accomplishment, not to mention the pure experience of raw and rugged beauty. There is a rhythm found between complexity and simplicity. And for me, experiencing that rhythm is what makes the difference between “living” as opposed to “existing”. It is true indeed that a long day of backpacking can incite a little body ache, but it is also filled with its high points.
When I stood along the edge of the river scouting our first crossing, I was a little nervous. The water looked menacing. But if there is no calculated testing of your limits, there is no advance or growth in confidence for the task. I’ve come to appreciate the small tests. Whether they be of physical endurance, cold weather (and I don’t like cold weather by the way) challenging relationships, etc… Whenever my body is engaged in a routine that moves towards and increased state of physical fitness, I feel better. That is to say, I feel more alert, more acutely aware of my surroundings, stronger, more agile, less dumbed down by the temptation of sated living. I simply feel more, and feel more alive. Being in wilderness connects me with the earth and with myself, as well as the other organisms that share this planet. Ice needs fire and rainy days beg for a sunny one. In the end, it is the process of the journey, and it is the range of “differences” that enliven that journey.
The above photo would be the last one for the day. After tanking up on warm food and drinks, we put in our boats and proceed down the river. The rain began, along with the wind again. But a few gear modifications for the hands and feet helped manage temperatures. We stopped for hot drinks occasionally. Interestingly, a cup of hot chocolate lasted about 1 to 1.5 hours of fuel. It proved an interesting experiment to feel how the body responded to calorie intake. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a trip where that relationship was so apparent. As we continued paddling through the mountains, and picking routes along the broadly braided river, we saw a few grizzly bears feeding in the distance along the tundra benches. Seeing them is always a hallmark feeling of being in the wilderness. As we checked our GPS, it became apparent that the total distance of river miles would be a little more that we anticipated. We therefore decided to do a few additional miles, in order to plan our take-out time strategically. By the end of the day, we were very tired and chilly, and the wind was ripping. Finding a camp location that we were willing to settle for took a few attempts, but we were happy when that happened. We found a nice spot out of the wind in the willows and alders. It is amazing what a break from the wind can do for the brain. We paddled 45 miles, and had passed through steep mountains and moved out into the flatter landscape. Tomorrow would be our final day on the water… and there was beer and chips waiting for us at the car!