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Days 309-311 - August 6-8
I'm off the river and in Nome!

Had to give up on the kayak plan across Norton Sound. After last week's experience in the muck above Russian Mission, and the change in the river with the tides, the fog, the dark, and the cold, it was just time to get off the water.

Things were starting to look real good on Saturday. I'd been making about 18 miles a day and then the sun came out and I put in a 62-mile day on Saturday. Current even got up to 4 mph in spots. Great wildlife day: eagles, moose, bear.

I had reached the "Head of Passes" at the end of the river, and took the right Kwikpak Pass into the upper Yukon Delta which would take me to Apoon Pass, and then Little Apoon Pass to Kotlik.

Anyway, I was within about 40 miles of Kotlik on Sunday morning and figured I could make it by Monday. The first four or five hours were good, but then the weather changed in the afternoon, got some rain and wind, but still making good time.

There was a town on my USGS map called Hamilton. Figured I'd stop there for the night but I couldn't find it. Then ran into a fisherman who laughed and told me, "You're 30 years too late you must have one of those federal maps. The town moved away." Turns out the map hasn't been updated since 1954.

Well, I was just 20 miles from Kotlik then and figured I could still make it, but I'd need to beat the incoming tide. I had misjudged the tidal influence out there. The sandbars, what few there are, are mucky, and if you try to camp on them, the tide can come up at night and submerge them.

About 9:30 or 10 p.m., I realized I wasn't going to make it. There was nowhere to pull off. It was getting dark, and I did not want to spend the night treading water, paddling in circles, or risk passing Kotlik without seeing it and ending up in the Bering Sea in a canoe with waves hitting me.

So I used the SAT phone and called Mitch Erickson in Nome, and asked him to start calling Kotlik, wherever, to find a boat to come get me. It was getting cold too, and I kept having visions of the muck from the week before.

Just after Mitch started things in motion, along comes a boat with Lorena Prince and Chet Stevens. We negotiated a price for taking me in, loaded up their boat with all my gear down to five dry bags and a cooler and they took me in. It took only 10 minutes I was just 8 miles from Kotlik! I got hold of Mitch to call off the search, and they took me to Chet's sister's home, whose husband was the Assembly of God preacher, and they set me up in an apartment. By midnight I was fed, warm and dry. Even had a shower. Another religious experience!

The next morning, Monday, I'm having breakfast with my host, Jimmy Okitkun, who serves Yukon strip jerky (good stuff), pancakes, tea and good conversation. What more could you want after more than 2,000 miles of river? Turns out I am a bit of a rarity. The last canoeist to come out this way instead of Emmonak was three years ago. All in all, everything turned out really well. It was a good way to finish.

Jimmy looks at me and says, "Weren't you in Alaska Magazine?"
"Uh, yes."
"Me too!" and he hands me this month's issue which features him as one of the last hunters who uses a nuqaq or spear thrower to hunt seals. It dates back 12,000 years to when the Eskimos crossed over to Alaska on the Bering Land Bridge. His wife makes some motion like his head is getting too big from all this media attention, but we have a great time talking until my flight leaves.

Jimmy's brother is the agent for Hageland Aviation, which flies the mail plane into Kotlik three days a week. They talk me into flying to Unalakleet for my four-hour layover before connecting on to Nome. I was able to catch up with Ted and Tanya Van Brockhorst, former Skagway residents (Ted's the school principal there), and then headed up to Nome, where I landed about 5:30 p.m.

So glad to be here I had trouble sleeping last night, or just still on adrenaline from the last week. Staying with Mitch, Vickie, Chris and Lacy. Mitch makes a mean halibut, rivals Bradyaise sausce. And tonight, Tuesday, we had a red meat fest. Tomorrow I get to have my first cheeseburger since Carmacks. Owwww!

Also had a two hour massage today, first time anyone would touch my feet since Miami. My feet look soft, calluses are gone. I'll be walking into Nome from Council starting Friday, about 70 miles, should take 3-4 days. See how my feet hold up. Thom Ely's still coming up, so he may walk with me.

I'm really glad to be off the water. If all goes well with the walking up here, and then down to Skagway from Whitehorse, I could be home around the end of the month.


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