Clinic Stories

The End of the Earth - Part 1

Here is the short version. In June 2017 I kayaked 470 miles on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City near the Arctic Circle. It was tough. The weather was bad, I got bad advice, I ignored good advice and I was not prepared mentally or logistically. A month later I am not fully recovered and am still analyzing the experience for lessons learned. At the request of many clients I will describe the voyage over several emails. This will be a warts and all description, and it gets ugly.

Logistics

Getting on the river is easy. I left from New Jersey on Sunday morning, June 11, 2017, arrived at the hostel in Whitehorse at 9 PM Pacific time. I flew from Newark to Toronto, Toronto to Calgary, Calgary to Vancouver and finally connected to Whitehorse. Remember, this was the easy part. I had dinner, went to bed and was up early. I had several concerns going into the trip – I did not know how long it would take so return plans could not be made, I knew I would not see many people and I knew that once I started there was no turning back. But my greatest concern was that I did not feel concerned and I thought I should be.

If you are thinking of a trip down the Yukon, concern is healthy. From the book I read and the one person I talked to 15 years ago who had made the trip, it is a straight forward journey – rent a canoe or kayak, hop onto a fast flowing river with almost no rapids and except for a 31 mile long lake just float along until you stop. Pull over when you feel like it, take pictures from the kayak, take plenty of reading material and a fishing rod to stay entertained. No paddling skills are needed, just watch out for the grizzlies.

June seems like an ideal time for this trip. The ice clears from the river and Lake Lebarge by early June, the weather is less volatile and in the land of the midnight sun there is 24 hours of daylight.

My concerns started in the morning. I had breakfast with two Germans who planned to go the same route a day or two behind me, hoping to finish on July 1, a national holiday in Canada. That was 18 days. I was told 10 days was reasonable but figured on a two day padding for stopping for Shabbos and any problems I might encounter. They knew the river. One had done the trip 5 years earlier, went a bit past Dawson City into Alaska but had to stop when he broke his ankle. Then a tall, buff 30 year old Brit who had been in the Yukon for two years came in. He had just finished the trip alone in 12 days, was clearly conflicted and didn't share much information but that it was pretty rough. My notion of 10 days on the river was now in doubt.

I was waiting at the outfitter when they opened at 9 AM on Monday. It had been raining and storm clouds reached to the horizon. The cab driver who dropped me off said the storm would would follow me for days. He was right. The woman at the outfitter had been asked to come in to open because the regular person had called in sick. She was not so familiar with the process but pulled a kayak, added a few pieces of gear – two paddles, a skirt, bilge pump, sponge and rope – plus a can of bear mace I bought and together we carted everything one block to the river and she left.

I dumped most of my supplies into the compartments, strapped my back packs on top and pushed off. Yep, this was the easy part and there was no turning back.

Next – Some Yukon Dirt

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