Saturday, July 16, 2011

Yukon: Yukon Crossing to Galena

Oil pipeline
Yukon Crossing is more or less the halfway point of the Yukon. It is not a real settlement - there is just a hotel (with rooms for 199$ per shabby room), a gas station, a restaurant, a laundry and showers for 10$. As you might have guessed I preferred to stay dirty with these prices. Yukon Crossing is the last place where a bridge crosses the Yukon - the next 1,300 km there is nothing but boats and airplanes for transport. The road bridge has only been constructed in the 1970's - as a by-product of the oil pipeline crossing Alaska. Due to the extreme weather conditions the bridge is able to move 2 1/2 ft! Construction work in winter took place under a heated tent: Not to keep the workers warm, but otherwise the cement would have frozen.....

Bridge at Yukon crossing
Approaching Yukon Crossing we saw the bridge from far away, but nearly panicked as we could not determine which side the buildings were on. According to our map they should be left, but it looked better on the right side. The Yukon is almost 1 km wide there and you really do not want to cross from one shore to the other with 4 bridge abutment right in front of your nose and a strong current.... Luckily, we made the right decision for the right side and were immediately greeted by the woman running the local crafts "shop", although shed would probably be the more correct term. She told us all about here house on the Yukon, her kids, fellow paddlers and life in general. We spend half a day there with Adrian doing his washing and phone calls.

Last highway for 1.400 km
Just before Yukon Crossing we had changed position in the boat: I was sitting in the back now doing the steering and Adrian in the front doing the navigation. I became more and more confident with steering, but Adrian turned out to be a disaster as a navigator: He could not read the maps or GPS without his glasses and therefore we were very often not there were he thought we would be... But instead of focusing on his navigation job he seemed to enjoy more criticizing my steering and he seemed to believe that he must give me a lesson on J-strokes every single day. Well, I might not be a world class paddler, but I managed all right. I even made it through my first rapids in the steering position without capsizing the boat!

In this section the river turns back into the mountains. It is very wide now, generally about 1 km, with various big islands in the middle, cut banks and a very manageable current of between 3 to 8 km/h. Camping became less of a problem as the water levels were slowly sinking and exposing sandy beaches at the front and back end of islands. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes became more and more of a problem. Sometimes they were so thick that you could hardly open your mouth without eating some of  them. They actually taste quite good, almost sweet.

Fish camp bath room
Fish camps were abundant in this section and were quite comfortable. Usually people leave this fish camps open when they are not there and only take bear precautions in the form of nail boards or boarding up windows. We had some very nice lunch breaks out of the wind in these very comfortable structures that sometime even come equipped with satellite dishes and fully equipped kitchens. Of course we left everything as we had found it.

In this section we had to stop at a village called Tanana because we both had a mail drop there. We arrived on a Sunday but had called ahead to the post mistress and she had promised to leave our packages at the local store. I must say that people tend to very flexible in bush Alaska. But when we finally arrived after a very windy day the shop had already closed. Not a problem as it turned out: A local woman just rang the the shop owner who came down to not only give us the package (unfortunately, mine had not arrived yet), but also gave us some time for shopping!

Inside a fish camp - not a B&B
She was also running the local B&B and of course, Adrian could not resist the temptations of civilization and had to stay there - despite our prior agreement to stay at the free local camp ground. The B&B owners must have been very much surprised that Adrian had ditched his female paddling partner into a tent while luxuriously staying indoors himself. So after being told that he would not have to pay more when I stayed there as well I was finally invited indoors as well. Although I would rather have stayed outdoors this unexpected stay in civilization turned out to be a good thing: Checking my mail I was horrified to read that my credit card had been frozen due to suspicion of fraud! With free wifi and Adrian's laptop I could contact my bank and figure out how to access money now.

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