Photo, ©Robert Stein III '94
August 14th. Got a good start today. Looks like lots of rain. All gray. Almost no wind. What do you think the temperature is? I did a few miles in these braids before I had to stop and scout the shallow water here. Obviously, this braid would not have any water in a regular year. As I was pushing off again, I start my day off right by slipping in up to my waist.
I weigh the advantages of changing my cloths or just staying wet. I was already wet everywhere anyway as the relentless drizzle today has managed to work through my gore-tex. I'm not cold, so what the hell. I'll save my dry cloths for camp. Keep going.
And the rain just keeps on coming. With little variation in intensity, and it is everywhere. A solid grey mass in all directions. I plod onward and time has no meaning. The endless barrage of rain and the sounds that accompany it force me into an almost hypnotic realm where the only thing that matters is the paddle. The river is widening and the bordering mountain peaks of the Bairds to the south and the De Long range to the north, which use to be within ten miles, are now 30 or more miles away. In this soup, invisible. In fact, there is no real landscape at all, it just seems to blend with the sky. Visibility is about six miles.
Of course, this is a concern. It means that every creek, lake, stream and incoming river is receiving an overdose of H2o and it's all coming my way. The river is rising and I figure it will continue to rise for at least the next 24. I check my maps. There is about 20 miles more of this flat nothingness until I reach the Grand Canyon of the Noatak. I decide that I will make as much distance as possible until I reach the canyon. I'd rather be there if the river floods, than here in the flats. There is a ranger station at Makpik river about 80 miles down. Maybe I can get a weather report there.
No animals again today. A few hawks. I manage to get some distance before the wind returns and forces me off. There are no good sites. I camp in a bunch of willows at the highest place I can find, as I have no idea how high the river will get tonight. I am wet. My camp is wet. Wrinkled feet. Not bathtub feet. I mean unrecognizable as feet. They look more like those hairless laboratory mice. I air them out until they once again resemble a human appendage. It takes a while in this wet weather. It has rained all day and it will continue all night. My tent has held up well. No leaks and it handles the wind like a champ. My dry bags have kept the water from my sleeping bag and clothes. At least I can still sleep warm and dry.
I check my map to measure my distance. At four miles to an inch its not that easy to be accurate with all the oxbow bends in this part of the river. I estimate that I have covered 30 miles today. Later, back at home, I double check, and it was really 48. Good work. And I dont feel wasted either. With the cloud cover so thick overhead, this night was the first that was dark enough to resemble late evening. I slept like a log and had a plethora of wild dreams. Must be the melenonin, a chemical your body produces when the sun goes down to promote dreaming, among other things. This was probably the first night in a week that my body produced any.