Day 39: Emmonak and Bering Sea 40 mi

DONE!! This morning Imre an Peter Kabai, father and son from the San Francisco Bay Area finished their trip. If you are new to their adventure you can check out this informational video. Of course their final day was, like much of their trip, not without its difficulties.

They started at an early 1am in order to take full advantage of the better weather conditions that this time offers. By 8 am they had reached Emmonak where they paid a native to retrieve them from the Bering Sea once they had arrived there around noon. They continued on and moved quickly, filled with the excitement of their nearing destination. But they were also saddened by the sight of multiple beluga whale corpses on the shore that had been hunted and harvested by the native fishermen.

Upon reaching the sea they had a large celebration drinking some unicum and firing off some shots over the sea. They packed up the canoe and awaited the motorboat that would take them back to Emmonak. Unfortunately the men whom they had already paid did not show up as planned at noon which caused Imre and Peter to worry. It would be very difficult to canoe back up the yukon river to Emmonak, especially in poor tidal conditions. The men finally showed up two hours late and brought them back to the village.

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Imre and Peter reaching the Bering Sea

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A close-up view

Here, our adventurers looked up a kind gentleman they had been referred to by a friend of Imre’s. They were provided with food, lodging, and an ATV to be able to reach a shower and laundromat. We are very grateful for his kindhearted help. He drove them to the nearby airport so they could make arrangements for their return flight. They will be flying out tomorrow and will arrive home on Thursday or Friday.

Reflecting on the completion of their adventure, Imre said, “Every day of this trip, we pushed ourselves past our boundaries and like this we were just able to finish it. It is something we will remember forever.”

Day 38: Almost there 28 mi

A few notes about yesterday: It seems Imre was finally able convince the fishermen to take him out fishing. He spent 4 hours with them, pulling nets, catching salmon and listening to their stories. In the end the Natives grew to like Imre so much that they gave him “a year worth of smoked king salmon” from their own supplies. “Best smoked salmon in the world” – Imre raved.

The natives also told them about a black bear they shot a few days before. Imre and Peter  got very low on their water supply but the Eskimos gave them some nice spring water. Father and son even had time to hide a geocache on the island for future travelers of the Yukon, and filled it with some practical camping gear.

Today they accomplished 28 miles. After that the wind picked up and paddling turned unsafe in the big waves. The river is over 5 miles wide in places. They are staying on an island with a lot of birds. Peter took some amazing pictures and we can’t wait to see them.

Imre and Peter are planning to leave the island around midnight to utilize the best weather. There are only 26 miles left until they reach the Yukon delta, marked by the city of Emmonak (pop. 767).

After Emmonak, there are 11 more miles to where the Yukon actually reaches the Bering Sea. It would be impossible to paddle back upriver to Emmonak, so father and son will try to hire someone who will carry them back on a motor boat. But that last 11 miles would just be “the cherry on the top”. Most of the (extremely few) travelers who accomplish paddling the entire Yukon River, call it an end in Emmonak.

The family back in California is often asked: “Do you worry about them?” – Of course we do! But as long as the tracker shows every 10 minutes that they are moving along, and every evening we get a “Check” sign, we are okay. Sometimes (maybe due to weather conditions) there is no track sign for 50 or even 90 minutes. Then… then we do worry, and are able to take a deep breath only when the next little orange mark finally shows up on the map.Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 7.20.17 AM

Day 37: Storm day

“Being stranded on an island, forced to rest – it’s not easier than paddling”, Imre wrote.

We asked how they were able to paddle and even stay awake for 28 hours. Peter tried to take short naps during the 15-minute paddle-breaks, but soon he realized it’s not a good idea. By sleeping he would get really cold really soon, risking hypothermia.

A few local Eskimos showed up on the island father and son are camping at. The fishermen were fixing their nets and were eager to talk about their culture, language and everyday lives.

Imre and Peter could sense some pride in their voices as the men distinguished themselves and their language (Yup’ik) from the inland Natives (Athabascan). Imre had noticed a difference himself: he says the villages are becoming cleaner and more beautiful as they are getting closer to the sea. The conversation went on in English of course, but it turned out that both parties speak their native languages at home (for Peter and Imre it is Hungarian). “Hello” = “Whaka” in the fishermen’s language.

Imre asked the men to take him along for fishing. They said they would if they were fishing for themselves, but this time it’s commercial fishing and that means they can’t.

They were not willing to sell smoked salmon (they have barely enough for themselves), but they offered bear meat for sale. Someone also offered moose meat as a present. Our adventurers declined both offers, if for nothing else than for safety reasons: they don’t want to entice bears by cooking meat at their camp site.

Below you can see the wind forecast for today with wind speeds of 12-17 mph and gusts as strong as 24 mph. Monday afternoon looks better, Tuesday even better. (Our adventurers are able to get a simple weather forecast from a satellite device they carry and we send them detailed information when needed, via the same device.)

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To get this invaluable information we use ikitesurf.com

Day 36: Getting close 133 mi

After 28 (!!) hours of paddling (usually 45 min paddling, 15 min rest on the water) Imre and Peter finally stopped at 8 am this morning. They have not been to shore for more than a day.

The storm is slowly getting stronger, and they wanted to get as far as possible before they get stranded on an island for a day and a half. According to the weather forecast there is no chance to get back on water until Monday morning.

There are only 54 miles left. They hope they can do those in time periods when the weather is better. They still have almost a week before they need to come back to California. The forecast looks okay for Monday, and pretty good for Tuesday.

Their plans for Saturday and Sunday? Sleep. Eat. Then sleep more.

 

Day 35 … they are still going …

It is 12:45 am (California time) and they are still going. They started at 3:45 am yesterday. That is 21 hours straight. The live track messages show that they’ve spent the entire time on water, they did not get to the shore, not even once.

Imre and Peter only have another week or so left. By the 18th of July they need to transform back into two Silicon Valley computer guys. So now they paddle and paddle whenever the weather permits, even if it means 21 consecutive hours on the water, so that they can accomplish their goal: to reach the Bering Sea.

Yesterday father and son took a short day because they were hit by another storm, and they knew they had to wait for calm weather before tackling Devil’s Elbow.

We looked up Devil’s Elbow in “The Book” (Paddling the Yukon River and its Tributaries by Dan Maclean) which is the main source of information for both this trip and Imre’s previous Yukon adventure. The Book says the following: “This is a nasty place to get caught in a storm. The bending river boils up strange currents and there are few places to pull to shore along the bluffs. Take the inside channel to avoid Devil’s Elbow. Be very cautious paddling through here: if the weather seems even slightly bad, just pull over and camp until it blows past.”

We felt relieved when the series of little track signs showed that they had left the dangerous area behind.

Day 34: Short day before Devil’s Elbow 8 mi

Imre and Peter got up at 2 am as planned but the wind was blowing at 15-20 mph so they delayed the start until 9 am.

“It was a scary 2.5 cycles into the wind and waves, the nose of the canoe often buried under the water. We stopped on an island to wait until better weather before entering Devil’s elbow 15 miles down river. The river is dangerous here, especially on a heavy canoe, we have to steal every mile from Goddess Yukon” – Imre wrote.

Peter got a box of Pringles in Russian Mission, had a few, and placed it next to the bear box. (The package is relatively big, and the bear box was full right after they stocked up on food.) In the morning they saw many lynx foot prints around the Pringles box, the box it was wet and smelled suspiciously…  Peter had to forgo the treat.

Imre is still munching on his smoked salmon, “best superfood for the Yukon: protein, fish oil and salt. This is food that one can get only as a present; local Indians do not sell any after 5 years of king salmon fishing stop” – he explained.

They saw the largest wolf prints so far on this trip, larger than human hands. As for bear prints they have a new rule:  You are not at a good camping site if grizzly prints are larger than a medium sized dinner plate.

Imre’s back went bad after lifting the canoe out of water, “hoping for improvement, until then Unicum shall ease the pain.”

They plan to leave tomorrow at 3 am to use a potentially good weather window. It usually takes about an hour and a half to get ready in the morning: break down the tents, fill up the thermoses with hot soup and hot chocolate or coffee, and secure everything into the canoe. They will need to wake up at 1 am.

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From: recreation.gov, until we receive real photos from Peter and Imre