September 11th began for us with a beautiful sunrise. It was cool and all our stuff was covered with heavy dew. We were glad that it was clear because we didn't want to stand around in the rain waiting for the boat to arrive. Papa Bear had instructed us to be ready with out gear packed, the raft deflated and folded up.
We ate our usual breakfast on what we unanimously voted the worst gravel bar of the trip. A beaver entertained us across the river who was busily gathering limbs for the coming winter. We broke down our camp and packed up. We had this down to a science by now and it went quickly; each of us knew our jobs.
We were just getting ready to deflate the raft when the canopied boat from the upriver camp pulled up. These were the guys who had given us the message about the gas. We talked to them. Tom from Chicago had done at least twelve Alaska rivers and recommended the Wind River--much wildlife and fast water. The owners of KWA, Kuskokwim Wilderness Adventures, John McDonald and Beverly Hoffman arrived in a similar boat. They immediately launched into the horrible news of the attack on the World Trade Center. It took a while for this to sink in; it was so incongruous with twelve days in the wilderness. Tom was a little freaked because he had a partner who worked in the WTC.
Then we were off to Bethel at what seemed to us an incredibly high rate of speed: twenty-five mph. Lazy bends that took us maybe five minutes to float around were behind us in seconds. The boat leaned into the turns but never skidded. The only glitch was that the brand new water-cooled V-8 water jet motor kept overheating and shutting down. We'd wait a few seconds and then it would come back to life and we'd be zooming around curves again.
When we got to Bethel, everyone kept commenting how quiet it was. Planes are always flying in Bethel since there are only fourteen miles of roads in Bethel which don't go any where outside of town. But today nothing was moving. At Papa Bear's guesthouse we turned on the satellite TV and saw endless replays of the planes hitting the towers and finally the collapse. It still didn't seem real.
Water in Bethel is trucked to each house and stored in tanks and is, therefore, scarce and expensive; it's impossible to run pipes through permafrost. We were reminded by many signs to limit our showers to five minutes. This was hard to do after 12 days.
Now clean but unshaven we headed into town. We bought souvenirs at the Yup'ik Museum and also studied the exhibits. I was stuck by a skin boat that was made with crude tools on site at the Kisaralik River. Yup'iks floated it down after the ice thawed filled with caribou. A library was in the same building and we wandered in. I headed for the computers and had fun sending some emails from Bethel, AK. Norm asked the librarian if she knew the meaning of the word "Kisaralik". She didn't and when a Yup'ik dictionary didn't help, gave us a video about the river. The stars of the movie turned out to be John and Bev of KWA, only about eighteen years younger. John had said he used to work in public TV and here was the proof.
Tiring of the video, we headed for the biggest grocery store in town. We knew prices would be high but were still shocked at $1.39 for one lemon, bananas $2/lb. (.48 in Tennessee) and $5.50 for a very small prepared salad. We were amazed to see the in back of the store that you could also buy outboard motors for $4,000 and up, 4-wheelers, $7,000, guns, fishing supplies, furniture and clothing. So it was possible to go buy a lemon and carry it home on a new 4-wheeler all from the same store. Liquor was the only thing that the store didn't have; Bethel is a dry town.
Back at the guesthouse, our thoughts turned to getting home. Nobody really knew when the flights would start again. We were scheduled to fly out at 8:00 this night; but when I called the airline the earliest available seat was on the 19th. We were stuck.
Sunrise over the Kisaralik. September 11, 2001
Putting on the hip waders (damp and cold) while sitting in my tent for the last time! The wetness on the pack and tent is from a heavy dew. Thankfully not from rain.
The 45 minute ride to Bethel shows we were wise to get picked up. The current disappears and the river widens even more. Any wind would prevent any forward movement of the raft. They also served us coffee and coffee cake!