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A morning mist brought calm. We paddled, even drifted, through the gray, ever wary of the returning wind. But the big blow, four days of relentless, viscous gale, was finally over.
The mouth of the river came slowly, an ever decreasing current sliding along overhanging banks of tundra. A permafrost lens looked like a layer of geology beneath a thick mat of soil. But this formation was ice, and beneath it, mud glopped down the bank in sloppy strings of brown. The tundra overhung like a cornice of wet snow curling off a rooftop.
The horizon widened into a metallic mirror broken by green bits of land. It took some deciphering to determine which channel to follow between low islands, and which shallow mud flat to avoid.
When the hanger at Pt. Lay appeared, creeping out from a blurry shoreline to rise beacon like in the distance, there was a small moment of elation. It looked so close, we considered continuing there. But our shoulders ached, our butts were stiff, our hands cold. There were piles of driftwood on the beach. We camped.
Pt. Lay is now known by its Inupiat name—Kali. Kali might be the friendliest village in the world. As we waited for our flight in the sauna-warm community center, over a dozen people came through welcoming us to their Inupiat village, querying, “You must be the canoers.” I suppose that is correct; canoers, paddlers, pack rafters, or as I like to think of us, simply travelers trying to learn more about this wide world. Thanks Alpacka, Werner, Kokatat, Osprey, and Teva. With your help, we learned just a little more.