“That looks like current ahead, we should pull over and see if we’re on an incoming tide.” Unfortunately, I was right. It was 2 pm. If the flood tide had just started, we’d have to wait until 8 pm before having a downstream current to ride. To think it over, we stopped for lunch in a gully, hunkering just slightly out of a chill wind that blew in off the sea. After thirty minutes of watching the water move opposite our goal, Govi said, “Well, I’m not going to wait until 8 o’clock.”
Paddling against the tide was a mental exercise. I forced myself to look at river right, where distant scenery visibly moved past, providing a measuring stick for my progress. If I happened to look left, at the near shoreline, our 1 mile per hour pace was evident, and it was damn depressing. We pushed on, slow and steady into a cold breeze, the bows of our boats slapping against little waves. Our destination—a bank of dark fog that hovered over the sea—seemed so close, yet untouchable.
We stopped for a break. Fresh grizzly tracks ran through the mud along the waterline. Below here, the tidal channel turned directly into the wind, and the incoming tide. There was no doubt, we wouldn’t be paddling against the elements through here. I walked up onto the tundra for a scout. Royal blue lakes partially covered in ice dotted a flat prairie. Wisps of fog blew across the land. The view offered hope, and a desire to head directly west toward our destination. It was time, again, to walk.
Before us, tundra stretched to infinity. Geese and gulls squawked and circled. We aimed for two cookie shaped humps in the distance, put our heads down, and marched. Our path was a circuitous route of S-turns in order to avoid swampy ponds. Occasionally, we’d make straight-line bog crossings where there was no practical detour, where we lost patience with the back and forth, and slogged through ankle-deep wetlands one gloppy step at a time. Bunch grass tussocks kept us always looking down and planning the next step. The inlet was out there somewhere, but all we saw was tundra, seemingly endless.
We looked at the map for answers, and found none. “We must be in here somewhere,” I said, pointing at a featureless swamp on the map. March on. At the base of a low monocline, a deep blue pond offered good water, and a chance to stop and fill empty drybags, hopeful that we’d be camping on saltwater soon. In a mantra-like trance, we moved forward, keeping a steady pace that we might have to sustain for forever.
A vague, ethereal light shone to my right. I crept closer, squinting, trying to separate cloud from sky from water. Water, indeed! Dark waves lapped in the mist, crashing onto a gravel shoreline. I raised my arms in resigned triumph, and let out a throaty “Waaauuugh!” This was the sea.
The following morning we hit a road. “Whoah,” said Govi, “a road.” A pickup truck slowed and offered a ride into town. We accepted. It was Ed and Mike from the Pt. Hope water plant. Their kind company occupied the rest of the morning until they dropped us at the airstrip on the far side of town, where we crawled into a twin engine plane with seven others bound for the outside world. From the air, everything looked so simple; the hills, the tundra, the rivers, all one big playground. But I knew better. Now, I knew better.
The Lisburne Traverse was supported by Kokatat. Thank you Kokatat!