Day 3 was all about the Red River. This was our major obstacle. We knew it was coming, and we knew it would pose a challenge. I’m told when our fearless leader divulged our planned course to a bush plane pilot, his first question was, “do you have a floatation device for crossing the Red River?” Um…. no?
We arrived at the Red River by early afternoon after a leisurely 3.5 miles, but the tide was too high, so we were resolved to wait. Though the tide would be much lower in the morning, we didn’t want to be stuck there for that long, so we waited for the next lowest tide, set to hit that evening.. around 10pm.
So we waited.
Most of our crew took this opportunity to take a nap. However, the wind was really blowing by then, and it was far too cold for me to get comfortable, even braced against a large log with my pack providing an extra barrier. So I read, mostly.
Our leader, planning for the worst (and unable to sleep), set himself to the task of building a wilderness landing strip, lining a flat stretch with stark white branches. If we were unable to cross, Bill would fly by the next morning, and we could flag him down to ferry us across.
We scouted for a more sheltered campsite should we be forced to stay the night.
The wind didn’t let up, so someone built a fire. It wasn’t quite enough, so we all pitched in gathering branches and logs to build a corner windbreak. Sheltered by our makeshift wall, we ate a freeze-dried dinner and killed more time.
Amazingly, as we sat there in the Alaskan bush, one of our fellow backpackers discovered he actually had cell coverage. He idled away the remaining time surfing Facebook and assuring our loved ones we were still alive. I just couldn’t believe someone actually had any kind of service out there!
9pm finally rolled around, so we loaded up our gear and set out once more. The water had receded quite a bit, but it was still deep enough to necessitate we either get pretty wet or venture out as close to the true shore as we could for the shallower water.
We opted for the latter, but with shallow also comes wide. At the mouth of the Red River, the water spanned at least a quarter mile. And though it was shallower than farther inland, it was still knee-high for me. Now, I’m short, and that much water moving that swiftly can easily knock someone down. Fortunately, my pack was a solid weight to keep me in place, but I still needed some assistance in crossing this waterway. A couple of the guys stood on either side of me, one to break the water, and another to catch me should I slip.
And boy, was that water cold. As in, painfully cold. I waded as quickly as I safely could, but my legs were numb in real short order. It was such a shock. Previous crossings had been cold as well, but was easy to disregard when it was behind us so quickly. With the distance we had to travel in the water, it had adequate opportunity to sink all the way down to the bone. And I’m not accustomed to water that is so cold it literally hurts. I can’t fathom how polar divers do it.
Half an hour later, we were all across and rubbing some feeling back into our frozen toes. I was grateful to have the Red River behind us. For all the lazing and resting we did that day, I was still tired, but I was also proud of how far we had come.
We hiked another 3 miles that night. We had one final small crossing before we stopped for the night, but it was nothing in comparison. That evening saw our latest setup of camp; it was strange to still see daylight past 11pm.
Another day and another accomplishment. What a journey.
Stay tuned for Day 4!
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