For the next couple of hours that followed my departure from Dawson City, I couldn’t get far from the bank. The current was so strong that it would keep pushing me ashore.
I paddled and paddled without much effect on the rafts line in the river. The only thing that had moderate success was to use one of the ores, gondola style, pushing off the riverbed or bank when it got shallow or close enough.
Regardless we were moving very quickly but it was hard work. On occasions the raft would hit hard against a cliff edge or a pile of driftwood. Hard enough to knock me off my feet and rattle everything. I was concerned for the bindings and made sure everything was tied down and secure.
When i hit a rocky beach at about 5 or 6pm i decided to try and fix the rowing system. I collected some driftwood and built mounts for the ores.
It seemed to work, and when the current i was in got pushed inwards from a protruding rock from the bank, i managed to get enough propulsion by rowing out and got into the fast moving water.
But there was a CRACK! and one of my ores broke.
The job was done though, i was moving quickly away from the dangers of the bank. I threw half the ore into the water and ate and began to enjoy the rafting.
As the afternoon moved into evening i plotted my progress on a map. I was pretty happy with myself and shouted into the canyon up each side of the river to hear my echo.
At about 10pm i thought it would be a good time to stop. I aimed from some islands i could see on the map but with only a paddle to maneuver. I couldn’t get close enough to the targets, I would drift by quickly, usually with 100 meters of fast flowing water between us.
For the next few hours i exhausted myself, paddling hard, trying to hit a bank. I became increasingly frustrated and concerned as my lack of control of the vessel became apparent. I thought i might have to sleep on the raft overnight and at 3am, I was cold and defeated and decided to make a bed beside the bike.
I didn’t stay more than five minutes in the sleeping bag, i couldn’t… I would spot a potential replacement log for my broken ore floating by or I envisaged the bank getting closer at the next bend.
At about 4.30 am the river became a big sweeping right curve. The raft, the bike and myself fortunately had drifted within 20 meters (70ft) of the bank. Desperate and not envisaging another opportunity, I quickly took off my clothes and put on the life jacket. I had some cable that wouldn’t quite make the distance but i tied it off and made a loop to put over my shoulder.
I jumped in feet first and the temperature of the water hit me. It was freezing!! Regardless i swam quickly towards the bank. I got within a few strokes and the cable pulled tight. When it did i was instantly towed with the raft. My feet couldn’t touch the bottom and i couldn’t influence the rafts direction. Eventually after splashing and heaving for a while near the bank, i was forced to concede and pull myself back on to the raft.
I was very cold and shaking like a leaf when i pulled myself back up onto the raft. I dried myself as best as i could and put my clothes back on. I was uncoordinated, clumsy and my balance wasnt completly there but i worked through it all methodically and was soon sitting with my sleeping bag over my shoulders, quite unhappy with the result.
I couldn’t have been sitting for more than five minutes when i thought the raft was a little more closer to the bank than before. Further up the river i could see that a pile of driftwood had caught on the bank and jutted out towards the expected line of the raft. Without hesitation, i stripped off grabbed the rope and jumped in again.
I got very close to the bank before the rope was tight, i could see as i was pulled through the water that the raft was going to miss the driftwood pile but i headed straight for it. I was dragged up onto the pile of logs and held onto anything i could.
A lot of logs broke away and joined the current but i anchored myself enough to allow the raft to swing like a pendulum in the current and enter the protected water behind the behind the pile of wood i was clinging to.
Relief doesn’t come close to describe how I felt then. I clambered onto the bank and secured the raft before trying to dry and put some clothes back on. I was finding thisngs even more difficult than before, obviously entering some stage of hypothermia. I had intended to set the tent up on the bank but only managed to throw the fly over the bike and crawl into my sleeping bag on deck. I slept quite soon after, exhausted and still a little cold.
When i woke the sun was high and hot. I was so hungry and sapped of all my energy, it seemed even an effort to get the food out. I ate while being thankful for being on dry land then went to fill my water bottles from a stream i could hear not far away. I also found a replacement log to repair my ore and used my remaining cable ties and duct tape to fashion this little number.
With about 2/3 of the journey complete, i pushed off again with the next stop to be Eagle, USA!