Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017 @ 5:18 pm
Chilkoot - Dyea
I wake up early. Everyone else is still in their tents. Rain is falling on the fly of the tent. This is the first day of the Chilkoot.
We were out at dusk last night, walked over to the old Dyea townsite. At the river crossing, the water was thick with spawning salmon. The sun dipped below the horizon, and a thousand red-tinged fish pushing back and forth upstream. The ghosts of the Klondikers, their wall tents and crates of supplies, thick around us.
I zip back the door of the tent, expertly flipping the material back to keep the shedding rain from falling onto my sleeping bag. I look outside. Chris is emerging, somehow synchronized precisely with my internal clock. I smile and he smiles and we both glance up at the sky and shrug. Daniel sleeps on behind me, cocooned in his sleeping bag.
I gather the kettle from the food cache and head to the river to collect water for breakfast. The campground is quiet. I stop at the privy en route to the river.
The inside of the outhouse is dark. No windows cut into the plywood walls. I sit there for a minute and consider how to deal with my menstrual cup - my period arriving with poor timing for backcountry camping. I realize with dread that if I lose the cup down the outhouse then I am absolutely hooped for the next three days. Terror sweeps over me.
I move away from the abyss of the outhouse and squat to remove my cup. It is brimming. It quivers in my hand, the firm silicone pushing and pulling on my grip. It snaps slighly and tips, and I watch the contents spill over the layers of my underwear, long underwear, hiking pants, and Goretex rain pants.
Fuck, fuck, fuck!
Tears well up in my eyes. Panic ensues. I wipe up as much as I can, but it's futile. I'm meant to wear these clothes for the next twelve days. I have no spare anything.
The rain pants are the easiest to get clean. I strip off everything and put the pants on over my bare legs and bottom. I stare at the pile of soiled clothes. Rain falls outside.
I walk to the river, furious, worried. I have to wash my clothes. There's no choice. Starting out on day 1 with sopping wet clothes. Not happy.
Rain drips from the hood of my jacket onto my face, the ends of my braids. I plunge my clothes into the river and knead them on rocks, pressing water through the fabric until it runs clean. Plunge, knead, plunge, knead.
I stare around me, at the wide glacial valley. I'm in Alaska, washing my clothes in a silty river. Ravens whorl overhead. Tall spruce trees drip with rain.
I push my clothes in for one last rinse, and my hand bumps into something firm but yielding. Through the silty water emerges a spawning salmon. As long as my arm, its muscled body pumping back and forth in the ebb of the river.
I watch the salmon's slow progress upstream. I look up at the sky. At my heap of wet clothes. Back and forth, back and forth, the fish pulses as it swims.
I reach out and push my hand into the water. I lay my hand gently on the side of the fish. Smooth, muscled. Silvery and red.
Beauty in the wreckage. Surviving each moment, in this wild place.
The salmon beside me, I am comforted.
Everything is going to be OK.