Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Togiak-Part 1

This was one of the greatest adventures of my life. My Dad and I spent a year planning our Alaskan Odyssey. The plan was to spend two weeks in the bush, fishing, floating and camping. We took Alaskan Airlines to Anchorage Alaska when I was 13 years old. From there we flew in a commuter jet to Dillingham and then chartered a bush plane from Manakotak (Man uh coh tuck)Air(Dad could never pronounce it and the locals got a kick out of him) to the Atnarko River for a three day "warm-up" before hitting the mighty Togiak for a week. We had a Dan Wesson .44 Magnum (think Dirty Harry) for bear protection and a canoe that folded into a large duffel bag.

I'll never forget that first Bush plane ride. The pilot had a cigar clenched between his teeth and a gritty sourdough Alaskan accent. I got to ride shotgun and when I jumped in the plane, to my suprise and chagrin, I found a steering wheel in front of my seat.

"If I keel over and kick the bucket, you're takin us down young man", exclaimed our colorful captain. I gripped the steering wheel with sweaty palms as we flew headlong into a puffly marshmallow cloud. The plane shook as if possessed by a mighty monster. "Ya gotta watch out for them big white fluffy ones", he said. My stomach settled back down where it belonged and we landed without incident.

At the head of the Atnarko there is a secluded fish and game cabin. When we first landed, I remember swarms of mosquitoes. They were so thick you had to breath carefully lest you suck one up. I snagged a large silvery sockeye salmon that afternoon and the Rangers invited us over for dinner. It was delicious with wild rice and some other native herbs and spices mixed in. The Atnarko is a world renowned rainbow trout fishery, but when we visited, rains had swollen the river, spoiling it's potential. OH well, I wasn't looking for a trophy. I was looking for a bent rod and stiff forearms. The Grayling, Arctic Char and Sockeyes did the trick.
Pops and I paddled down the next day, drifting slowly and enjoying the unspoiled wilderness. Drifting in silence, we finally got our taste of seclusion. Floating for hours without seeing any signs of another human being. No trash, no jetsam, no artificial sound, just the pitter patter of dripping rains on luscious green leaves and the gentle background rush of moving water. When we stopped to camp, I recall the dampness. Starting a fire was an exercise in futility and so we quickly cooked our freeze dried meal and crawled into our tent.
The Tikchic Lakes are a series of seven natural bodies of water, interconnected by small streams like the Atnarko. The next day found us at the lower lake where we would camp and await the floatplanes arrival the following morning. Where the Atnarko dumped into the lake, we found our honey hole. All we needed to do was drop a Pixie Spoon over the side and we'd be hooked up with a fiesty Arctic Char, ready for battle. My Dad stopped long before I did I think and he sat back and just watched me enjoy the bounty of the deep blue Alaskan waters. At some point we called it quits and headed for the camp. It turned out to be the creepiest site I've ever stayed in.

We spotted a cabin on the near shore and decided to investigate. It turned out to be abandoned and moderately dilapitated. The roof sagged but offered a welcome respite from the rain. Inside it looked like some sort of varmints had claimed this as their home long before we got there. My Dad had the welcomed idea of pitching our tent inside, to protect us from any curious critters.
I wish I could say there was something concrete that spooked me; Bones, a grave marker, a humongous grizzly bear track, but the cabin betrayed nothing of its sinister scariness. All I can tell you is that there was a vibe. Like someone watching us from just the other side of the rainforest cover. What it was, I can only speculate, but the feeling was undeniable and omnipresent. Did some old trapper die a miserable death there? Was there a Sasquatch lurking in the shadows watching us? I'll never know but I can tell you that I was very uneasy and I remember it to this day. Dad shared my sentiments and we packed quickly and headed for a gravel bar to await the buzz of the air taxi. In the warm sunshine of midday, on the bank of the lake on the other side of the river, I finally shook off the creepiness and felt at ease again for the first time since we'd arrived at the ghost cabin.

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