Sunday, April 4, 2004
Since I had to attend a ski instructors' clinic at Jackson Hole anyway, it seemed like a good idea to drive over to Riverton and check out the site where I hope to launch Kobuk in June. I got into town late last night and spent this morning looking at conditions. They are not good. Where the Wind River passes under the bridge just south of town, the water flow is so low that the stream is riffles across its entire breadth and the water depth is only a few inches.
A 20 mile drive north takes me to where the river joins Boysen Reservoir and there the water depth looks manageable. I carry on up the east side of Boysemn Reservoir the 15 miles to the marina where I meet Gary Hackett, its manager. He tells me that outflow from the dam is presently only about 300 cubic feet per second, but can be expected to increase perhaps threefold in June. This is not a sure thing, though, because although mid-June is the usual high water time, the low level of the reservoir means that the managers of the dam probably will release greater flow only when the downstream irrigators demand it.
Gary says he would be willing to store Kobuk's trailer for me, even though I might have to leave it there for a year or two. One thing can be said about this part of Wyoming: it doesn't lack empty space. Also, Gary confirms that downstream from the dam is a 20-30 mile stretch of whitewater that Kobuk ought to avoid. He says he could haul her down to Rivers Meet for me and we could do a relaunch there. I gather that the site is called Rivers Meet because the river changes name there. Upstream is the Wind River whereas downstream is the Bighorn.
The most sensible plan would seem to be a launch on Boysen Reservoir where Kobuk and I could spend a few days getting used to each other. From there, I could run up the Wind River to see if it is possible to reach Riverton, and if it isn't I wouldn't be trapped by low water. Also, it would give me a little practice at river running. As for downstream from the dam, the rapids are supposed to be class 1 or class 2, and I could run those using the inflatable kayak I will have on board. Then when Gary finally hauls Kobuk to Rivers Meet I can feel contented in the knowledge that I have run as much of the Wind River as possible.
The drive back to Salt Lake City was 330 miles of solitude and high plains vistas. There was a gentle ascent to a low plateau at the southwest end of the Wind River Range, but after that the journey is on empty roads slicing across flat or undulating land. As the snow-capped Wind Rivers drifted away to the north, the Uintahs hove into view in the south. When Kobuk is hauled from Salt Lake to Riverton, it is the first hundred miles that will be a little nerve wracking--the ascent of Parley's pass and the jockying for position on the busy Interstate. After that, the passage through the interior of Wyoming should be a leisurely drive--a time when it will be possible to think about what lies ahead.
Sunday, October 3, 2004
Will this voyage ever get under way? For six weeks I have been preparing Kobuk for departure--patching bad plywood on the port side, painting the hull, installing pieces of equipment, and countless other jobs. A week ago Friday was the planned departure date, but that got pushed forward to the following Monday. Things came up and I postponed again--this time to Friday. Complications made that date untenable so I shifted to yesterday. But yesterday I was exhausted. "One more delay," I decided, and that got me to today.
I am now facing the prospect of leaving in deep fall and trying to get out of the cold country before winter begins in earnest. I have arbitrarily chosen St. Louis as the location I must reach in order to be assured of escaping its clutches, and St. Louis is over 2000 boat miles from where I plan to put in. Well, the decision is made: I will give it a try and if winter catches me I will have to figure out a new plan at that point.
Last week, a student wanting to get into one of my online courses put me in touch with a man named Chad Booth who produces a weekly television show about recreation in the American West. He has decided to do one of his shows on my trip and this past Tuesday he took footage of the boat and interviewed me. We arranged that today as I depart his photographer named Chris Luck will travel with me up to Oneida Narrows in southeastern Idaho where we would launch Kobuk and he could film her under way. He met me at at the McEntee home where Kobuk has been sitting for the past few days and late in the morning we set out. The trip to Oneida Narrows went smoothly at first, but since neither of us had ever been there before the zeroing in on the precise launch spot came to involve a series of wrong turns--all of which put us in the right place quite late in the afternoon. It was worth the trouble, though: where the modest flow of the Bear River passes through a sinuous,forested, slope-sided canyon a dam has created a snakelike lake that in the bright afternoon light looked edenic. It was a blend of New England river valley charm and Columbia River grandiosity--and with no development along the edges.
We searched for the launch site that Chad had assured us was there, but after a half hour of unsuccess we decided to put in at a promising spot where a glade of trees occupied a narrow wedge of flat land that slipped into the reservoir at a very gentle angle. I maneuvered the big red Hozro truck through the trees, all the while watching to make sure no overhanging branches would snag on Kobuk, and eventually got her backed into the lake. I turned off the truck engine and went through the normal routine of preparing Kobuk for launch while Chris shot video. Eventually all was set to back in more completely for final release from the trailer, but when I tried to start the truck there was no response--not even a click. An unproductive half hour of fumbling and indecision ensued, but eventually we decided to solve the truck problem later. We detached the trailer from the truck, used Chris's truck to haul the red truck out of the way, and then reattached the trailer this time to Chris's truck. It may sound fairly straightforward, but it is a lot easier to say than it was to do it. At last, in the late afternoon, we had Kobuk on the water and running. For the next couple hours, Chris filmed Kobuk making runs up and down the five mile lake. There is a dirt road all along the eastern edge and he would drive his truck to a promising film location and set up for filming. I would lurk in the distance and then, when he appeared to be ready, make a series of passes with Kobuk. It all went without hitch, although the constant shifting of location and the call for multiple passes took a fair amount of time--so much time, in fact, that Chris took the final shots from a bluff looking down on a long stretch of the lake as the slanting sun put most of the still water in the shade. And then the sun set, which left us with about an hour to sort out the truck problem before it got too dark to work.
In the process of doing the filming we had discovered the launch site Chad had told us about. This was fortunate because both of us were quite sure that Chris's truck would not be able to get Kobuk out where we had put her in; the water there is too shallow and the bottom too soft for Chris's underpowered and low clearance vehicle. Chris retrieved the tailer and came up to the other end of the lake to haul Kobuk out. All went well and when we returned to the red truck it started without a problem. Mysterious. Anyway, the only job remaining was to detach the trailer from Chris and give it to me. That was accomplished in the fading twilight to the sound of assorted curses and groans as the trailer hitch only very reluctantly disengaged from Chris's ball. Just as the light became so dim that headlights were necessary to see, we started down the dirt road back to the main highway. When we reached it, Chris beat it for home and I pulled over to camp for the night. With no lights on the trailer, I couldn't afford to search for any better camp spot. After a dinner of Carr's water biscuits--some with canned sardines on them and some with peanut butter--I did the dishes and went to bed.
Monday, October 4, 2004
What a brisk morning! I hesitated to get up before the sun because there was a thin layer of ice on the engine box, along the floor behind the cabin, and over all the deck. When I finally extracted myself from the warmth of the overstuffed sleeping bag and the body heated bunk area, I arose to a world of rolling green hills swathed in patches of fog. From the small, white farmhouse across the road emerged a dapper, trim, bespectacled man who proceeded to move his rubbish can out to the street. He came over to visit and introduced himself with a name that I did not catch but that I think had a Scottish "Mac" in it. He turned out to be a school teacher about to leave for work, and he was interested in Kobuk because he has built a few small boats himself. I suppose he also was wondering who in the devil would have the nerve to camp for the night so near his driveway, but he said nothing about it and emanated cheerfulness. A few minutes after he went back to his house, he drove by with his wife and I was left alone to work on getting the truck started--a nasty enough task on a warm morning. Eventually, after enough cranking to deplete three ordinary batteries, the truck sputtered to life and I left for Wyoming.
After an hour or two I stopped in Montpelier, Idaho, to get gas, and when I went to leave the truck would not turn over again--just as happened at Oneida Narrows. This time, however, a number of tries finally resulted in a change of mood and the engine suddenly fired. I resolved that I would not turn off the truck until the end of the day.
About 50 miles out of Lander, on the flanks of the Wind River Range, the automatic transmission went bad. Driving along at 60 mph on rolling terrain, the top two gears stopped working. I was left with nothing but the lowest gear, and that allowed me to limp into Lander at a rate of about 30 mph. By closing time I had ascertained that (1) the transmission did indeed need to be replaced, (2) that the job would cost me $1,100, (3) that the replacement transmission would have to be shipped in, and (4) that with great good luck I might expect to be back on the road by late the following day. This created all kinds of complications because I had to be back in Park City by late on Wednesday and there would not be enough time to find the right place to leave Kobuk before returning. What with the financial hit and the futile trip to Wyoming that looked as if it would have to be repeated, I decided it was time to have a beer.
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
Even though the truck transmission had to be shipped in from some larger Wyoming metropolis where such things are kept in stock, it did arrive in late morning and the garage mechanics were able to get me back on the road by mid-afternoon. Only fifteen minutes later, though, the wheel bearings for one of the boat trailer axels burned out and I was back in mechanical trouble purgatory. Hours passed as cell phone conversations with various Triple A offices in different states only slowly persuaded personnel that my membership included towing of not just the truck but also the boat and trailer. Eventually, a tow truck was sent, but upon arriving its driver announced that his truck bed could not accomodate the large load, that no other tow truck in this neck of the woods would be able to do the job, and that the only option for me was to chain up the axel with the flat tire and drive--ever so slowly--the remaining few miles to Riverton. The tow truck operator was kind enough to help me with the chaining operation and well past dinner time I finally started down the highway towards nearby Riverton. Aha! but the torture was not yet over. Moments after getting under way a cop stopped me for driving too slowly and proceeded to give me a ticket for not having brake lights on the trailer.
When at last I got to Riverton, Bailey's tire shop took a look at the damage and pronounced the axel beyond repair. It would have to be replaced, and that would require the fabrication of a new axel down in Salt Lake City. How complicated (and expensive) everything is getting. I arranged to leave Kobuk at Bailey's and headed back to Park City--wondering how I was ever going to be able to do the voyage if I couldn't even get the boat into the water without going broke.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Yesterday afternoon, Katherine drove me to Lander and first thing this morning we carried on the final few miles to Riverton where Kobuk was waiting in a storage area at Bailey's Tire Shop. Chad Booth was to arrive in mid-morning with his Suburban in order to tow Kobuk the final 60 miles to Thermopolis. He called to say that he was running an hour late and so Katherine and I said goodbye before he arrived. She had to get back to Salt Lake City in time to pick up Nye and couldn't carry on with us to the launching. When she drove away, I felt lost and scared. Chad turned up on time, though, and he did a lot to get me thinking about other things. With only one wheel on the starboard side and at a cautious 40-45 mph, we made our way out of Riverton, past the Boysen Reservoir, and on to Thermopolis.
There is a lovely city park near the Thermopolis Hot Springs on the north side of town, and Darren Bailey had told us that there was a boat launching ramp there. When we looked at it, though, neither Chad nor I thought it would be possible to get Kobuk in the water. It was too shallow for too long a distance and it looked as if the Suburban might get stuck. We decided to carry on up towards Worland and see if there was any place along the way that would give access to the river. About ten miles north of town, we saw a sign for boat launching so we drove in on a dirt track that after a number of turns and bends and divides eventually arrived at a suitable launch site.
Getting Kobuk on the water proved to be complicated--an extended process of confronting problems and finding solutions for them. One such problem was that the outboard would not start. Chad finally diagnosed the problem as an air lock in the fuel line priming bulb--but only by disconnecting it and pumping it for some time. At first, nothing but air, but then both of us were squirted in the face with gas desperate to get out. Another problem was that after a short time of running up and down a short stretch of the river, the jet drive stopped working. Once again, Chad put his finger on the problem--moss in the intake grating. After diving under the boat to pull it out, I dried off and prepared to depart. Chad waved goodbye and I headed on downstream.
Only a few hundred yards away was the first small rapids, and as I drove into riffling water Kobuk hung up. I shut down all systems, undressed and spent over an hour pushing and lifting and tugging until at last Kobuk came free and we slipped on into deeper water. The jet drive was full of moss, of course, and so it was time for another dip. The effort I have to put in to getting Kobuk released was so great that the time I spent in the water did not make me feel cold.
It seems that the river has a small riffle around every bend, and on the next one the same thing happened. Then on the third it happened again. By the time I had finally released Kobuk for the third time we had progressed no more that perhaps a third of a mile. It was after five in the evening and I was exhausted so I tied off on a tree at the side of the river, made a quick dinner, and went to bed.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
I was so tired that I slept for 13 hours and when I go up I was so stiff that I could not stand straight. I have always wanted to have an adventure of this sort but perhaps at 61 I am too old to actually handle it. Still, things should get better in a day or two when I begin to get in condition. One curious thing is that I had a serious cold yesterday morning but today it seems much better. In spite of all that cold water and intense labor, the cold is going away.
On a cool, overcast day I started out and immediately began to repeat yesterday's routine. The morning was a series of groundings, one of which was particularly bad and one of which only took a few minutes to clear. The bad one involved winching the stern of the boat to a tree on the far side of the river and attempting to pull free. The winch and I were not strong enough, however, so it was necessary to shoulder the boat a foot or two, take in the winch line, and then repeat the process over and over. When finally free, Kobuk swung downstream and aimed right at the support stanchion for a bridge that was only a short distance away. I tried everything to draw Kobuk back upstream on the winch line, but nothing would work and finally I just had to take a chance. Kobuk hit the bridge support straight on, notching an enormous "v" in the bow rubrail but otherwise doing no damage.
By early afternoon I was spent and cold so I anchored in a gentle part of the river and took an extended nap wrapped up in my sleeping bag with all my clothes on. When finally under way again, there were more rapids, but I did manage to run two of them without hanging up and on another occasion it was not so hard to get free. Two of them, however, were difficult and time consuming. I had resolved to stop for the day at 4:30 and just before that time the main engine began stalling. It would start but would not keep running. I switched over to the auxiliary and ran for only a few more minutes before getting hung up in a mass of moss. At this point, I tossed an anchor over the stern and settled in for the night. Tomorrow morning I will see if I can figure out what is the matter with the main engine. I can only think that it must be moss jamming the impellers in the jet unit. The engine drives the jet unit directly with no transmission, so maybe jammed impellers are killing the engine.
Camped in midstream, the obscure sun dipped towards the horizon and four deer made their way across the river downstream from me. The river is lovely and peaceful. So far, a couple in a drift boat have passed me but there have been no other people. Unfortunately, I am stranded in sight of a home that is set back from the river, and shortly after dark the county police arrived on the scene to find out what was going on. They took my name and phone number, and I did the same, and then they departed. Before leaving, they let me know that it is against Wyoming law to tie up on a river bank. They also told me that as I approach Worland (if I ever get there!) the water gets shallower. I hope they are wrong.
The days's progress? I would estimate it at about two miles. My position in the morning was 43 degrees 43.861 minutes north, 108 degrees 09.474 minutes west. Tonight it is 43 degrees 45.789 minutes north 108 degrees 09.330 minutes west. Not good.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Cold today, cold with a sharp wind coming up from the south. The overcast sky has patches of blue, but the banks of low clouds have that slate gray look of bad weather. In the middle of the night some creature woke me up with loud bubbles and scratches along the port side of the hull. When I got up to see who had come calling, it was too dark without a flashlight and as I leaned over the stern to look up along the side of the hull, there was a great commotional dive right below me and the splash washed my face. With that, I went back to bed.
everything was packed away for
the start of the day, I
began to contemplate raising the stern anchor when it started to drag. In no time at all we had drifted downstream a
healthy distance and as I scrambled to get the anchor in and start the
auxiliary, we eased over towards the bad side—the shallow side of an
rapid. I got the engine going and began
to maneuver out into the middle of the flow, but alas, too late. The engine began banging rocks and I had to
shut it off. We made a nice, quiet,
broadside grounding and I got out to inspect. Sixty
yards, perhaps, of muscling the hull, inch by
inch, would get us
free. Fortunately, the moss was thick,
which would minimize the scraping on the hull, but there was no deep
nearby and the only recourse was to stand with my back to the aft part
hull and push with all my strength—usually sufficient to pivot the
downstream a foot. Then up to the bow
area to move it in a similar fashion. Kobuk
is sufficiently heavy that I usually have to
use all my leg
strength to move the hull in this fashion. I
become drained after only a half dozen of these
end to end exertions,
but of course there are dozens of them that have to be done. I have learned that the hull can be moved
across shallows most easily in this broadside fashion because it
draft and inch or two.
last clear, the rapidly moving
current gave me no
time to dry off and put on warm clothes because it suddenly found
confronted by a north wind microburst—a complete reversal of wind
that now it was blowing straight at us and was doing so with appalling
force. The wind suddenly became so
strong that the boat would twirl around and head in opposite directions
depending on whether the current or the air had the upper hand. I tried to control things with the
auxiliary—and I am sure that my inexperience was part of the
also is the case that the little outboard is not powerful enough to
these two competing forces.
Down a straight stretch we went and then came a set of rapids with an island in the middle. To the left, the riffles looked like very shallow water so I chose the right. It, however, was a complicated, narrow gush of water that veered sharply right and then left, with overhanging trees and other hazards fronting the river edge. As I entered the tempest, the little engine became useless and so I shut it off. The power of the flow was such that the boathook was useless for fending off, and we were clawed mightily by leafless tree branches—two big trees in a row--that threatened to rip the antenna off the side of the boat, break the windows, and remove the clamshell top that I had not managed to close before entering the gauntlet. There were lots of scratches from the encounter but nothing more serious. But now the wind had increased in force and I didn’t think I could manage the boat until it died down. I was cold since I still had not had a chance to get into warm clothes. I was tired from both physical and mental exertion. I decided to tie off on the river bank, take a nap, and wait for the wind to abate. As I lay in my bunk I could see the sky clearing and gradually my feet began to warm. By the time I had gotten up to carry on the sky was mostly clear and the wind—although still very strong—was no longer ferocious and unpredictable. Before setting out, I tried the main engine and it started without a problem. Neither did it stall. I don’t know what the stalling was all about yesterday, but at this point I was perfectly happy to take any gift no matter how mysterious its source.
The stretches of river without rapids are getting a little longer, it seems, and the rapids when they come seem a little less shallow. Moss is more abundant everywhere—a constant problem for the jet unit that has to be regularly cleared via refreshing dips in the river, but a benefit for groundings because the boat can be moved more readily and sustains less damage.
problem to arise was a set of
rapids flanking a
midstream island. I could not tell which
channel was the deeper one, but the one on the left had a visible
its end that led me to believe it would not be carrying so much water. I chose the right channel and after entering
it discovered my mistake. It had fewer
rapids, but the water was obscenely shallow—and of course the jet unit
immediately clogged with moss and put the engine out of commission. We bumped to a stop and I scrambled to throw
an anchor over the stern. A scouting
trip revealed that the downstream stretch in this channel would be as
impossible as I care to come. The
problem was that I had left the upstream end of the island a good 50
behind me and the only way to get out would be to push the boat off its
and up against the current.
This turned out to be an epic struggle. There was no way to do the job with brute force, so eventually I decided to try to winch the stern back upstream using a tree on the river bank. To do this, though, it was necessary to go diving once again and remove the trim tabs from the stern of the boat. They hang down lower than the hull until the vessel is planing, and so backing the boat up in shallow water would most likely snag them and probably damage them. After their removal, the winching plan failed to work so I had to try a different approach. I shifted the line to the bow and set the main anchor upstream at the head of the island. By jockeying the bow back and forth, I was gradually able to take in slack on each of the lines that led out from it in a V. After a couple hours, I managed to work free and get back into deep water. At this point, I set the main anchor directly upstream and retrieved my rope from the tree. One more clearing of the jet unit, and then a careful plotting of how to get under way in a fast moving current when the anchor has to be raised and the engine controlled simultaneously, led to a successful release from the clutches of the bad channel. I motored around to the other side and ran the deeper current with no problem except another moss clogging of the jet unit. Downstream from the rapids I beached and cleaned the jet grating again before continuing on.
I was pleased to have solved this last problem. When first confronted with it I could see no solution, but as with most things, necessity was an inspirational mother.
There was a
reprieve at this point—a
run of perhaps a half
mile with no real obstacles. I was
beginning to think I might be getting control of the situation. Then, running right across the strait run of
the river, there appeared an abrupt two foot drop in the river that was
and that ran across the entirety of the stream with no significant gap
anywhere. The rocks were sharp and
looked to be bedrock outcroppings in many cases. It
looked truly impassible. I was still cold
and wet, and now this. Because of the
constant trips into the river,
and because the bathing suit was so cold, I had taken to performing my
work naked except for my sandals. When
in the boat I would slip on the fleece and wrap the towel around me,
the next dive. But by now I was cold and
this new obstacle had to be inspected. I
put on my fleece and wool jacket because I was shivering and walked
river bank to the rapid. It looked
equally bad everywhere, but the only way to find out whether there were
possibilities was to wade the rapids and search for a gap.
The river at this point was about 100 yards
across. I should haved removed my fleece
and jacket because the odds were high that I would fall down, but I was
cold to be sensible. I waded out to mid
stream and there found the only gap—no wider than the 8-foot beam of
not more than half a boat length beyond the gap there was a large
center for the water coming through the gap. The
water that squirteds through this venturi tube
swelled up over a
foot as it slid over the boulder. Well,
this was it for tonight, and I started back towards the boat, only to
fall, partially wetting the only two warm clothing items I have. When I got back to the boat, I put on all the
canvas curtains, fired up the Coleman stove, made coffee, began to dry
clothes and came up with a plan. Tomorrow
morning we will get through this fearsome rapid and into the clear
beyond. We are stuck here at 43 degrees
47.369 minutes north and 109 degrees 10.151 minutes west.
Tuesday, October 19
It is after dark and I am sitting in one of my lawn chairs aft of the cabin. All the curtains are zipped onto the awning and the Coleman stove is running non-stop. Kobuk is tied off with three lines--two upstream to shore and the anchor out forward in midstream. I entered a subsidiary channel through a small rapid and it shallowed out. There was no recourse but to work Kobuk free against the flow and find a way to drag her far enough upstream to get into the larger channel (which, incidentally, also may be too shallow). The task of getting free is not yet finished so I decided to stay put for the night and take up the rest of the job tomorrow morning. All of this may sound like bad news, but it also implies some good news: this morning I found a way to get through the abrupt, rocky rapid that last night looked so impossible.
It was quite cold in the morning. The air was 34 degrees and--even worse--the water temperature had dropped to 49 (five degrees colder than it had been when I started out). I was most concerned about the water because I knew I would have to be in it a lot to effect my plan. Furthermore, while I was in the water I did not expect to have to exert myself very much. I think I can withstand the cold water because I usually am using every bit of strength I have and that energy expenditure diminishes the effect of the cold water. I am sure of it.
Around ten o'clock, when the air had warmed up into the forties, I took Kobuk out midstream directly above the narrow slot where the rocks looked least vicious. The idea was to drop anchor there and then tie off on the stern winch. With the engine shut off, my plan was to play out the line slowly wihile standing beside the boat in the water to guide it towards the desired entry point. I thought I could jockey Kobuk around any nasty rocks and let the line out inch by inch. A fine plan--as long as the anchor holds. It is hard to imagine just how difficult it is to do this sort of thing alone. If you take any time to drop and set the anchor, the boat will quickly drift onto the rocks of the rapids. If you drive and steer the boat there is no easy way to drop the anchor from the cabin and certainly no way to check on the set of the anchor. In the end, I beached on the other side of the river and hand carried the anchor to the location I wanted and went down below to set it. Even then, the task was tricky because the distance from the anchor to the shore was greater than to the rapids. If I backed up with the engine running, the anchor line could get sucked into the jet drive and foul it. If I pulled Kobuk out into midstream using the anchor line, the lateral pull on the anchor would almost certainly destroy its set and it would drag. In the end, I also walked Kobuk out the position I wanted and tied off the anchor line with the boat about ten feet from the slot in the rapid. As I played out the line, Kobuk hung up on the rocks on the port side, but eventually I was able to lift her free--something that might have been nearly impossible if there were not so much hydraulic pressure running under the hull. In the end the plan worked, but after having spent about 90 minutes in the water I was intensely cold. I tied off on the bank, retrieved the anchor, and immediately dried off and got in my sleeping bag. The shivers lasted for over an hour, but eventually I warmed up, had lunch, and set off downstream. By then, though, it was two in the afternoon, and there was only enough time to work my way through one more rapid before getting into the current fix.
On the first day when I began to have all these problems I was discouraged and anxious because I had not anticipated such problems, but now that I have successfully coped with many situations that at first looked nearly hopeless, I am beginning to develop a little confidence and the routine is really excellent training for the sorts of things that I am likely to run into on rivers in the future. Of course, I would hope that they would only occur occasionally instead of many times every day, but solving these kinds of problems is turning out to be fun in a perverse sort of way. Today was the worst as far as progress--only about a mile (current postion is 43 degrees 48.384 minutes north 108 degrees 10.024 minutes west)--but I no longer care so much. I'll just keep doing my thing.
Wednesday, October 20
The gray sky and chill wind made it hard to get going, but eventually I was in the water jockeying Kobuk through the rapid. I thought it would be fairly easy after getting the hull free late yesterday, but it turned out that no route through was obstacle free and I spent until the afternoon wading around in the water, setting anchors, winching in one direction and then the other. It turned out to be the most demanding hazard yet encountered.
The nature of the river has now begun to change. Instead of constant riverbends and closely spaced rapids, there are longer straight stretches and less tumultuous rapids. The bottom is now a warren of hummocky moss mounds that seem almost randomly scattered. They do little damage to the boat when they are hit, but each time I misjudge I get hung up and have to wade around pushing Kobuk off. Although the rapids are fewer, they still come frequently. I have taken to anchoring just upstream and then wading around to scout the best route through. My reading of the river has been dismal, so this seems to be the better course. Also, because the moss so readily clogs the jet, I often walk Kobuk through the rapid rather than trying to motor. Now that the river is a little more cooperative and I have become a little more wily, the rate of travel has increased slightly--not much, but enough to give a little encouragement.
But the water is so cold. Along one stretch while I was negotiating shallows by hand guiding Kobuk I looked down to see one of my rubber sandals floating beside the boat. My feet were so cold I did not notice its departure. Since putting these things on while standing in a quick flowing current is a hassle, I almost decided to do without it, but then I realized that I would be banging up my foot without realizing it and so I made the effort.
Since I must manage the online course, and yet my cell phone has been out of range for two days, I have resolved to stop at the first riverside home and ask permission to tie up and go to town for a day. Late in the afternoon, the first opportunity arose as a long, single-story home hung out over the riverbank came into view. As soon as I tied off to a tree, a suspicious man on a mountain bike showed up and demanded to know what I was doing. I calmed him down a little, but he insisted I shouldn't be there. When I asked if the owner was in he said "no," and wanted to know if I was a government man. I reassured him that I was not, and then a moment later the owner did in fact appear, and he was a totally different story. His name was Jim Zastrow and he did everything possible to help me. He said that there was a coffer dam farther downstream that I would not be able to cross in this low water. He helped me by talking Bruce--the suspicious guy--into letting me haul the boat out at his dirt ramp a few hundred yards upstream. He and his wife fed me dnner. He called Boysen Marina and arranged for a truck to come out with a trailer to haul the boat. He drove me into Thermopolis so I could take a motel room. Both he and Bruce are Alpha males with an intense dislike of the government. Both are colorful individualists. Constantly swearing and insulting each other, they are the best of friends and thoroughly enjoyable to listen to because they are individualists.
The takeout location? Jim's place is at 43 degrees 49.990 minutes north, 108 degrees 11.840 minutes west. Now the big question will be whether I can work Kobuk back upstream far enough to reach Gary's ramp.
Thursday, October 21
Early morning, Gary and Troy Hackett from Boysen Marina picked me up at my motel in Thermopolis and we headed north to pull Kobuk. Gary, it turns out, is the man I talked with when I stopped by in April to make plans for the trip. When we arrived at Jim's, he came out to help us and Troy and Jim and I took on the task of moving the boat upstream the necessary 500 yards while Gary drove the truck up to the muddy launch site.
The upstream journey took the three of us the better part of an hour to complete. Troy was driving, I was pushing, and Jim was leading. The jet drive was useless because of moss and each few feet we would hang up Kobuk on a shallow, mossy protrusion. If I had had to get Kobuk upstream alone, the Hacketts would have been waiting all day for me.
It is quite remarkable what a bunch of Wyoming "can doers" can do. The undersized trailer could not be driven into the water far enough to get Kobuk loaded because the shallow water and mud would have been impossible for the truck to pull through. Jim brought over his 4-wheeler and by running a pulling rope from the boat under the truck to the 4-wheeler he was able to pull on Kobuk while Troy cranked her farther onto the trailer. It was never possible to get her all the way on to the trailer, but at least she came on far enough to make a slow, cautious trip the 40 miles back to Boysen Marina--a trip that would have had to be slow anyway since the single axel trailer had tires that looked more exhausted by the burdon of carrying Kobuk than I did when I was pushing her around in the river.
Now that the voyage was temporarily stalled, I had to begin thinking about a new plan. This was not so easy because I had been physically abused by my ill-advised voyage and all the aches were distracting me: strained groin, quad, and glute; bruises and scratches everywhere; painful rib on right side; fingers on both hands that would not close into fists; blisters on the right foot. My plight was such that now relieved from the pressure of having to perform I found it hard to even climb up onto the trailer and into the boat--I could not do any better than to roll over the carling and in rather than stepping over. I needed a little recovery time before making a decision, but I think probably I will postpone until spring and then move Kobuk north a couple hundred miles to the Yellowstone to start the trip. Rumor has it that there is a snowstorm on the way, and I don't think I want to be back on the river right away if that is what I would be facing. It now seems clear that I cannot make my way down the Missouri in only a few weeks so I probably could not get out of the cold country before winter anyway. If not caught by a snowstorm in Wyoming it probably would be a blizzard in North Dakota--so why not wait until spring?