The Yukon Awaits

It all has to fit somewhere!
The best thing about embarking on an extended wilderness kayak trip is coming back and being able to brag about it. Seven years ago I set out on a solo kayak trip down the Yukon River, starting at its source from Lake Atlin, British Columbia and heading to the Bering Sea. Although the source of the Yukon River is only 35 miles from the Pacific, it takes the scenic route of 2300 miles to reach the Bering Sea. My goal was the Bering but having run out of time I had to end my trip at Russian Mission, Alaska—300 miles from Emmonak and the Bering Sea.

Having since retired from my position as middle school principal, I no longer have to be concerned about time constraints and as a result will be setting out again from Lake Atlin on June 5. This time I will reach Emmonak, Alaska on the Bering Sea.

Gear, well over 100 essential items, not only makes the trip more comfortable but also ensures the likelihood of a safe journey and return. Gear checklists can be found in many sources (NRS being one of them), but one's personal experience on the water may be the best way to draw up a list of essential equipment, bearing in mind that there is some latitude regarding "essential" equipment.

25-year old Bill's Bags still going strong

Once the gear and equipment is selected and laid out, the paddler may be momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of "stuff". It’s at this point that you begin the process of de-selecting gear. The next step is to fit what one thinks is essential gear into the kayak. This is the second point in the de-selection process: what doesn’t fit into the kayak obviously will not make it on the trip.

Then the intrepid traveler must be able to pack the gear into dry bags. My 25-year-old Bill's Bags have served me well over many years of paddling. One of my Bill's Bags has to fly as checked baggage but the second one flies in more comfortable surroundings: it goes on board as a carry-on-bag. It’s here that one reaches the third de-selection stage, the one determined by the airline. Weight and size limits decide what goes in the baggage area and size determines what goes as carry-on baggage. When I have used the Bill's Bag as a carry-on bag, there have been several occasions when I’ve had to pound and pummel it into the confined space of an overhead storage bin. It has survived the beatings and continues to take them without complaint.

The man and his boat, ready for the adventure

The final step is to get my folding kayak into its bag. Usually that is not a problem on short trips, but the Yukon River trip requires that the kayak share space with other gear, equipment, clothing and dehydrated food. Once again, the airline steps in and determines, to some extent, what will go and what will stay by imposing weight limits.
By checking, sorting, weighing and de-selecting, one is able to reach the point where all the "essential" gear is in the bags and meets the airlines guidelines. I finally reached that point and stood confidently by the bags knowing that none of them would explode, rip the zippers and inflict grave bodily damage to me.

Seven days before departure for Lake Atlin via Juneau, Alaska, from Phoenix, I am ready and so is my gear.

The Yukon River awaits.

Ray Zvirbulis
Show Low, Arizona

We received a postcard from Ray, dated June 20th and postmarked from Eagle, Alaska.

“Greetings,
As I mentioned to you, I began my trip in Lake Atlin, B.C. (the source of the Yukon River) and have paddled so far 580 miles to Dawson. I have about 1720 miles left to go. The weather has been great for me. Out of the 11 days on the river, it has rained only one time. The scenery is incredible – the lakes I had to paddle first were surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Ray Zvirbulis”