Rafting the Copper River

Week Eight

This has been a summer of firsts: flights in bush planes, hikes on glaciers, animal sightings, and now rafting. Monday night I worked late with Glenn to put all the equipment and the rafts together so that we could hit the road on time Tuesday morning. It was a good thing we did because we had a huge group. Aside from the YCCs, Glenn and his other rower, Jim, we also had Katie, Shelby and Matthew from Boxtown. I was pretty excited that the three of them came because I don’t normally get to work with my fellow seasonals.

The day began with us putting in just past the Gulkana airport. We slowly meandered down the Gulkana River for a few miles before even reaching the Copper River. Because the Gulkana is so shallow we got stuck a few times and had to jump out and push. Luckily it was an extremely sunny, hot day so I didn’t mind when the jeans I had foolishly chosen to wear became soaked.

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Just call me Captain Lundy.

The rapids picked up slightly once we reached the Copper, bringing us up to maybe 3mph. Bald eagles squawked overhead and waterfalls of rocks tumbled down the steep cliff edges along the river. We didn’t see any bears but when we stopped for lunch Gavin found some tracks three times the size of my hand. We quickly ate our meal as the kids built a tipi out of massive pieces of driftwood. And then we moved on again.

For part of the trip Glenn let each of us try to row. Gavin’s parents own a raft rental here and Katie was a raft guide for four years so they were pretty good, but the rest of us kind of struggled. I, of course, was in control of the raft when we hit some especially rough rapids. Instead of taking control of the raft from me, Glenn let me try to figure it out on my own. Let me tell you, it is a fairly stressful job, which is further complicated when you need to avoid shorelines and rocks and shallow parts. Plus my brain couldn’t seem to comprehend Glenn’s directions.

“Okay, pull with both oars. Not push, pull! Okay pull with your right and push with left. No, rotate!”

It all became gibberish in my mind, but I safely got us through. It was even more gratifying to look back and see that the other raft had gotten themselves stuck. Not that I’m competitive.

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Riley learns to gut salmon.

The rest of the week was slightly less thrilling, filled with organization of equipment, cleaning rafts, and office work. But it was topped off on Friday with a lesson from Glenn in cleaning, gutting and filleting salmon. He brought 5 massive King Salmons to Boxtown to show whatever interns were around how to manage this slimy, slippery fish. We split into pairs and took turns hacking off heads, pulling out the intestines, and slicing as close to the backbone as possible. When we had finished we had a bucket full of guts, a folding table smeared in blood and a permanent stench of dead fish on our clothing, but also a free fillet for each of us. Needless to say everyone in Boxtown ate well that night. Tessa and I prepared our first real meal in a long time of garlic rice, grilled salmon, seasoned green beans, and French bread; the perfect end to a week.

We are hosting a Big Lebowski party in Boxtown tonight, which will be fun, especially since I’ve never seen the movie. I’ve been getting a lot of grief because of that fact. They like to make fun of the fact I’m so much younger than most of them. Sometimes I feel like the Baby of Boxtown. I have to admit, it has a nice ring to it. Maybe that’s what I will name my memoir twenty years from now. Although, that sort of seems like I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Photo courtesy of Riley Hays.

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