Sunday, March 23, 2008

Following the North Trail to the Yukon

We had a three day weekend for Easter, so I decided to ride along with some folks that were headed up to the treeline by the Yukon river. I had never been before, and it was something I've been wanting to do for a while, though every time the opportunity arrives I seem to come up with an excuse not to go. It's a ways, about a 2.5-3 hour ride each way, and I'm always a little over-concerned about whether or not my snowmachine is up to it. Not to mention, it can be a bit of a gas hog, and it's not like there are any other villages (not to mention gas stations) along the way. This time, however, I just said "why not" and decided to give it a try.

So we got started and headed out around 8:30 Friday morning, and I have to say it was a beautiful ride. After about the halfway point you start to see scattered trees, and all of a sudden you come over a small ridge and see trees everywhere. Which I know doesn't sound like all that big of a deal to you Wisconsinites/Minnesotans out there, but here on the flat, treeless tundra, it's like seeing an oasis :-) Even the trail conditions, which last time I rode to Bethel were horrendous, have really improved due to a bunch of powdery snow over the last couple weeks. The ride was a little bumpy, but nothing compared to the concrete-hard drifts a month or so ago.

The big difference in snow, really, was after we got up there. Down here where there is much wind and no trees, all the snow that doesn't pack down and drift just blows away. I think I know where it goes. As you can sort of see in the top picture, the snow in the trees was deep. Very deep. Like, when I got off my machine to walk into the trees, I immediately sank into my waist and didn't touch the ground. Which made cutting trees (and more notably dragging them out to the river) quite difficult.

I rode up with Carey and Maria, who wanted to bring back a load of wood for steaming, and with Matthew (the school's Site Tech, Community Advocate, and general jack of all trades/glue that holds the school together) and one of his sons. Matthew had brought a chainsaw, so he went about cutting down dead trees, which then had to be de-limbed and de-nubbed, tied to the back of our machines, and drug down to the river where we had left the freight sleds and our stuff. It's quite an operation, and a lot of work dealing with the waist-deep snow while cutting, axing, dragging, and towing. Not that I did much of the work, seeing as I was mostly along for the ride and just to get to the Yukon and see trees...but still. I helped a little, with what I could.

One thing that we could not have done any better with was the weather. The forecast had made me a little nervous, calling for the wind to pick up and snow to move in, but it stayed perfectly clear for us, warmed up to about 10 or 15 degrees, and what wind did pick up was at our back the whole ride home. So, we got back home around 8pm or so, a little sore, but having avoided and of the misfortunes or misadventures that seem to usually plague my snowmachine/airplaine/boat travels around the tundra. Carey attributed our luck to the "evil eye" stone she brought along to ward off evil spirits. Normally, I wouldn't put much stock in such things, but after the poor luck we've had in the past, to go on this lengthy of a trip without anything going wrong....well, I'm certainly not going to question it.

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