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June 16 - July 7

Hi! This is Nicky Naiman - former TEMSCO employee. My part of this adventure began when I picked Buckwheat up in Circle on June 16th. We stashed his canoe behind the local store owned by two generous people, Earla and Dick, and then headed to Fairbanks for some supplies and R&R. During his two days in Fairbanks, Buckwheat became addicted to Thai food and Coldstone ice cream.
Buckwheat the man..

On Sunday night (June 18), Jesse dropped us off in Circle, and the next morning we began our journey through the Yukon Flats. That day we put in 50 miles on nice, calm water. The weather was great! The following day, we hit Fort Yukon around 1pm. When we first pulled ashore, Buckwheat was politely told that white men don't park where we were unless it was to buy booze. So we had to paddle upstream to reach a better place to park. Although we had no problems in Fort Yukon, it was not an inviting place, and we were both anxious to get back on the river. (One gallon of water costs $5.95 at the general store!)

As we set up our tent on a small island that evening, we discovered some rather large bear tracks. Luckily, he did not come back to bother us that night. We sure needed a good night's sleep; however we didn't realize it at the time. The next morning, the weather seemed fine, but the wind started to pick late in the morning. We had to pull off the river at one point and wait for things to calm down. Once we started paddling again, we found a nice, calm channel. Our troubles began shortly after leaving that channel and joining the main tributary of the river. The winds picked up, white caps started forming, and before long we were fighting 3 foot swells. This is not a fun task in a canoe! Although we were close to shore, we could not put off because the banks of the river were about 14 feet high with debris falling off into the river. After what seemed like hours of strenuous paddling to stay afloat, we found a spot to pull off. We quickly decided that we were finished paddling for the day even though it was only 4:30 pm. After we set up camp, Buckwheat slept for 13 hours straight! The next day was spent looking at the water and wishing the wind wasn't blowing - in other words, we stayed put at our campsite waiting for good weather. We were disappointed to lose a day of paddling, but safety first!

The next morning was calm and beautiful. We got to watch a grizzly swim across the river shortly after we put in. That was the high point of our day. The morning brought lots of rain and a little wind. By that afternoon, the wind picked up, and we were caught in strong gusts. Waves were coming at us from every direction. Once again, we were paddling for our lives. We managed to pull ashore on a sandbar that was about 30 yards long and 10 yards wide. We are very lucky that Buckwheat and I made a pretty good paddling team. About an hour later, because it looked like it was going to rain, we decided to set up the tent. That was a huge ordeal! At this point the wind, which had calmed a little, was blowing steady at 15 and gusting to 27! Once we got the poles attached, I held the tent by placing all of my weight on it. The sand bar was too muddy to use stakes, so we both quickly jumped into the tent. Then we laid there for several hours just holding up the walls, which were collapsing due to the wind. Finally we were able to secure the tent with our water jugs. The weather did not cooperate with us, and we ended up spending three nights on this sand bar. One frustrating part of this is that we were only about 5 miles from the village of Beaver.

On our third day on the sandbar, we decided to chance things, and we got back on the river. We paddled to Beaver, which is a very nice village. We went to the Washeteria and got to use real toilets for the first time in a week. We met a 69-year-old man named Paul Williams (who I believe is the 2nd Chief of Beaver - at least this is what some Christian missionaries told us later). He chatted with us for quite a while, and he helped put all those horrible rumors about Native villages to rest. We were discovering that most of what Buckwheat had been told about the Yukon Flats was not true.

We did not spend too much time in Beaver because we were trying to make up for lost time. We were hoping to make it to the bridge at the Dalton Highway (Haul Road) by the following night. We ended up paddling 60 miles that day.

The next day, July 4th, we hit the water early, much to a sleepy Buckwheat's dismay. We spent a leisurely morning discussing what activities would be happening in Skagway at that particular time. We were with the town in spirit every step of the way- from the parade to the egg toss to the BBQ - we thought about it all! It was nice to share some of our favorite 4th of July memories with each other. It was a very long day for us; we were both fatigued from putting in a long day the day before, but the end was near. After such scary experiences due to high winds and waves, I was ready to get off the river for a while. We made it to the pullout at the bridge at 8:45 p.m. The restaurant and motel closed at 9:00 p.m., so we were lucky and got a room and some food. Unfortunately, Jesse was unable to pick us up because he was called out on a flight earlier in the day and would be gone overnight. He did leave us a message that there was a shuttle bus that would get us back to Fairbanks, but it didn't leave until 7:00 the following evening. That seemed like a long wait, so we started asking around about how to get to Fairbanks. We discovered that there was a Gray Line/ HAL bus passing through around noon the next day. Buckwheat started making phone calls and he got permission for us to hitch a ride. Our bus driver, Wendy, and tour escort, Andrea, were the greatest. We were thrilled that they could help us out - THANKS A MILLION HOLLAND AMERICA! The driver asked Buckwheat to explain his trip to the tourists. He was in his element talking with the tourists. He even did some Robert Service. He actually met one man on the bus who graduated from the same university in Colorado.

Buckwheat spent the next day in Fairbanks with me restocking supplies. He bought a dry suit for his Norton Sound crossing. Right now his plan when he gets to the Bering Sea is to hire a fishing boat to shadow him while he kayaks across the Norton Sound. Hopefully this leg of the trip will work out for him. Right now it looks like the boat will cost between $10,000 and $12,000. Of course, that is a little too high, so keep your fingers crossed that Buckwheat can work some sort of deal out with the captain.

On July 7th, I drove Buckwheat back to the Yukon River Camp, gave him a final hug, and sent him on his way. NICKY

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