A Bittersweet Homecoming


Arriving in Haines was bittersweet. We were thrilled to be done with the long drive, but oblivious to the challenge that lay ahead of us. Our first objective was to park the Uhaul, load our boat with just necessities (which turned out to be lots of stuff), and drive out to our cabin on Chilkat lake. The weather was cold and dreary and I didn’t have proper warm clothes and shoes handy for cold rain. We got the boat in the Tsirku River, loaded it down with suitcases, boxes, dogs and dog kennels and ourselves. I pushed the boat off the rocky bank into the rushing rapids of the river, and quickly maneuvered past dog cages and boxes to take a seat, bracing myself for the ride. When Nathanael gunned the engine, there was a brief forward movement, but then the rapids started pushing us backwards. We were both tired and confused about what was happening. Nate continued pressing the throttle forward, but the more he pressed, the more the water kept washing us down stream. Getting to our house requires going up river against the rapids of the Tsirku River, then turning onto Clear Creek until finally reaching Chilkat Lake. If your boat has no forward thrust, the rushing water of the Tsirku will push you down the river. We knew we didn’t want to be washed downstream, so we quickly made our way over to the riverbank and jumped out of the boat. We were up to our knees in water. Holding the boat against the rushing waters is too hard for me. It took both of us to bring the boat back to land safely. When she was finally tied up, far down from our vehicle, we inspected the motor and realized the jet drive motor had sucked up the tie down rope from the stern and it was limiting the thrust power. Nate ran the 500 yards back to the parking area at the landing to get the truck and boat trailer thinking we needed to pull the boat out of the water, but when he got there, he realized I had all of the keys with me. He ran back and grabbed the keys then started out again. We were both kind of running back and forth in the sleeting cold rain.

The scene would have made for some great reality TV. “Dorks in Alaska”, or maybe a Lucille Ball episode, like the one with the runaway RV down the mountain road. Eventually, Nathanael did what he does best: picked up his tools and went to work. I swear, he can fix anything! He had to take apart the boat motor and cut out all of the twisted rope, then put the motor back together again. I tried to be helpful. Holding a tool here and there and tending to the dogs. Although I have a lot of faith in Nathanael, I thought trying to fix this motor in sleeting rain as night sets in was a mute effort. I figured within the hour, I would be snug in bed after a hot shower at the Aspen hotel in downtown Haines. But, when Nathanael was finished, we put the boat in the water and, amazingly, we had forward thrust!

We were pleased that the motor wasn’t completely blown, but we had a long, slow ride home. A front had moved in during our debacle at the boat launch and the water in the lake was very choppy. The boat ride normally takes 40 minutes, but it took us over an hour because of the weather and the motor was a little sluggish now. The ride was miserable. It was sleeting raining on us already, and to add insult to injury, every wave brought a spray of cold lake water onto us. On the ride, we were both quiet.  I’m sure we were both wondering how we were going to make it in this crazy, wild place. It made us feel very small. The power of nature can make you feel helpless. We finally arrived at our lake house cold and shivering. We unlocked the door, and hurriedly unloaded the boat and dogs up the big hill to the house. The solar system battery in the house was completely drained so we had no lights and no electricity. We lit the stove fireplace, and changed out of our wet clothes. We blew up our blow up bed with a gas generator, pushed the bed close to the fire and went to sleep. It was a bittersweet homecoming. If I were on a reality TV show like “alone”, I wonder if I would have called in the extraction team. Probably not, but it sounds nice to have that option. In real life, living in the wild doesn’t come with a phone call to be helicoptered home to safety. We knew this was going to be an “adventure”. We were tired and hungry and a little bit delirious, but we were home at our cabin on the lake in Alaska, at last. Nearly nine months of planning this adventure, but I’m sure each day will bring lots of challenges we didn’t plan for.

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