Saturday, July 22, 2017

Slough Coup

As part of our early season regimen training runs we explored some of Piledriver Slough: a nice quiet backwater stream that meanders alongside the Richardson Highway next to Eielson Air Force Base. Apart from a few curves that came closer to the road it was absolutely peacefully quiet, and especially given it was a holiday, nobody else was there (except for one small family with kids who noted on how we were “going the wrong way”). I was inspired by a friend who posted pictures of her family's excursion and it looked to be an easy enough warm-up for our continuing adventures boating about. Reaching online only revealed a couple entries on various forums, mostly fishing-related, but studying the Google satellite imagery gave us enough to go on. Afterwards I bought a topo map and have been able to plot more sorties for the summer.

The stream itself was quite deep + wide in areas, unfortunately thickly carpeted by the invasive aquatic weed Elodea which is currently wreaking havoc in many Interior waterways. Encouragingly enough there were a LOT of fingerlings and many instances of jumping fish, presumably trout and grayling. We were rewarded with a raucous Bald eagle (appropriate enough for Independence Day) and a surprise visit from a Belted kingfisher, along with many flotillas of ducklings too.

We only covered maybe a quarter of the slough: Word was that it would take a good twelve hours to float it in its entirety, but we opted instead to paddle upstream from our put-in and simply retrace the route after a few hours. The current was strong enough in a few spots over shallow stretches that it suspended us place and took some serious flailing about with the paddles to maintain forward momentum (and I only managed to capsize once). And there were several times after grounding to a halt on the stream-bed that we had to resign ourselves to wade for a few hundred feet dragging the canoes along to reach deeper water. There was also a spectacular and organic fireworks show courtesy of an afternoon thunderstorm that threatened us with some intense lightening but never came close enough to merit bailing out. Wound up sunburned, sore and smiling instead!

Afterwards I sketched a scene from memory, as I no longer have a point-and-shoot camera (and wasn't about to bring along an iPad or iPhone), and the image was pretty fresh in my mind after staring at it for half a day. And just like the actual experience, looking at the sketch brings me a momentary pause of peaceful reflection. Boating about recalls my experiences on the Ogeechee River during grad school, and our pair of one-person canoes is a prefect metaphor for us. Last year we left off our adventuring with an awesome all-day excursion around the Clearwater Lakes down by Delta Junction. Soon as we get back up and running (or in this case, floating) I'll post some more pics and panels inspired by this new angle on outdoor recreation.

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