Thursday, September 17, 2009

North to Alaska...Outside Influences

Early morning, the fourth of September. I was still trying to get Todo to eat some of Jack's oatmeal for breakfast, but not having any luck. Just as well; it left more for us, and it was warm, filling and welcome on a cold, crisp morning.

Rain was coming down steadily, making our rain gear and hip boots indispensable. They were the only way we had stayed somewhat warm and semi-dry. Clouds settled in and for some time now had prevented us from seeing the magnificent peaks across the bay.

We observed small, fast boats working the shoreline--hunting bear the easy way, we presumed. Todo and I pulled at the oars as we skimmed briskly across the surface of the bay. We shot toward the mouth of the stream and the area we had been hunting for the past few days. Two strangers in a speeding boat rounded the point, and seeing our intent, speeded up and raced to the beached barge, intending to cut off our access to the area.

They beached and tied off near the wreckage as one of them jumped out, rifle in hand, peering upstream. It was obvious they intended to claim the area and acted as though we did not exist. I forced conversation by asking if they were hunting. "Yep," one replied. "Good luck. We've been working this stream for the last three days," I replied. We moved past them and on upstream as if there had been no conflict of intentions.

Some half a mile beyond them we pulled the canoe into heavy cover, secured it and headed into the forest, working together for an hour or so before deciding to separate for a while. Todo took up a position settling into the crest of a sheer bluff overlooking our stream and a small opening below. I worked my way down the cliff face and used a fallen log to cross over without getting wet. Our stamina was improving. I looked over my shoulder, waved at Todo and moved off and away up the other slope.

The forest was beautiful, but thick. Had it not been for the temperature, I'd have sworn I was in a tropical rain forest. Finally breaking clear of heavy growth, I moved into an open meadow and took up a position on its far side with an active game trail in view. A light drizzle turned into a steady rain. I couldn't recall, hard as I tried, who had said "bear hunting is always best in the rain."

As the mantle of dusk settled around us, we had come back together and moved downstream in our canoe. The two men we had seen earlier had beached their boat on our island near our camp but were nowhere in sight. We struggled to reach the island quickly. We felt outrage and a degree of helplessness at the same time. Larry and Jack's canoe shot into view. They reached the island well ahead of us. They had already been aboard their canoe when they saw the strangers slide onto the rocky beach of our island. We saw Larry and his dad move into the forest immediately upon making shore. Their visit with the strangers was short, efficient and to the point. We saw the interlopers break free of the treeline, leap into their boat and leave a small rooster tail in their wake as they shot across the water, seeking only distance and refuge. They never bothered us again. Tomorrow was to be our last full day on the island. We wanted to make it count.

Friday, September 11, 2009

North To Alaska... Small Things

The rising sun had to worry its way through heavy, laden clouds this morning. It never really broke through. The light would brighten, then dim depending on the density of the clouds. We were kind of lazy around camp, and mid-morning were surprised to hear the distant hum of an engine slowly increasing in volume. A bush pilot dropped through the dense cloud cover and landed deep in the bay, much nearer to the mainland. He and a companion offloaded gear and set up their camp beyond the treeline on the beach. This cut us off from several tributaries we wanted to explore. There went the neighborhood!

Todo and I canoed to the same stream we had explored yesterday. I shucked my backpack and, using it as a pillow, stretched out on the bank, watching Todo through hooded eyes. With infinite patience, he cast repeatedly into the churning water. There were thousands of fish, but he never got a strike. A fine mist settled in, and water trickled off our ponchos and the brims of our caps. I dozed briefly, then sat up and stretched. An idea had formed. Protected by chest waders, I slowly eased into the water. Going out until it was knee deep, I turned and faced upstream. Resting my elbows on my knees, I looked into the water and waited.

Within a few seconds, a large bull silver salmon surged between my legs. I grabbed it just ahead of its tail, straightened up and threw it at Todo's feet. "Knock him in the head with a rock, would you, pard? I'll get another one," I coaxed. By the time Todo found a rock and dispatched the fish, I had thrown another at his feet and stood there grinning proudly. He frowned, staring at me, then looked at the rod and reel in his hand. After a couple of seconds, he glanced up at me, smiling around the cigar clamped in his teeth. He tossed the rod backward over his shoulder. Laughing out loud, he joined me in the stream. That's how we fished from then on.

We returned to camp with two good fish each. They were quickly filleted and fried up on the camp stove. Larry and his dad had stayed in camp to rest up from yesterday. Our joints and muscles were in revolt from what we had put them through the day before. The smell of the frying fish was intoxicating. It woke Larry, who came staggering out of his tent. He was a sight, with reddened eyes, tousled hair and knotted fists digging into the small of his aching back. Being extremely fatigued, his morning hunt started a bit late--around three o'clock that afternoon, as I recall.

Rain had settled in around nine that morning. It would come hard, then lighten up. It would not stop for the next 28 hours. Nothing stayed dry. Realizing rain was a constant companion, we returned to the mainland mid-afternoon. Todo and I worked our way once again up our stream. We stayed near the water and worked along the banks, zig-zagging from side to side using dead falls as natural bridges. We crossed back and forth across the water several times.

At one point we rested on the edge of a high-walled crossing spanned by a huge dead fall. An eddy had formed beside a large boulder in the churning rush below. Within that small, perfect pool of clarity, suspended and motionless, was the largest rainbow trout I had ever seen. Briefly, sunlight filtered through the prism of water and reflected a dazzling array of color from his scales beneath the surface. His tail undulated slowly from side to side.

Todo rested a hand on my shoulder and indicated with a whisper he was going to try to catch him. He inched down the bank and eased into the water a short distance upstream. I had never seen him show such patience. Ever so slowly, he approached the eddy. He seemed to become one with the rocks and the water. He eased forward and approached the fish an inch at a time. The depth hovered just above his waist. Almost too slowly to see, his right hand rose in the water. The palm faced up and was cupped slightly. He ever so lightly stroked the underside of that trout, sliding his hand gently back along its length. Then, his fingers locked around the trunk just before reaching the tail. Water exploded around and over him. Lifting the huge fish high over his head, he laughed aloud in delight, almost falling. For an instant, he transcended humanity and almost became a god of the forest. Larger than life, he had briefly touched perfection and rejoiced in it.

You know, he never did catch a fish with the $40 reel he purchased at the 'Hook, Line & Sinker' back in Valdez.

* This posting is dedicated to the 2,819 innocents murdered on this date in 2001 in a senseless act of madness.

Friday, September 4, 2009

North To Alaska... Into The Wilds

With the canoe pulled into heavy cover, we began to work our way inland. Walking beside the stream, we saw numerous bear tracks and partially eaten salmon. Moving away from the banks we encountered deep beds of peat moss. Various ferns and broad-leafed plants were profuse. Jack had identified one as broad leaf Astor, remembering seeing them on an earlier outing in Canada. More huge trees towered over us, and the undergrowth was dragging against our every step. We searched for more open country hoping we could see a greater distance.

Finally we broke free of the jungle and were somewhat startled to find ourselves on the perimeter of a huge open meadow. The thick beds of peat made walking extremely tedious and we tired quickly. On occasion, what appeared to be solid ground gave way suddenly beneath our feet. A leg could plunge into submerged pools of water, hidden until you stepped into them. For this reason, when away from camp we lived in chest waders and prodded ahead with staffs cut for that purpose.

We covered a considerable area, though resting frequently. Beautiful views emerged. Snow-crested mountains surrounded Fidalgo Bay. At one point, a group of mountain goats on a sheer bluff emerged some distance away. We enjoyed watching them through binoculars and observing their antics, but knew the range was too great. We could never pull off a successful stalk and pack out an animal before dark descended. After last night, we did not want to be caught out here by the setting sun.

Turning and working slowly downward, we reentered the dense forest growth. The peat moss was amazing. It embraced any fallen tree and absorbed it into a soft smothering blanket of green sponge. Forcing our way onward through the verdant growth, we could see no more than some thirty yards at best. Bear sign was very prevalent. There would be no room for error if we came upon one of the brutes now. The words of our boat captain rushed back to me. "Never hunt alone. A bear's heart only beats twelve or thirteen times a minute--you can blow his heart to bits and he still has two or three minutes to be thoroughly pissed at you before he cashes in!" Sage advice!

Completing the descent down a nearly sheer wall of some thirty feet, we walked side by side along a ridge that was ten to fifteen feet wide. Below and away, another wall dropped an additional forty feet into the rapids of the rushing stream beneath us. I saw Todo hesitate, then stop. We had hunted so long together, my reaction was immediate. I froze, looking to the spot his nod indicated. From the thicket ahead, I saw the vapor of breath floating in the still, cold air. Dropping to one knee, I rested my elbow and rifle on the other. We were hot and somewhat winded. I pulled in deep lungs full of air and waited for my pulse to settle. We watched the clouds of breath form and disperse regularly in the air ahead.

Breathing evenly, I gripped my rifle tightly, nodded at Todo, and we separated to approach the dense growth from different angles. We were now right on top of it. The breath disappeared as we eased into the lair. There was no sign of the animal. A limb snapped off to the right and we waited expectantly. The imprints of huge pads littered the area. We moved slowly ahead. The bluff below was rent by the passage of the large beast as it descended to the stream beneath. There was no visible sign of it. There was only the stillness and the lingering musky smell of its body hanging in the air. The sound of water gurgled below. We felt far more relief than disappointment. The encounter had not been on our terms at all. Some time later, we found our canoe and pushed off.

We relished rare steaks and scotch for supper. A simple meal, but one of the most enjoyable in my memory. Later, we sat on the shoreline of our temporary home with arms folded over our knees, smoking cigars and enjoying a symphony of the night. Not of sound, but sight, as the Northern Lights splayed their sparkling hews of magic across the silent velvet expanse of a flawless Alaskan sky.

Friday, August 28, 2009

North To Alaska... Staking A Claim

We had been told of a plywood platform constructed in the heart of a huge spruce grove near the center of the island. A prolonged study of bald eagles had been conducted from this site years earlier. It was there we intended to set up camp. Supposedly, there were no bears on this island. It was said one rested much more soundly knowing that a large Kodiak bear would not wake you digging a Snicker bar out of your shirt pocket in the middle of the night.

Sleet pelted us as we lowered our canoes over the side of 'The Alaskan Dream.' The four of us began to ferry food, camping gear, tents, weapons, bedding and a large variety of personal effects ashore. The wind had risen and the tides ran strong as we worked against the elements to achieve our goal. It proved impossible to hit the island shoreline at the same point with each transfer, so we ended up with supplies scattered up and down a 100-yard stretch of rocky beach. The tide was moving strongly out, and it proved quite difficult to locate the wooden platforms in the dark and driving sleet.

We finally established our campsite, and Larry and his dad began the work of constructing camp as Todo and I carried our supplies up from the various landing points along the beach. The trees and vegetation were extremely thick. Sweat soaked us from within and freezing rain sought us from without. Our breath huffed steaming plumes into the air as we moved through an Arctic jungle. A small dome of lantern light pushed back against heavy darkness that would have been complete.

There was no topsoil as such. A type of peat moss covered everything, making walking very difficult and tedious. The camp was finally assembled and secure. We fell into our bedding, completely exhausted, taken by sleep that was immediate and without dreams.

My eyes fluttered open just before the sky began to brighten the next morning. Slipping out of the tent, I soon had coffee boiling over the camp stove. During the night, the clouds had broken and bright stars were beginning to fade away into the early light of dawn. It was now in the mid-forties, and the others began to stir. We were in awe of the new world surrounding us. Huge spruce trees towered overhead.

Random droplets trickled from the boughs high above. When they passed through spots of air open to the rays of the newly risen sun, they would explode into flashes of brilliance in that golden light, then vanish passing again into shadow. Various ferns and smaller trees were abundant. Bald eagles roosted in the limbs above. Crimson streaked stray clouds in the sky beyond the canopy above. Bacon crackled in a cast-iron skillet on the stove top. Thoughts turned to breakfast, which was savored and unrushed.

Todo and I paired off in one of the canoes, stowed our gear and pushed off into the bay. Larry and his dad (now dubbed 'Yukon' Jack) moved to our right, moving east and deeper into the glassy waters. After several minutes, we approached the mainland. Ahead, a strong stream surged as its waters rushed to merge with those of the bay. Slack jawed, we observed silver salmon fighting their way upstream by the thousands, with the water roiling under their assault. We dug oars deeply into the water and pulled our canoe through the open mouth of that stream, passing what appeared to be an old mining barge beached some distance inland along the banks. Its timbers still appeared solid despite its obvious age.

Perhaps half a mile upstream, we pulled the canoe onto the bank into heavy cover. Bear sign was plentiful. Half-eaten fish, bear tracks and other sign littered the shore. Gulls swarmed overhead by the hundreds. They were joined by a good scattering of bald eagles. Everything seemed to be feeding on the glut of fish. Many of the salmon appeared healthy as I squatted to study them. They defied irresistible currents to fight upstream, find the perfect spot and lay their treasured eggs. This done, their bodies now battered by semi-submerged rocks and boulders, the salmon ceased to fight and drifted listlessly, slowly back downstream.

The birds dove with tireless beaks striking at the salmon broken bodies. The assault continued as they drifted listlessly back toward the bay, finally dying. Many were consumed by the birds and animals on shore. Others gently settled back into the still depths of the bay to feed other aquatic life. Otters frolicked and feasted across the bays in large numbers. Fleeting shapes of larger fish would flash by our canoes, just below the surface. Before our disbelieving eyes, an amazing panorama of life, death and rebirth was playing out its great drama.

Friday, August 21, 2009

North to Alaska... We're There!

It was just after eleven p.m. on August 31st as we crossed the state line into Alaska. The lone custom agent at the remote post had once been stationed in El Paso and even knew of our hometown of Premont. He flew into his current post daily in a single-engine Cessna. He was so thrilled to have people to see and talk with that it was difficult to break off and continue onward. He had answered many of our questions, providing us with a wealth of information.

Two hours later, we rolled into the settlement of Tok, Alaska. A red and green neon light flashed its welcome to a motel constructed to serve the workers brought in to build the great Alaskan Pipeline. It retained the feel of the boom days. The rooms were small and snug with clean sheets over beds that cocooned you in comfort. There were common showers for men to scrub down in. Amid steaming plumes of steam we sluiced away the grime of the day and eased the strain of muscles knotted and sore from prolonged abuse. It was a perfect respite from our long journey. Photographs of the construction work and nameless men lined the hallways.

As late as it was, Todo and I shared a toddy and reflected back over experiences we had shared and how unique this one was proving to be. The history of the place was strongly woven into its very fabric. It was a tangible, living thing surrounding us. I noticed in mid-sentence that Todo was snoring softly. Turning off the bedside lamp and closing my eyes, I was swept away. We slept like the children we had once been.

It's daylight now and we are pushing south out of Tok. Rested and refreshed after a good night's sleep, Larry and Jack look like different men. We still had a good drive ahead of us, with the port city of Valdez our goal. Streams and rivers flowed everywhere. Beautiful snow-capped peaks surrounded us. We were amazed and stopped to gawk at Bridal and Horsetail Falls.

Finally, we climbed through a saddle between two peaks and saw Valdez resting around a sparkling bay below us. There were gulls and bald eagles working the air over that shining bay as we slowly drove into the town. Various boats were tied along the docks, where sea otters rolled and chirped in the crisp sheen of the water. The clarity was such that you could see giant crabs prowling the floor of the bay just off the docks. Huge storage tanks held oil flowing from the great pipeline to the port to be loaded onto tankers for the long journey to fuel industry around the world.

Just after four o'clock that afternoon, we moved off the docks and into a sporting goods store called 'The Hook, Line & Sinker.' We purchased hunting and fishing licenses, then made contact with our boat captain, Jeff of 'The Alaskan Dream.' He was set to ferry us and our supplies some 37 miles southwest of Valdez into an area along the coast where we would be fishing and hunting bear. Captain Jeff and his first mate Chuck helped us load our gear aboard his boat.

Captain Jeff wanted to wait until morning to depart and was more than a little reluctant to chance the passage in darkness. We, however, wanted to waste no time in establishing our base camp. Time was a factor in our calculations. Our arguments prevailed as our possessions were stowed in the hold and strapped onto the deck of the boat. We labored beneath towering glacial ice straddling saddles in the mountains around the harbor. Their ancient frozen hues of bluish green were pierced by the slanting rays of a sun riding ever lower on the western horizon. The waters of the bay were like gazing into glass. The clarity was amazing.

Before boarding, I called Bonnie from the docks and was thrilled to hear her voice over the impossible distance. Our voices lagged a couple of seconds due to available technology. I tried to describe and will her into my surroundings, though that was impossible. Finally, saying goodbye, I slipped the mooring lines, then leaped aboard the boat as we began to maneuver through the harbor toward our destination of Fidalgo Bay and the island that was to become our home for the next five days. Todo took a fierce ribbing as we discovered his tendency toward sea sickness.

As the light faded, we passed a land-locked Indian village, which Captain Jeff told us had been constructed entirely with federal funds. There were no roads in or out of the community, making it accessible only by water. He related that the Indians apparently nurtured a strong distrust of whites and only allowed three outsiders to live in the village. Two of these were a married couple who taught school and the third was a Russian Orthodox priest. The golden dome of that church glowed brightly in the twilight. Necessary supplies were offloaded on village docks, and only rarely did any of their people venture into Valdez.

We surged into a heavy fog bank. A steady drizzle soon turned into freezing rain. Our sense of time and distance began to blur. Darkness fell. We seemed to crawl over the surface of the water. Much later, an island slowly materialized within the fog. We dropped anchor some 200 yards offshore. The captain would venture no closer. He feared running aground on submerged boulders and breaching his hull. The sleet grew heavier and the clouds denser, robbing us of any trace of lingering light. Our island was now a smudge on the horizon. Penetrating cold chilled us to the bone. I glanced back over my shoulder. The captain's face was illuminated in the soft glow of a lantern. He arched his bushy eyebrows and grinned. It was time to go ashore.

Friday, August 14, 2009

North to Alaska . . . Above the 49th

On August 31st around five o'clock in the morning, we crossed from British Columbia into the fabled Yukon Territory. Streams and rivers ran fresh and clear. Flashes of fall colors exploded in the golden sunlight of early morning. Grandeur seems an inadequate word to describe being visually overwhelmed by the shades of red, bright yellow and hues of brown scattered through varying shades of green among the juniper, spruce and pine. Random bursts of fall blossoms rippled in the cool breeze flowing over the slopes.

We viewed herds of wild horses or mustangs that still ran free in this rugged country. A bunch of bighorn sheep cascaded off a steep slope as we rounded a bend in the crusted road. We ground to a stop as they did, briefly, and stared in surprise and wonder at each other. The leader slowly turned and huffed. Their hooves thundered and they were gone. A young bull elk regarded us calmly as we paused again, then moved on.

We had just completed the most difficult stretch of our journey. It traversed some 320 miles spanning the distance between Fort Nelson in British Columbia and Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory. The road was full of curves and layered in gravel rather than paved for the most part. We slowly pressed forward through the darkness along the treacherous route. A chilled, persistent mist settled over us as our headlights punched ahead and jerked from side to side. Numerous beaver were seen along the road throughout the night passage.

It grew quite cold. The rear window of the Wagoneer shattered when one of the rear tires slung a rock into the front of the trailer, which ricocheted forward through the glass. Stopping to clear shattered glass from the rear of the vehicle, we noted ice was forming on the tarp covering our possessions in the trailer. Freezing slush and dirt formed into blocks of ice in the wheel wells and had to be broken and cleared away periodically.

The clouds burned away as the day progressed, then flowed back in late in the afternoon. We approached the end of our journey through the Yukon Territories. How to describe it? Sheer, towering mountains layered and colored by varying strata of tundra or grass. Kluane Lake was huge, to the point of seeming to be a bay, complete with whitecaps, with a surface area encompassing more than 150 square miles. The mountains dwarfed the Rockies that Bonnie and I have known and loved so long in Colorado. We passed through the city of White Horse, capitol of The Yukon with a population of 18,000--almost two-thirds of the people living in the entire province. We pushed on.

Twilight settled in at 10:20 p.m. as we rolled into the entrance to a lodge and inquired about supper. The owner was a polite man with an expansive, ruddy face and a beaming smile. However, he refused to serve us as he had committed to an early-morning grouse hunt the following day. We thanked him, changed drivers, grabbed a couple of candy bars and pulled back onto the road, threading west and a little north. It seemed that the fading sunlight had to be streaming from the mythical land we pursued with such determination--a boyhood dream called 'Alaska.'

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

North to Alaska . . . Heading Out

On August 27, 1988, Todo Myane, another friend Larry, Larry's father Jack and I left the sprawling metroplex of Dallas, setting our sights to the north and the fabled 'Land of the Midnight Sun' . . . Alaska.

Planning an early start, unexpected delays and extended preparations extended our departure until around six that afternoon. The temperature was still hovering around 102 when we found ourselves headed north. We drove a Jeep Wagoneer with two canoes strapped on the top, with a tarp-covered trailer in tow. As we rolled northwestward across a barren Texas landscape, dust devils and shimmering waves of heat created mirages in the distance. The air was hot and arid, and it felt as if we were breathing air from a furnace when we left the air-conditioned comfort inside our vehicle.

The sign read 'Welcome to the Land of Enchantment' as we crossed the border into New Mexico. The last light of the sun bled into the barren landscape and cast the few fleecy clouds in crimson as it slowly melted into the distant horizon. We continued the push toward Raton Pass in the fading twilight. A strong gust of wind slammed into the side of the Wagoneer, and the vehicle rocked against the force as we slowed to a stop to change drivers. Stepping out onto the shoulder, I felt the fresh chill of a strong north wind flowing around me. We pushed north into it, thrilled that the heat fell away into the lower sixties. The climb up to Raton brought us briefly into the realm of granite, pine-covered mountains. Light snow fleeced the very tops of some peaks. We rolled down windows a bit and pulled the cool sweet air into our lungs. All too soon, we descended back to the desert floor, pushing on through Pueblo, Colorado Springs and into Denver.

We had remained to the east of the Rockies, moving through sparsely vegetated foothills. Small groups of antelope were spotted occasionally along the way. We stopped briefly in Denver for vehicle maintenance, then moved on north through Colorado into Wyoming. I had not been here since a young boy on vacation with my family, and a young boy's memories came flooding back--log cabins with wood heaters burning compressed one-pound coffee can sized chunks of pine sawdust, black bears rummaging through trash cans outside looking for snacks, Old Faithful spewing plumes of steaming water high into the frigid air, a moose walking, unconcerned, along the side of a lake with impossibly blue water, his great antlers and strange beard rocking gently from side to side. These bits and pieces flowed unbidden from the past and lived again briefly in my mind.

We only paused to eat or change drivers, stopping briefly in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to check the possibility of an antelope hunt. We discovered that all available buck permits had already been issued, so we pushed forward into Montana.

Todo and I never tire of each other's company. We entertained Larry and his dad with tales of growing up together in the small town of Premont, deep in the Brush Country of South Texas. We had gotten into and out of so many situations that the telling of one story would trigger the memory of another. Our childhoods had been touched by magic. On the rare occasions when conversation lagged, we would break into an off-key chorus of "North To Alaska" by Johnny Horton. Apologies to him!

The Montana foothills slowly gained in height. Even here, we saw and smelled smoke from the great wildfires in Wyoming that were ravaging so much of the Yellowstone country. We heard a news report of a father who had taken his wife and two children camping in the area of the fires. That night the wind changed and flames swept over and through their campsite. He dragged his wife and children into a nearby stream and shrouded them in soaking sleeping bags to filter out the smoke so they could breathe. He was hailed as a hero. We viewed him as a complete fool. Who would take his family into the proximity of an inferno consuming tens of thousands of acres?

A beautiful mule deer buck crossed in our headlights. We later saw a freshly killed bear on the shoulder of the road. It had been hit and killed by a vehicle. Due to the steep cuts on each side of the road, we were unable to turn around and get a good look at the huge animal. We had driven almost continuously and crossed from Sweetgrass, Montana, into Canada just after sunrise on the morning of August 29th. This part of Canada appeared similar to West Texas. The crops were either wheat or alfalfa.

Entering Calgary, we witnessed a large, beautiful modern city. The roads and highways were excellent and exceeded ours back home in some respects. Farther north, we had an excellent meal near the community of Red Deer, meeting wonderful, gracious people along our way.

August 30th. Our first stop for showers and sleep under clean sheets was last night. The trip is taking a bit longer than planned due to a couple of maintenance delays, but is still going really well.

We have driven into beautiful forests. I see juniper, aspen and birch in abundance. The air is clear and sweet. Small lakes and ponds are numerous, many created by beaver dams of various sizes. Canada, thus far, is beautiful beyond description. We have just passed through Dawson Creek and embarked on the Alaska Highway. Images conjured by Jack London through 'The Call of the Wild' and 'White Fang' begin to materialize. Home stretch! There are only about 1,500 miles to go. We passed through Fort St. John. The Peace River overwhelms!