Last week, I jumped into the car as usual not realizing we were headed due North with our course set for the Arctic Circle. This was his new car. He kept talking about how excited he was that it finally arrived and that he wanted to “test its merit on the Dalton Highway.” I would later learn that this highway was notorious for dishing out cracked windshields, flat tires, and missing pieces that fall off in one of the millions of potholes and ruts. Kobuk, my border collie friend that lives next door, took the floor in the front seat. I took the middle seat in the back; not pleased. We drove for what seemed like hours before making a quick stop to pee and drink water out of the mighty Yukon River. With our paws freshly covered in mud, we jumped back into the car. He did not seem pleased, either.
By 5:30pm, I had already suffered a rash of black fly bites while he made me and the others sit in front of some dumb wooden sign that read “Arctic Circle – Latitude 66° 33′.” We then got back in the car and drove 10 miles back the way we had just came and set up camp for the night on an old airstrip near the headwaters of the Kanuti River. Kobuk and I helped gather sticks to build a small fire by which they would drink beer and whiskey.
The blueberries were copious and perfectly ripe. I ate them until my belly hurt. Then I puked some up. The rest I would shit out the next morning around 4am after I woke him up in a panic to get out of the tent. The blueberries would be like this throughout the rest of the trip. More blueberries than I’ve seen in my entire life, perhaps. We ate like kings. I would shit seeds and a purple hue for the next two days.
Our float on the second day started off calmly. The current was slow, the wind at our face, but the landscape was gorgeous. Kobuk started whining as soon as we got into the boats so I decided to join in, too. The river banks were lined with blueberries. The hills would change back and forth between boreal spruce and jagged cliffs and scree slopes. Half way into the 14mi float, the Kanuti quickly changed into Class II rapids with dense boulder gardens. The river was just high enough from all the rain to stay in the boat, though we would still routinely take rocks to the ass as we tried to navigate from bank to bank like a Plinko chip. Kobuk and I continued to whine with increasing fervor until we reached the rapids where it was clear I was pissing him off so I decided to calm down. The excitement of turbulent water seemed to take my mind off the fact that he had crammed me between his legs in a glorified inflatable pool toy.
After reaching mile 14, a quick bush whack located the slight hint of a foot trail leading into the hot springs where it opened up into a beautiful meadow of wild chive and mint. The herbal aroma mixed with the pungent sulfur pouring out of the springs. Heaven. They fed us a special dinner with rice, veggies, and meat that was mixed in with our typical kibble. They would even share some of their food out of these weird packets they added boiling water to.
Our dinner and soak ended abruptly when we were visited by a very curious and very stubborn black bear. Kobuk and I took off in pursuit, barking furiously and getting within 5 feet, scaring the bear to the edge of the meadow before he called us back. The bear kept coming back and they made us stay in the tent. Jerks. They yelled at the bear for another 45 minutes followed by lots of clapping, flare guns, 44 mag boom stick warning shots. Kobuk and I slipped out of the tent and chased the bear one more time before they tied us up. At this point the bear started thrashing in the trees and making a series of growling noises so he decided it best to break camp and start away from this perfectly good camping spot. Much to our dismay, on our way out of the meadow we discovered the second (and larger) set of hot springs. Two hours later and nearly dark, we had made our way to the top of the ridge and set camp in a thick sponge of lichen and moss.
The remainder of the hike the following day would be interspersed with blueberry snack breaks, humans swearing through tussock fields, and daydreams about the pieces of cheeseburger from the Hotspot Cafe (only a short 40 mile drive away once we got back to the car) that they would save for us.
The burger, a half-pound goddess topped with bacon and usual fixings, lived up to the expectation and was complemented perfectly by the root beer float and the supplementary chocolate milk shakes which he got to go afterward (a conservative estimate of 4000 calories) and perfect for satiating a hikers’ (or a canines) appetite.
Kobuk and I slept most of the way until we arrived back home at approximately 11pm. They were all very smelly; worse than me and Kobuk. His car was dirty, very dirty, but seemingly undamaged by the infamous Dalton Highway.