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Alaska Beat

Paddling 600 miles down the Tanana River: One crew's journey

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published September 11, 2012

National Geographic reports on an inspiring and successful journey paddling down 600 miles of the Tanana River this summer by Jon Waterhouse of The Healing Journey.

The Healing Journey's mission is summarized on their site:

Utilizing canoes to transport participants via rivers and tributaries from village to village, the Healing Journey focus is gathering traditional knowledge through stories told by river inhabitants, as well as collecting modern water-quality related scientific data along the way.

Averaging about 25 miles a day, the crew wound their way down the quick-moving, silt-filled Tanana River. There weren't many inhabitants along the way, Waterhouse writes, so they had plenty of time to collect water samples.

"Alaska's rivers are impeccable examples of how pristine the natural world can be." Waterhouse writes. "With minimal litter or pollution, I am reminded while here of what environmental stewardship is."

They stopped in Nenana and Tanana, where they were blown away by the gregarious villagers living on the river.

The crew also found that animals naturally led them to the best places to set up camp at night. Whether a coyote, a moose, or swans, the animals would appear on the river bank after long days devoid of animal sightings, at exactly the right time, and in exactly the right place.

The only problem? Returning to the big city. Waterhouse writes that after sleeping under the stars, with nothing but the sound of the river to lull him to sleep, he was "slow to adjust" to an urban environment. "If I were 5, I'd be waving my fists in the air, tears streaming, stomping my feet dramatically, eventually falling into an exhausted and pitiful heap on the floor." He writes.

Read much more of his inspiring essay, here.

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