Late night flights are part and parcel of any trip to Alaska, ensuring that you're at least a bit rummy if not downright discombobulated before you even have feet on the ground. In 20 years of annual sojourns north, my antidote to being off my game from square one has been a lot of OCD prep before leaving home. Upon landing I typically only need to unbox my bike, devote 5 minutes to threading pedals in and bars on, then consult my shopping list and spend 10 minutes grabbing essentials from Freddies before I'm 'ready'. This year I had the benefit of arriving half a day before Jaybs and Brett, giving me bonus time to fiddle with gear, catch a luxuriant catnap, and then re-check all the fine details.
Peggy, Todd and Parsons deposited us at ANC, where we had a few moments to learn about Roman's new favorite pastime before hopping the milk run to Cordova.
So summery was it there that we did the unthinkable, even unimaginable: We sought shade to unbox and rebuild our bikes. Given what came later, we may have pissed off the weather gods with this unconscionable, despicable act of defiance.
Final details buttoned up, we got our pose on then spun down a dusty road.
Perhaps inspired by the views in every direction, our pace could only be described as hauling. I was borderline spun out, panting, and running ragged for the 15 miles to the Flag Point bridge over the Copper's westernmost channel.
Looking upstream (above pic) gives a perspective-inducing glimpse into the Copper's drainage. Had any of us claimed to not be a bit anxious in that moment, I'd have insisted on checking for a pulse.
Roman broke the spell and dove in headfirst, riding down the dunes and along the channel before stumbling through a balls-deep crossing.
Back onto dry land we enjoyed playful, trailless, omniterrain cruising for maybe 40 minutes before things started to get moist.
We pushed when needed and rode when possible, savoring backlit peaks, tracks of megafauna, and perhaps the last semblance of relative dryness on our persons.
Just because it was wet did not automatically mean we could inflate boats and end our foot sloggling. A minimum depth of water is required for that, and we needed to get further east to find a proper channel.
The next step involved inflating the boats to use as sleds, to drag our bikes with less overall effort.
Eventually we arrived at the last and tiniest slice of what one could exaggeratedly call "land", with a marginal current beyond. There we sloshed about ankle deep while adding layers, donning drysuits, stuffing gear inside drybags or the tubes of our boats, then shoved off into the Copper proper.
Given that the gauged flow near this spot was a comfortable 260,000cfs, one might forgive us for assuming that we'd have the benefit of lots of current pushing us toward the ocean.
Alas it simply didn't work that way. That's an enormous volume of water any way you slice it, but to get at the whole equation one must consider the width of the channel that water is filling. At roughly 8 miles across, the water never seemed to get more than a few inches deep. Reading the current was challenging to the point of frustration, as fog had rolled in and obscured all landmarks. Our only reference points other than ourselves were seals, flotsam, and occasionally the moon would poke through the gloom. Often we'd run aground a sand/silt/mud bar and have to slosh around to find some depth.
Realizing that our initial plan of making it to and through Softuk lagoon before shutting it down was simply not going to happen, we used Gaia to navigate to an island.
There we erected shelters, donned dry clothes, and kindled fire to heat water for a late night snack.
Spirits were high given that we weren't paddling and sloshing through the manky murk in the wee hours. But deep down we knew the score: That Jaybs had a plane to catch and a place to be in a little over a week, and after half a day of travel we were already half a day behind schedule. We drifted off knowing that we'd have to make that time up somewhere.