Tuesday, June 4th

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A canoe instruction along the backyards of Fairbanks.

We arrive at CanoeAlaska.
We haven’t seen a similar rich choice in breakfast yet : omelet, muffins, yogurt, rolls and  all sorts of spread.  Lou intends to treat us as perfect as possible, she doesn’t get every day Belgians to visit.  Without doubt, it is her intention that we return homewards with nothing but good memories about Alaska and the Alaskans. 

Meanwhile, we discuss the planning of the canoe trip.

After breakfast, we check the canoes and luggage we are going to take with us.
Then we drive about half a mile to a pond where we learn the first techniques of canoeing.
All technical terms are a bit unfamiliar for us, especially in English.  We should never speak about the front and the rear of the canoe, but about the bow and the stern.  There is certainly no lack of different paddle movements : the forward stroke, the back stroke, the J-stroke, the draw, the cross draw en the pry.  I will have to note them down so as not to forget them.

Once on the pond, it turns out better than expected to get the canoe in the right direction.  After one hour exercising, Lou is convinced that Belgians can get along with a paddle and a canoe. 

First Paddle Strokes on the Chena RiverIn the afternoon we drive with the van to a place upwards the Chena River on the other side of Fairbanks.  The river is fairly wide and the current slow.
We find out that doing the same maneuvers we learned on the pond need now more concentration. But, everything turns out fine.

During our run through the center of Fairbanks, we get some prescribed exercises : mooring at a fixed place, avoiding trunks and other obstacles in the water with a back ferry, and so on. Although, we get a little bit nervous while approaching a trunk, we succeed successfully !
Lou explains how we can use the currents to cross the river without drifting downstream ( a so-called forward ferry), how we can the canoe lie quiet in an eddy and how to get back the canoe in the stream again.  We try out this theory and, beyond belief, it seems to work, we have the canoe under control ! 
We are busy with it and we almost forget to enjoy the nice weather : blue sky, though not to warm, about 15°C.
During a well deserved break, we can stretch our legs. Being knelt with our feet under the seat is not particularly an easy posture for two ‘desk-sitters’ as we are.

We pass some ‘beaver homes’ like Lou says, but the beavers aren’t home.  The constructions they make, are sometimes impressive.  It doesn’t surprise me anymore that they also are capable to build large dams. 

Swallows skim over the water near our canoe.
 “I like the swallows very much”, Lou says, “because they eat a lot of mosquitos !”

We pass by the backyards of Fairbanks.
 “You want a glass of wine ?”, someone shouts from his balcony.  It appears to be an acquaintance of Lou.

We arrive at Ron and Lou’s home again, located near the river.
Ron comes up towards us to help me getting the canoes out of the water, while Hilde and Lou go inside to prepare dinner.

After dinner we prepare our departure : waterproof bags for personal things, food for three days, tents,  kitchen gear.  The canoes will be heavy loaded but that’s no problem : we float and so we don’t have to carry a thing …

We drive by van via the Chena Hot Springs Road about 35 miles out of Fairbanks up to “1st Bridge”, a typical launch place for a three day trip.

On the road we are help up by a roadblock.
 “Every summer they are working on this road”, Lou says, “for years now.  This road is really difficult to maintain.”
The flagman controlling the traffic looks tired.  He has been working for almost 12 hours.
“So, you’re going to do the Chena River ?”, he asks, “That’ll be great !  I hope I can do it too this summer.”

First Bridge, we pitch our tents.
On the other side of the river the bank is covered with ice and snow.  It is much colder here on the 65th latitude.
Because it’s no use anymore to light a campfire, we decide to look for our sleeping bags immediately.  I notice that a camper’s life is made of zippers and ‘velcrons’.

Our first night in the bush overwhelms me with an unspeakable silence. I hope it stays that way.  Some scenarios of what can happen during the night are flashing through my head.  But I reassure myself that it must be an enormous coincidence that a wild animal has to cross our camp place and not 50 meters further on.
With this reassurance I fall into a deep sleep.

next day