Into The Wild - Dave Korn Pt2          

Fairbanks Bus 142


I cross small crystalline creeks bubbling over colorful stones, the rainbow riverbed as clear as if I am viewing it through glass. There is nothing too difficult in the hike, but the trail just goes on and on and on. When I reach the Savage River, I plunge in shin deep and splash through the swift current. Only when I emerge on the other side does the cold register. When I rip off the boots, my feet are the same bright red color as the blister. I pour water out and tug the boots back on sockless; I’ve only got another couple miles until the second river crossing.

An hour later, the forest cracks open and the trail spills out onto the empty riverbank. Frigid wind howls through the grasses and the Teklanika roars along, carrying the melted glacier deeper into the mountains. Yellowing hills loom in every direction and the trail has left me, alone now on this huge rocky beach. Huddling beneath a cold sky the color of ashes, I am shaken by the desolation of this place. I stare into the gray river. The water is not that deep; no more than up to my waist, I imagine, but the current is ripping along over huge rocks, and I know that just downstream the river funnels into a narrow gorge. I have been advised to hike half a mile upstream to the place where the river braids out into shallower channels, but I can barely move twenty feet right now. My body aches. I drop my pack, collapse onto the rocks, and let the scene batter me until I am shivering. I think of Claire Ackermann and the others who have run into trouble here. The rushing waters echo through the emptiness of this place. Across the river I see reeds and grasses, mud and stones, but I can’t find the trail. I am afraid to cross. But: I have the packraft. Because I knew I would be alone, I wanted to do whatever I could to make this river crossing less hazardous.

When I summon the energy to move, I inflate the raft and drag it to the bank. I stuff my pack into the front, snap the paddle together, and climb in. The bottom of the raft scrapes across rocks as I throw my weight back and forth, trying to wiggle myself into the river. The choppy waters froth and spin as they tumble over boulders. I dig the paddle into the mud behind me, push off, and launch myself into the current. I’m immediately tossed up and down as I rock through the waves. I paddle hard, thrusting my body into it, and then suddenly I have beached the nose of the raft into a mud bank. I’ve crossed the Tek.

I do my best to deflate the raft and roll it up, heavy with cold water and gritty with glacial silt. I shoulder my pack, hug the dripping raft to my chest, and stumble around until I finally find the trail again. When it curves into the forest, I stash the raft and paddle under a tree. The weight off helps, and I decide to push on as far as I can tonight. God that mighty river was lonely. I longed to follow it upstream to the glacier or downriver deeper into the mountains. Why didn’t Chris? Why did he stay on the trail? Why did he want to hike it out rather than getting lost or blazing his own path Into the Wild?

My energy dwindles rapidly, and the hiking quickly turns brutal. Now I begin to envision the things that always come to mind on long wilderness excursions: food, comforts, home, even if I’m not sure where that is. I can feel the grease of a cheeseburger running down my chin as I take the first bite. The warmth on my fingers wrapped around a ceramic mug of steaming coffee. I imagine walking into a grocery store and being surrounded by extreme excesses of food. My aching body, warmed beneath a hot shower. I think of the women who have loved me, I feel the touch of their fingertips on my skin. Curling up under clean, soft sheets. I try to push on to one of the preexisting campsites, but I eventually collapse into a clearing of white lace lichens. In the fading daylight, I toss up my tent, kindle a small fire, and cook a bowl of rice that I’m not even interested in. I just want a bed. I hang wet socks on a branch, crawl into my tent, and disappear into sleep.

I am unenthusiastic about the arrival of morning. With stiff shoulders, frozen fingers, and a bleeding toe sticky with sock lint, I hastily tear down camp and throw my pack together. I have three or four hours of hiking ahead of me, though sleep did little to ease the exhaustion in my body. But I just have to keep moving. I haven’t seen any tracks, and I didn’t hear any warning stories from the hunters I chatted with yesterday, so I begin to relax on my bear calling. I focus on the ground as I walk, watching the world move beneath my footsteps. Suddenly I look up, and not fifteen feet ahead of me, blocking the trail and hemmed in by thick brush, is a 900 pound moose. She’s about eight feet tall and staring directly at me.

Stories flash through my mind of people charged and trampled by moose. In the span of about a second, I recall the various pieces of advice for dealing with wild animals: you back away from a bear, you get big and yell at a bobcat, but what the hell are you supposed to do if you surprise a moose? I don’t think they’re normally aggressive, but I can’t tell if there’s a calf somewhere in the undergrowth. “Heyyyy, moose…” I mutter as I start backing away. Then she takes a step towards me.

I ditch my pack and crouch behind a tree a few feet into the bush. Then the moose ambles down the trail until she stands directly where I entered the undergrowth. I can see her eyeing me through the shifting foliage. Should I run? Do moose chase people? Should I stay put? Maybe they are like dinosaurs—they can’t see you if you don’t move? Should I move further into the bush? Yell and throw something at her? We are making eye contact now. Is that bad? We remain there like that for a good thirty seconds, the moose glaring at me, me cowering in the fetal position, and then suddenly she turns and trots off into the bush. I proceed to wet myself and then continue down the trail, now highly alert and calling “HEYYY ANIMALS” much louder and more judiciously.

Dave Korn Part 1

Dave Korn Part 2

Dave Korn Part 3

Dave Korn Part 4

Dave Korn Part 5

 


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