After several more hours of hiking the road descended into a wide valley, and eventually we stumbled upon a green canvas bag propped in the middle of the trail. A fading message inscribed with marker on its side read ‘July 26th ’99, Crossed Twitya today, Please feel free to use this raft – Mike, Albert + Bill’ Beyond a thicket of poplar and cottonwood lay the Twitya, it’s green waters rushing silently by. The river was far bigger than anything we had seen, at least fifty meters (160 feet) wide, and deep, well over our heads. One dip of the hand confirmed the water was icy. Swimming to the distant shore would not have been easy.
We dumped the contents of the bag amidst riverside rushes, finding a musty yellow raft (barely large enough for two), an aging foot pump, and two ‘paddles’ fashioned from branches and duct tape. We inflated the boat, which leaked ominously quickly, set it afloat in a small eddy, and delicately loaded our packs on the bottom. Their weight stretched the thin plastic floor downwards like a balloon. We delicately paddled away from shore, and soon the current caught us. Rather than ferrying across as I had expected, the boat spun like a top and we were swept downstream with little control. Our duct tape paddles seemed utterly ineffective against the powerful flow. But we slowly made progress, and after what seemed an eternity, I heard the raft’s distended floor rub against the shallow gravel bars of the opposite shore. We jumped out into knee deep water. The Twitya was behind us.
The warm, sunny banks proved alluring, and we lazed away the afternoon, bathing and doing laundry, spreading out our damp gear to dry on hot, river smoothed rocks. There was an uplifting feel to the open valley, a different world from the enclosed trails we had struggled along to get here. I felt at home by the shores of a northern river, soothed by the familiar gurgle and splash of rushing water. I had spent much of the last six summers in such domains. A wave of nostalgia made me yearn for the carefree days of rafting, but at the same moment I realized how deeply I valued the experience of hiking across these lands. It was allowing me to see a whole new side of the northern ecosystem. On a raft, mountains, hills, and forests rush by quickly, often just a passing backdrop. Hiking was providing a more intimate connection to the land. I could feel it beneath my foot with every step. I lay on it while resting at snack breaks, even crawled across damp earth on hands and knees will traversing dense brush. And the slower pace gave one more time to absorb and ponder the wonder around; the sweet essence of earth warming in the sun, of grass