The fishing gets tougher in the last two days as the river swells with rainfall. But the salmon, which are arriving fresh from the sea, are at full strength; the battles get longer and more entertaining. James and Steve hook silvers that fight like hornets and nearly tangle. A submarine hammers my bead, flashes a long crimson side, and strips line with an angry whine; I give chase in my hip waders, running downstream with the agility of a wounded musk ox.
On our last night out, we dig into our first salmon dinner. Glenn has baked thick steaks carved from the silvers in foil with herbs and butter, and we wonder how we’ll ever be able to eat store-bought again. After dinner, we lick fish grease from our fingers, too stuffed to get up and wash, too tired to worry much about bears.
The next morning, a boat takes us back to ********, and we clean up for our flight to Anchorage. “We’re spoiled now,” Gerry muses as we shave off 10 days of stubble. “We should hand in our rods–there’s no way it can ever get better than this.” He’s joking, I think, but he has a point: Try to replicate any great adventure, and you risk ruining the memory.
Yet he’s wrong, too. Gazing at a map of Alaska tacked across the lodge’s living room wall, I recall what Frank said–and count hundreds of rivers and mountains where new plans will take root. Gerry sidles over, then James and Steve, and soon we’re plotting another adventure. And in that moment, standing there with my oldest friends, fresh from the best trip of our lives, I realize that what I love about Alaska is that it’s big enough, and wild enough, to nourish the fantasies that sustain people like us. I don’t know when we’ll enjoy another trip as extraordinary as the ********** River, but I know it’s possible. And if it takes another 30 years? So be it. I’m perfectly happy to daydream.
Jonathan Dorn lives in *****, CO.