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August 2001

Lost Soul Or Yukon Slasher?

When you're deep in the wilds, a bedraggled stranger wandering into camp triggers a moral dilemma: Offer him dinner or run for the hills?

I eased my raft along the eastern shoreline of the Yukon River, anticipating its confluence with the Nation River within a quarter of a mile. This is the way the trip was supposed to go—my 14-year-old son, Casey, my brother, Dave, and me bobbing along quietly with only the water and wildlife to distract us.

My new raft performed flawlessly on its maiden voyage through the eastern reaches of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, despite a rapidly swelling Yukon carrying in its current uprooted trees, driftwood, 55-gallon drums washed from riverside fish camps, and assorted other debris. The river was being fed by heavy rains to

the northeast, which had melted much of the remaining snowpack and washed out the road to Eagle, Alaska, 3 days after our departure from

Dawson City, Yukon Territory. For days, we floated along at the same speed as the drifting flotsam.

Navigating the river wasn’t nearly as hard as finding a camping spot. We’d spent the past 2 nights in less-than-ideal shoreline sites, among tangles of willows and swarms of mosquitoes. The recent rains had drowned the usual gravel-bar camping spots beneath water and silt.

A small clearing on the north shore caught my eye, and we pulled into a slough outlet in front of the framework of an abandoned hunting camp. It was an ideal campsite, with plenty of room for our tent, a fixed kitchen area, and all of it a good 15 feet above waterline—a veritable Shangri-la in the middle of nowhere. As we set about unpacking our gear, we entered “severe relaxation mode” and discussed the merits of spending 2 nights at this site before continuing toward our endpoint in Circle, Alaska.

In short order, dinner was served, and as I raised the first forkful to my lips, a cry erupted from within the brush. It wasn’t alarming

in nature, but rather an expression of relief or deliverance. And it was human.

There are places you expect to encounter people, such as along a popular river: people in boats, in airplanes, at fish camps, as you approach towns or homestead sites. But I never expected to see someone wander out of the brush 100 miles from the nearest town and amid hundreds of thousands of acres of untracked land.

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