|The great thing about life jackets…everybody has the same square figure…|
The last time I was rafting on the Kenai River, a bunch of us folded an old Avon raft over the top of a tiny car, threw in a cooler chest of questionably legal beverages, and spent the day pulling to the bank every sixteen minutes to refill the slowly deflating craft. I was eighteen years old.
So when a friend told me she had one spot left in a group raft trip she’s purchased for her visiting family members, I was like, “WHOOHOO, I’ll bring the beer!” Well, not quite…but I did stop drinking liquids six hours before the trip so my bladder would hold. I am almost forty, after all.
The Kenai River, home to the largest King Salmon ever caught, starts in Cooper Landing, Alaska, where it flows from the giant Kenai Lake. The river flows all the way to Kenai, Alaska, where it runs into the Cook Inlet. The Kenai River is world famous and people come from all over the world. If there were fishermen on Mars, they would have heard of the Kenai River and longed to fish from its shores.
We put in just down from the lake where the water is slow and meandering. Our two hour trip was not intended for the thrill seeker, as the rapids are further down towards the ocean. We were in it for the peace, the serenity, the front row view of the combat fisherman.
We are in the middle of the first run Sockeye here at the confluence of the Kenai River and the Russian River. That means the Reds (Sockeye) have reached the Russian and where the two rivers converge, the river bank becomes a madhouse until they’ve all gone by…at least until the next run sometime in July.
We passed between the fisherman lined shores like Indiana Jones as he exits the cave, idol in hand, dodging arrows coming at him from all sides. Fly fishermen have little patience for tourists floating by with cameras and the hooks just keep on flying. Nobody was catching, that we could see…but they seemed to be having a good time trying.
We’d been instructed not to scream out if we saw a bear and we practiced calm voices. Luckily we didn’t have the opportunity to exercise our skill, as we didn’t see a bear. With the way my group screeched in anticipation of a tiny bird on a branch six hundred feet down river, I’m afraid a bear sighting would have gotten us banned from coming back, as there was no way we could have abided the ‘no screaming’ rule.
Truth be told, I spotted more wildlife on the drive through Ninilchik this morning, than I did on the wilderness adventure raft trip…but that was okay by me. I’ve seen bears before…even had one steal my fish…and I can spot hundreds of eagles just taking a walk on the beach by my house. It was the companionship I was after. Time spent with good friends, old and new, powered by nothing more than the strength of our guide, the natural flow of water and thousands of years of churning river that carved its way through the Alaskan frontier.