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Alaska Travel Magazinenext

By BERNADETTE MURRAY

When we hit the 300-mile point, there were five Murrays. Then we struggled on to the 260 mile point, only to become four. At four, the family continued for another 60 miles, finally to be only one Murray left with 200 miles to finish.

The reason for our quitting was quite logical. The, weather was getting rougher each day, and the three foot waves slowed us down to a snail's pace. Every night, after eight to ten hours of strenuous paddling, we would pull in to shore extremely wet and exhausted.

I was the first to "jump" boat at Holy Cross. I felt guilty leaving my family to head for home, but the call of home and my school friends was strong. Home seemed almost like a far away dream, and knowing that school had already started, I was worried about neglecting my position as a cheerleader.

So, after a family "council meeting," arrangements were made for me to stay with an Eskimo family by the name of Johnson until I could start my trip home by a small plane leaving the next day.

After a tearful farewell, my family left to continue the long journey down the Yukon. Turning around, I faced Mrs. Johnson, who was also crying out of sympathy for our family. Hurriedly regaining her composure, she said, "Come on, Bernadette, let's go fetch fish."

And fetch fish, we did!

After about six hours, we had cleaned, washed, scabbed, stripped, tied, brined, and hung to dry, 88 huge Alaskan Silver Salmon for the long dark winter months. Mrs. Johnson grinned at one oily, fishy smelling girl and said, "This is the first time that an outsider has ever helped us."
Grinning back at her, I said, "Funny, Mrs. Johnson, but I don't feel like an outsider anymore ... you made me feel as though I belonged."

My Dad had given me many rolls of exposed 16 mm movie film to take home for development, warning me not to let this film go through the X-ray process at the airport, as it would ruin it. Knowing that I would be changing planes five times, he advised that it would be best if I carried it with me at all time. So, Mr. Johnson placed it in the only box that he could find, which unfortunately was marked, "High Explosives."

At one airport, they insisted on X-raying it, saying that it wouldn't damage the film, "No," I insisted. They called the head security officer, while I sat on the precious box marked "High Explosives." After much explaining and talking with the officers, they let me through without the X-ray. That darn box caused more head turning, eye bugging, and hand grabbing than anyone can imagine.

Finally, coming out of this entirely different world after five plane changes, I arrived in Portland, slightly rattled, but with the film intact to be greeted at the airport by my Grandmother Murray.

Meanwhile, my family being a determined lot, paddled on, only to encounter chopping four foot crosswaves in the middle of the river, which tossed them around like a cork. Mom said all she could see ahead was the top of Barry Jr. and Colette's heads. This is IT, she thought a number of times, but somehow they were blown at an angle toward land. Land feels so good and secure after an experience like that.

It had taken four days to do 60 miles . . . at this rate they would never get back to school, Barry Jr. and Colette, were thinking. Also, Mom knew that the weather could get worse as they got nearer to the Bering Sea. So, she said, "We are going home!"

Leaving the river was sad in many ways, we all thought.

Bernice's decision to leave may have been biased a bit by her desire to remodel our kitchen.

But, my Dad is still paddling on, determined to make it to the Bering Sea.

At first there was five, now there is only one.


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