It is now the tail end of the king run and only the stragglers remain. But now the summer chum are here, flowing east beneath our boat in their spawning colors of green and red, and next will come the pinks, and then the silvers, and then the sockeye, and then last the autumn chum. Most of the kings that have not been caught, or turned off the Yukon up the tributaries to breed, will be in Canada by now. Kings travel fifty miles a day; for us, going downriver, fifty miles is exceptional, and we’re still eating three meals a day.
Although that could be what slows us down. Half the boat is full of food. We bake bread and cook tagines, bulked up with wilted dandelions. In the mornings there are pancakes with wild raspberries, in the evenings there are fish chowders and elaborate stews of donated moose meat and of cabbage, cooked over the fire, rounded off with rhubarb crumbles. And then there is the salmon, which everyone wants to share, despite their smoke- houses being half empty this summer. When we stay with people they press it on us, and when we leave they fill our bags: with whole fish and filets, heads and bellies, smoked and half smoked, canned and dried. One afternoon a man pulls up alongside us in his skiff, hands us two Ziplocs stuffed with dried strips, to welcome us, he says, and races off down the river. We snack on it as we paddle, until we are so oily it becomes part of our odor, and in the evenings we roast it, grill it, fry it, or slice it thin for sushi. I do occasionally consider the ethics of investigating a fish’s decline while stuffing my face with it. It is in these moments, by the fire in the evening, the day over with, the dishes done, when I feel the journey most acutely: the simplicity of it, of days that feel full, and fully used by the day’s end.