Before Troy Anzalone made a Yukon River trip, people kept saying he was going to be eaten by a bear.
“We never had bear issues,” said Anzalone, who lives in Arlington.
Instead, Anzalone and two other men had a scenic journey during which they saw rugged mountains and Native fishing. They navigated rapids and cooked like pioneers.
And they made the 2000-mile trek down the historic Yukon River.
Anzalone is a mechanic and works for Omaha Public Power District. He’s a dealer for Swamp Runner shallow drive motors for jon boats — aluminum, flat-bottomed fishing boats.
About three years ago, Anzalone boated from Arlington to St. Louis, Missouri, via the Elkhorn, Platte, Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Then Anzalone got an invitation from his distributor, Jon Dobbs of Palmetto, Florida, to make the Yukon trek.
The trip would extend from the Llewellyn Glacier in Atlin, British Columbia, to Emmonak, a village not far from where the Yukon River empties into the Bering Sea.
Dobbs spent four years planning the trip, which three men in two motor boats made in 24 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes.
Anzalone said the trek hasn’t been made in a motor boat before, because of the distance between fuel stops.
The boats, which Dobbs calls “Alaskanus,” are long and narrow, and Anzalone said the distributor had them made in Vietnam.
Each boat carried 600 pounds of men, gear, food and about 12 gallons of fuel and Anzalone said they got between 17 and 23 miles per gallon. The boats traveled about 20 mph.
Before the trip, Dobbs picked up Anzalone and videographer Tim McGee of Longwood, Florida, at the airport in Whitehorse, Canada.
The trip began July 31 at the glacier. The men crossed the Atlin Lake. From there, they went down the Atlin River, which has Class IV rapids.
Anzalone said those rapids include boulders and 3- and 4-foot drops.
And they did it in motor boats, which Anzalone said, are about 24 feet long and 41 inches wide.
“We never sunk a boat,” he added.
During the trip, the men saw the old stern-wheel ships — a couple of which were still intact on islands.
“They brought them up to the islands to repair them and they just sat there,” he said.
The men saw old gold-mining equipment, too. Anzalone was fascinated with reminders of the Gold Rush era — some of which appeared in bizarre spots.
“You’d be on an island in the middle of the Yukon and here’s this old, wood-fired tractor with 10-foot, steel wheels on it,” he said.
He was interested in how some of the Native people fished, not only with nets, but with fish wheels.
“It looks like a Ferris wheel,” Anzalone said. “It spins in the current and as the salmon swim upriver, it scoops them up and when they get to the top of the fish wheel, they fall into a barrel.
“And some of them (the wheels) — the way they’re crafted — they’re pretty beautiful. They’re very efficient, very neat.”
Fishing wheels have been banned in the United States, because they threatened the salmon population, according to various published reports.
Anzalone said only the Native people can use these, because they need the fish, which they dry and freeze. He said families shoot moose, catch fish and cut wood in preparation for the winter.
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“We were in multiple towns. Seeing those was fantastic,” he added. “Seeing the culture was pretty amazing.”
The men saw beautiful scenery as well.
“In Canada, the scenery is very sharp, jagged mountains, similar to the Rockies, but sharper and more jagged,” he said. “As you go down the river, the scenery changes. It turns into rolling hills that are tree covered. It really reminded me of New Zealand — very lush and green everywhere.”
The scenery changes again.
“You go through a plains area that is flat and the river actually becomes more than 10 miles wide and they refer to it as a ‘braided river,’ because there’s islands everywhere,” he said. “Two days later, you’re back in the hills and mountains again. The scenery changes quite a bit.”
Anzalone saw vibrant red wildflowers called Fireweed.
He didn’t see as much wildlife as expected.
“We probably saw eight or nine moose and six bears,” he said.
Anzalone believes he’d see more moose if he were up there now. Moose are more active this time of year when they are digging rutting pits.
On the trip, he and the other men picked fresh raspberries and hunted. They shot Ptarmigan, a type of bird, and caught grayling (fish).
They ate bacon, powdered eggs, hash browns and beans, cooking meals in a dutch oven and skillet.
“Cooking took a long time,” he said. “We probably spent at least three hours a day cooking. You have to gather wood and start a fire.”
They’d soak pinto beans in a dutch oven all day, then cook them with bacon for two hours before they ate.
“It was all pioneer-style cooking and chuck wagon meals,” he said.
Anzalone was pleased that they never had to set up or break town tents in the rain.
“The weather was perfect for us,” he said. “Our coldest night probably was in the high 30s, pretty warm, and our average day was usually between 50s and 60s. The last couple weeks we had rain every other day.
“We only got shut down one day because of rain and that was because it was raining so hard we couldn’t see the channel in the river, where to go,” he said.
When the men reached Emmonak, they ate salmon at Kwik’pak Fisheries.
“I didn’t realize how much I like salmon until I got there,” he said. “It is amazing fish when you eat it right there.”
Anzalone commended Dobbs for his detailed trip planning.
“I totally trusted him,” Anzalone said. “I showed up and drove the boat and did the maintenance, but that’s not tough.”
Anzalone added that while he’d done business with Dobbs for seven years before the trip, he’d never met him face to face until three months before the trek. Nor had Anzalone met the videographer.
“So it was almost like three strangers in a boat for a while,” he said.
Anzalone said he keeps telling his wife, Erin, whom he describes as the most understanding woman in the world, that they’re going to go from Arlington to the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’ll see if she goes,” he said.
In the meantime, he has good memories of a trip that didn’t include becoming some bear’s lunch.