It was evening when we discovered the hole in the canoe. The four of us stood in a huddle staring blankly at the inch-long gash. “How'd that happen?” someone asked.
It didn't matter how it happened or what caused it, the damage needed to be fixed. It was only day 14 of a 90-day expedition that would trace the Yukon River from source to sea. We were traveling the third longest river in North America, exploring the origins of the Athapaskan First Nation people who walked from Asia across the Bering land bridge to settle here more than 10,000 years ago.
Already the romanticism of traveling 2,000 miles by paddle was beginning to wear as thin as the hulls of our well-loved boats.
The next morning on the banks of the Yukon River we fired up the satellite phone and called Patricia and Trevor, our friends in Whitehorse who were helping with logistics. If we could make it to Dawson City, two days away by paddle, they’d scrounge up a fiberglass repair kit. With a plan in place we carefully shoved off.
Dawson couldn’t come fast enough. We spent 48 hours battling the frigid downpours, pausing often to bail water entering the boat from above and below. It was late afternoon when we rounded the final bend and laid eyes on the historical Klondike city. Salvation.
For the first time in two days I didn't wince when the canoe slid up on a sandy bank. We had arrived at the local Dawson campground. We unloaded the boats and found a covered area to stash the damaged canoe.
Patricia and Trevor arrived early in the morning. We wasted little time before getting down to business. It had rained all night and the river’s damp caress let nothing dry. The damaged area needed to be completely dry in order for the fiberglass patch to adhere. Without missing a beat, fellow paddler Ian Finch announced he had the solution and ran to retrieve his camp stove. Ian attached his propane canister and sparked the stove. Its flame filled the dreary shed with warm light.
For three minutes Ian applied heat to the damaged area of the hull. We then epoxied our fiberglass patch in place. The rest of the repair went smoothly. After a day and night of curing time the canoe that had carried us from the source of the Yukon River was now ready to continue its long journey to the Bering Sea.