August 3: Fat and Happy–Hurricanes Ben and Seth Slam the Port City of Khatanga

Wind-driven chop on the Maymecha River, near 71.2N, 99.4E, in Arctic Siberia

Wind-driven chop on the Maymecha River, near 71.2N, 99.4E, in Arctic Siberia

Today we have eaten four bars of chocolate, two fat-heavy packages of Russian ham, a brick of orange cheese, two bundles of string cheese, dried fish (shaped like a stick), salted raw fish, boiled chicken, four cubes of white sugar (on Seth’s tab), pasta cooked until mushy, Pringles, one liter of Orange Fanta, two liters of Baltika beer, one liter of Sprite, one box of cereal (with milk), 23 baranke (hard bread rings), one loaf of slightly stale bread, one jar of pickles, and a box of passionfruit Tic-Tacs. If the stores in Khatanga were still open, the chocolate, Fanta, and string cheese tallies would probably rise, despite the churning, violated feeling in our stomachs right now.

Five days ago, we finished our last full day of geology. That was July 30. The next morning, we woke up to the sound of heavy rain and strong wind against or tents. Despite the wind and rain, we had to start paddling. 100 kilometers downstream, a diesel-powered freight boat would be waiting for us on the evening of August 2nd. Our job was to get there by then, regardless of conditions.

Ordinarily, 100 kilometers on a fairly big river wouldn’t be much of a problem (especially for a cadre of strapping, well-built, chisel-jawed geologists such as ourselves). But the water level on the Maymecha is lower than locals have ever seen it, meaning there is very little current. The combination of no current and a relentless headwind meant that when we didn’t paddle hard, we were pushed back upriver. In the long open stretches, the wind-chop was up to two feet and breaking over the bows of our Siberian Sloops. Progress was miserably slow.

Volodia likes to finish the majority of a day’s paddling before stopping for lunch. As a result, we paddled from about nine AM until five PM before pausing for lunch and then continuing on until ten. After two days of this we had covered only slightly more than half the distance to our goal. For breakfast on the morning of August 2nd, we ate literally the last of our food: two packages of powdered soup mix and a can of corn. Then we shoved off, knowing that we couldn’t stop until we got to that boat.

At seven in the evening, we arrived where we thought the freight boat should have been waiting. There was no boat. We kept paddling.

Ben: Is that a boat? I think that’s a boat…
Seth, in a hunger-agitated state: No!!! It’s another &$#@ing rock!

In Ben’s defense, there were many boat-shaped rocks. Finally we spotted the actual freighter anchored in the distance. Roma and Anya, on the cataraft, towed us the last kilometer and a half with the staggering power of their 3.5 hp Tohatsu motor.

Seth: I think this deserves a Yeeee-HAW!
Ben, attempting to make a Yee-haw: Eeeeeuuuuuuwwaaaoooo!

We packed our rafts, loaded our gear and samples onto the freighter, and shoved off for the ten hour trip back down to Khatanga. As soon as we went to our bunks belowdeck, Roma unveiled the sliced ham, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, and cheese that he had asked the boat to bring for all of us. If the crew of the freighter hadn’t been looking on, Seth would have let out another piercing Yee-haw.

Maybe we have made the paddling sound a bit dramatic, and the freighter/food sound a bit euphoric. But seriously–the paddling sucked and the food was incredible.

So that’s how we got to Khatanga this morning. As you know from the first paragraph, the next thing we did was put a hurting on the local stockpile of processed food.

Now we start trying to work our way back to Boston with our precious samples (more on these soon–get excited!). Tomorrow we expect to fly from Khatanga to Krasnoyarsk, then on the 6th from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow, and sometime after that back to the U.S.A.


One Response to “August 3: Fat and Happy–Hurricanes Ben and Seth Slam the Port City of Khatanga”

  1. It seems like there was nothing to eat on the last day of paddling. Not even mosquito soup.

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