swanson river

The Swanson River

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The Swanson River in Kenai, Alaska is a well kept secret; held by the locals that surround it. It’s long, winding, cold, occasionally shallow and a great place to take a canoe trip that lasts way past the promised “six hours”.

When I was a mere thirteen year old tomboy, with spaghetti noodle arms and bad eyesight, my parents told me and my two siblings that we were going to Alaska to visit dear old Poppa and Grandmama. I excitedly packed (unfortunately an excessive amount of pants), jumped in the car, and didn’t even realize I forgot my glasses until I was ten thousand feet in the air. Finally we made it to the promised land- the gray, mystical, untamable Alaska.

One of the first activities that we enthusiastically threw ourselves into was floating the Swanson River, i.e. canoeing a course on the river that my parents used to take all the time when they were younger. I was assured they had done this many times before; and even though floating it usually required an overnight stay on a marsh bank, we could absolutely manage it in six hours or less.

Bright and early we rose, waking up to a lukewarm sunrise and scrambled eggs. I got dressed with poor taste, deciding to wear a pair of uncomfortable jeans and ratty sweatshirt. At least I had my grandmothers fishing boots; that didn’t exactly fit my tiny child feet. We packed up our supplies, loaded the canoes in the truck, and headed off for adventure, promising to be back in time for supper. After what felt like the longest drive ever (reality only an hour), we had reached the Swanson.

We had two canoes, so we put my dad, older brother and younger sister in one, and my mom and I in the other. Getting into the canoe was challenge enough for me, but after some wobbling and minor panicking, I was sitting contentedly behind my mom and ready to paddle. The scenery had me gaping from the start. Clear, chilly water reflected rays of hard sunlight. Greenery sprawled down the sides of the banks, and trees swayed on either side of the river, giving us patches of shade. And every now and then, there would be clearings where the trees were all gone, and all that remained was soft marshes covered with ferns and clumps of cattails.

We glided along, enjoying the peace offered by the rushing water and gentle breeze. As we moseyed along, we came to cross paths with an Alaskan Native- a baby moose. It stood there, knobby knees peeking over the water, calmly chewing reeds with a lazy stare. This would’ve been a perfectly tranquil and movie-worthy moment, but we had company.

Mother moose was on the loose, and also right behind us. We had floated right between the mom and her baby. With wide eyes and frantic hand gestures, we paddled away as quickly and quietly as we could. Shortly after our brief encounter, we pulled against a bank to stretch our legs and have lunch. Unfortunately almost as soon as we started canoeing again, the rain came.

Down and down it poured, plastering the hair to our heads and soaking our through our shoes down to our socks. Feeling innovative, we made holes in the bottoms and sides of trash bags and turned them into fashionable ponchos. We pressed on; a little drizzle wasn’t going to hurt us! But has anyone ever been able to stay positive when they’re wearing wet jeans? I’m fairly confident the answer is no.

The sun had started dipping down, casting dusky shadows across the water. We were floating along when suddenly we heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. I jumped in my seat, my sister ducked and my brother dropped his paddle. Everyone looked around anxiously, but we didn’t find the culprit until we had made it around a bend. A family of beavers were perched among some rocks; smacking their tails against the water repeatedly. We all let out a nervous chuckle, and traveled on.

By this time, my dad had grown sick of us kids asking how much longer this trip was going to take us. He started exclaiming “I recognize this turn” and “I remember this tree” just to make us start thinking we were getting really close to the end. Well, after six hours of false hope, we learned to stop asking. After it was well into the night, we had finally found our intended destination. Three sleepy children and two worn out adults had at long last reached land once again.

We were tested throughout our travels; yet we were made all the more stronger from our obstacles. It was an adventure made unforgettable; and its story is told over supper every time we go back to the unpredictable, vast and majestic Alaska.