If you ask jet boat pilot Kris Kennedy how shallow he can take his skiff, he’ll tell you “five feet.” “I can make it across about five feet of dry gravel.” Kris is without a doubt one of the best sport fishing guides in Bristol Bay. His plan to save the area from mining is to find Bigfoot. This way we’ll have a Bigfoot wildlife refuge on our hands. I like this idea. Photo by Ben Knight
Q&A of the day: Does a bear shit in the tundra? Answer: Yes, lots.
Updates: We just passed the 13,625 viewer mark on the Felt Soul blog. Cheers to that, and thanks for your support of independent filmmaking!
Best blog day ever: Saturday August 4th, 555 views.
[Thanks to the Telluride Daily Planet]
Total hours filmed: 41
Total hours of cherished footage known to be lost in the black hole of the evil matrix of our digital world: approx 30 minutes
Did you know that bug populations are so epic in Alaska that the severity of the insect swarm can dictate Caribou migration? At one point on the upper Nushagak river I was contemplating my own migration back to Colorado as the demonic white sock fly was crawling up my sleeves, behind my ears and under my waist line, leaving streaks and pools of my own blood behind. As you could imagine, it’s a little challenging to hold a camera still when this is happening. It’s also hard to resist the urge to flail around like a man on fire, ripping your clothes off and cursing God. When I rolled up my sleeve, my forearm looked like it had been through BB gun hell fire. Your skin crawls with the urge to itch the bites after you’ve wiped the blood away but those who know from experience tell you not to scratch unless you don’t mind permanent scars oozing puss, or a possible trip to the hospital. Not what I would describe as ideal filmmaking conditions, but fuck it, you only live once.
Camille Egdorf, 17, has been hunting and fishing since she was big enough to hold a rod and aim a gun. This girl can throw some line. When I fished with Camille I felt like a monkey waving a stick and every time I looked over she was releasing a rainbow. Oh, and the bronze color on the water is pollen incase you were wondering. Photo by Ben Knight
Don’t expect a re-cap of what you’ve missed in the last couple weeks. Seriously. Just leave me alone. It’s not like I’m getting paid to write this crap. I can barely comprehend the amount of shit that has gone down. First of all, Lauren [TU girl] hates me for sure. Boy, did I call that one early in the trip. Not many people have hated me, but I’m almost positive that she finds no redeeming qualities here. It’s pretty much all over a box of king-size Snickers, but it’s a long story, and I type too slowly to tell it. Brief explanation: Ben + Snickers = wonderful, fun to be around and sarcastic dry humor for days. Ben – Snickers = Insensitive, sensitive, bitchy redneck [with a shotgun]
Lauren was severely mauled by a snaggle-toothed chum salmon that she tried to handle for a photo. We haven’t seen her since. Word has it she’s back in Juneau doing whatever it is that vegetarians do. Oh, right, eating game. “Alaskatarian” is what she prefers to be called. Blurry photo by Ben Knight
What you’ve missed in a [nut]shell:
Travis went wakeboarding behind a small fishing boat wearing nothing more than his boxers and a lifejacket and every time he got up these two little Athabascan indian girls had to cover their eyes because his shorts were falling off and his balls were showing. Yes, we have this on video. No it won’t be on U-Tube. Travis shivered for the following two hours, but the doctors say he’ll be fine.
The wealthiest man in Alaska [seriously] is a big, bold, cigar lovin’ fella named Bob, and he happens to be leading the fight against the Pebble Mine by paying for lobbyists and expensive political-style ad campaigns. His 5,000 square foot lodge sits in the Lake Clark National Park, just a stones throw from the proposed mine site. His rich ass had two of his pimped-out bush planes and three employees at our disposal for an entire day. Before we arrived via jet boat at his lodge he had already sent a beaver [the hot-rod of float planes] stuffed with a 3-wheeler and trailer to be dropped off on a lake near where we were going to start our 53-mile raft trip down the Koktuli river. [a river that begins at the mine site] You won’t believe your eyes when you see these guys trying to fit a 3-wheeler into a floatplane. Now that is an awesome idea that only an Alaskan comes up with. When they landed, there were already bears hanging out, so the dude they dropped off was armed with the biggest handgun ever made. “Check these out…” he said, ” “This is why I don’t carry a shotgun.” Referring to a handful of massive predator slaying bullets. That dude and his big ass gun drove the raft a mile across the tundra and kindly pumped it up for us. If I had asked, I’m almost positive he would have thrown me over his shoulder and carried me to the put in. Beast of a man he was. Without that 3-wheeler we would have spent a day just getting our gear to the river. [incase you were wondering: No, Bob didn't pay for our film, he made a contribution to our still ongoing funraising efforts and obviously saved us several thousand on the Koktuli lift]
Not sure if this was a bear track or a Bigfoot track… I’m going to go with the mythical creature theory because there obviously weren’t any bears this big outside our tents. That’s Lauren’s right hand by the way, and for all you single bushmen on the prowl: there ain’t no ring on the other hand. Photo by Ben Knight
Keep in mind this place is hundreds of miles from anything. Imagine that… exactly, you cant. Nothing is out there besides hungry wild animals, tundra for days and the occasional Northern Dynasty helicopter whirring overhead scaring terds out of the caribou. We strapped the camera to the wing of the other plane, a Super Cub [the tricked out Subaru WRX of the bush] and did a reconnaissance mission over the 53 miles of river to make sure we knew where the dangerous log jams were and picked out a good spot for a pick-up seven days later. In addition to lending us their 14-foot raft, we also borrowed a chainsaw and a can of Boy Scout juice [lighter fluid] for those rainy, difficult to start a fire sort of nights. Turns out… that was every night. Oh, and a shotgun. Just in case the natives got restless.
Welcome to life on the Koktuli river. Paddle, fish, paddle, fish, repeat. Travis takes momentary refuge under a small umbrella that I’ve carried all over the place and never actually used until now. Photo by Ben Knight
The river started off skinny and stayed that way for 2 days until the first tributaries began trickling in. My back ached at night from dragging the raft over shallow sections of river while Lauren sat in the raft and enjoyed the view. She would get out and help, but only when I’d exhausted all possible forms of grunt inducing leverage. Every couple hours we’d surprise a grizzly bear or two but luckily they seemed more apprehensive than curious. I got the feeling they hadn’t seen many [if any] humans before by the way they reacted. If roles were reversed and I was chowing salmon on the riverbank when a bear came around the corner rowing a blue raft… well, I’d peace the fuck out too. I’ve never felt more alone, even with two friends near by. There was a quiet in the tundra that I’ve never experienced. Not even a bird chirp, or the sound of water at times when the river was slow. Having no idea what was around the next bend in the river gave a sense of adventure. I often wondered how quickly I could cock the gun and get the safety off before Travis’s scalp was being gnawed on. And then Lauren would belt out in her least lady-like voice HEY BEAR… HAAAAY BEAR. So much for my quiet time. Lauren would yell “hey bears” all the time, even when she actually saw a bear, which was confusing and constantly startling for Travis and I, so we came up with the code word for an actual bear sighting. BUTTERFLY! BUTTERFLY!
I often drive 45 minutes to a small town near Telluride called Norwood in hopes of capturing a shot of an eagle. It never works, no matter how slow I crawl toward the tree. Turns out, it’s way easier to just fly to Alaska where they’re not as camera shy and just sit there squawking at you like a couple cocky roosters. Photo by Ben Knight
Seeing our first pod of spawning sockeye weave around the raft was a memorable moment, but after a few days and hundreds of sightings it just seemed normal to see massive glowing cherry-red fish darting around like roaches when the lights go on. It makes the river feel alive, like a vein pulsing blood from the ocean into the hills. Feeding almost everything that breathes. HAAAAY BEAR. HAAAAY BEAR. “Does she see one, or is she just finding a place to piss?” I would say to Travis. Travis kindly reminds me of the code word. It started raining the first day and didn’t stop for more than a few minutes for the rest of the trip. By day four I smelled like a moldy jockstrap so I braved the river for a bath. For some reason that I can’t really explain, bathing naked in an ice cold river and trying not to scream with the camp soap bottle in my mouth on a rainy, windy night just seemed like the perfect moment for something with big teeth and claws to pounce from the bushes. Maybe the early stages of hypothermia induce mild paranoia… or maybe being naked and gun-less gives a sense of vulnerability… who knows, but I couldn’t stop checking the bushes. Turns out, the only thing watching me was Travis. He had the camera rolling the whole time. I think he may have stopped rolling when I lathered up my junk though. This also, will not be on U-Tube.
The liquid on this Alaskan bush grass is called “water.” It comes from the sky in the form of what the natives call “rain.” This phenomenon happens often… usually in periods of four days in a row. You will be imprisoned in your stinky cold waders until further notice. Get used to it. Photo by Ben Knight
The journey was a successful one, we were able to get some wildlife footage that we needed [moose, bear, caribou, eagles] and most importantly show people ground zero, a place that could be most quickly affected by a potential accident at the mine. At one point, up-river of where we put in, the Koktuli actually disappears underground and a mile or so later it reappears. Seeing how shallow the headwaters are, and considering a maze of underground aquifers in the Tundra… it just seems insane to extract water from this creek for mining, much less expose such a complex water table to anything out of the ordinary. But that’s just my [un]educated opinion.
Travis dedicated about 8-10 hours a day to finding the elusive Koktuli river rainbow. This process involved mostly the act of fishing and not so much the act of catching. Photo by Ben Knight
“Lean forward when I tell ya, ok?” Said the pilot who was trying get his floats on step after cramming the gear from our river trip in every nook and cranny of his plane. If a plane had an ashtray, we would have put something in it. That’s how full this plane was. Travis and I gave a nod to the pilot and looked at each other, confirming our mutual confusion over whether or not he was serious about the whole lean forward thing. 20 seconds pass as the rpm’s come to a deafening hum and we’re still motoring up the river… getting closer to the end of the straightaway and approaching a bend lined with tall trees. “LEAN FORWARD!” barked the pilot. Travis and I shot our chests out as far as we could but the plane was still on the water. We started to turn, following the bend. At this point the engine was roaring, leaving a wake you could ski behind. I actually had time to reflect: “Maybe there is more to life than having the stiffest wheels on my mountainbike.” A moment later the plane sluggishly took flight, gaining just enough altitude to clear the tree line. Come to find out later, this was the heaviest load he had ever lifted off a river in this aircraft.
The one and only, Dave Egdorf. Ever meet someone who you swore up and down that their life would make the perfect book? Well if his life was a movie it’d need a sequel because this man has stories for days. He’s literally done it all, seen it all. Some say Dave came out of his mother’s womb with dry feet… already wearing a pair of hip boots so he could walk straight into the woods and not come back. Photo by Ben Knight
Meet the definition of a bushman. Dave lives the dream of many men. He’s killed and skinned just about anything that moves, caught every fish, flown, landed and taken off where few dare to take an aircraft and always… I mean always, has a story to tell. Normally slammed flying clients in and out of his two incredibly remote sport fishing camps, we were blessed with 2 days of his time. His guide staff, his drunk cook, his wife Kim and his amazing daughter Camille were all there to greet us and do whatever they could to better the film. We had no idea what to expect… it was like going to a movie you’ve never heard of and leaving the theater completely floored. After 3 perfect days I didn’t want to leave. One of the guides we met had been engaged recently. A seemingly perfect life in his path, but the draw of Alaska [more specifically Dave’s camp] turned it all upside down. He found himself faced with choosing between the two. The guide’s eyes would light up with intensity when he spoke of the auburn fall colors and the way the light changes with the seasons. He kept mentioning how he’s walked and boated where no one has before, and caught rainbows that have never seen a fly. The wildness of this place was intoxicating, yet humbling, and the sense of family in that random grove of tall pines on the river bend was enough to change anyone. I understood why these people had all made sacrifices to be there.
Tom is his name. A [mostly benched] division 3 college football player who thought being a rookie, under-paid Alaskan fishing guide might just be the way to go. So here he sits in the upper Nushagak river, [as are we] waiting motionless and silently for two hours for a grizzly bear that never showed up. [the wind changed, so he most likely smelled us] A piece of recently learned bush wisdom that Tom shared with us: Campfire charred porcupine tastes best the closer you get to the ass.
[If you are a grandparent of mine, don’t read this, and shame on my Dad for giving out this web address to my poor family]
Rookie Tom’s campfire joke of the day: What are the three reasons why it sucks to be an egg?
1. It takes three minutes to get hard
2. You only get laid once.
3. Your Mom is the only chick who’ll sit on your face.
Guide Kris Kennedy tends to a small child-sized Nushagak rainbow while big Rummel burns some card. Photo by Ben Knight
Note: Although Travis and I… well, mostly me, give Lauren a hard time every day and on the blog, we love her dearly and are well aware that this shoot would have never succeeded without her hard work and dedication. She has left us for a well earned bowl of organic greens, and we understand. Heart.