Outside of the bear incident, the rafting went smoothly. Our biggest obstacle, it turned out, was ourselves. The group dynamic on such a long trip is complicated. Despite initial friendships, after three weeks of spending every moment together, relationships got strained—particularly between Drew and me. I, admittedly, have a tough time with down days. To me, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing quickly. Drew, on the other hand, sees every moment as the opportunity for a new adventure. To him, there’s always an animal to try to catch (I’ve had trips delayed because he’s had to get a rabies vaccine), a rock to trundle, or a cave to explore. Both approaches have their merits.
I saw the 300-some river miles that were still staring at us as an opportunity to set some sort of rafting endurance record, while Drew saw three weeks of adventure, isolated from computers, work, and any sort of authority figure. I pushed and Drew put on the brakes. Finally, on some riverbank north of the Arctic Circle, we had it out—verbally at least. It probably wasn’t the first heated argument that’s gone down between friends, dressed completely in GoreTex and mosquito nets in 60-degree weather, but in retrospect, it was admittedly ridiculous. Although it never came to blows, during the rest of the trip Drew and I were rarely alone together—we never shared a raft or a tent and it’s safe to say that we were both relieved to see the lights of Kotzebue.