Chapter 11 - Camp

Sleeping heavily after finally finding a meal, my nightmares brought to light the struggles I realized I was up against in crossing the mountains. There were more than several, but the nightmares made one of them especially clear. I dreamed I was thirsting, thirstier than I have ever been before in the blazing Alaskan sun. The sunlight in Alaska shines early in the morning until late in the evening because of the near distance to the north pole. This meant that I would have to be prepared with water to drink if it didn't rain enough during my journey. In my dream I found myself stumbling delerious through the tundra and forest, searching for any sign of a river. Finally, as I thought I was about to pass in my dream, the sunlight awoke me beneath the tree, shining directly in my eyes and breaking my slumber.

Sitting up and rubbing my eyes, I realized that there was little I could do about the issue of water. I couldn't follow the river all the way to the park, I knew that from studying maps back in the town. There was little I could do about this, because I didn't have anything to carry water in and I didn't know how to build anything. I had seen people build baskets out of birch bark and spruce roots, soaking the bark and roots in water until they were malleable and then threading the roots around folded birch bark to create a perfect basket. This wouldn't be enough for me however. The journey would take weeks at least, and I had only been in the wilderness for less than a week.

As I sat down to eat some of the meat I had dried I pondered my predicament. I could try to carry water with me but it wouldn't last long. I would have to cross the pass to the next river over to get to the park, and that would take some time. I could dry enough of the meat for weeks and maybe even months, but I could only carry enough with me for several weeks at the most. There was no turning back at this point; I had travelled much too far by raft which was much faster and easier than travelling by foot. I might not survive the trek across the mountains to the park unless I could gather enough food and water to keep the thirst and hunger from killing me. Finally I decided it might even be best to stay put for a while. Maybe people would even come find me out here, knowing I had been only missing for a few days there was probably a search party going on still, and I hoped they would never return me to the foster families who had attacked me.

Maybe setting up a camp for a while wouldn't be so bad. The wolf had left, presumably to hunt for more kills, so I continued hacking at the meat and drying pieces, discarding pieces of maggot infested flesh near the river. The wolf would probably eat these, but I couldn't bring myself to. Walking for what felt like miles up and down the riverbank I collected all of the black rocks I could find and even some of the gray ones for drying the meat. They were warm in the sun, essential for the dry meat I needed. This was a grueling chore. Many of the stones I could find were difficult to carry though I was getting stronger. After I was satisfied that I had enough food for the next few days drying I began assembling a better shelter.

This time I took driftwood from the riverbank, the dryest I could find, and leaned it up against the tree well where I had slept the night before. Lying the driftwood against the tree allowed me to use more spruce branches to insulate the shelter. I made a full circle around the tree this time, leaving enough room to store food inside alongside sleeping space. Finally, after hours of collecting branches for sufficient insulation, I added another layer of driftwood to compress the branches for essential insulation. I considered using skin from the moose to insulate the shelter as well, but the terrible stench from the carcadss was more than I could stand. So I sat back and examined my work, satisfied with the shelter. This shelter was much warmer than those before it, and the steadfast structure of the branches made it even more comfortable to sleep in as well.

Night had fallen by the time I was finished with the shelter, so I ate some of the partially dried meat, drank water straight from the river with my hands, and crawled into my shelter under the tree and fell quickly asleep, exhausted from the days work of setting up camp. My nightmares of thirsting continued, this time accompanied by frightening dreams of the bitter Alaskan cold. Even before I awoke the realization that I couldn't stay long here began to take over me. The cold of fall and winter would set in quickly, and even during fall the bitter cold would make it impossible to travel given I had no portable shelter.

I awoke to the sound of the wolf eating at the carcass a stones throw from my shelter. I could tell the days were getting warmer, and I decided I would stay until I felt the days began to get colder. Some of the meat was already dried, the thinner pieces at least, so I carefully retrieved it and placed it inside the shelter. The dried meat was less attractive to flies and seemed to preserve well, though it was difficult to eat. I took to soaking it in the river pinned down under a rock for several minutes before eating, which was a good solution.

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