Meet Ricky Ashby, the nicest guy in Northwest Alaska . . . but first, how we got to this picture . . . Much has happened since we broke camp on Day 16 (August 27). We spent the first half of Day 16 floating twenty miles to Noatak Village. On the 435 miles of the Noatak River there is only this one native village, which is at river mile 372, with a population of about the same, something like 350. The village is on the west side of the river but abundant braids make it easy for floaters to miss the village altogether. Moreover, during the last two years the river had shifted course enough to make the village inaccessible from up river. This is not a problem for the powerboat guys, but we did have some trouble making it back up river after necessarily floating half a mile past the village. As we rowed and lined up the moderately flowing channel towards the village, a man eagerly watched our approach from the bluffs above and offered various words of encouragement and advice. After we reached the village the onlooker, Ricky Ashby, welcomed us and almost immediately invited us into his home for dinner. We placed our meat in his shed and went into his home. Ricky prepared coffee while Ian brought in some of our fresh caribou meat from the shed. We were both somewhat in a daze (it had been awhile since we had sat at a table, talked to anyone besides each other, had been in a heated home, etc.) as Ricky talked to us while he prepared a meal. Ricky magically cut meat, prepared rice, and made gravy while we basked in the glow of the warmth of his home and conversation.
This photo of Ricky Ashby with Ian was taken on the morning of Day 17 (August 28). That morning we contacted Bering Air and arranged for our caribou meat to be flown to Kotzebue and frozen. We deemed this expedited freezing of the meat necessary because the mid-day temperatures were significantly higher than the ideal 40s range, and while the final stretch of the river between Noatak Village and Kotzebue was only ~60 miles, reportedly slow currents and wind would likely hamper (or halt for days) our heretofore speedy progress. With these unknown factors in mind we chose not to risk meat spoilage during the next few days that it would take us to float to Kotzebue. In fact, most river floaters go ahead and fly themselves back to Kotzebue from the Noatak Village airfield, but we obstinately opted to finish the river despite potential winds and a very slow current.