Kings of the Yukon: a 2,000-mile Alaskan River Paddle with Best-Selling Author Adam Weymouth
Join best-selling author Adam Weymouth on a 2,000-mile canoe journey down the Yukon River, from its source in Northern Canada, through Alaska, to the Bering Sea. It's one of the wildest and most pristine places on Earth filled with Moose, Bald Eagles and Grizzly Bears. But this is more than just an epic paddle.
The Kings of the Yukon are the King Salmon, the Chinooks, who swim up the river every year in their tens of thousands to spawn at the place of their birth. It's one of the most remarkable migrations in the animal kingdom, and it's also one of the most important because the people that live by the river, mostly First Nations people, depend on that salmon run to survive. But it is now under threat. By tracing their journey, Adam Weymouth tells the story of the salmon, but he also tells the story of the lives of people whose fate is intertwined with them. This is a beautiful adventure, but it's also an important and inspiring meditation on what it is to live, and survive, in one of the most remote places on Earth.
HIGHLIGHTS OF ADAM WEYMOUTH'S JOURNEY INCLUDE
- Discovering one of the most remote, pristine and beautiful places on Earth
- Learning about the lives of the First Nations people that live by the river, their culture, history and way of life
- Finding out about the migration of the King Salmon, one of the most remarkable journeys in the animal kingdom
- Feeling what it's like to paddle 2,000-miles through one of the most remote places on Earth, camping on river side beaches along the way
- Meeting Andy Bassich, reality TV star from Life Below Zero who lives on the Yukon River, and other off-grid characters Adam passes along the way
- Hearing about the Gold Rush History of the Yukon from an indigenous perspective
- Learning about the First Nations protest against the fishing ban, why it matters and it's relationship to Gandhi's famous Salt March of the early 20th century
- Being inspired by a First Nations view of fishing, hunting and the interconnectedness of the natural world
- Spending time with one of the most highly acclaimed nature and environmental writers around today, Adam Weymouth, Sunday Times Writer of the Year
- Finding hope and optimism, for the King Salmon, and the people whose lives depend on them
GALLERY OF ADAM WEYMOUTH'S KINGS OF THE YUKON JOURNEY
All images courtesy of Ulli Mattsson https://www.ullimattsson.com/
WHO'S THE GUEST? ADAM WEYMOUTH
Adam Weymouth is the Sunday Times' Best Young Writer of 2018. An environmental journalist, his work has been published in the Guardian, The Atlantic, the New Internationalist and by the BBC, with his primary focus being the relationship between humans and the natural world.
Adam Weymouth became hooked on Alaska and its rich cultural, historical and ecological history after being awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to investigate the human impacts of resource extraction and climate change in 2013. This passion has resulted inThe Kings of the Yukon, Adam Weymouth's debut book, which has been longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize. Adam Weymouth also wonThe Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award in 2018. After completing a Masters in Human Ecology in 2010, Adam Weymouth walked for 8 months from England to Istanbul, a distance of over 3,500 miles and wrote extensively about his journey. Adam Weymouth lives on a narrowboat in London and continues to travel extensively.
www.AdamWeymouth.com / @adamweymouth
His book,Kings of the Yukon: an Alaskan River Journey, is out now. If you buy it from the affiliate link below, you'll help support the show. Thank you so much!
MAP OF ADAM WEYMOUTH'S JOURNEY 2,000 MILES DOWN THE YUKON RIVER
INSPIRED TO SUPPORT FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE OF THE YUKON?
Adam Weymouth recommends getting in touch with the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, a non-profit organization committed to a vision of bettering the spiritual, emotional, mental&physical well being of First Nations peoples, fostering the way of Friendship&understanding between people. https://skookumjim.com/
Book this trip
Adam Weymouth recommends: https://www.kanoepeople.com ... they organise 2-week self guided trips from Whitehorse to Dawson, one of the prettiest parts of the river.
Please reach out to me directly for personalised advice: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Weymouth also recommends this book as indispensable for planning your adventure on the Yukon River ... and when you buy it from this link you also help support the show. Thanks!
Original soundtrack composed by Michael Comber, aka L.I.D (Life in Development)
For his film and documentary composition work visit: http://lidmusic.co.uk
For his band material, check out Dead Skin Sessions on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvbQOJZ7vrVsQBOFmewIAHg
For his solo artist material, check out The Sweet Chap on Spotify:
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Host Aaron Millar is a multi-award-winning travel writer, journalist and author. He contributes regularly to The Times of London, National Geographic Traveller (UK), and many other national and international publications. He has presented travel documentaries for National Geographic TV, written two books for London publisher Icon - 50 Greatest Wonders of the World & 50 Greatest National Parks of the World - and is the 2014 and 2017 British Guild of Travel Writers Travel Writer of the Year, the IPW Best Destination Writer 2017 and Visit USA’s Best National Newspaper Writer 2014, 2016 & 2017. Aaron hates rom-coms and gin, he loves tequila and science-fiction. He grew up in Brighton, England but is currently hiding out in the Rocky Mountains of Louisville, Colorado.
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Aaron Hey, guys, Welcome to the Armchair Explorer, where the world's greatest adventurers tell their best story from the road. I'm Aaron Millar. I'm a travel writer, and this episode we are about to go paddling 2000 miles down the Yukon River. It's going to be an absolutely epic adventure. Are you ready? Let's go. It's one of the most incredible journeys in the world. We're gonna be travelling all the way from the source of the Yukon in northern Canada, through Alaska to the Bering Sea, and we're going to be a very good company for it. Adam Weymouth is, quite simply, the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. He is the Sunday Times best young writer of 2018 and his book Kings of the Yukon, which tells the story of this epic 2000 mile journey, is just beautiful. It's poetic, it's insightful, it's important, and quite simply, it's the kind of book that makes you want to quit your job and head out into the wild. By the way, that is my kind of book. But this isn't just any old adventure. The kings of the Yukon or the Chinooks, the King Salmon, who travel every year in tens of thousands from the mouth of the Yukon to the spawning grounds of their birth 2000 miles away. It is one of the most remarkable journeys in the animal kingdom, but it's also one of the most important journeys because the lives of the people that live on that river, many of them first nation people who are native to the area and lived there for thousands of years, depend on that salmon to survive. But that run, that salmon run is now under threat. That's the story Adam's gonna tell, it's a story about the king salmon and their relationship to the people in the rive, it's a story about indigenous versus modern ways of thinking. And it's a story about drifting through one of the most pristine and beautiful places on earth. I cannot wait to get started. But first, if you are enjoying the show, please help spread the word. Leave a review, Tell a friend we're building a community of people that love the outdoors and want to celebrate that by immersing themselves in every inch of it. And when you help our community grow, you help that message grow, too. The Facebook Page is @ArmchairExplorerPodcast My Instagram is @AaronMWriter and you can sign up to the newsletter on the website www.armchair-explorer.com, where you can also book all the trips that you hear about on this show. Finally, a big shout out to Adam Weymouth, our guest today. His book Kings of the Yukon, is out now. It has quickly become one of my favourite pieces of nature writing ever, and I urge you to checheckque it out. I'll stick those details up on the website, but before you do get ready because we're just about to set out on a 2000 mile journey down one of the wildest rivers on the planet in search of the kings of the Yukon. Adam Weymouth I first went to Alaska in 2013 , ostensibly I went as an environmental journalist, but I suppose the real reason that I went was that I'd always been lured to the North in some way. There was reading Call of the Wild when I was pretty small and seeing White Fang at the cinema and then the book and the film of Into the Wild that came out when I was pretty impressionable 20 something. There was this just idea of the North as being this kind of vast, wild, untamed space that I wanted to go and experience in some way. Aaron The lure of the North, the call of the wild, Jack London wrote about it as "those wild yearnings and stirrings for he knew not what" ... always loved that line. There is just something about the far North, some emptiness, some wildness and purity because it's never been tamed. That does just call to you, and perhaps nowhere more so than the Yukon, where this journey begins. Straddling the northwest corner of Canada between Alaska, where the Yukon River eventually flows and the Northwest Territories, it is just enormous. It is empty. There are more moose than people that live there, and there's grizzly bears and wolverines and bald eagles, and that is where we're about to go. But first we need to understand why Adam's going and that story begins a couple of years before he set out on his canoe. Before this journey at a small town called Bethel in Alaska, at the mouth of the Yukon River, where it flows into the Bering Sea. Adam Weymouth I'd been put in touch with a man called Mike Williams, who was then leader of the Yupik people. He invited me out to his little village on the Delta and all flights to get to that have to go through Bethel. There's no roads up there. Getting a plane is the only way in. And Mike said to me that whilst I was in Bethel, it might be worth checking out a trial that was happening at the time. And the phase that Mike said to me, that really stuck was 'Gandhi had his salt, and we have our salmon.' Aaron Okay, this is important. Gandhi's Salt March took place in 1913. It was a response to the British rule in India at the time, which had placed a ban on Indians selling or collecting salt, which forced them to buy it from the British instead at a much, much more expensive price. And with a hefty salt tax added on, many people suffered as a result of this - particularly the poor. So Gandhi decided to march his followers from his Ashram 240 miles to the Arabian Sea, where he planned to intentionally break the ban by making salt. They're making it actually from the sea, and he starts with a few dozen people. But by the end of it, there were tens of thousands. Many were arrested, including Gandhi himself, but it worked. So the trail that Mike was talking about was between 23 Yupik Fisherman, First Nation fishermen and the Alaskan Fish and Game department who had put a ban on fishing king salmon due to the dramatic and sudden crash in their numbers, which threatened the very existence of the species themselves. No one knew exactly why the numbers have declined so swiftly. Many people argued that poor management and regulation by the Alaskan fish and game department were at least partly to blame. Everyone agreed that something needed to be done. But what's almost certain is that it wasn't the fault of the first nation people, most of whom were subsistence fishermen and women and most of who had lived in harmony with the kings on the river for thousands of years. so the 23 Yupik fishermen defied the ban on purpose, arguing that catching the king salmon was part of their cultural heritage. They argued that the salmon were not just food or even a livelihood. They're part of their spiritual practise, a thread that bound their communities and generations together and a vital cultural tradition that would simply die out if they weren't allowed to do it. Gandhi had his salt, the Yupik had their salmon There were tears in the courtroom when they spoke, Adam Weymouth and it seemed to me that in the courtroom, these two very different ways of looking at the world we're being forced up against each other. On the one hand, you had the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who felt that there was this critical need to preserve the species. On the other hand, you had these Yupik fishermen who were saying, Well, we need to preserve our culture, and this is what our culture hinges upon. It's not just about food, but this is this is a way of life. And it seemed to me that there was this much bigger story to be told I had already seen travelling in Alaska the first time just how important salmon was in every aspect of people's lives. And it seemed I could tell this story of the salmon and use it as a way of kind of opening up the story of the people living along the Yukon. There's five species of salmon that migrate up the Yukon River, but it's the kings that travel furthest and the King's that go the very furthest. Go almost 2000 miles against the current high up into the mountains, the Penny mountains in Canada and reach a place called McNeil Lake. Aaron It's an incredible journey. Every year, millions of salmon make the 2000 mile trip down the Yukon. It's the longest salmon run in the world, swimming against the current for up to 50 miles in a single day. Think about that. That's like running an ultra marathon into a gale force wind every day for months uphill. They'll actually ascend more than 3000 feet through that journey too, literally leaping above the rapids, and they're so determined to reach their destination that they don't feed at all the entire way. But the really amazing thing is where they're going because those king salmon are returning home, the young salmon will leave their spawning grounds, spend years at sea covering vast distances and then return home at the end of their life to the exact location of their birth to spawn themselves. To this day, no one quite knows how they find their way from the ocean back to their home river, which may be thousands of miles away. They might use the sun, the currents, the Earth's magnetic field. But then, once they're there, once they've arrived at the mouth of the Yukon, they can actually smell the precise combination of minerals and other elements that make up their individual birthing pool. Even though it may be as far away as New Yorker to Denver, they can smell it, and that sent pulls them like a thread inexorably relentlessly towards their home. Adam Weymouth I began the journey with a guy called Hector Mackenzie. I done absolutely no canoeing before I began this trip. I sold the idea for the book, and it was only afterwards sitting in a meeting with my editor when she asked me exactly how much experience I had, and I told her that I spent about an afternoon in the canoe up till that point Aaron What?! An afternoon in a canoe, and then you're just going to jump head first into a 2000 mile paddle down the Yukon River, one of the wildest, longest rivers in the world. I think that's brilliant. It's crazy, but it's brilliant too ... as the great and very wise, Eckhart Tolle says. Life is an adventure. It's not a package tour. Sometimes you just gotta jump head first in. But sometimes it's smart to bring a friend. Adam Weymouth And so I managed to get in touch with this guy called Hector, Hector Mackenzie was a Scot who had been living out in Canada for about 50 years, and he's guided and skied and climbed all over the world. And Hector was kind of my lifeline in those first few days. We landed on the McNeil Lake, and it was just a the end of winter. No one had really been able to tell us before we got the plane up there, whether the lake would still be completely frozen. We got dropped in by this beach next to this trappers cabin, which was probably the only sign of life in about 100 miles. It's thiss incredibly remote landscape.And we began the journey on a river that was almost a stone's throw from bank to bank. This this tiny little babbling stream that fell down out of the mountains and having Hector with me on those first few days was was crucial I was really thrown in at the deep end. Vast rapids on the first few days that I've been told by someone that they were Grade six, which doesn't even exist. And I can only imagine that he got confused by the length of the rapids, which there were about six miles off them. But they felt grade six to me, Aaron they weren't Grade 6. That would be like a tsunami rushing down a river. But the size of the rapids is not what makes this trip dangerous. It's the remoteness and the isolation. There's something amazing in that to be completely alone in nature, no civilisation or other people around to spoil it at all. And that's something that we don't often get to experience. But it's also a little scary, isn't it? Because if anything goes wrong, they would be completely alone. Adam Weymouth I was recently arrived from London. It was. It was astonishing in a way that it was only three days in order to get from London to this incredibly remote wilderness that the consequences of losing a canoe or breaking a canoe or losing all our gear still hadn't really become apparent to me the idea that there wasn't just help around the corner or a call that we could put in. It was the beginning of a realisation that would stay with me for the entire trip, that it was this very heavy level of self reliance that was required. And if we ended up in a situation whether through our fault or through no fault of our own, we were the only people that were going to be able to extricate ourselves from it. So the first few days down from the lake were fairly pleasant. It was about the fourth day that we came to the first Rapids. We spent the morning kind of tying down our lines and making plans about what to do if we lost each other. What to do if we lost the boat? It was already a pretty long walk to Whitehorse by that point It was such a blur in a way that the rapids that just these vast torrents of water with these huge mounds of rock, which had tumbled from distance mountainsides and the gaping holes that came came beyond them. And I was really very much in Hector's hands, just sort of telling me where to paddle and where to aim for and pulling back and shooting forward whilst Hector in a kind of happy oblivion in the back and he would describe the bird species to me as we fell through these different rapids. There was about half a day of this, and it was only at the end as we as we popped out of the last one, that Hector turned to me. And he said, I used to scare myself about once a week. Now I try and keep it to once a year, and I really hope that that was it. Aaron I love that quote because it is good to scare yourself a little. It is good to challenge yourself. That's what real adventurers are all about. But I'm with Hector once or twice a year is probably enough these days, so they made it through the rapids and Over the next couple of weeks, they gradually drifted south down a smaller tributary of the Yukon to the first nation village of Tesla, and Adam picks up the story now, having just dropped Hector off in the village and continuing on his own now for the first time turning north towards Dawson City and the Alaskan border some 500 miles away Adam Weymouth from Tesla Lake, the river fed into Tesla River before it finally joined the proper main stem of the Yukon a week or two later. This section of the Yukon is really iconic for for the Klondike Gold Rush, which a lot of people will know about the 18 96 gold rush, when hundreds of thousands of people flooded into the country from from all over the world, seeking rumoured fortunes and fortunes that a few people made and most didn't. And the town of Dawson City, which the Yukon sits on, which has spent a couple of weeks in, is still very much under the spell of Jack London, and the gold rush and there's still can can shows every night, and dancing girls and boardwalks have retained their sort of 1890s character and all the rest of it. There's a very sort of romanticised vision of what the gold rush was. Although it became very clear talking to First Nations people that there was this much darker side as well. It was really the beginning of terrible decline for First Nations cultures. Aaron It's not a side of the gold rush story shamefully that we hear very often, but it's true before 1896 when a ll the hoards of gold seekers stampeded north on their canoes and steamers and steep mountain trails. The lives of the First Nations people that live there hadn't changed for thousands of years. They followed the seasons and the animals moving through a series of camps. Summer was for fishing. Autumn, they headed into the hills and hunted caribou and sheep. In winter, they sheltered in the cold and hunted moose. In spring, they trapped beaver and muskrat. But by 1897 just one year after the gold rush started, they have been displaced from their fish camps on the river and kicked off their hunting grounds. In the turn of one season, they found themselves evicted from the land, which they had called home for millennia. Adam Weymouth The other thing that was really apparent to be paddling down the Yukon was just this sense of almost time going backwards. WeII. We're kind of used to this sense of progress. There's always more development, more technology and more stuff and down the Yukon, it feels almost the reverse. Pull the canoe over to the side of the river and come across these huge, rotting paddle steamers that had once people up and down the river several times a week is now pretty much no trade on the Yukon at all. And these things have just been left to rot when they became unviable or an old telegraph line that still runs the length of the Yukon for several 100 miles. That's not used anymore. So there's a real sense of almost kind of nature reasserting control as the people have moved on, and the land is kind of going back to what it once was, and that was really clear in the animals as well. It's amazing animal sightings of a couple of links sunning themselves by the side of the by the side of the river's otters playing one day I saw a Wolverine, which was, which was astonishing. I met people in Alaska have only seen a couple of wolverines in a whole lifetime of living there. So was really lucky to see one swimming across the river from bank to bank and a lot of moose and black bears and Grizzlies just just very different scale in every way, from from where from where I come from. Aaron In the book, he writes too of its awareness changing. The longer he stays out in the wild, he writes " it is becoming increasingly easy to read shape in the landscape to see a pair of moose antlers in a distant piece of driftwood ... to focus in on a fleck of white from half a mile away and spot of bald eagle sitting motionless" He writes that "the sand holds the storys of the night, the hoof prints of moose like two quotation marks emerging from the water and making off into the willows ... It is all there in my field of vision Moose, osprey, fish, river and it could be this time or it could be any other." I love that last line, and it could be this time it could be any other timeless, cyclical and We're just drifting through Adam Weymouth just after Dawson, the Yukon crosses the American Canadian border just before a little town called Eagle. It's a pretty relaxed border crossing. You just have to go into a little cabin when when you arrive in the town of Eagle and pick up a phone, which has a direct link to customs, and they ask you if you've got any guns on you and you say that you don't they tell you Very good. Then off you go enjoy your trip and about 12 miles after Eagle, I heard about a guy called Andy Bassich. I'd already known of him because he was a reality TV star on the show Life Below Zero. And this is one of the very strange peculiar things of the Yukon. I stayed with no less than four different people on this on this journey that make their living from reality TV. Aaron It's bizarre, isn't it? I mean, we all watch those shows, don't we? From time to time, it's interesting to see someone living out just a completely different kind of life off the land off grid. But the truth is, it's very hard to live a complete subsistence existence. You need money even out here for gas and sugar and coffee and 100 other little things. The problem is, there's not many jobs, and less every year. So being a reality TV star of all things - just about the most on grid thing in the world - has become one of the only ways to make off grid living work. It's just a weird, horrendous kind of irony, isn't it? These people that ran away from the modern world end up making their living being watched by the very people they ran away from. As Adam writes in the book, "Alaska may well have the highest ratio of television celebrities in the world." Take that L. A. Adam Weymouth The instructions that Andy had given me to find his place was 12 miles out of Eagle on the left, and so I pulled up there in the early evening. and, already, my notion of time was getting quite distorted. It was light for about 23 hours of every day, and and these sunsets would almost stretch into sunrises over the course of the evening. Andy's setup is amazing. Andy grew up in Pennsylvania and came I guess like me, like a lot of people that I met into the Yukon as a young man. He was in his twenties when he's, he said that his grandmother gave him the best piece of advice he'd ever had, which was - "You've got your whole life ahead of you to make money and become someone when you're young. Now is the time to explore and to have fun" He quit the job that he was doing and he drove north and he got a canoe and paddle down the Yukon. One day he floated into the town of Eagle and he got there on July the third, and he decided to stick around for the party on July 4th. And then he stuck around forever, and he had this amazing set up on his land. He just had this whole kind of network of cabins which were places for living, but also saunas and music practise rooms and artists retreats, a place for boat building on a workshop and just just the kind of suppose he was completely unencumbered by space. He could just kind of let his imagination run riot, we sat on the porchin and he was telling me his storys. He gave me glasses of his homemade beer and moose steaks and caribou steaks, I believe, actually from the caribou that have killed, and wild greens that you've gathered. It was this, incredibly, idyllic version of what is to live out in the bush in Alaska. And I was talking to Andy about how amazing his place once. And he told me that he had to rebuild the entire thing since 2009 when it got destroyed. Aaron Okay, this is a crazy story. And by the way, how awesome is Andy's grandmother? You've got your whole life ahead of you to make money when you're young is the time to explore and have fun. Amen to that, except when you're old and middle aged everywhere in between is a pretty good time to explore by my book too. But what happened to them is scary. Actually, the Yukon flooded. It's called break up and it can be deadly. Adam Weymouth What break up is is when the start of spring the ice just goes out in a rush. It's something which has happened earlier and earlier these records which had been kept in dawson and people actually bet on a time it will go out for the last 100 years and those records of who's won every year, can show you that the time is getting earlier and earlier, and it seems that as the breakup happens earlier, they also happened much more violently quite often, and the ice world build up in this kind of barrage down the stream and the floodwaters will back up. Aaron On that day, the water rose six feet, in five minutes. Millions of tonnes of ice surged downstream and backed up the river. It overwhelmed his cabins, his kennels his entire life that he had spent years building. And then it got worse. Kate, his partner's canoe, suddenly got snagged on a tree and was about to capsize. And if she went in, there could be no hope of survival, she says. She looked at Andy and just said goodbye, but somehow he got to her. He cut the line, he saved her and then the dogs went over. He had 24 sleigh dogs, which he placed on a small boat when the water levels began to rise, and when that flipped, all 24 dogs went in the river. Some were swept away, some he managed to save. But by the end of it, 23 dogs wet, miserable shaking had somehow survived, as had Andy and Kate floating in the dark in two canoes, all their possessions. Everything they owned drowned beneath them. Adam Weymouth And I suppose it was my first indication that the Yukon is this incredibly violent beast and that Living on it is not this purely idyllic place place to be. It's the kind of the forceful side of what we've romanticised as the wilderness and also how that forceful side is becoming more and more unpredictable if climate change gets worse. By the time that I left Andy, I've probably been on the river, maybe a month or so, and the river was really starting to change. Coming through Canada, it would race along a time. Sometimes it was 10 12 miles an hour, but now maybe 1500 miles intothe sea. It really starts to slow down and widen out. And I suppose I was also kind of settling into into the journey. I'm really getting to this routine of camping every night. It just sort of couple hours setting up the tent and then a couple more hours on putting everything back in the morning and loading their canoe again. The fishing season we're starting. We're starting to see salmon coming up the river. I remember, there's a moment coming around a place called Bishop Rock and seeing a lot of what are called pink salmon, which have these kind of humps and seeing a lot of them at one point kind of cresting the surface for a moment. Almost like the water was boiling and the indigenous people were changing as well. And one of those people that I met was this woman old Athabascan elder called Mary Demented. Aaron There are some lovely passages here: "The land feels more fleshed out more intact than any other I've known ... beside a creek and watch a grayling sucking flies from off the surface of the water ... I watch a bald eagle poised on the crown of a dead spruce, and I watch my back ... Alaskan men trade in bear storys like men and other countries might speak sexual conquests. I am accustomed to eating. Now I can be eaten." There is perhaps no more Alaskan image than a grizzly bear swatting salmon out of a river. Which makes the fact that Adam has to camp each night on riverbanks and beaches, often surrounded by salmon or the remains of Mama Bear's last meal. A little unnerving. But he didn't get eaten and neither did Ulli, his girlfriend, who by this time had joined him for the last part of the trip. They travelled for weeks drifting through the flats, passed for Fort Yukon, camping by the side of the river on islands in the middle, sometimes catching fish, sometimes being given moose steaks or caribou. from people they met in tiny First nation villages they would pass through every few 100 miles or so. Sometimes it's storms. Sometimes it's hot. Sometimes they shiver in their tent over cups of tea. Sometimes they jump in the river to cool of sweat from a hard day's paddle and then they meet Mary. Adam Weymouth Mary was an amazing character to me. I came across her, I'd stayed in a village called Holy Cross and I met her daughter, and it was a daughter that told me that if I really wanted to understand fishing on the Yukon, Mary was the person that I should go and speak to. Mary was down at her fish camp, and a fish camp is part of what's been retained of very traditional ways of life that a lot of First Nations people had in along the Yukon since since thousands of years ago. Really, until the gold rush people who lived in this semi nomadic way where people would maybe make a moose camper place where moose was particularly good at hunting for the autumn, a berry picking camp where the Berries would be good go and spend the winter somewhere much higher, where the temperature wasn't quite so cold and in summer they would come and make fish camp along the Yukon, where the fishing was known to be particularly good. And whilst a lot of people are now settled in villages, a kind of enforced settlement over the last 100 years, fish camp is part of the culture, which has still been retained until very recently, when these fishing bans and come in. But Mary was in her eighties and old habits die hard, and Mary would still go out her fish camp every year, even though she wasn't really allowed to do much fishing anymore. Mary's life, to me, was incredible. Hospitality was so generous. But when I showed up with my girlfriend, she invited us in and we sat in Mary's log cabin kitchen with the fire on and Mary served us halibut that she had along with slices of spam and told us the story of her life, and she had been raised in this incredibly traditional way of being totally nomadic and living in a skin tent. And then, when she was 12 years old, the missionaries took her away from her mother, and they said that her mother wasn't suitable to look after. Taken into the orphanage at Holy Cross Aaron her mother stood on the banks of the river, eyes red and raw, and watched her child leave on a paddle steamer ... for most kids because this didn't just happen to Mary it happened too many thousands of native children. That boat trip was just too expensive to come back home and visit. Many wouldn't return again until they were fully grown, and the orphanages were hard places, brutal places. Many kids were abused discipline was severe. Mary's conflicted about it. She says she would be on Skid row if it wasn't for the nuns at that orphanage. But she also says she wished the nuns would have hugged her. She also said it was hard she wasn't allowed to speak her language anymore. And, sadly, her story isn't that unusual. Starting in the late 19th century here in Alaska and elsewhere in the States, native children were forcibly removed from their parents and taken to boarding schools as part of a systematic plan to 'kill the Indian' quote unquote and assimilate them into American society. After the gold rush, when they'd lost their land, disease brought in from those gold rush miners decimated their communities and in their belief, illness came from evil spirits. It was easy for the missionaries to convince those that remained that the old ways were to blame, that there he then the work of the devil to be denounced. They tricked them. They took their Children away. Because of that, a whole generation became rootless, lost without a home or culture and the further they paddle down the river the morer they saw the legacy of the atrocity, alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide, child abuse, hopelessness and despair. In less than a century, the entire fabric that had kept their society together for thousands of years have been ripped apart. But that culture, just like those Yupik fisherman, is starting to fight back. It's not easy. They have a long way to go, and many obstacles and little support. But their lifeline. What they're clinging to, to bring it back, to bring back the next generation and teach them the old ways before they're lost forever is the salmon. That's why those Yupik fishermen defied the ban. Gandhi had his salt, the Yupik have their salmon. Adam Weymouth One of the great things about research salmon on the Yukon was just the amount of salmon that I got to eat, turning up these places and telling people that you're researching salmon. Although it was a very poor year for salmon, there's a real sense of hospitality and what people have to share is their food. And so many nights we would sit down and have salmon anyway you can imagine we'd have it barbecued and and the hearts and the cheeks and the eyes and the bellies and the Finns fried up into crisps. And everywhere you can imagine on over these meals, I would talk to people about what it was that the salmon meant to them. And I began to realise very quickly that the salmon is much more than just about the salmon. There's a real sense. And to go back these fishermen, which were on trial in Bethel There's a real sense that the salmon will only keep on returning to the river if the salmon are respected. This is an idea that the salmon, offer themselves to the fishermen. It's not this kind of Bravado of the Western hunters might have about having being so skillful, being able to catch a fish or shoot a lion or wherever it is. The reason that salmon allow themselves to be caught is because they've been respected, and in that sense, a lot of the First Nations. People see that a fishing ban makes no sense at all because you're rejecting the salmon and the salmon will stop becoming if if the salmon feel they're not wanted. So there was a real sense of respect and the need to respect the fish. And talking to people about salmon made me see well these other things as well. It was a way into talking to people about what they hopeful for their Children's futures. It was about why they choose to live in these incredibly remote places. It was What does it mean to be subsistence in the capitalist economy? What does it mean to be Yupik, but also 21st century American? It was It was a real lens to open up this whole sense of what it means that live on the Yukon and wrestle with globalisation and climate change and poverty and all these very modern issues which are now affecting these places, which which seem to be very remote. But in fact aren't untouchable at all. Aaron Yeah, it's really interesting, isn't it? Like all good adventures, he started with an idea of what it might be. But then it evolved and grew and became about so much more. It's a beautiful idea, he discovered, too, isn't it? The first nation concept of fishing is that the salmon allow themselves to be caught. They give themselves to us. There's a humility in that which we just don't see very often anymore on that idea. That reciprocity between the salmon and the people, the river and the land is at the heart of what Adam began to realise as he reached the end of his journey Adam Weymouth from Mary's fish camp, there was another, maybe three or four weeks to reach the sea, heading out over the Yukon Delta, one of the largest river deltas in the world, with a population of about 10,000 people. It was strange to stop. It was almost feels like the world runs out of ideas or something is just this very sort of flats with these islands built up of silt and just sort of no topography or anything and just looking out over the horizon, knowing that Russia is the next place, this very flat and endless sea. We took our clothes off and went for a swim as a way of marking the end and knowing that all these baby salmon at the same time would be heading out into the sea from here to go and spend their adult lives out in the Pacific for a few years before before coming back on the last few months of their lives. It was an amazing journey as a way of trying to understand what's what's happening to the salmon and what's happening to the people. And I suppose it gave me a lot of other reflections as well. I think one was was thiss original idea that I had this this very romanticised idea of the wilderness in going and kind of testing myself against the wilderness in this in this way that a lot of people do, and you realise that it's really not wilderness it all for people that have lived here either, either. Now, in the past, everything lake and Mountain and Forest and tributary has has a name and a story, and things have happened there and people have lived there and hunted and fished and berry picked. And if anything, the reason it feels like a wilderness is because so much of that culture has been has been forcibly erased and the decline of the salmon is is something else, which is really starting to change that culture. I think more than anything, the journey made me realise in some ways everything so stripped back to it barebones along the Yukon you have, you have the people when you have the land and you have the fish and you realise that all those things are totally interconnected, not in a kind of poetic ideological way, but but truly connected that the way that the people impact on the fish is just as much the case is the way the fish impact upon the people. And I think that's just as true for us living in in England. But those connections are just so much more obscured because our food comes from the supermarket and the water comes from the tap. It's much harder to see the impacts that we're having on the things that we consume. But being on the Yukon really made me feel that everything is very intricately linked and bound up, and and that's just not something that I feel that I can forget now that I've come back. Aaron That's true and so important in something we can all be inspired by. I think it is all interconnected. We don't see it here in our cities and modern lives as much as the would on the banks of the Yukon. Much of those webs are invisible to us now, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. As Adam says, the salmon story is our story. We are all linked in what we do, and what we consume does have an impact on everything and everyone around us. It might be small, it might feel insignificant, but it's not because to bring it back to the salt march back to the beginning and back to Gandhi, who said, We mirror the world. But The world also mirrors us. Be the change that you wish to see in it. Adam Weymouth It feels like there is a way to preserve the king salmon. It's not a done deal yet. I'm used to covering storys as an environmental journalist that do seem like a done deal. There is a real sense of hope in this one. I think it's not, it's not over yet. Certainly climate change is affecting the fish, but there's been a lot of other Much more immediate human pressures like like overfishing and selecting the biggest fish over a period of time and not allowing stocks to regenerate, which can be addressed and if those numbers are allowed to get back up, there may be some of the other things which is starting to hit. The fish, like climate change, could be almost mitigated by by allowing the runs to become more healthy. But what's needed for that is a dialogue. Although these people are connected by a river and connected by a fish, they live huge distances apart. 2000 miles is the distance from London to Athens, and you're expecting people to manage fish stocks in the same way. So I hope that in some ways this this book and a lot of the brilliant work that's being done by scientists along the river and by First Nations people can go some way to starting that dialogue. Aaron I'm sure it will. Thank you, Adam. Thank you for writing this beautiful book and thank you for taking us on this incredible paddle 2000 miles down the Yukon in search of its kings. If you're interested to read Adam's book, I'll put all the details on the website and show notes. And if you're inspired to go for a paddle down the Yukon yourself, I've put up some ideas for that. Thanks Also to our composer today, Michael Comber, a k a. The Sweet Chap, a k a lid L i d. Life In Development One of the most amazing musicians I know always an honour and a pleasure to work with. Please check out his stuff all linked to in the usual places. You will not be disappointed. Finally and most importantly, thank you to all of you. It's so amazing to share these adventures together. Thank you so much for listening. And remember, if you liked what you heard, please spread the word inspire fellow traveller, a fellow explorer or just someone that needs an escape. Because when you do that, you spread that message of connexion and wonder for this amazing planet of ours. And that's important because the more we look for wonder in the world, the more the wonder of the world becomes a part of who we are. Dare to be truly alive