Birch Bark Canoeist Made It to the Bering Sea

The first time we met Dirk Rohrbach was after church in Fellowship Hall on Sunday, June 13.

What first struck me about Dr. Rohrbach was his mild, confident manner. Here was this handsome athletic German quietly telling us that he had built his own traditional birch bark canoe and, after hiking the Chilkoot Trail, he was going to paddle all of the way to the Bering Sea.

He modelled the traditional birch bark canoe, using only natural materials. The canoe originated, and was developed, by the Ojibway and is known as the Ojibway long-nosed canoe.

Some of the locals, who attend the Presbyterian Church, weren’t surprised when word got out that he had to be rescued by the Mounties.

Having completed the Chilkoot, he launched the canoe at Lake Bennett, where he experienced very strong winds and high waves.

Unfortunately, whilst trying to take shelter on one of the islands, the bow of the boat was damaged on shallow rocks.

With the canoe leaking badly, Dirk camped on the island and managed to attract attention which resulted in his rescue by the Carcross Mounties. On hearing this news, the round-table talk after church was centred around what a crazy undertaking this was, particularly with a birch bark canoe.

Corinne and I prayed for him – so you can imagine our surprise and delight, when Dirk joined us for morning church service on Sunday, Aug. 29. We invited him to have English tea with us, followed by a German dinner of smoked pork chops, fried potatoes and pickled red cabbage.

Dirk left the river and paddled a further 11 miles, just to satisfy himself that he really had reached the Bering Sea.

He returns to Germany in November and will be writing a book of his exploits and will be undertaking a series of live presentations.

As Dirk had arrived in town late the previous night, we gave him time to unwind and tell us in his own words, about this amazing adventure. Here are some of the highlights:

Duration – Exactly 10 weeks.

Distance – Just over 2,000 miles by water.

Scariest Moment – High winds and waves on lakes. This was how his canoe was damaged. The Tagish First Nation members at Carcross told him, “We like people to wear life jackets on the lakes because the dead bodies are easier to find.”

Most Annoying Situations – Black flies on the river between Tanana and Galena.

Missed Most – Music and fresh salads.

Mosquitoes – Only two to three days were really bad.

Biggest Surprise – Large number of people on the river. (No. 1: Germans. No. 2: Japanese.)

Loneliness – Never really felt alone. Had a SPOT Trekker and GPS device that he could activate to alert others for rescue and also to enable family and friends to follow his progress.

Greatest Joy – The wonderful First Nations people who greeted him and invited him to share their homes and food. (He actually put on weight as a result!)

His Inspiration – Jack London.

Highest Moment – As he approached Emmonak on the Delta, he realized he was going to make it. He suddenly started to sing Garth Brooks’ song, The River, at the top of his voice.

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