Adventures of Mac Lightfoot: Things That Float

Mac has an obsession with things that float. From float tubes to one-man rafts, rubber duckies to self-bailers, catarafts, inflatable kayaks, drift boats: you name it, Mac’s climbed aboard.

So many good times have been had in these boats that it’s hard to remember them all. Float-tubing with long-time friend Dave Calleja for rainbows on Long Lake or with brother-in-law Wayne Norris’ for giant broodstock char on Irene Lake. Or dragging the 100-pound, 14-foot, Aire Ocelet cataraft over the guardrail and down to Upper Summit Lake, hooking a beast of a trout and miraculously landing it. Then there’s the 120-mile float down the Kisaralik River in a SOTAR self-bailer; retarded amounts of fish and raucous evenings by the campfire, or the many trips down the Gulkana, every one filled with abundant numbers of grayling, trout and salmon. Countless floats down the Upper Kenai river in all manners of floatables, the constant among the trips an endless supply of trout, char and salmon. Or a relaxing day spent scouting the near-perfect runs of the Ayakulik, big stick in hand, tossing big flies to big salmon.

And then there’s the less-than-perfect times. A broken oar on Willow creek patched with an alder trunk. Missing the pullout on the Arolik River and floating into the Bering Sea. Nearly sinking the Clackacraft drift boat during a float through the Kenai River canyon during a 50-year flood. Rescuing Mr. Know-It-All after he flipped his raft. Helping a group of drunken rafters find their gear and avoid hypothermia after they capsized on upper Willow Creek. Narrowly avoiding being swept out of the raft after taking a wrong turn down the “secret slough.” Do these sound familiar, or is Mack just prone to mishap?

Despite his penchant for chaos, Mack has exhibited some good decisions on the water. He always wears a PFD. He usually scouts new rapids before running them, and portages the ones he shouldn’t run. He’ll seek advice from guides, outfitters and other float enthusiasts about what to expect on new rivers. He carries a satellite phone on remote adventures.

It’s one thing to embrace and enjoy all that wild Alaska has to offer; it’s another to make it out in one piece. Mac’s favorite pastime is to float a remote river, left to his thoughts and the endless bend of a rod, while the stresses of life wash away with the soothing sounds of the river. But heed his words of caution; Alaska suffers no fools, and its waters are frigid and unforgiving. Mac’s obsession with Alaska’s waters is balanced by a healthy respect for the finality of the mistakes that can happen upon them.