"There was a time," Wood said, standing on the bank three days into the canyon, "when I liked being scared in the woods. It made it all seem so…real." His voice trailed off, and his gaze followed downriver. I knew where his thoughts were taking him. Mine were already there. Home. Wife. Children. "I don't like being scared anymore," he said. Lysne and I pushed the canoe into the river without saying a word. I could only imagine what he was thinking. Lysne never complained, never pointed out that he'd signed on to photograph a fishing trip, not an adrenaline rush down a rain-swollen river. I didn't voice the thoughts coursing through my own head. The cheerful scouting report notwithstanding, I'd had no business putting inexperienced paddlers in such remote, unknown water. My arrogance was shameful, and the dangers were accruing. Humping gear and dragging boats through 20-foot-tall thickets, where a feeding bear would be invisible at 10 feet, was a necessity. But that's the seduction of wilderness travel. Each time you come back, you think you can handle more. Until you can't. Downstream, the river disintegrated. On the banks, water boiled through 10-foot-tall walls of downed timber as the Kipchuk careened around hairpin turns. Time and time again we roped the canoes around the roughest water, but too often the only choice was to carry everything. To portage the hairpins, we bushwhacked through thickets, taking turns as point man with the shotgun and bear spray. We hacked trails through streamside saplings. We fished in spurts--10 minutes here, 15 there. It took all we had just to keep going. One night I crouched beside the campfire, nursing blisters and a bruised ego. My back felt like rusted wire. Lysne limped in pain, his toes swollen and oozing pus. I was tired of portaging, tired of paddling all day with little time for fishing, tired of fear. I watched Lysne take a swig of Costa Rican guaro. "I have to be honest with you," he muttered. "I've had some dark times the last few days. Been damn scared and I'm not afraid to say it." The night before, he said, he'd dreamed that we were paddling through a swamp, but it was inside somebody's garage, and a fluorescent alligator attacked the canoe. "Weird, huh? I wonder where that came from." The next morning I dragged myself out of the tent with a mission. Somewhere, downriver, the other Alaska waited. "Today we paddle like madmen," I suggested. "Yeah," Aguilar groused. "We need to quit being such slackers." A few miles downstream we lined a run and dragged the canoes to the head of a deep pool the color of smoke and emeralds. A half dozen large fish held near the upstream ledge. I slid a rod out of the canoe. The first cast landed a pink salmon. My second brought in a chum. I hooted as Aguilar fumed and glanced at his watch. "Ten minutes!" I pleaded. "I promise, just 10 minutes!" He huffed and grabbed a rod. Fishing chaos broke out. Wood, Lysne, and I worked a triple hookup on salmon, our lines crossing. We fought sockeyes, kings, and wolf-fanged chum salmon. We landed 3-pound grayling and a solid 26-inch rainbow. One fish ran up the rapids at the head of the pool, leaping like a silver kite. Another was so close that it splashed me. For the first time I felt the pieces coming together. The pull of strong fish was a poultice for ragged nerves and sore shoulders. Eleven salmon steaks, slathered in chipotle sauce, sizzled over the fire that night. "We deserved today," Aguilar said, lying back on a bed of rocks. "Fishing is fun," added Wood. "We should try to do more of it."