September 8, 2002
Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
Mark and I were set to hurry today - to paddle fast, and make it to Fort Smith before the Post Office closed. We got up early, ate our breakfast (Pop-tarts purchased in Fort Chip) on the water, and got serious about paddling. Then I remembered that it was Sunday, and the Post Office would be closed anyway. Oh well. On a trip like this we have learned to roll with the punches. Our expectations and plans are always subject to change, and we have become quite flexible.
So we made the most of our non-hurry. We had to pick up food at the Post OFfice in Fort Smith, and it wasn't that far away, so we enjoyed the scenery. We figured we might as well get there early, but we didn't kill ourselves making miles. We drifted some, and let Scout run on the shore, and eventually we made it to Fort Fitzgerald.
Fort Fitzgerald marks the beginning of 17 miles of rapids. There are a couple of named sets there, the last one being my favorite and most foreboding: "Rapids of the Drowned". We had planned from the beginning to get a ride around them - to Fort Smith on the other end. Our canoe is not built for whitewater. Moreover, our heavy load and the fact that we travel alone makes us very conservative. We figured that it wasn't worth the time or risk to go through them.
People have bypassed these rapids for 200+ years, by all sorts of methods. Horses and carts, and later motor cars replaced people pulling or carrying their boats across. Large boats would only go as far as Fort Fitzgerald, where the goods would be transferred to another boat in Fort Smith.
Fort Fitzgerald used to be quite large, with hotels and stores. Today it is a few scattered houses, and no services. Soon an Indian Reserve will go in there as well, and perhaps even a separate school.
Today the two towns are connected by a paved road, where you pass into the Northwest Territories. Now we are really in the North! Fort Smith is the former capitol of the territory, with a population of about 2,500. They have everything you would need: motels, restaurants, a movie theater, and beautiful scenery.
At the relatively crowded landing in Fort Fitzgerald, we were getting set to call Clayton Bourke, who had agreed to drive us to Fort Smith. As Mark picked up the Satellite phone, a man came over to inquire about where we were coming from, etc. When Mark mentioned who he was calling, he said: "Oh, he's right over there!"
Clayton and his family were just returning from a camping trip themselves. Introductions were made, and we quickly realized that we were in the hands of warm, generous northerners.
Clayton's friend Ramsey drove us to Smith, while all of our gear rode in Clayton's truck. Ramsey had all sorts of interesting tales to tell about the area, the cantaloupes he grows in his garden, how he smokes the trout he catches, and why moose meat is superior to caribou. He went out of his way to help us even more by driving back to Fort Fitzgerald for our canoe. I wish we had been able to spend more time with him!
We unloaded at Clayton and Annie Bourke's B&B, also the headquarters of their business, Taigatour. After spending some time with these people, I'd definitely want to go on one of their tours - they are really interesting. The B&B was very pleasant, and we took in all the luxuries of internet, showers, and even TV there. A vacation from a vacation!
We look forward to doing some laundry tomorrow and getting packed, but we hope to return here sometime to take a Taigatour, hopefully in the winter!
Thanks to the Bourkes for the pleasant stay!
September 9, 2002
“ We’d intended on staying in town long enough to get our errands done and then hit the water in the late afternoon, but a building thunderstorm with lightening striking within what felt like inches came at just the right time to keep us here until tomorrow.
It turned out that our extended stay was actually totally worth it.
We woke up and went on a donut quest. None at the gas station down the street, or the one a few hundred meters later. No bakery either. We hear it closed last year.
Laundry was next and then the post office. We got our clothing as clean as we could and picked up our food supplies.
The rest of the day was spent very busily cleaning, drying out, packing, repacking, sorting, repairing, arranging, rearranging and piling up our gear. We have lots and it is a real puzzle to figure out how to best fit it into our canoe. We also called friends and family and checked our e-mail.
It was great, as always, to hear the voices of friends and to read words of encouragement from both people we know well and some we’ve never met. We are so inspired by your kind notes!
Ft. Smith lies almost on the Northwest Territory border. As a former capital, it has buildings and attractions that hint at more bustling times, yet now it seems a fairly quiet community of 2500.
We stayed at the “Thebacha” (meaning “place at the foot of the rapids”) B&B last night and they are full tonight so we are just pitching our tent on their lawn.
Chinese take-out was a huge treat for supper and then we got sucked into some terrible TV movie while hanging out in the living room of the B&B. Luckily, we were saved from the ending by Clayton, the proprietor of Thebacha, who was working on his paperwork and was up for a little late night conversation. We chatted with him for well over an hour and had it not been for the lateness, we would have loved to have talked longer. He is one of those rare people who has gained compassion from his years of living and who lives the life he promotes.
Clayton and Annie raised their children in the bush, living in a remote cabin for 20 years, home-schooling the kids and trapping on t he very line that Olive Fredrickson (of Silent North) and her husband used. Some time ago the moved to town and started a guiding service, canoe rental and B&B.
Here is some of what Clayton has to say. It is only snippets and surely does not do him or his kind spirit justice.
On Norah _ “You’re a real tough lady. Not many ladies could do what you’re doing.” (Norah appreciated the compliment, especially coming from Clayton whose most likely seen his share of the afore mentioned.)
On US foreign policy – “The US could do so much good in the world”. He went on to say much more about this. He is very upset about the issues surrounding Bush and his decision to go after Hussain. He finds it arrogant and dangerous. Incidentally, we’ve heard quite a bit about this from the Canadians. Those who’ve stopped to talk all promote a more peaceful approach. To a certain extent, Norah and I feel we represent out entire nation or something. It is a funny position to be in – especially when we are so disconnected from the daily news. Outside of the post office, I had an interaction that went like this:
Francois – “Hey, you’re that American? I met you at the dock yesterday”
Me – “Yeah, I remember.”
Francois – “You better tell Bush to calm down.”
Back to Clayton. He summed up that part of our conversation with the thought that the US should do more to promote peace and justice in the world. His words, “The more you give, the more you get. That’s a fact.” Seem to be the mantra that Clayton lives by. If our world leaders upheld the same code we might live in a much different time.
On dams – I led the opposition when they were thinking of damming up the Slave here. Had my life threatened more than once. Oh, sure. But when you believe in something you have to follow your ideals.
He added more stories about how the Bennett Dam way down in BC has changed lives up here. Lowered water levels. Stopped the nutrient rich seasonal flooding. Warmed up the Mackenzie River watershed. Changed the local habitat. Killed beavers and muskrats and altered the lifestyle.
Nearly all of the dam’s power goes to the US. He said that some states had also once dreamed up a plan to dam up the Athabasca River so that it would flow backwards in the Mississippi system.
“It’s in the books”
What are these people thinking? How can they sleep at night?
On the area west of the Slave – “All this water drains underground to Slave Lake. You can catch fish that are totally clear. You can see what they last ate. They don’t need color down there. You have them in the States, too.”
On Canadians – “Canadians are idealistic people.”
On Olive Fredrickson – “Her first husband, Walter, was murdered. That’s a hard cold fact.
Mostly though Clayton is a kind-eyed man. A real listener. We’re glad to have met him.
When we finally headed out to our tent and he closed out a 16-hour work day, he said, “Thanks for taking the time.”
We’re glad we did and certainly felt the thanks should be going the other way.”
Slave River, North of Grand Detour
We paddled 48 miles down the Slave River. It was a pleasant paddle, as the leaves are turning and the swift current carried us along. The wind was at our back all day long, which made a huge difference too!
We didn't camp until dark tonight though. Ramsey dropped us off on the river around 9 AM this morning. We had planned on leaving at 7 or so, but we started chatting over coffee and toast at the bed and breakfast, and suddenly time had flown by. Ramsey and Clayton were going to leave later this morning - flying out to work on Clayton's remote lodge. It sounds beautiful. Clayton talked about having people paddle there from Fort Smith and fly out. We'd be happy to try that out for him!
Ramsey told us there was a cabin we could stay in about 40 miles down river. People up here stay in other people's cabins all of the time, so we thought we'd check it out. When we got to the spot - a big meander in the river called Grand Detour - we couldn't find it. The willows and brush along the side were high there, and the bank muddy. We got out and looked, but no luck.
Only when we paddled away from the shore did we see the roof peeking out. The cabin was probably 100 yards off the river, but we checked it out anyway. We could see that a boat had been pulled up there recently, and we followed a brushy path up to the cabin. It was bear-proofed, with strong latches on doors and windows that are easy for people to open. The cabin was kind of trashed out, with garbage around, and lots of stuff strewn outside. It seemed like a place I'd rather stay in the winter.
Cabins aren't too tempting on a beautiful evening, with the promise of stars and Northern Lights on a pristine sandbar somewhere. We can create a cozy spot anywhere now, and our tent really does feel like home.
Finding a site proved more difficult than we thought - we found lots of mud and no sand high enough off the water to tent on. So we paddled on, making some extra miles and finally parking ourselves atop a dried mud bank, lined with the prints of those living in the neighborhood: bears, birds, moose and wolves. No people though.
We made a cheery fire and a good dinner, and we enjoyed the solitude of the unlikely spot.
We finished the night reading more of "Silence of the North" and looked forward to trying to spot the site where the author built her campfire some 80 years before.
Day 89 – Slave River, north of Brule Point
32 miles today – 1882 so far
Yesterday the modified “Z” shape of the river gave us a slight headwind for the first and last 10 miles, but a rather helpful boost during the middle section of paddling.
Today the lay of the river and direction of wind did not come together as well for us. We paddled hard, talking little and pounded out just 32 miles before pulling over- to tired to go on.
Our spot, a south facing sand beach loaded with driftwood. We’ve got a big fire and northern lights.
We’d heard from someone that we’d have headwinds 9 of 10 days from here to Inuvik. We’re tough enough and all to make it in the face of wind, but we enjoy the calm days more and not simply because we can go farther – on calm days we can sing and laugh, but on windy days words are washed away and a conversation includes lots of “What did you say?” – sometimes it’s just easier to think to yourself.
On a lake you can hide from the wind behind an island or point, but on this windy rover you just follow the direction of the rover. It wears us out both physically – because we have to paddle so hard – and mentally, because we’re so out of communication with each other.
However, the whole thing feels adventurous especially today when we passed the place where Olive and Walter wintered over and we also passed the site of a very old sawmill. The wood chips, now a part of the river bank, are slow to rot into dirt because of this dry climate and short summers. The house that went along with this mill was half fallen into the river. It was built on a place where the water has cut far into shore. The house looked very very old.
We’ve heard that once there was a sawmill every 10 miles or so. None are around now.
What a life those folks must have had. Carving a living out of wood up here way back in the day – tough work, but in a beautiful setting.
The northern lights are fantastic tonight – I’d guess they must have been back in the sawmill days as well.
There has really been something magical about our trip since we got onto the Slave River. It's hard to pinpoint, but something is different here -- something that wants to wrap around us and not let go. We've talked many times in the past week about moving up here for a year or two, wintering over in the brush somewhere. Everything about our time on the Salve has been extraordinary --crisp fall days, brilliant turning leaves, the dancing northern lights, big beach fires without bugs late into the night, mist on the river in the morning, and people living a life we admire and envy.
In Fort Smith, Clayton Bourke said to us, "The more you give the more you get. Now that's a fact!" On the Slave, that seems to be the way people operate. Early this morning, two motorboats stopped by our campsite as Mark and I were drinking coffee and eating apple cinnamon coffee cake. They were out moose hunting, but had had no luck so far. They asked about our trip and told us to stop by their camp down the river. They had bagged two buffalo yesterday, and were drying the meat. Lots of people were all there - "all the families" -- and we should come by. As long as we stayed on the right channel, we'd find it.
We crisscrossed paths with them as we paddled "down north", and they scoured the shores for moose. We stayed on the right and found their camp easily. About 7 kids in life jackets and shorts ran down the shore to meet us, immediately asking questions and answering questions we hadn't asked yet.
"What's your dog's name?" (All kids' first question to us.)
"Where you coming from?"
"Your dog looks like my dog!"
"You stopping at our camp?"
"What's that collar on your dog?" (All kids' second question)
They scurried on through the mud as we paddled. The camp was easy to find, since 4 big motor boats were parked there, and more people were coming out of the woods to greet us. One patriarch, whose name was Jean, even took our picture.
These folks were all related, come out to the camp for a week to hunt. The kids are excused from school for the cultural learning opportunity, and there were probably 10 or more school-age kids there, high school through grade 2...and more: Scout scared one triplet, who along with her sisters, was dressed all in purple. We found out later that she had taken 1st Prize in a 1-dog Dog sledding race last winter. She's 3 years old.
We chatted with some of the folks on the beach, where the boats were parked. There was a wide array of people there: a corrections officer, a musher, kids, elders, twins (celebrating their 16th birthday), a trapper, and others. They do this every summer, and family members come from all over for the week at camp.
Their camp had one cabin back in the woods, and space for plenty of tents around it. One 12x14 wall tent was the coziest --warm from a wood stove with pine boughs strewn to cover the floor. It smelled good! It's moose season, but nobody had shot one yet. They had boated in a few 4-wheelers ("quads" up here), and after riding for 20 minutes to the prairie east of the river, had shot 2 buffalo, or wood bison.
As we drank their coffee, they showed us how they dry the meat. A big smoky fire lay smoldering, watched carefully by an older woman. As the buffalo was butchered, they'd skewer big chunks on whittled sticks, and lay them on rafters 6 feet above the smoke. This dries out the outside of these pieces, so that the flies can't get into the meat. After all the meat is over the smoke, the big pieces are cut into thin strips, along the grain of the meat. Then the strips are hung on the rafters to dry out, usually for a couple of days. This preserves the meat, since the camp has no refrigeration. The meat will be eaten through the winter--sometimes the jerky, when they're out, sometimes fried up with bacon grease.
Two of the teenagers cooked up a buffalo steak before it dried, and offered us some. With a little salt, Yum!, rich and delicious and very filling. They told us it IS a very filling meat, more so than caribou or beef. These people do try for moose in the fall, and caribou come within 50 miles some winters. Rocky, the Musher, told us, "One thing about this place: you'll never go hungry!" He and his dad had also gotten a couple of geese that day. They put them up on the rafters also, to keep the flies off.
Rocky is a real hunter, and seemed to have followed in his father's footsteps. He told us he has shot 300 moose in his life, starting when he was 11. He didn't know how to clean that first one, so he brought it home, where his dad taught him how to, "right there on the porch." I asked what he did with them all. "I'm related to 50% of Fort Resolution," he told me. So he gives the meat away, especially to elders who can no longer hunt, themselves. He obviously loves hunting, but he puts all of his kills to good use. When I asked him if they would get more buffalo, he said, "No, we got enough."
We visited for a little longer, but finally left to keep paddling down the Slave. They gave us some meat on the way out: partially dried buffalo meat. Mark put it in a cracker box in the back of the canoe, to keep Scout away from it, and we shoved off.
Everyone in that camp was so generous and nice, and that spirit of giving continued as we went down the river. We ran into Joe and Lucy, cousins from Fort Resolution, who motored out of their way to see where we were from. They, like everyone, asked if we had seen a moose. They hadn't either, but they had gotten a couple of ducks, and gave us one for dinner!
So we feasted tonight, on another perfect evening: a big beach fire, stars and northern lights, buffalo meat drying in the smoke, and duck with wild rice for dinner. This is the life!
And I mean that. We wish that everyone we know could be up here with us for one day, to see the taiga turning bright yellows and reds, to visit with kind people, to glide on the gentle current of the river. and to warm tired muscles by a glowing fire, and marvel in the northern lights. Everyone deserves such a gift --even for one day -- and Mark and I feel so fortunate to have had so many to remember!
September 12, Day 90
It is near midnight. We’re sitting next to a huge fire. Socks drying on one stick. Buffalo meat on the other. Bright Northern Lights are everywhere. There is no moon. The stars are crystal clear and it is cold enough to see breath. This is in the life. Norah and I are totally content. We’d happily stay up all night here watching the sky and the fire. We’d happily stay here all winter. Holed up in some little cabin. This is the life we’ve come to love.
We’re thinking back on a couple of stories we heard today. Gene Nord, the eldest member of the bunch, was chock full of tales and he shared some.
“There was this guy out picking cranberries one fall. He loads than up in his canoe and starts towards home. He hasn’t come far before he see a moose. With one shot, he drops the moose. Then he ties a rope around it and tows it to shore so he can dress it out. He lands and walks around looking for a spot to set up camp so he can gut the moose and dry the meat. Finding a suitable spot, he walks back to the river and finds his canoe gone and the moose no where to be seen.
Next fall he’s back to the same spot with a new canoe. All of a sudden he sees a moose come walking out of the marsh pulling a canoe. The man runs up and cuts the ropes and finds his cranberries right where he left them – and a calf getting owed around as well”.
We all laugh.
“There’s a guy up in Norman Wells,” one of the other folk listening to the story interjects. “He tells the same story except with a scow instead of a canoe. I guess the same thing happened to him.”
On the subject of moose, Gene goes on to say that every year starting on September 10th, it gets really calm at night, even if it was windy in the day, so that the moose can hear each other while they’re butting. Gene is thoughtful for a moment, kind of marveling as how the weather is accommodating the moose so well.
Norah can attest to the fact that it is calm at night now. Even yesterday when it was so windy all day. This evening brought calm.
Gene is off on another story.
“One time Frank caught a fish with his sock.”
Rocky – “Oh, yeah– I remember when that happened.”
“He was working on that little rover and his boss say, ‘You can swim over there.’ Because they drink the water right here, eh?
Frank is getting all clean and he decide to wash his socks. He’s sitting there, looking around, maybe lost in his own thoughts and dipping his sock up and down in the river. He’s just tired and it’s the end of the day.
All of a sudden a big whitefish clamp onto the toe, it was red. Eh? He jerk it back like this (here he makes a huge fish landing motion with his arms) and that fish just hung on and flops down on the shore behind him. The big (his hands show a solid 2 feet).
Man, I can’t believe he caught one that way.”
I’m not sure I can either. But it is a good story told with bright eyes and lots of gestures.
Of course, this is an oral culture – but more than the words, it is the setting and the storyteller that make the story.
Day 91 – 38 miles
Sunny with some headwind – Cool
We’re camped at a spot on the Slave just south of Ring Lake.
This was a great day. Both the toughest and the best parts at the end. We had a hard time finding a spot to camp. Everything was low and swampy or high and wooded. We ended up pulling over on a low mud bank, made a small fire and pitched out tent on the dry, cracked mud a bit farther up fro the river.
The truth is that we’ve become much less picky about camping as long as it is dry and perhaps flat, we’re content, although we’ve often made ourselves quite comfortable without either of these requirements fulfilled. We’re accustomed to this life. Happier in our tent than in a cabin. Happier on the rive than just about anywhere.
Today autumn is a very present. The smell and temperature and color all unmistakably fall. There is some low leafy plant that grows just at the top of the bank all around the river. Right now it’s a deep burgundy red and it marks a perfect line of beautiful color, separating the brown of the river from the green, yellow and orange of trees. A blue sky like today makes it downright vibrant.
There was a time when we craved food from back home. We spent entire days discussing restaurants, planning fantastic meals. Now, we’ve suddenly realized that it has been forever since we thought like that. We crave nothing because there is nothing to want for. We’ve got each other and Scout and enough food and equipment to see us through and autumn and the kindest of people to visit with now and then and this big northern river and northern lights and driftwood for fire and the crispness of this air and warm thought of friends and family back home and this is everything.
Tonight cane with an added bonus being on this proverbial lake. After dark sitting around our fire warming our feet and waiting for the northern lights to flash up the sky – an owl started flying soundless and low over our campsite and the brush beyond. I guess they are silent because of some adaptation of downy feathers that muffle any rush of air past wings.
For a long long time it glided over the area and over us – our tent and our fire.
It felt no alarm at being there, or at least showed none. It’s like we’ve become a part of this landscape and a part of this place.
September 14, Day 92
Mission Island, Great Slave Lake
The last thing we did the other night before bed was to finish reading Olive Fredrickson's "Silence of the North", by the fire, the northern lights dancing overhead. Fittingly, she writes,
"Most of all, I like to recall the stillness of the north, and revel in the recollection. The windless nights of winter, cold and clear,
when the white radiance of the moon was beauty to take your breath away. The days when the sun shone blindingly bright in a
cloudless sky, or when snow drifted to earth as silently as floating thistledown.
There is a quiet over the northern wilderness at these times, a silence so complete it can be felt, a peace that bids the spirit
soar. I hope I never forget an hour of the times when I have known that stillness to lay its spell on the land."
We have had so many of these moments coming down the Slave. It has been a perfect week of beautiful scenery, friendly people and ideal paddling. Mark noted that it's hard to beat the Fall in the north, and I agree. There's something about this place that makes you want to pull over, build a cabin and winter over. I guess that will be an adventure for another year. Anyway, we just can't get over how utterly pleasant it is here, and today was another perfect example. Last night we camped in an animal highway, it seemed. Big fresh prints were all over, as were wolf prints and dainty bird prints. Fortunately, we didn't hear any of them in the night. We awoke to a clear sky and even a bit of a tailwind.
We dredged our canoe out after it was loaded, carefully stepping on boards of driftwood we'd laid in the mud. Two things we have found on the Slave: plenty of firewood, plenty of mud. That's the only trick to finding a campsite here --avoiding the deep, sticky mud. The Slave is quite silty, and if we want clear water, we have to let it sit before we drink it. Since we're not picky enough to let our water settle, we have gotten used to the cloudy water. We hope the nutrient-rich silt is good for us.
Scout, for some unknown reason, always finds the oldest, dankest, nastiest-looking pool of sitting water, and laps it up. I used to try to stop her, and urge her to further pools, but she'd have none of it. As Mark says, usually when I'm trying to anthropomorphize Scout too much, "Good thing she's a dog!"
Anyway, today was just great. The leaves are getting prettier by the kilometer --breathtaking, as I'm sure they will be soon in Minnesota. We had a bit of a tailwind, and even tried sailing our tent ground tarp. Fun and funny. We met more and more friendly people:
Travis, Robert, and his grandson, Destry, out moose-hunting. We talked for a long time about boat motors, and Robert marked on out map the shortcut out to Great Slave Lake.
An Irish teacher from the school and the Recreation Director - she'll be running programs for the kids of Fort Resolution. We net them near their newly-purchased cabin. She's originally from Fiji, but loves the Canadian bush.
Angus and his wife, also out hunting. His great-great grandfather came to Fort Resolution with the mission.
Rocky, on his way back to the camp, telling us that we could get a ride to town at the boat landing if we wanted to.
As it turned out, we passed the landing and opted to paddle down the Nagh Channel to Great Slave Lake. The sky was too blue, the light too pretty, to stop and get a ride --even though the store probably won't be open tomorrow. We made a good choice. The narrow channel was welcome after the 1/2-1 mile-wide Slave River. Here we could watch the shore, scare up ducks, and let Scout jump out of the canoe and swim along the side at will. As we entered the delta, the brush on the banks got lower, the trees disappeared, and we got excited! Great Slave Lake is such a magical name for us -- a symbol of REALLY being in the north, almost our 2000-mile marker, and so remote! When Mark and I drove to Yellowknife a couple of years ago, we took the ferry across the Mackenzie and looked out towards Great Slave Lake. I remember Mark saying, "If we do the big trip, we'll paddle right down here!" At the time, I looked out and imagined us, toughened and weather-worn, paddling our canoe down the Mackenzie as if we were born in it. I hope we're the people I imagined us to be!
We're not to that spot yet, but we're on the lake. The lake was like a giant mirror as we glided onto it, the last sun of the day shining on the fall colors of marsh grasses, aspen and birch. To add to the wonders, 20 trumpeter swans were gathered there as well, perhaps flocking up for the migration South.
We paddled until dark tonight, ending up on Mission Point, about a mile or two from Fort Resolution. We were tired and ate our meal quickly, by the warmth of our beach fire. It was overcast tonight for the first time in a week, so it's not nearly as cold, and the dew did not fall as heavily as it has on the cold, clear nights.
It's been a magical day for us, as have so many lately. We look forward to waking up here. I'll sleep well, hopefully, if Scout cooperates. She's gotten a thick coat, and on these warm nights, now won't sleep in a ball. Instead, she spreads out, all legs pushed up against me, back to the tent wall, forcing me onto Mark's side of the tent. I have a feeling she and I will be duking it out tonight.
September 15, 2002 Day 93
Hay River Great Slave Lake
Surprise greeted us this morning. We’d camped in the near dark last night, totally unaware that behind is was a tangle of roads, paths and clearings. It’s the leftovers of the old Catholic mission. A huge new cross overlooks the lake and land and everything. It was just put up to mark the 150th anniversary of the mission here. Next to it, one of the original mission, buildings, run down but intact. A connection to the past. Rough hewn squared logs fitted together tightly with dovetail ends. The old chink still here and there. The hint of stairs and a stove.
The 4 miles to Ft. Resolution brought us to an even 2000 miles (3300 kilometers). Great Slave did not disappoint. A stiff side wind followed us in.
I remember very vividly the time I first saw this lake. 18 years old I flew with my Widji Voyageur group in a red Twin Otter, the 6 of us sat down one side, our canoes, filled with packs and stacked atop each other, sat where the other row of seats might have been.
En route to the Hanbury and Thelon Rivers, we flew from Yellowknife. Over the east arm of Great Slave and on to Artillery Lake.
Great Slave is shaped like a bird in flight, with the neck and head making up the East Arm. It was a puzzle of gigantic flats of ice, perhaps miles across, sparkling blue water and spines of steep islands.
I wondered then what it would be like to paddle on such a body of water (this lake is something close to 400 kilometers from beak to tail). Was it possible? When did the ice go out and come in?
I’ve paddled thousands of miles since then on lakes and rovers, both big and small. But I’ve always hung on to the dream of pushing out across Great Slave.
We’ll put today in the dream fulfillment category.
We’re starting to understand how things work up here. In Ft. Resolution we set to hitch a ride to Hay River in order to make up for the days of sickness on the Athabasca. We talked to a few people coming out of church, then to the folks at the only gas station in town and then to the youth worker we met yesterday who knew a lady who worked at the water treatment plant who had this number of a little house by the old church where they have the Pentecostal service and she is pretty sure that someone from Hay River has come over to run it.
A bit over 2 hours later we are off. Jim and his wife, Cindy, are leading the very small Assembly of God service here on Sundays until the post can be filled by a full-time person.
Our ride was filled with interesting conversation. Jim and his wife have political views that stand starkly in contrast to nearly every other Canadian we’ve met. Jim used Biblical passages to back up opinions ranging from the UN and their role in the US-Iraq issue to why he feels the Kyoto Treaty is a bad thing.
We enjoyed the exchange and were grateful for the time they took out of their day to help us out.
Cindy used to live in Norman Wells and gave us many good Mackenzie Rover travel tips which will undoubtedly come in handy.
So…we’re camped on the beach at the mouth of the Hay River on the shores of mighty Great Slave. It is quiet and calm and we have much more of this big lake to see.
We can’t wait.
As a bit of a side note – we had the opportunity to stay at a B&B tonight but it didn’t pan out and in some way Norah and I were pleased. We like our tent and the night air and the lake sounds. In many ways the driving forces behind this expedition have evolved as well. What started out as a go-as-hard-as-you-can-as-long-as-you-can expedition has mellowed some. Of course we are still gathering curriculum data for our schools and raising money for Widjiwagan and learning lots of new things, but in the moment to moment we feel amazingly lucky to be in a place of beauty and to be able to spend so much time together.
Before we left, countless people asked us if we worried about spending so much time together. In fact, the opposite was, and now is even more, true. What we fret about is not being able to spend this much time together when we return to our lives in the city.
Now, however, we are meeting people, learning some things about Northern culture and loving the time we have.
In fact, we still probably go as hard as we can most all of the time. But the focus of our thoughts and priorities has shifted, making the entire expedition even more enjoyable. It is as though we are accomplishing everything we set out to accomplish and many other things we’d never considered.
Tonight I feel like a true northern Canadian! I'm sitting in a 10x12 cabin in the middle of the wilderness, writing by candlelight, warming myself by the homemade wood stove in the corner. The only pieces of furniture here are a bed, one cupboard, a table and two stools, the stove, and a shelf. All of it is made from 2x4's or scrap wood. The roof is only half wood --the rest is clear plastic, which lets light in quite effectively, as the cabin has no windows. It is a simple cabin, not fancy in any way, but it meets the simple needs of the wilderness traveler.
Strangely enough, this is just a random cabin that we stayed in. People along the way have been surprised that we haven't stayed in cabins, and Clayton and Ramsey from Fort Smith assured us that it is perfectly acceptable to sleep in any open cabin.
I was surprised that the tradition lived on. Devouring northern stories as a kid, I always read about this phenomenon of northern hospitality: trappers and miners would leave their cabins unlocked, stocked with firewood and food for the chance traveler. Visitors would leave any news they knew of, and could count on someone staying in THEIR cabins while they were staying in someone else's.
It does live on. Clayton and Ramsey had been surprised to find the cabin they were going to use locked. He said that when he lived in the bush, he always left his cabin open. Perhaps it is the remoteness, or the harsh weather that causes such blind generosity. It fits right in with the spirit of community we've encountered before.
Since we left Fort Smith, Mark and I have looked at cabins more carefully, eyeing one up to stay in. Some are locked, some are tumbledown, and sadly, a few are pretty trashed. One trapper told us he'd hauled a trailerful of garbage out of his, from the winter visitors. But many are open. We always feel a bit odd when we think of staying --as if one of us has to be injured, or a wicked storm is coming on, to justify borrowing someone's cabin. And what if they arrive while we're there?
Tonight, however, it worked out well. It was about a half-hour before sunset, raining, and we had no end of swamp in sight. The cabin was in a duck's - or duck-hunter's - dreamland, with the marsh grasses in autumn's splendor. After a bit of debate, we decided to go for it, and not to worry about what would happen if the owners arrived at that minute.
We carried some things in, and sat around awkwardly for a bit, trying to change our routine. Even with the inclement weather, we are so used to being in our tent and outside, it took awhile to warm up to the cabin. We thought of sleeping outside, but there was no tent site. We built a fire in the wood stove and got into dry clothes. This was going to be cozy!
Actually, it got too cozy--our fire was a bit overenthusiastic, and suddenly the cabin was a sauna. We had just cooked some Vigo and beans, but it and we were too hot to eat. We actually had to go outside!
Once we cooled the place down, we sat at the table (a huge luxury) and wrote. As this is a plywood cabin of simple design, bugs were creeping in, and we found ourselves slapping bugs while we wrote (it was still too hot to wear long sleeves). So we decided to put our tent up in the cabin to sleep in, afraid the mosquitoes would keep us up.
Of course, this didn't work, and we actually broke a pole in the process. Next idea: our bug tent. Careful not to pike a hole in the plastic ceiling, we put it up and onto the bed. Ridiculous, but functional. Our fear of them coming home now tripled, since we would feel very un-tough, sleeping in a cabin in a bug tent.
It's late, and our stuff is everywhere. Is the cabin worth it? Hard to say. We do feel as if we've participated in some rite-of-passage of northern culture, even if we don't get much sleep. I think we prefer to sleep out, where we can see the northern lights and cozy up with the dog in our tent.
To make up for Mark's and my failure to adapt successfully to staying in the cabin of strangers, Scout has acted the part of Trapper's Dog perfectly: she headed straight for the old, holey blanket under the bed and curled right up.
Even if the bug tent is up behind me, I can still feel some kind of magic in pretending just for a moment, that this is our cabin in the woods 100 years ago, or even today, just living the Northern Good Life. And that's enough.
September 17, 2002 Day 95
Beaver Lake – Mackenzie River
When we sketched out our itinerary we had a vision of what certain days would be like. Today, with the start of the Mackenzie, held a place of its’ own in our imaginations. We figured that his day would live on in our memories as the day that Great Slave started to pour itself out into the ocean. The start of a thousand mile water slide. The beginning of the end. An almost mythical far-off place.
I suppose that one reason we love to travel is that things surprise. Play out differently than planned. In fact today will not be remembered as the first on the Mackenzie but rather will live on as the day Scout tangled with the porcupine.
It has become the custom for Scout to jump off of the canoe from time to time, swim to shore, tin along the beach, swim back out. It keeps her from growing restless. Keeps her in shape. Keeps her happy.
This was a particularly long swim as Scout is becoming a bolder and better swimmer. She dog paddled over to a small island surrounded by marsh grass and a rocky shoal.
Norah and I paddled around the island to the far side. Scout ran in and out of grass and marsh and brush and small trees. She’s check back with us a few times a minute. She does not like to feel left behind. She’s all smiles. Wags. Sprints.
For awhile she was back in the undergrowth and when we called her she came more slowly than usual, first though the grass and then she set into the water. She swam well enough out to us but you could tell right away something was amiss. Her mouth distorted. Her eyes stressed.
Samuel, a trapper we met later, surmised that, given the size and placement of the quills, she’d tried to bite the porcupine’s head and it had come back with it’s tail and caught her full in the leg.
Right there next to Porcupine Island, just a short paddle after the first hints of river current, Norah and I set up to play vets.
We were already in shallow water. Norah and I stood calf deep. Scout on the canoe turned operating table. Norah wielding the camera; me the pliers.
The 50 or so quills in Scout’s left front leg were fairly easy to pull out because they were pretty long quills and readily accessible save for the fact that she kept trying to use her paw to extract the smaller quills embedded in her gums and the roof of her mouth.
These were more of a pliers challenge. The quills were so numerous and so short and so close to her teeth that I’d aim for one, Scout would jerk around and I’d get a tooth instead.
Little Scout was obviously in pain. Dozens of needles jabbing into the tissue in front of and directly behind your teeth – in this most sensitive of areas - has to be awful.
It is tough to reason with a dog. She wanted the quills out of her mouth, but wanted the pliers out of there as well. I’d hold her jaw and take aim at a quill only to have her clamp her mouth shut, causing the quills to get more deeply imbedded and her to thrash around more wildly. Norah tried to hold her still but Scout is a strong, and strong-willed, dog.
The breakthrough came when we realized we could prop her mouth open, then push a ball into her back teeth so that she couldn’t clamp down. Norah held the canoe and dog in place. I held her lower jaw and the ball and with more tries than I’d care to recall, we extracted the last of the needles.
As Norah and I paddled the s-called operating table away, we were drained. The incident had zapped us of energy. Scout, ever resilient, was back to normal in minutes and not long later, as we neared another island, she was poised on the gunnels, ready for another go at it.
A couple of hours later she seemed to ponder the whole incident. We stopped by a temporary camp that Samuel and Margaret had set up. Scout spent the time lying in the grass next to the canoe, quiet. Subdued. Recovering, I guess.
Our time with Samuel and Margaret was typical of bush interactions. We first met them up river as we dropped down a little chute of fast water. Coming around the corner, we saw them loading driftwood into their fiberglass boar. “We got a camp down there. Just on that island. We got hot coffee on the fire if you want some.”
Samuel runs the trap line on Big Island. Has done it for 40 years. Lynx, beaver, muskrat. Lots more. He told me of dog teams and ski-do accidents while straightening up his boat and knotting together little bits of rope. The hood for the 25 horse power outboard cracked sometime and he replaced it with one of the same size from an old 18 horse. These are the things we discuss.
Norah and Margaret are up by the fire. “What do you eat?” Margaret wants to know. Apparently she is not as pleased with a lunch of nuts and dehydrated fruit from Whole Foods as we’ve been. “You need a hot meal now and then”.
She and Samuel cook up a whitefish for us. Whole on the grill. We eat it off a sheet of newspaper with salt, sipping coffee out of the only two cups they have in camp. This is northern hospitality. We’re most appreciative.
Later, after we roust Scout and push off down river, down Beaver Lake, we are even more appreciative. Marsh and swamp comes way out from the south shore. We can’t go across because of the wind and end up crashing a site in the swamp. Our ax comes in handy. There is just enough time to get it up before dark.
No dinner for us, but that whitefish snack keeps us full enough.
We fall asleep quickly, as always. Scout is already conked out, half “dream barking” in her sleep.
I guess we’ll never know.
Day 95 Beaver Lake
I guess we were due for a good challenge--and Beaver Lake gave it to us today. An unrelenting wind - I'm not sure how strong - blew into us all day long, slowing our progress to a mere 2 miles per hour. We made a meager 20 miles in 10 hours!
Beaver Lake marks the mouth of the Mackenzie River. It's a big lake, with little or no current, especially where we were --hiding on the south shore. The wind was blowing from the Southwest, so we stayed as close to shore as we could, but a swampy area stretched for 500 yards out from shore, negating the protection we sought.
And the weather is beginning to remind us that it's September. Yesterday a woman we met commented on how pleasant it's been, and how September is usually cold, rainy and windy. I shuddered at the time, looking thankfully at the blue sky over head. Today her prediction came true; we awoke to clouds and rain, and it continued. I'll bet the temperature didn't get above 45 degrees, and the rain misted us continuously.
I wouldn't say it was one of our favorite days. We can't really talk in the howling wind, and paddling is so hard. Making so little headway is disheartening after awhile. To make matters more difficult, if we stop, we get really cold, so our breaks are either very short, or total get-out-of-the-canoe breaks. After 6 hours on the water, we finally decided to make a serious stop and cook some hot food. We found a protected spot of swampy grass, grabbed our stove and cooked soup, cocoa, and coffee. It restored our bodies, but more importantly, put us into a better mood. The sun even peeked out through the clouds for a moment.
The rest of the day wasn't so bad. It was getting late, so the wind had eased up a bit, and we were actually able to talk. We pulled over about one-half hour before sunset, to camp.
My red rain bibs have pretty much become my uniform, along with 2 pair of socks, long underwear bottoms, 3 shirts and my raincoat. We've also started wearing our life jackets all the time, since the water is colder and fast-moving. We'll take other safety precautions too, now that the weather is colder and the consequences of swamping more serious. We'll keep matches and birch bark in our pockets, and keep lots of warm clothes easily accessible.
Big fires in our campsites are our key to evening comfort now. Not only do they provide warmth, but light as well on these early nights. Mark has become very adept at making coffee cakes and cornbread in the wok, over these big fires. Scout is scared of the fire, and will curl up in the grass a ways off, or get serious about hunting mice and other things living in the tall weeds.
We're really tired tonight --sore muscles in our arms and backs, and I know we'll sleep well. Scout is already curled up in my sleeping bag, but not for long. Usually she sleeps next to me, under my sleeping bag with me, on my Crazy Creek chair.
I think all 3 of us will be snoring tonight!
September 19, 2002– Day 97
2196 miles so far
Rain and wind lulled us to sleep longer than we expected.
Oatmeal for breakfast. Some of our food, too long packaged, too close to others, has taken on new flavor. This oatmeal was like that. “What was the flavor?” Vague enough to elude name, but pervasive enough to be very overpowering.
Scout got some of it.
It was misty as we got ready. Wash dishes, take down tent, load canoe, string the cover, push off. As soon as we hit the water, wind kicked up. Fog and mist thickened and the rain started. It is something like 40 degrees F with a 20-40 click wind blowing out of the NW. This is the coldest weather we’ve paddled in. The wet makes it colder.
We’ve got these amazing Kokatat XCR paddling jackets that totally seal out water, keep our core dry. Still we wished we’d dressed warmer. Layered more.
Barge traffic brings everything to these northern communities while the river flows. Houses, pop, potato chips, cars. They all come by barge. These are massive moving cities. We saw one as we neared the end of Beaver Lake. Glad it was ahead of us. We would not want to play chicken with this beast.
Of all of the 3000+ miles we’ll travel this summer and fall, the 9only place Norah and I have been to previously is this one spot where the ferry crosses the Mackenzie River at the end of Beaver. We rode the ferry across on our way to Yellowknife a few years back.
We’d gotten there after the ferry had shut down for the night and had to spend a rather memorable night fending off billions of black flies. Scout burst through our tent door at one point during the night on that trip, black flies poured in by the thousands, and we thought, “We will never take this dog camping again.”
Much has changed since then. Scout is a fantastic camping dog. Loves the tent. And there are no black flies today. Only cold. Hand numbing cold. As long as we paddle we can almost stay warm. But the shortest break brings chill.
We’ve been told of these ‘rapids’ where the river narrows in front of Ft. Providence. Miles of fast water. Some have cautioned about it. Some have dismissed it. In the rain and heavy mist it is impossible to see down river. We take it slow down the right shore. This is no day for a swim.
The section proves benign. Quick but harmless.
As we approach Ft. Providence, we spy a building high on the bank sporting “motel” on its’ side.
Today is our anniversary. We’re very happy for the chance to be out of the pain.
It is the wind and cold that now seem our biggest challenge.
We’ll take the time to pull out. Warmer clothes. Tomorrow we’ll be ready.
September 20, 2002
Mackenzie River between Fort Providence and Mills Lake
The small-town experience: Mark and I have been living it lately, and loving it. We've lived in small communities before -- an Alaskan village of 400, and Ely, Minnesota. We've had wonderful times in both places, and these Canadian bush villages and towns are reminiscent of them.
For one thing, there are not very many choices. We arrived in Fort Providence yesterday, and stayed in the only motel in town, very clean and comfortable, I might add. We didn't have to decide whether to do laundry, because there were no laundry facilities in town. When deciding where to eat our Anniversary dinner, we had only one choice: the Snowshoe Inn Cafe, where I had already enjoyed a fine grilled ham and cheese sandwich earlier in the day. When we got there for dinner, however, our choices were further limited, because the grill was closed, and we could only order off the fryer. So fries and gravy with a milkshake it was, to celebrate our anniversary.
And that really is one of the greatest things about this trip -- Mark and I spend so much time together every day that an Anniversary Dinner not being the pork chops we'd hoped for is no big deal. We have dinner together every night. This trip is sort of like one big Anniversary Dinner.
When we lived in Ely, our families from the city would always say how simple our life was. We didn't have running water, and Ely in winter offers very different options than the city. We spent the time cooking, playing cards, reading, listening to music, and doing the wonderful Minnesota outdoor things only a place like Ely can offer. At the time, we didn't think the life was simple at all. Moving to the Cities made us realize it really had been simple. Our city life is fun -- filled with work, friends and families, but this trip has really made us pare down and just enjoy the things we have, and each other. (And, of course, Scout.)
When we meet people at their camps, we envy the relative simplicity of their lives: hunting, fishing, enjoying the beauty of the place. Native people here used to live out of town, in small rural communities. Margaret, who fed us whitefish a few days ago, told us that she grew up in a log cabin on the the Red Knife River. She made it sound beautiful. At age 5, however, her family was forced to send her to boarding school at the Mission in Fort Providence. She said she was one of the lucky ones who went home in the summer. Because of these required boarding schools, many families left their traditional homes for the towns, to be close to school and their children. To these folks, moving to "the city" of Fort Providence must have been a big change. Margaret spoke with little nostalgia of her days at the boarding school, and with disgust with the way her people were forced to move. She told us where to look for the house she was born in. We'll keep our eyes open.
We left the comfort of the town today for the wild beauty of the Mackenzie. It seems like the weather has turned to autumn and that there is no going back. The wind was shaking the leaves off their branches, and kicking up big standing waves on the river. We struggled through these, staying close to shore. We're already dressed like little kids out for recess -- I had on 4 shirts today, and I broke out my balaclava.
We finally stopped when the waves got too choppy. We are coming up on a big lake, which has allegedly trapped even motor boaters with its treacherous waves. With today's wind, we won't be crossing that yet. We found a used site with a fire pit, and some trash, but we opted to make our own in a spot with bushes to block some wind. We had some cereal with real milk (a huge treat) as a snack, and set up camp. We pulled out down jackets, mittens and boots tonight in camp. Fall is upon us.
We had fun in Fort Providence, but as simple a town as it is, we are happy to get back to our life on the water, away from people and noise, except for the waves, which will lull us to sleep tonight.
I said to Mark, in town, "When we get home, every night will be like being in a hotel - electricity, TV, running water, a toilet..." I think it will take some time even to get used to those things. We're happy now without them.
9/23 DAY 101 Mackenzie River - past Spence River
2320 Miles so far
Relentless wind --this is the story of the day. We'd camped last night where the river was fat and slow. Our first 6 miles across that section into a fiercer headwind were simply a warm up for the rest of the day. Eventually the river narrowed down and sped up, but the brutal wind slowed our progress to a cold crawl.
We stopped a couple of times, as much a chance to talk as rest. On the water, our words were brief, cold and far between. The noise of the wind made speaking nearly impossible. Our few interchanges were like this:
"YOUR FEET WARM?" "YES!"
or: "DO YOU NEED A BREAK?" "MAYBE. YOU?"
or: "YOU COLD?" "YES, YOU?" "YAH!"
or: "WHAT IS THAT ON SHORE?" "I DON'T KNOW!"
or: "YOU HUNGRY?" "YES."
Beyond these shouted words, little was said.
Breaks were good for rest, but we quickly grew cold. We are dressed in 2 pairs of wool socks, Chota Boots, expo weight long underwear, expedition quality West Marine rain bibs, 2-4 long underwear tops, a vest, paddling gloves, Kokotat XLR paddling jacket, and Kokotat life vest. All of these layers keep us warm enough while paddling, at least most of the time, but if we stop moving, we get very cold very fast.
The sky was clear today, and the fall colors were at their peak. We stopped at one spot where boulders have been worn flat by ice, and watched leaves by the hundreds fall off trees --beautiful! We saw no one today. This section of our expedition feels remote, wild and picturesque, but not exactly what we'd imagined. We thought the river would whisk us along, but in fact our speed hovers around 5 miles per hour, or a spell faster, thanks to the crazy headwind.
After the sunset, when the wind slacked off a touch, the current and our position in the channel along with the great speed at which we were paddling, all came together. We hit the paddling speed of light - 10 miles per hour. We stayed there for only a moment, but it was a taste of what we had expected from this big river. The wind wears us down and slows us down in many different ways. First of all, it is COLD, the kind of cold that if you pull off your stocking cap, you get a headache, like the kind of rush you get from eating ice cream too fast. We can't talk, so the days seem longer, and decisions are harder to make, which adds weariness to bodies that have been mostly sandblasted by wind. Our noses are constantly red and cold. Then there is also paddling: the wind itself slows that down, and to make matters worse, we are forced to paddle close to the shore, in hopes of avoiding the full brunt of the wind --except, close to shore, the river of course, runs slower, so our speed slows down more.
But this is a river of such beauty, with trees of every fall color, along 50-foot banks --it makes us willing to endure the wind.
When the wind finally did drop off, we thought of heading on. We hoped to paddle under the light of the moon, but it was slow to rise up from behind the East bank. We started looking for a campsite. There was nothing, nothing even remotely campable. Every shore we saw was either sloped rocky banks or cliff-like mud walls. Then all light from the set sun diminished and we saw very little. And we got cold. We didn't realize how cold until we pulled over at a sloped mud flat at the bottom of a high mud bank. The bank showed evidence of erosion --fallen rocks and trees, but from what little we could make out, the shore ahead looked about the same. The deciding factor was that all the water droplets on our spray cover had frozen. We realized it must be even colder than we thought.
We set up our tent on a a mud spit just big enough to sleep on, pulled our canoe up in between the tent and the river, a distance of only 3 or 4 feet, made a hasty dinner and crawled into our sleeping bags. It is cold, even in here, and the slope of ground is causing us to slide toward the river, but soon we will be fast asleep.
September 24 - DAY 102
I can see my breath misting up in the light of my headlamp, as I sit in the tent. Scout is curled up on Mark's sleeping bag, and I'm in mine in my Crazy Creek chair. I'm also wearing 2 hats, big wool socks, heavy long underwear, 2 shirts, a vest and a down jacket. Did I mention that my sleeping bag is warm down to 0-degrees F.? And last night, I was cold!
These last couple of days have been clear and COLD!!! Something seems wrong when the fall colors are in full effect against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky, and there is still ice on shore at 3 in the afternoon. We are just getting a taste of the cold, I fear. We have enough clothes and equipment to deal with it, but it still makes our trip more difficult.
First, we rest little, because we get so cold. Today, we pulled over to put some peanut butter on crackers, and within 10 minutes, we were pulling out, too frozen to continue to stay. We're warm when we're paddling -- I even get hot, and unzip a jacket, or take off a hat. But when we stop the motion and try to rest, the chill sets in quickly. So we pretty much paddle nonstop, taking short breaks if we find a spot out of the wind, but usually in our canoe. Even dumb tasks become more difficult to do. I finally put my hair into braids today, something I've been meaning to do for 3 days. My hair has been all over, especially in my balaclava, but my hands were too cold to braid it, or I didn't want to take off my hat.
Another new dilemma is mornings. The importance of an east-facing campsite is becoming more acute. In the past, we liked the morning light, because it helped us get out of bed. Now we need it to melt the frost off our tent and canoe. We camped after dark last night, and didn't want to cross the 3/4-mile-wide river without light, so our site faced absolutely the wrong way: Northwest. This morning, when we left our site, our canoe and tent were covered in a thick frost, our boots were stuck in odd poses, water bottles were frozen shut, and standing water on the ground was ice. The other side of the river was like a warm paradise, having been bathed in sunlight for a good 2 hours already.
The cold brings a new level of safety awareness as well. We are very careful, all of the time. A swim in this cold water with such a cold wind could be life-threatening. We stay pretty close to shore and are ultra-cautious.
Scout seems oblivious to the cold at times, and affected at others. She still loves to romp and run on shore, although we don't let her swim. She shivers sometimes, and Mark has been attempting to keep her below deck, out of the wind. That involves Mark picking her up, putting her back legs in, holding her tight, and only then getting her front legs in. Scout fights this, but seems okay, once she's in. She whines a lot, hot or cold. The only thing that placates her is if we sing. Unfortunately, after 4 months of not hearing much music, we have a surprisingly small repertoire. There are few songs we know ALL of the words to. We also seem to remember lots of bad songs, or annoying songs that stick in your head. Scout, fortunately, does not have a discerning ear, and she stops whining even if we sing 80's tunes.
I continue to be awed by the beauty here. The river slimmed down to less than a mile across today, and we spent more time in the middle, trying to catch the current. It widened later, where the Liard River comes in at Fort Simpson. We're camped on a beach outside of town now, bundled in a ridiculous amount of clothing.
A guy in town said it would get down to -8 degrees Centigrade tonight. I believe it. As we paddled by the ice on the banks today, we realized just how cold it has been for the last couple of days, the wind just adding to it. It's cold enough that I don't think I've taken off my balaclava for 3 days. Today, as I paddled, the only part of my face not covered were my eyes, behind my sunglasses.
I'm hoping to be warm tonight. Last night I was cold for awhile, and this morning, only after the tent had heated up, could I emerge from my cocoon. I slept for most of last night fully submerged in my bag, head and all. Tonight I'll do some sit ups right before I sleep, to up my body temperature. I'll wear my beaver cap and balaclava, and maybe my down jacket. I think I'll sleep well.
The cold brings new challenges, but we're still loving it here, still living the good life. The harvest moon has been full and bright in the wee hours, illuminating this breathtaking place with a black and white quality. It's hard to find the words to describe this vast and remote wilderness.
I hope you are all cozied up on a crisp fall night, too. We're still keeping our finger crossed for a late winter.
September 25 from Scanlans
A brief message from Norah this morning - they were in Fort Simpson, anxiously awaiting the Post Office to open. Scout's Flame Orange Neoprene Vest should be there! It is getting colder - below freezing (-8 degrees Celcius). However, she reports that they (Mark and Norah, and soon to be Scout) are warm in all their winter gear, and the water is open. Fax update to follow soon.
Email from Kandi Garrison
Mark called with a very brief satellite update last night. They have passed Wrigley and are on their way to the end! The weather is cold and ice is forming on the streams entering the Mackenzie but, so far, no snow! They indicated that they don’t plan any further phone contact now as they are down to one battery for the satellite phone. If you want to follow the weather in the Mackenzie River basin, log on to http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/raw/fp/fpcn11.cwnt..txt or http://weather.unisys.com/forecast.cgi?Name=Inuvik.
Mark and Norah Garrison
Trans-Canada Canoe Expedition
236 Courtland Street
Excelsior, MN 55331