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Whitefish & Lynx Lakes, NWT: 2022

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In 2019, Kathleen and I paddled the Yukon River, from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The following is what I wrote in my journal at the end of that trip.





Kathleen and I had spent 17 days and 7,250 km (4,500 miles) on the road to live only 14 days on the Yukon River. Was it worth it, some might ask. What a silly question, though. I apologize for putting words in your mouth. Kathleen and I are northern river canoeists. Of course it was worth it. Besides, the road trip was an integral part of the adventure, and will certainly provide many lasting memories.


Kathleen and I are now deciding where to go next. As you might remember, we thought it might be nice to go on a guided trip, and let someone else, like Rainer Russmann, of Yukon Wild, with whom we shared a camp on the Yukon River, do all the work.



We looked at Rainer’s webpage, and saw that he offers trips on the Blackstone River, down to the Peel River, above the Aberdeen Canyon. The Blackstone River had always appealed to me, except for the part about having to portage as much as 10 km (six miles) around Aberdeen Canyon. Rainer’s trip though, flies home before the portage. Maybe we should book that trip, we thought.


Rainer lists the trip at $5,500 Canadian per person, for a total cost to me and Kathleen of $11,000 Canadian (about $8,250 U.S.) That’s a lot of money, for less than two weeks of actually being on the river. Of course, that includes float plane flights, some accommodation, all you can eat, and the sheer joy of watching Rainer doing all the work. But still, that’s a lot of money.


But we have to spend a lot of money, and time, no matter what trip we pursue. Our preference is to be in the far north, certainly north of sixty degrees, and preferably north of the Arctic Circle. When we reflect on our wilderness canoe trips, our favourite was the Thelon River, in 1993, when we paddled east for 37 days and 950 km (590 miles) from the outlet of Lynx Lake down to Baker Lake at the head of Chesterfield Inlet on Hudson Bay.


Several rivers are tied for our second favourite trip. But we much enjoyed our adventure in 2001, when we flew back to Lynx Lake, and then paddled west to Whitefish Lake, and then portaged over the height of land to Sandy Lake and the Snowdrift River, which carried us back toward Great Slave Lake.


These two northern trips both featured nearly constant daylight and the spectacular scenery and isolation of the Barren Grounds. This is what we seek. So our plan now is to fly to the western edge of Whitefish Lake, and then paddle back toward the eastern edge of Lynx Lake. We might not even make it that far. We might just find a few spots that we like, and set up base camps. We are getting older. We no longer feel the need to break camp every day just to cover more distance. How much will it cost? Kathleen says it doesn’t make any difference. It’s what we want to do.


For your enjoyment—or at least for our enjoyment—I have provided four images of our Thelon and Snowdrift River trips. We hope to return next summer (2020)


Thelon019 resized.jpg

Outlet of Lynx Lake, to the Thelon River, 1993


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Thelon River below confluence with the Elk River, 1993
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Looking toward Whitefish Lake, 2001

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Whitefish Lake camp, 2001

So, in January of 2020, I put down a non-refundable deposit with Ahmic Air in Yellowknife to fly Kathleen and me to the northwest corner of Whitefish Lake—please see diagram on title page. Unfortunately for us, and the world at large, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out soon after, and the Northwest Territories closed its borders, which remained closed, even for the following year in 2021.

Finally, though, in 2022, the Northwest Territories re-opened its borders to tourists, so I contacted Stephen, at Ahmic Air to resurrect our reservation. I also emailed him our 14-day proposed itinerary.


Kathleen and I are getting older. I’m 74, and she is 70. Our legs are starting to go, and the canoe felt a lot heavier, when I got it out of the shed. We planned this to be a leisurely, slow-paced, northern canoe trip, as it will likely be our last time out onto the Barren Grounds. Only 138 km (86 miles) over 14 days. Just an average of 10 km (six miles) per day. Easy peasy. As an added bit of comfort, we also pre-booked two nights at the Lynx Tundra Lodge, a smidge over half way through the trip. It would be an enjoyable break. Have a shower. Sleep on a bed. Maybe someone would even offer to make coffee for us. Maybe the coffee would be available on a non-stop basis. We had never seen the lodge on our previous trip up Lynx Lake, so I entered its coordinates into my GPS:


Lynx Tundra Lodge 620 27.35’ N, 1060 degrees 18.014’ W.

google map.jpeg

Just for fun, I created this Google Earth map for five of our intended destinations. We planned to begin this trip close to the former camp of the late ‘Tundra’ Tom Faess. We had visited Tom’s camp on our 2001 trip to the Snowdrift River, and tremendously enjoyed his generosity of a free shower and cups of coffee. We were curious what, if anything remained of his camp since his passing away from cancer on April 1, 2018.

After being dropped off by the float plane, and briefly reminiscing about the over-the height-of-land portion of our journey to the Snowdrift River in 2001, we then intended to paddle to Gordon’s Esker. In 2001, Kathleen and I had been windbound for two days on a small beach directly opposite a scenic esker. When we finally reached Tom’s camp after the wind died, I asked the assembled guests, “So, two days ago, Kathleen and I had been camped across from an esker about six km (four miles) from here. We saw a boat with a motor leave the esker and head west. Was it your boat?”

“Yes it was,” replied a lady. “We were visiting Gordon’s esker. Lots of artifacts there.”

“I didn’t know that. Why is it called Gordon’s esker?”

“It was named for Bryan Gordon,” Tom said. “Gordon did a lot of archeological work there. About 10,000 Dene artifacts have been found on that esker.”

Tom further explained that the Whitefish Lake corridor was important for hunting, as the caribou always crossed Whitefish Lake at Gordon's Esker because the water is only 4 ft. (1.3 m) deep.

“The caribou were easy to hunt in the shallow water.”

“Interesting. Too bad Kathleen and I didn’t know that. Would have been great to camp on that esker.”

Well, Kathleen and I had another chance to camp on Gordon’s Esker. We’d be there on July fifth.

On July 10, as you can see from our itinerary, we intended to camp at Lynx Creek Esker, the same spot where we had accidentally camped in 2001. I think I hear you asking, “Accidentally? How can you camp at a spot accidentally? Didn’t you camp there on purpose?”


lynx lake 250 topo.jpg
Lynx Lake 1:250,000 Topographic Map

Well, yes and no. Let me explain. Until this current trip, I always navigated with compass and map. Although our kids gave us a GPS for Christmas in 2000, I didn’t take it on our 2001 canoe trip. I prefer map and compass. A map always works. A compass always works. Neither needs batteries nor clear, unobstructed sky. Unless I am paddling through a of complex landscape, I use 1:250,000 topographic maps, like the one pictured above. The lower arrow, near
the end of Lynx Lake, points to a small gap that leads to LaRoque Bay, and eventually Whitefish Lake. The upper arrow points to a narrow channel between LaRoque Bay and Lynx Lake.

When Kathleen and I approached the small gap in 2001, we paddled right on by, against the south shore, and didn’t notice or recognize the small gap. About ten minutes later, however, we certainly noticed the prominent esker on the north shore, which was west of the small gap that we were looking for. “I think maybe we’ve gone to far, Kathleen.”

“Let’s just go a bit more, just to make sure.”

“Sounds good.”

So that’s what we did. We paddled a bit more, and accidentally stumbled across one the best camping sites we’ve ever enjoyed on a wilderness canoe trip. A wide, long sandy beach. Great camping spots above the beach. And, compared to most of our Barren Grounds trips, a reasonable amount of firewood. “Let’s camp here Michael. We can hike back tomorrow to confirm that the small gap to LaRoque Bay and Whitefish Lake is actually where we think it is.”


The next morning, we confirmed that we had paddled right on by the narrow gap. But our great campsite took us only a little bit out of our way. We intend to camp at the Lynx Creek Esker again on this trip. In fact, we’ve even scheduled a rest day there. Looking forward to revisiting one of the best camping sites we’ve ever enjoyed on a wilderness canoe trip.


The final yellow pin indicated on the Google Earth map is where Ahmic Air will pick us up, at the outlet to the Thelon River. I entered the coordinates given to us by Stephen into my GPS:


Outlet to Thelon River 62°21’ N, 1060 00’ W. This is the same spot that Kathleen and I flew to in 1993 when we paddled all alone down the Thelon River to Baker Lake. It will be fun to reminisce on site.


To make sure that Ahmic Air knows where we are on the scheduled pickup day, we will be renting a satellite phone from CasCom/Northern Communication in Yellowknife. Things can always go wrong on isolated, northern canoe trips. We must have communication.




Whitefish & Lynx Lake Itinerary For Kathleen & Michael Pitt (2022)

Day Date Activity Daily km

Tuesday July 5 Fly to Whitefish/Paddle to Gordon’s Esker 8
Wednesday July 6 Exploring Gordon’s Esker 0
Thursday July 7 North Side of East-extending Promontory 20
Friday July 8 Resting on East-extending Promontory 0
Saturday July 9 North End of LaRoque Bay 20
Sunday July 10 Esker at Lynx Creek 20
Monday July 11 Exploring Esker at Lynx Creek 0
Tuesday July 12 Entrance to Channel in West Arm of Lynx Lake 20
Wednesday July 13 Lynx Tundra Lodge 15
Thursday July 14 Lynx Tundra Lodge 0
Friday July 15 Northwest Entrance to Island-studded Channel 15
Saturday July 16 Resting in Entrance to Island-studded Channel 0
Sunday July 17 Outlet to Thelon River 20
Monday July 18 Revisiting Outlet to Thelon River 0
Tuesday July 19 Insurance Against Being Windbound 0
or Fly to Yellowknife
Wednesday July 20 Visiting Yellowknife
 
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I for one will be eagerly awaiting one of your wonderful trip reports.
Thanks, Boreal. I’ll do my best. As you know, my trip reports are pretty long, so I break up my postings here into more “bite-sized“ entries. I think that’s more palatable than one large dump. Easier for me, too. This also allows more interaction between me and my fellow paddlers on canoe tripping. It’s the only place where I have such interactions any more.

I also think that canoe trips include (1) planning the trip, (2) getting ready to go, (3) the road trip to the float plane dock, (4) the trip itself, and (5) getting home again. I have completed part 1. Part 2 is next.

I have to apologize for the itinerary that I posted above. In my pages document, it was perfect. But the tab formatting didn’t transfer nicely to here. Good enough, though, to get the general idea, I think.
 
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The end of canoe season, ice is on the lakes, but the beginning of the "Paddlin Pitt Extravaganza Best Trip Report Morning Coffee Hour Tour"!
Thanks for the hope provided by your excellent reports on this dark and dreary morning!
 
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The end of canoe season, ice is on the lakes, but the beginning of the "Paddlin Pitt Extravaganza Best Trip Report Morning Coffee Hour Tour"!
Thanks for the hope provided by your excellent reports on this dark and dreary morning!
Thanks mem. What time do you have coffee? I have had my breakfast, made the dog his morning scrambled egg, have returned from his morning walk, and have given the birds more seeds. Am now having morning tea with Kathleen, and then will be heading upstairs to post the next entry.
 
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Getting Ready For Northern Canoe Trips Is Always So Hectic

On May 17, 2022, I went to get our 1990 Ford Econoline van from the shed where it spends its winter. It doesn’t do well with snow and ice. Kathleen and I bought this van brand new to support our canoeing addiction. All the gear easily fits, and we sleep in the back, in campgrounds, when driving to and from our canoeing destinations. I slid back the shed door, climbed into the driver’s seat, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine immediately turned over on the first try. Started right up, even though we hadn’t used the van since last September.

I turned my head around to back out, shifted into reverse, and stepped on the gas pedal. The van barely budged, and struggled to leave the shed. What the heck is happening? When we moved to Saskatchewan, with its long, cold winters, the van’s transmission oil usually drained out over the winter. I have learned that this mechanical ailment is fairly common in older vehicles. You just add transmission fluid in the spring, and off you go. Not worry free; but, off you go.

I had grown weary of this annual inconvenience, called up a local farmer, who also billed himself as an auto mechanic. People I knew said that he did good work. So I called him up in the fall. “Other people have tried to fix this problem, without success. Do you think you can fix it?”

“Sure, but I only work on vehicles in the winter. I’m too busy farming in the summer.”

“That’s OK. I don’t use the van in the winter. Can I bring it to you now, and you can work on it when it’s convenient?”

“Yep.”

So I drove it over in September 2020 and hoped for the best, which I fully expected. I received a bill in December 2020 for $1,434.21, which I paid immediately, and quite happily. “Can I just leave the van with you until spring? I won’t need it until then.”

“Yep.”

When I picked up the van in spring of 2021, I peered underneath. No sign of transmission oil. This was excellent. I was, indeed, a happy van owner. So maybe the problem now, in May of 2022, was not because of leaked transmission oil. I strode back to the van shed, and investigated the straw-covered dirt flow. Awash in oil. Very discouraging. I walked back to the van, popped the hood, pulled out the transmission oil dipstick, and held it up to the light. Way low. Now I was an unhappy van owner.

I climbed back into the driver’s seat, and turned the key in the ignition. Click. Click. Click. Van wouldn’t start. Now I was a disconsolate van owner. I called up my friend, Dallas, a nearby, retired auto mechanic. “I’ll be right owner.” Dallas came, and attached his battery tester to the van’s battery, which cranked only 11.4 amps. “That’s why your van won’t start. The battery is too weak. It needs to crank at least 12 amps. Must have become depleted over the winter.”

So I charged the battery, and drove around our property for three days. No problem. Everything hunky-dory, whatever the heck that means. On the fourth day, though, the van would’t start. Just click, click, click. Dallas came over again to test the battery. Only cranking 11.4 amps. “Maybe your battery is dead.”

So, on May 24, I took the battery into town, to Preeceville Parts, where Darren confirmed that it was cranking only 11.4 amps. “”Seems like your battery is dead.” I bought a new battery from Darren. I went to town a few days later, and the van started only sluggishly. Also, the windshield wipers didn’t work at high speed. Only worked at low speed and the intermittent setting. After grocery shopping, and coffee with our friends, Kathleen and I climbed into the van to head home. Van started only sluggishly. I happened to see Rudy walking by, an expert on small motors and everything else mechanical. “Rudy, why won’t my windshield wiper work on fast speed?”

“You probably need a new wiper motor.”

Sounded right to me. Kathleen and I got home OK, and called up our retired auto mechanic friends, Dallas and Norman, at Ketchen Autobody. “Our van is not starting well, and the windshield wipers don”t work at high speed. Can I bring it over?”

“Sure.”

So, we climbed back into the van, which started only reluctantly. Drove over to Dallas and Norman’s shop, parked outside, and turned off the van. Dallas and Norman came outside. “OK, Michael. Turn on the van, and let’s have a look at the wiper blades.” Click. Click. Click. Van wouldn’t start. Dallas hooked up the battery tester, which confirmed, again, that the battery was cranking only 11.4 amps. Turns out that the alternator was no longer working, and was not recharging the battery. I probably didn’t need to have bought a new battery.

Now what? Kathleen and I loved road trips in our van. But it leaks transmission oil. In 2017, on the way up to Yellowknife to paddle on Great Slave Lake, its rear brake line rusted out and we had to be towed to Vegreville, Alberta. On the way back from Yellowknife, its internal fuel pump quit working, and we had to be towed to High Level, Alberta. In 2019, while coming back from Dawson City after paddling the Yukon River, we discovered that our front wheel flex hoses had cracks, which we replaced in Prince George, British Columbia. Kathleen and I looked at each other. “What else could go wrong?” We didn’t want to find out. “I don’t trust the van anymore. Let’s take the RAV4 to Yellowknife. We can “camp” in hotels, rather than in campgrounds. We can dine on restaurant meals, without having to worry about potential bad weather in camp. Perhaps this will be a pleasant diversion from our usual approach.”

This change in travelling plans presented two immediate problems. First, and most importantly, we needed someone to look after Shadow, our rescue Siberian Husky. We had intended to take him in the van with us to Yellowknife, where we would board him in a kennel. But there was no way he and his bed could be stuffed into the RAV4 with all the canoeing gear. We regularly walk Shadow on the Preeceville town trails, along with Donna and her two border collies, Tess and Moley. Donna truly loves all dogs, and might know someone responsible to house and dog sit while we are away. At coffee the next day, we asked her. She furrowed her brow, and said, “I’d be glad to do it. He can stay with Bill and me. He knows us, and my dogs.”

“That’s fantastic Donna. Shadow couldn’t possibly be in a better place. We are happy to pay you.”

“I don’t need to be paid.”

“Donna, we were going to pay the kennel in Yellowknife about a thousand dollars. You might as well have the money. Kathleen and I are just so pleased that Shadow will be with you.”

“OK.”

The change in our travelling plans also meant that we needed canoe roof racks for the RAV4. On the morning of June 8, Kathleen, Shadow and I drove over to Donna and Bill’s house, which is near the entrance to the town trails. While the women and dogs went walking, Bill and I stayed home to enjoy coffee. About an hour later, the trail walkers returned. Shadow walked right in and lay down in his bed, right next to Bill, who was sitting on the floor. We had another cup of coffee, and Shadow curled up against Bill’s leg. Very unusual for Shadow, as he remains afraid of all strangers, particularly men. This was going even better than expected.

Kathleen and I said goodby to Shadow, who seemed positively nonchalant, and headed off in the RAV4 for the three-hour drive to Saskatoon, where we had made an appointment with our friend Jeff, who worked at Ebs Source for Adventure, to install a Thule roof rack. To avoid a long, one-day return trip to Preeceville, we treated ourselves to one night at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is walking distance to Michael Hill’s jewelry store in the Midtown Plaza.

For our 40th anniversary on July 4 last year, I bought Kathleen a ring with seven rubies, as sort of an engagement ring. I’m a bit ignorant about traditions, and wasn’t aware in 1981 that I was supposed to get both an engagement and a wedding ring for Kathleen. She still often says that she was disappointed not to show off her engagement ring to all her girl friends. “Wow,” they would say. “You are so lucky.” But I didn’t know that 40 years ago. So I offered this ring with seven rubies as a belated engagement ring.

Unfortunately, one of the rubies had fallen out, so we were taking the ring back to Michael Hill’s for a replacement ruby. The clerk said that the ring would have to be sent away. “Might be as long as three weeks before we get it back.” The turn-around time was a little disappointing for us. It would be nice if the ring were ready by late June, when we pass through Saskatoon on our way to Yellowknife. We can only hope.

Back at the hotel, we called Donna, who told us that she and Bill had appointments for massages that day, and would leave the three dogs alone in the house. This worried us a bit, as Shadow does not like to be left all alone in the house. At least he would have Tess and Moley for company, though. That might help. A few hours later, we called again. “So, Donna, how did Shadow do? Did he damage anything?”

“He was fine. You should have seen him when I came in the door. He got up on his hind legs, and was literally dancing for joy.” Kathleen and I were definitely relieved. Perhaps we worry too much.

Machines and I do not get along. Do you remember the van? Well, there’s more. I have a quad that I purchased used in 2008, when we moved to Preeceville. We have eight km (five miles) of trails through the bush. I spend a lot of time on the quad, driving around with my chainsaw, clearing deadfall and windfall. Unfortunately, the quad refused to start around June 4. The people from whom I bought the quad came on June 7 to pick it up. They didn’t return it until June 20. Kathleen mows the trails on the lawn tractor. The trails needed to be cleared to provide access for the lawn tractor. Wore myself out dragging that chain saw on foot all around our trails. I’m definitely old.

Then there’s the lawn tractor. It gets a lot of rough use on those trails through the bush. On June 22, while Kathleen was mowing, the lever that raises the deck up and down separated from the deck, which needed welding back together. Didn’t get the tractor back until June 28. Kathleen got most, but not all of the mowing done. Great to have the tractor back. We have hired Jason to come by, as needed, to mow the large lawns, meadows and corral areas near the house. He will need the tractor.

On June 15th, Kathleen, Shadow and I drove out in the van to meet Donna and her dogs on the town trails. Shadow was lying down in the van, in his bed, when we passed by Donna, Tess and Moley on the approach to the trails. Amazingly, Shadow knew they were there. He leaped up, and looked out the window. When we opened the van door, he rushed down the lane to greet his friends. He’s going to be perfectly fine at Donna and Bill’s house.

Later that afternoon, while collecting gear, I noticed that I had only two bear bangers left. Also had only four 180 grain cartridges left for my Browning .308 lever action rifle. Not nearly enough if I am repeatedly attacked by marauding groups of frenzied grizzlies. Off to town to resupply. On June 16th, I noticed that my can of bear spray had expired. Off to town to buy more. .

Kathleen and I were mostly finished packing for the canoe trip by June 22nd, and were pleased that all the gear, supplies and food did indeed fit in the RAV4. Didn’t fit easily, but we got it in. We miss that van. So roomy and spacious. But the decision had been made. Van stays home.

I miss that van for another reason. Somewhat counterintuitively, it was easy for me to load the canoe on the van by myself. The rear rack was close to the rear of the van. I could simply place the bow of the canoe on the rear rack, stand on a small step ladder, and then shove the canoe forward until the bow reached the front rack. Also easy for me to unload the canoe by myself.

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Easy To Load Our Canoe On The Van

Not so with the RAV4, as both the rear and front racks are toward the centre of the roof. It’s not possible to put one end of the canoe on a rack without scratching the car. On June 28th Kathleen and I tried loading the canoe on the RAV4 together. It was not easy for us. We are old, short and not all that strong. We eventually got it done, beginning with the two-person, overhead canoe lift to place the canoe on our shoulders, both of us facing in the same direction. We then lifted the far gunwales over the near towers, so that the rack crossbars now carried most of the weight. We rested, and then lifted the near gunwales over the near towers, and slid the canoe into place. Perhaps we will get better with practice. We also tied the bow of the canoe to the front of the vehicle, as shown by Jeff at Ebs. “It’s not good enough to just secure the boat with the cam buckles. The canoe is still vulnerable to flying off in the updrafts created by large, oncoming trucks.”

“Don’t worry, Jeff. I always secure our canoe, bow and stern, to the vehicle. I’ve been transporting canoes on my vehicles since 1987, and have never had one fly off. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has ever had a canoe flying off their vehicle.”

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Difficult To Load Our Canoe On The RAV4. Securing Bow To Vehicle.

“You’d be surprised," Jeff said. "I hear of at least two or three every year, where the canoe flew off because the front end wasn’t secured to the vehicle.”

On the morning of June 29th, we drove Shadow over to Donna and Bill’s house in the van. He jumped out to greet Tess and Moley, and walked right in with us through the front door. Kathleen and I headed home, parked the van in the garage, and enjoyed a glass or two of wine during our last night before heading up the road to Yellowknife tomorrow morning.
 
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Thanks for sharing your pre trip events, I can totally relate, although my trips are no where as epic as yours. This is a great read for those of us who love the north, especially if we will never get to see places like described in this post. Very much looking forward to your next posts.
 

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So far, this is like getting excited just by watching Sandy Koufax or Oscar Robertson warming up before the game, which you know is going to be a heckuva performance.
 
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As always, Michael, I'm enjoying your adventure and your epic trip reports.

I can also relate to the demise of a favorite tripping vehicle as my old Ranger lost compression on 2 cylinders recently. I hate to replace an engine in a 300,000 mile vehicle but, after looking at the price of new trucks, I suspect that's what's going to happen.

PS: while it is true that you're now older than you were, you're not as old as you're going to be so keep going as long as you can. In that regard, I was very pleased to see all the "0" days in your itinerary. Looks very relaxing.
 
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As I started sipping my coffee (at 6:10, I slept in today, it's usually around 5), I was very happy to read the first instalment. I'm hoping that you take weekends off, as my preference is to start the daily grind with some canoe goodness to bolster my work day. Lol. A fan base can be very demanding, wait till a bunch of geriatric canoe trippers show up on your front lawn in the middle of winter with banners and signs, saying things like "We Love You Pitt", or "Release the Next Instalment" or "I Want To Have Your Baby". I'm getting carried away now.
 
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Thanks Robin, lowangle, Glenn, Gamma, Ralph and mem. Your feedback is why I post! I must say, Glenn, that I don't belong in the same sentence, or even the same book as Koufax or the Big O. And I don't consider this to be an epic trip. Fourteen days and only 138 km. We planned this as an easy, leisurely swan song. And mem perhaps you were getting carried away just a tad. But very entertaining. Now you're getting likes on my thread! I think I'll take your advice to break on the weekend. Kathleen and I spent four days to reach Yellowknife. I had planned to post two days at a time. So that means that we will reach Yellowknife this Friday. And finally, mem, I would have to get up at 4 to post for your coffee time at 5. Not gonna happen.

So here goes.


North to Yellowknife

Thursday, June 30. Kathleen and I headed up the highway fairly early, just a little over 9:00 am. We planned a fairly short driving day of 569 km (355 miles), only about six hours. Our destination was Lloydminster, which straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. We planned to “camp” on the Alberta side, at the Hilton Hampton Inn.

Sixty minutes later we stopped at the bakery in Wadena for coffee and apple fritters. After another hour we stopped at Tim Hortons in Humboldt for coffee and bagels. Another hour put us in Saskatoon, where we parked at the Midtown Mall to pick up Kathleen’s repaired ruby ring. The Michael Hill jewelry store had called two days ago to say that the ring was back. Very good timing.

Kathleen and I both have urban backgrounds. She grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, while I grew up in Sacramento, California. But we had been living in Preeceville, Saskatchewan since 2008. Preeceville is rural, with a population of only 1,250 people, most of whom are somewhat old, and decidedly conservative. They don’t readily countenance different styles and orientations. Saskatoon is Saskatchewan’s largest city, at around 340,000. Certainly more urban than Preeceville. Entering the mall we saw guys wearing dresses, and young women wearing almost nothing at all. Near the jewelry store we saw guys holding hands. Similar to Dorothy and Toto, when they realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore. Kathleen said, “It seems that we’re not in Preeceville anymore.”

Anyway, we picked up Kathleen’s ruby ring, headed west of Saskatoon on a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. Very nice compared to the one-lane, narrow roads between Preeceville and Saskatoon. We reached our “camp” at the Hilton Hampton Inn a little after 4:00 p.m., and I emailed Jeff the following message.

Jeff,

“We made it to Lloydminster, Alberta. The canoe remained tightly secured to the roof rack all the way, despite strong, usually broadside winds. Not everyone was as fortunate. A little bit west of Saskatoon, a vehicle passed us with a bicycle on the right hand side of the roof rack, and a kayak on the left hand side. A few minutes later we passed him, parked on the shoulder. The bicycle was still intact on the right side of the roof rack. Kayak, however, now dangled forlornly down the side of the driver’s door. We empathized with the driver’s plight. Perhaps we could have, should have stopped, to share our knowledge of appropriate knots and hitches. But we did not. Rather, we continued down the highway.”


Jeff responded thusly: “Happy Trails Michael and Kathleen. Glad your hauling setup is proving its worth. Yes - give other vehicles with loads on top a healthy distance. You never know what they know. I've seen way too many bad tie down jobs - bungee cords anyone ?”

After enjoying a glass of wine in “camp,” we walked across the parking lot to the “campfire” at Browns Social House, where we ordered nachos and a bottle of wine. I had never been to a Browns Social House before, and I don’t know if they have a dress code for their female servers, all of whom were displaying abundant cleavage. Don’t see that in Preeceville at all. I enjoyed the ambience without being lecherous. I thought back to my youth, and realized that I had utterly failed to fully appreciate the truly outstanding beauty of women in their physical prime. George Bernard Shaw was likely thinking of dolts like me when he wrote “Youth is too valuable to be wasted on the young.”

At least I think it was Shaw who wrote that. I just googled the phrase, and Shaw did come up as one possible source. However, it seems that he didn’t actually write it, but rather perhaps spoke several variations of the theme. Other sources gave credit to Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain. Who knows for sure? Maybe with enough passage of time I will be given credit for this clever observation. I hope so.

So a successful first day of the road trip. Kathleen remarked how good it was to be out in the world again, after two years of relative isolation because of COVID-19. Indeed, it was good.

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“Camp” in Lloydminster, Alberta

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At the “Campfire.”

Friday, July 1. The day began gloomy and cool. Preparing and eating breakfast in a campground would have been tolerable, but unpleasant. I’m glad to have “camped” in the hotel. While Kathleen slept I headed down for the self-serve breakfast, and spooned a hefty amount of tasty-looking, fluffy scrambled eggs onto my plate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the eggs into my mouth with the small flimsy plastic fork provided by the hotel. The fluffy eggs kept falling off the fork because my hand was shaking too much.

About 25 years ago, I began suffering from intermittent trigger finger, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a condition in which one of your fingers gets stuck in a bent position. Your finger may bend or straighten with a snap—like a trigger being pulled and released. It occurs when inflammation narrows the space within the sheath that surrounds the tendon in the affected finger. If trigger finger is severe, you finger may become locked in a bent position. People whose work or hobbies require repetitive gripping actions are at higher risk of developing trigger finger.”

I’m pretty certain that my trigger finger arose from tightly and repetitively gripping my paddle, particularly when running long stretches of white water. The middle finger of either hand would suddenly lock up against my palm. I could release the finger only by prying it back open with the other hand. Not an ideal approach to negotiating Class III rapids.

During yesterday’s drive I was experiencing increasing pain in my fingers, likely from gripping the steering wheel too tightly, which likely explains my shaking hand and the much-desired fluffy scrambled eggs falling of my fork. There is also another likely contributing factor. In early April, I woke up with painful, severe swelling in my ankles, knees and hands. A lot of trouble just to get out of bed. I struggled to stand up. Couldn’t walk down the stairs unless I leaned up against the railing. I just sort of slid downhill.

Kathleen drove us to the coffee shop, where we joined Donna and Bill. “You got arthritis. Do you have any Aleve? That will help with the swelling and the pain.” So after coffee I stumbled two blocks to the pharmacy to buy a jar of 220 mg Aleve capsules. I quickly felt better. Not so bad. All I gotta do is take a pill once in a while.

A couple of days later I made an appointment for X-rays and laboratory tests at the clinic, which revealed that I now suffer from pseudo gout. From the internet, I learned that pseudo gout is a form of arthritis characterized by sudden, painful swelling in one or more joints. Episodes can last for days or weeks. Pseudo gout and gout are the two most common crystal-induced arthropathies. Gout is caused by monosodium urate monohydrate crystals, while pseudo gout is caused by calcium pyrophasphate crystals. I don’t know which of the gouts is better to have, but pseudo gout is apparently incurable. My nurse practitioner prescribed taking either Aleve, Tylenol Arthritis or Advil, with the usual caveats of side effects.

So that’s what I’ve been doing since April. I take one Aleve as needed, about once every two weeks. Seems to be working. We’ll see if I need one today. Hope not. I don’t like taking pills.

We packed up and headed west down the highway and stopped about 90 minutes later to view the famous giant easter egg in Vegreville., Alberta. The story of the egg began in 1973 when the Alberta government established a committee to coordinate the centennial celebrations of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Vegreville and District Chamber of Commerce suggested a giant Easter egg symbolizing the peace and security the Mounties had offered the area’s pioneers and descendants, many of whom were Ukrainian. The intricate decoration of Easter eggs is a traditional Ukrainian folk art. The Ukrainian word for Easter egg, Pysanka comes from the verb pasty—to write.

The unique nature and complicated geometry of the egg shape made the design of the Pysanka a highly complex project. Professor Ronald Resch, a computer scientist at the University of Utah, agreed to take on the design project, which required the development of new computer programs. The Pysanka is an immense jig-saw puzzle containing 524 star patterns, 1,108 equilateral triangles, 3,512 visible facets, 6,978 nuts and bolts, and 17 internal struts. The Pysanka rests on a base of concrete and steel, and turns in the wind like a weather vane.

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Vegreville’s Giant Easter Egg—Pysanka in Ukrainian

The pain in my hands and ankles—and now even my neck—grew worse throughout the morning. My arches were also beginning to throb. When I was about 25 years old I jumped off a roof after retrieving an errant frisbee. I landed with a thud, flatfooted, which sent shock waves through my legs. Felt pain in my arches the next morning. A few years later, I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, and fitted with a pair of orthotics. I quit wearing the orthotics a long time ago, as they didn’t seem to help. I more or less just tolerate the nearly constant discomfort. Today was getting a bit much, though. At lunch I swallowed an Aleve and soon began to feel better. That Aleve really works, at least for me.

It rained all afternoon. Camping would have been unpleasant. Glad we didn’t bring the van, with its dysfunctional high-speed wiper setting.

We checked into the High Point Inn & Suites in Peace River, Alberta. I asked the young woman behind the front desk what restaurant she would recommend within walking distance. “You should go to Mr Mikes. Be sure to order the stuffed mushrooms. I get them every time. They are great!”

So we strolled down the hill to Mr Mikes. We were led to our table and told that “Your server will be here soon to take your order.”

“We already know what we want. Stuffed mushrooms and a bottle of white wine.”

That young woman behind the front desk knew what she was talking about. The stuffed mushrooms were excellent, as was the bottle of white wine.

We covered 729 km (455 miles) today. Only 604 km (377 miles) tomorrow to reach Hay River in the Northwest Territories. We’re getting north now.

Today, July 1, was Canada Day. Our natural history group in Preeceville, the Kelsey Ecological Society, held its annual, celebratory hot dog roast at Annie Laurie Lake on the north edge of town. Donna texted a nice video of Shadow looking very relaxed and content at the event.
 
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Glenn MacGrady

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Sandy's now throwing harder and the Big O is repeatedly swishing the twine as game time gets closer. However, to help wake up Mem (if cleavage didn't), I offer a more consistent version of your metaphorical account, as follows:

Similar to Dorothy and Toto, when they realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore. Kathleen said, “It seems that we’re not in Preeceville anymore.”

Anyway, we picked up Kathleen’s ruby ring slippers . . . .
 
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Saturday, July 2. At 6:00 a.m. I stepped into the hallway to head downstairs for breakfast. Although we were on the first floor, there was a short flight of stairs, six or seven steps, down to the lobby and breakfast area. Coming up the stairs just then was a somewhat chubby guy, about 50 years old. Nothing unusual about that. There’s usually lots of older, chubby guys staying in hotels. This older, chubby guy was not at all ordinary, though, as he was dressed only in his undershorts.

My first reaction was maybe he’s coming back from the pool. He didn’t have a towel, though, and I was pretty sure that the hotel didn’t have a pool. Besides, wearing just undershorts to the pool would probably be against the rules. No, I concluded that this chubby guy was simply cruising the halls dressed only in his undershorts. Definitely unexpected and unusual.

He walked past our room, and pounded hard on the adjacent room. No response inside, and no one opened the door. He turned around to look at me, appearing only slightly perplexed. It seemed that he didn’t expect to be let in. A few seconds later, we were joined by the hotel manager. “Sir, you can’t be in the halls without wearing clothes.”

No response. “Sir, you need to go to your room,” which elicited a mumbled, unitelligible response.

“Sir, you need to go to your room now.” No response.

The hotel manager and I then descended the stairs. He went to the front desk, while I sat down at a table in the breakfast area with a cup of coffee. After one sip, I got up and headed back to our room. Kathleen is likely still sleeping. What if the older, chubby guy knocked or pounded on our door? Kathleen might just open it, thinking I had forgotten my key. That could be bad.

Older, chubby guy was sitting on the top step. “Sorry,” he said, as I passed by.

“It’s OK.” Don’t know why I said that. It was definitely not OK. Something was wrong.

I let myself into our room, and woke Kathleen up. Told her about the nearly naked, older chubby guy. “Latch the door when I leave. Don’t let anyone in.” I stepped back into the hallway. Older chubby guy was gone. Good.

Soon after I sat down again at the breakfast table, two RCMP officers arrived. They left about 20 minutes later without the older, chubby guy in tow. Everything must be under control.

The breakfast featured real cutlery. I was able to get the fluffy, scrambled eggs into my mouth without spilling them. July 4 is our 41st anniversary. I had brought a blank card that pictured two swimming geese. Just floating along, like Kathleen and I float along in our canoe. I have very poor writing, so I composed my anniversary sentiments in an email on my iPad. I think Kathleen will like it.

We stopped at Denny’s for lunch in High Level, Alberta. Hadn’t been to a Denny’s for 30 years or more. They still serve shredded hash brown potatoes. Real hash brown potatoes in my opinion. Not those pan fries that most restaurants pretend are hash browns. I love those real shredded hash brown potatoes. Will probably stop at Denny’s on the way home.

We had parked next to a vehicle from British Columbia, filled with paddling gear. I wondered where they were headed. Probably still going north, as it was too early in the year to be driving back south from a canoeing trip. There were only a few other patrons in the restaurant, and I was pretty sure I knew who the paddlers were—two people seated right near us. One was an older gentleman, and the other was a youngish woman. Unusual paddling partners, but maybe they’re meeting up with someone else. It would be great to talk to them, and to hear about their paddling plans. We left the restaurant only a few minutes after they had paid, but their car was already gone. “You know, Kathleen, we will probably meet them at the Northwest Territories Visitor Information Centre. Everyone stops there.”

Less than two hours later we pulled into the Information Centre, and parked next to the car from British Columbia.

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There were only two people in the centre, the same two people we had seen at the Denny’s in High Level. I walked over to them and asked, “Say, are you canoeists? I saw all your canoeing gear in the back of your car.” They seemed somewhat taken aback by my intrusion, but slowly acknowledged that they were canoeists.

“So where are you headed?”

“Point Lake. It’s about halfway between Yellowknife and the Arctic Ocean.”

“Kathleen and I have been to Point Lake. We went overland from Winter Lake, and then down the Coppermine river.”

“Yep, we’re going down the Coppermine River. This will be my fourth time,” the older gentleman said. “This will be the first time for my daughter. She will be paddling with my brother who will be meeting us in Yellowknife.”

“When do you fly in?”

“July 4.”

“Kathleen and I are flying into Whitefish Lake on July 5. Who are you flying with?

“Ahmic Air.”

“Us too! Are you renting a canoe in Yellowknife?” You don’t have one on your car.”

“Packboat in the trunk.”

“Good to talk to you. We will certainly see each other again in Yellowknife.”

We arrived in Hay River, at 3:00, and checked into the Ptarmigan Inn. After a brief rest, we went out to buy a bottle of white wine. As we passed the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, a guy about 25 years old came out of the instant teller saying that his card wouldn’t work. “I gotta buy food for my dog. Can you spare some change?”

“I really don’t believe you, you know,” but I reached into my wallet and handed him five dollars. It’s been a long time since I was panhandled. Perhaps I am now too easy a mark. But his dog needed food.

By the time we got back to the hotel, the panhandler with the hungry dog was sitting down near the front entrance with his back against the wall. He bowed his head slightly and smiled broadly. “Thanks.” He didn’t mention if he had fed his dog or not.

Today’s weather was beautiful. It would have been fantastic to be in a campground and sit around a campfire. But the hotel had a nice pub. We shared spicy butter chicken poutine for supper. It was the best poutine we’ve ever had. We didn’t expect that in Hay River.

Sunday, July 3. Our waiter at breakfast was obviously of Indian (India, not first-nations) descent, and spoke with a slight accent. I asked him if he was from Hay River. “No, I’m originally from India.” We chatted a bit, sharing some of our backgrounds, and why we were in Hay River.

When he returned to refill our coffee cups, he suddenly asked me, for no apparent reason, “Have you ever smoked marijuana?”

I was somewhat surprised, nearly as much as seeing a nearly-naked guy wandering hotel hallways. But our waiter was leading up to telling us that marijuana is central to Hinduism. “I didn’t know that.”

“Ascetics can smoke everyday, but regular people can smoke only once a year.”

“Interesting. I had no idea.”

When I returned home, I googled “Hinduism marijuana” and found many references, including the following one on Wikipedia:

During the Hindu festival of Holi and Maha Shivratri, people consume bhang which contains cannabis flowers. According to one description, when the amrita (elixir of life) was produced from the churning of the ocean by the devas and the asuras as described in the Samudra manthan, Shiva created cannabis from his own body to purify the elixir (whence, for cannabis, the epithet angaja or "body-born"). Another account suggests that the cannabis plant sprang up when a drop of the elixir dropped on the ground. Thus, cannabis is used by sages due to association with elixir and Shiva. In Hinduism, wise drinking of bhang (which contains cannabis), according to religious rites, is believed to cleanse sins, unite one with Shiva and avoid the miseries of hell in the future life. It is also believed to have medicinal benefits and is used in Ayurvedic medicine. In contrast, foolish drinking of bhang without rites is considered a sin.

As they say, travel is educational, even travel in one’s own country.

The road (481 km; 299 miles) to Yellowknife from Hay River was mostly empty of other vehicles. We only rarely saw other people travelling in our direction. We seemed to be the only people on the highway. Sort of like we often seem to be the only people when paddling down a wilderness river. Perhaps everyone is simply moving along at approximately the same speed. We did see Sandhill Cranes, though, and several groups of bison. One male stood somewhat defiantly in the middle of the road. He moved off only grudgingly. I regret not getting a picture, but we preferred not to antagonize him. We just wanted him to move before any vehicles happened to approach from behind or ahead of us.

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We stopped for a snack when we reached the North Arm Territorial Park Day Use Area on Great Slave Lake.

Only about 110 km (70 miles) to go before we reach Yellowknife. Much of that distance would be on the exposed granite of the Canadian Shield.

This section of the highway always seems to be under construction, with speed limits often reduced to 20 km/hr (12 miles/hr). The last 40 km (25 miles) seemed to take forever, like the task before Sisyphus, who was punished by Zeus to eternally push a boulder uphill. As soon as he reached the top of the hill, however, the boulder rolled back down to the bottom, and Sisyphus had to push it back up again. Kathleen and I weren’t forced to continually return to the North Arm Territorial Park and start over again, but it did seem like our task would never end.

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We finally checked into the Aurora Bayside Inn at 4:00 p.m. There were a lot of people on the lawn in from of our room hanging out in the sun, drinking wine, and generally having a good time. Kathleen and I washed up, poured ourselves a glass of white wine, went outside, and sat down at a table next to what we should have realized was a concession stand. A young woman behind the stand walked over to us and asked, “Would you like me to pour you a drink?”

“No thanks, we brought our own.”

She seemed a bit miffed, and walked away. I had assumed that this lawn filled with happy people was part of the Aurora Bayside Inn. But perhaps not. So I asked the young woman. She said, “No. This belongs to the Fishy People.”

“OK, then. Sorry about that. Please pour us a glass of wine.”

She did. “That’s thirty-six dollars.” She handed me the debit machine, and I added a 15% tip. She poured a little more wine in both of our glasses. We mentioned that we were a bit weary driving four days up from Preeceville. “Well,” she said. “As a young girl, I once drove with my family from Inuvik to Halifax. That was a long way.”

“So you lived in Inuvik?”

“Yes I did, but only when I was young.”

“Did you know any of the four boys of our friends Alan and Marilyn Fehr? The lived in Inuvik for quite a while.”

“Yeah. I know Andrew. But not real well. Just knew who he was.”

We chose to stay at the Aurora Bayside Inn for reasons other than simply its proximity to and great view of Yellowknife Bay. It was also walking distance to Ahmic Air, our float plane provider, and two of Yellowknife’s iconic eateries. For tonight’s supper we strolled over to the Wildcat Cafe, which, as usual, was packed with other eager diners. Waiting in line with us were our friends that we had met at the Northwest Territories Visitor Information Centre. They will be heading to Point Lake tomorrow. Kathleen and I will stroll over to Ahmic Air before their flight to wish them well.

We were finally seated at a table on the terrace of the Wildcat Cafe, and were soon joined by Chris, a young Norwegian, who was travelling across Canada before returning home to begin his professional career. The three of us enjoyed a lively hour of discussions regarding Canadian politics and history, of which Chris was extremely knowledgeable. Likely more so than most Canadians.

All three of us ordered fish for supper—freshly caught from Great Slave Lake. I asked our server if she caught the fish herself. She just giggled and said, “No.” Of course I knew that she hadn’t caught the fish herself. Sometimes I just like to ask outlandish questions to initiate conversations. I followed up with “Are you from Yellowknife?”

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Early History of Wildcat Cafe

“No. I’m from the Philippines, but I’ve lived in Yellowknife now for five years.”

The City of Yellowknife owns the Wildcat Cafe, which is leased out to local businesses each summer for $2,000.00 per month. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the café’s summer season. In 2021, there were no interested parties until an artists’ collective agreed to operate the space in August and September.

To see an image, please click Wildcat Cafe.

After supper, Kathleen and I walked back to the Aurora Bayside Inn, where we sat on the terrace chatting to John, the Inn’s owner, who asked us where we were going on our trip. “It’s not a well-known place, John. Most people would never have heard of it. We’re flying into Whitefish Lake.”

“I’ve been there,” John replied. “I was invited to fill a vacancy in a group that was starting at Whitefish Lake to paddle down the Snowdrift River.”

“Well, John, we paddled the Snowdrift River in 2001, starting at Lynx Lake. We really enjoyed that tundra surrounding Whitefish Lake. That’s why we’re going back. Our plan is to canoe down to the outlet of Lynx Lake, at the Thelon River.”

“You don’t happen to have a vacancy do you? Sounds fantastic.”

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Later that evening we received an image from Donna showing Shadow watching Bill grating cheese. Shadow loves cheese. Great to know that Shadow had settled in quite comfortably. A great way to end our first day in Yellowknife.
 
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I'm thinking that ditching the old van certainly opened up a multitude of cultural opportunities for you. Who could guess that you would be introduced (or perhaps indoctrinated, you skirted around the inhaled part like Bill Clinton) to the esoteric practices of Shiva. I've been a Saivite for years, at least in spirit, as destruction and creation are the driving forces in my life, not so much the bhang though, lol, I stay away from that stuff.
I'm wondering how big those 18 dollar wine glasses were, and if it was house plunk or something decent? Being the type of wine connoisseur who prefers a paper bag wrapped around the bottle, I hope you got good value for your expenditure.

As a side note, my indigenous chums up here tell me that Sandhill Crane is the best eating game bird, doesn't even taste like chicken.

I think I'm a day behind in my reading, but thanks again, this report is lining up to be a doozy!
 
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I'm reading your report with genuine enthusiasm and a bit of envy. Enthusiasm because I always like learning about new places and the characters one meets along the way; and you have already met a few in this report! Envy because your wife clearly enjoys the hardships and joys of remote travel. My wife... not so much!

My wife thinks I'm a bit (well... maybe more than a bit) nuts about my outdoor pursuits. When we were married at 18, a friend of mine who is an artist fashioned a unique wedding cake sculpture that featured my bride and me, in faithful life-like appearance of us both, atop the cake. Behind my likeness, there was a pretty accurate mountaineering ice ax to signify my other passion. In spite of what this represented, my wife has yet to understand fully my dedication to the outdoors. I'll give her credit, she tried in our youth to participate, and in fact became a proficient cross country skier, but each day outside required a proper bed and shower at the end. Camping for extended periods was out of the question! I would have enjoyed sharing the outdoors with her as you do with your wife.

Thanks for the entertaining report so far.
 
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Patrick, My youngest daughter & your wife would likely get along well. When I was planning my BWCA trip, she listened with rapt attention as I told her about it and, when asked if she would like to go, responded with; "Wait, do they have hot showers & flush toilets?". I, of course, responded "No, we'll swim in the lakes and either dig cat holes (she's done that in the past) or stop at camp sites". I'll never forget (or let her forget) her response... without a even a second's hesitation, she responded "Well, OK... have fun; don't die".

She did monitor progress on the inReach and my ex-wife tells me that she checked her phone continuously throughout the trip. She seemed to really enjoy reading the trip report and seeing the pictures, yet still seems to lean hard toward "pass" for future adventures. C'est la vie.

Yes, part of me envies those with family &/or close friends who share their passions... Most of me appreciates the less complicated nature of going solo.
 
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