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Whitefish & Lynx Lakes, NWT: 2022

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Just back from a Christmas Craft Fair, where we were flogging our books. Sold 8, and enjoyed chatting with passers-by about northern Canada. Most of them wanted to share their stories. Everyone was happy. A great day!

I will address your questions and comments in reverse order. Glenn goes first.

Shadow is a rescue dog, who was abandoned at a farm about ten miles from us. No one could catch him, as he had been abused, and was afraid of people. A neighbour lady spent two or three weeks bringing him food, which he wouldn’t eat until she moved away. Eventually she caught him. When she took him home into her house, “He never left my side. He was like my shadow.”

Gamma & Patrick. I was 33 and Kathleen was 29 when we married, after going together for five years. Perhaps not exclusively, but we knew each other well. I finally realized that Kathleen was the perfect partner for me, as she shared my passion for wilderness pursuits. If not, we would probably, nay, most likely, not have gotten married.

Mem: I don’t know what kind of wine we had. She didn’t offer a choice. But it did come from a bottle, not a box. The glasses were normal size. Everything is expensive in the north. The waiter in Hay River asked me if I had ever smoked marijuana. I didn’t answer. He could have been an undercover cop, although marijuana is now legal throughout Canada. You are caught up with my postings. I will post again on Monday. Probably just one day, as it’s fairly long-our last day, July 4, in Yellowknife. On July 5, we fly to Whitefish Lake.

Mem & Patrick: The road trip based on hotels, rather than camping, provided a very different experience for us. Met interesting characters that added to our experience. We were satisfied to have ditched the van.
 
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FWIW, I thought you were probably "high" when you jumped off that roof with the frisby many years ago.

Great read so far Michael and van or no van I think you've earned the right to stay in hotels rather than campgrounds. While I'd rather stay at a remote campsite over a hotel I'm not too fond of campgrounds.
 
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FWIW, I thought you were probably "high" when you jumped off that roof with the frisby many years ago.

Great read so far Michael and van or no van I think you've earned the right to stay in hotels rather than campgrounds. While I'd rather stay at a remote campsite over a hotel I'm not too fond of campgrounds.
The roof was in Berkeley, if you can correctly infer anything from that.
 
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Monday, July 4. Our 41st Anniversary. We exchanged the following cards.

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Dearest Kathleen of Mine,

Like geese, who also mate forever, we are so fortunate to paddle and float together, once more, in the Barren Grounds of Canada.


Happy Anniversary!


Love, Michael

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There was no restaurant or cafe serving breakfast within walking distance from the Aurora Bayside Inn, so we purchased English muffins last night from a nearby general store. We toasted them in the common kitchen area of the Aurora Bayside Inn, topped with margarine and jam that we pirated from our canoe trip supplies.

We then wandered over to the Ahmic Air float plane dock, where we met Robert Perkins, producer of the video of Into The Great Solitude: An Arctic Journey—a truly epic 73-day solo canoe trip down the Back River, as he retraced the journey of British Navy Captain George Back, who explored the Canadian tundra by canoe in 1834. Perkins’s presentation was superbly inspirational, and I wanted to get a picture of the two of us together.

“Mr. Perkins. Do you mind if we take your picture?”

“Yes I do.”

Two points of clarification. It has been several decades since I have used the honorific “Mr.,” which is “a title that conveys esteem, courtesy, or respect for position or rank when used in addressing or referring to a person.” Yep. That’s how I felt about Robert Perkins. Second, Mr. Perkins had just slipped and partially fallen into the water. He didn’t think the picture would be flattering. But Mr. Perkins relented, and Kathleen took two pictures of us standing next to each other. Mr. Perkins was correct. The image was unflattering. Not just for him, but also for me. My pants were a bit tight, and a smidge bulgy in the crotch area. I was excited to be with Mr. Perkins, but not that excited. I have provided a cropped image to prove that I had indeed met Mr. Robert Perkins.

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Mr. Robert Perkins And Me

“You know,” I said to Mr. Perkins, “my favourite part of your video was when you realized that you were actually standing on the island that you were looking for.”

“Yeah, I’m glad we left that part in.”

After a hurried handshake, Mr. Perkins climbed up into the DHC-2 Beaver, and flew away for a five-week solo trip beginning on the Baillie River, a tributary of the Back River. The Arctic Fever still possesses the man.

Our friends from the Northwest Territories Visitor Information Centre were busy organizing their gear for departure. Stephen referred to them as Les’s group. We never heard the daughter’s name. She had often paddled with her father, who would be canoeing solo down the Coppermine River. His daughter would be paddling with her uncle Ed, in a packboat. She had never paddled with uncle Ed, and she had never paddled in a packboat. She asked Stephen if a packboat was appropriate for the Coppermine River. “It’s more like a raft,” he said. I don’t know if Stephen meant that as a positive or a negative compared to a hardshell canoe.

Uncle Ed arrived only this morning, and had a mountain of gear not anticipated by Les, his daughter, or Stephen. In fact, the combined piles of gear did not fit into a single float plane, and the group were obliged to hire a second flight. Uncle Ed was not happy, and mumbled just loud enough for bystanders to hear. ”You’d think that an established float plane company would know what they’re doing.”

"Well, Ed, you can see that the pontoons are already pretty deep in the water. We can’t fit anymore gear. You need to book a second flight if you want to take all this stuff.”

“Are you sure that you pumped out the pontoons from previous flights?” Ed asked this somewhat sarcastically, and with the decided tone of a know-it-all. This expedition was not off to a good start, and the daughter looked worried. “You seem worried,” she said,” to me. “And that’s making me worried.”

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Thinking About Paddling With Uncle Ed

“Sorry. I’m sure everything will be fine.” I was a bit concerned, though. Ed would be paddling stern, and she would be paddling bow. The Coppermine is a challenging river. Ed struck me as the kind of guy who would immediately blame his niece for all canoeing mishaps, however minor they might be, or who deserved the blame. It reminded me of Chris and Walter, members of our canoe club in Vancouver. Walter was a good-looking guy, as he readily acknowledged. He once told me that when he got up in the morning, and looked in the mirror, he would say to himself, “Damn, I am so good looking.” Well, on one of our day trips with the canoe club, Walter had been badgering Chris ever since the put-in. Chris suddenly turned around to face Walter in the stern. “You think you’re so damn good, you paddle the canoe.” Then, with a flourish, she leaped out of the canoe and swam away.

The float plane crew was now hurriedly loading the first plane. Stephen’s father and I enjoyed watching, while chatting about all things float planes and canoe trips. Passengers climbed aboard the first plane, and it floated away easily from the dock. Work then began loading the second plane. I fretted a little about their group dynamic. But Les and Ed had both paddled the Coppermine several times before. Things should work out. Anyway, it was not my problem.

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First Float Plane Leaves the Dock. Still Lots of Gear Left.

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Taxiing For Takeoff

After lunch Kathleen and I reorganized our gear for the canoe trip. I had difficulty lifting the heaviest pack and taking it out to the car. The pack has never seemed so heavy. I hope this trip doesn’t become too arduous.

For our anniversary supper we dined at Yellowknife’s iconic Bullocks Bistro, where we met a friendly couple from Edmonton. The guy worked in Yellowknife 50 years ago, and had returned to celebrate his birthday—an excellent place to remember days gone by.

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For Supper, We Joined the Crowds at Bullocks Bistro.
A Must Dining Experience in Old Town Yellowknife

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Kathleen Dined on Pan-fried Lake Trout.

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I Feasted on Whitefish—Freshly Caught in Great Slave Lake.

After supper we sat on the deck of the Aurora Bayside Inn, with a glass of white wine, enjoying the calm, warm evening. We were soon joined by two Austrians, whose Air Canada flight had been delayed, and they were now one day behind their scheduled flight into the Snowdrift River. Even worse, their luggage had not yet arrived. Despite the obvious disappointment, they remained upbeat. They had both done the Thelon River before, as had we. They had both paddled the Snowdrift River before, as had we. They preferred the boreal forest that surrounded the Snowdrift River, compared to the tundra surrounding the Thelon River. One of the men proudly displayed the drone with which he intended to film their canoeing expedition. They probably won’t be leaving, though, for another two days. “I hope there’s no one else there,” he said.

After waiting for two years, Kathleen and I fly out to the Barren Grounds tomorrow. “It is a land uncircumscribed, for it has no limits that the eye can find. It seems to reach beyond the finite boundaries of this earth. Brooding, immutable, it showed so harsh a face to the first white men who came upon its verges that they named it, in awe and fear, the Barren Grounds.” So wrote Farley Mowat, in his book Tundra.

Learn about tundra.

"Tundra is a Russian term meaning a rolling treeless plain. Colloquially it often is called the barren lands. It is treeless, but not barren. It is a special landscape with a marvellous seasonal array of natural processes flawlessly executed by a carefully selected diversity of ecosystems.

Nevertheless, the environment is severe, which allows only a few selected species to succeed on the tundra. Of the 3200 species of mammals, only a maximum of 23 succeed beyond the tree line on the North American tundra. Of 8600 species of birds, only 6 or 7 live year-round on the tundra, although another 70 species come for the breeding seasons. Of the vast diversity of insects, only about 600 species succeed on the tundra. Some succeed beyond our fondest hopes!”

Obviously the native peoples of the tundra didn’t refer to their homeland as the Barren Grounds. The Inuit referred to their homeland simply as Inuit Nunangat, which refers to the land, water and ice contained in the Arctic Region. No matter what one calls the landscape, tomorrow Kathleen and I will fly 373 km (232 miles) to the northwest corner of Whitefish Lake, surrounded by our favourite landscape, the Barren Grounds.
 
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Tuesday, July 5. Our plane was scheduled to take us to Whitefish Lake in mid-morning, so we strolled over to Ahmic Air immediately after breakfast. A beautiful morning. Calm and sunny. Again we chatted with Stephen’s father, and watched Russell organizing our gear for loading into the plane. Russell taught high school in Yellowknife, and enjoyed working at Ahmic Air during the summer. We also met our pilot, Jeff. I commented that, “It must be nice working for Stephen. Seems like a great guy.”

“I don’t work for Stephen. I help Stephen out. I’m retired with a great pension. I served as an analyst at the ministerial level for the Territorial Government. I just love to fly. I was only 16 for my first solo flight.” Jeff didn’t say this aggressively. He just wanted to set the record straight.

“I have a question, Jeff. In 2017 we flew with Ahmic Air to Old Fort Reliance in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. The pilot and I were comparing features below to the 1:250,000 topographic map, when suddenly the propellor quit going around. The pilot began pushing knobs and pulling levers, and the propellor started going again. ‘Just switched over to the reserve tank,’ he said.”

“Out of curiosity I asked him, could we have landed safely without power? ‘Sure,’ he replied. Do you think that’s true?”

“Definitely. We practice landing without power during training.”


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Russell Getting Ready to Load Our Gear Into the Float Plane.

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Getting Ready to Fuel The Plane. Just About Ready to Go.

We flew away from Yellowknife a little bit later that expected—a few minutes before 1:00 p.m. But time doesn’t matter much now. We were just happy to be on our way. We enjoyed the scenery below. We flew directly over Fort Reliance. We saw the Snowdrift River, just below its outlet with Sandy Lake, where we spent nearly 24 hours windbound in 2001.

Just east of Sandy Lake, the float plane began to descend, providing a close view of our 2001 portage over the height of land. As we prepared to land on Whitefish Lake, we saw the former ecotourism camp of the late “Tundra” Tom Faess, who had treated us to an early morning shower, and then coffee in 2001.

And then, finally, after 2.5 hours from Yellowknife, Gordon’s Esker came into view, beyond which the northeast portion of Whitefish Lake still lay encased in ice. The plane landed moments later, and we began to organize our gear and load the canoe for our paddle to our intended camp on Gordon’s Esker. But first we took a short walk to view, in the distance, where we had begun our portage over the height of land in 2001.

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Enjoying the Scenery Below

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Still Patches Of Snow

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More Barren Grounds Scenery

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Snowdrift River Below Sandy Lake

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Sandy Lake

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End of 2001 Portage Over The Height of Land

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Whitefish Lake. Former Camp of “Tundra” Tom Faess in Mid-ground.

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Gordon’s Esker With Ice Beyond

DSC01332.JPGOn The Beach at Whitefish Lake


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2001 Portage Over The Height Of Land In Background

Just as we were ready to push off the beach, we were enveloped by thunder & lightning, accompanied by strong winds. We hunkered down on the beach for 90 minutes, hoping the storm would soon end. We were getting soaked. Kathleen broke our miserable silence. “We can’t sit here all day, Michael. We don’t know how long the storm will last. We gotta go. We probably won’t get hit by lightning, which seems to have moved off to the south.”

We struggled along the shore, battling strong, broadside, rolling waves for the last 1 km (half mile). After two-and-a-half days of perfect weather in Yellowknife, why is this happening to us?

DSC01337.JPGWe beached at a great campsite on Gordon’s Esker, and enjoyed a supper of smokies and beans at 9:00 p.m.While cooking supper, our Colman Peak 1 stove periodically leaked flames from the stem. This was not good news. We had considered bringing our Coleman two-burner stove as backup. But that would have added a lot of bulk and weight. Besides, why would our small backpacking stove suddenly quit working? Maybe it will fix itself by morning. We gotta have a stove, as wood is often difficult to find on the Barren Grounds. Particularly dry wood after a storm.

After washing the dishes, we immediately retired to the tent for tea. Kathleen reached for her headlamp to read her book in the quasi darkness of the tent. Unfortunately, the headlamp had somehow been crushed, and no longer worked. “That’s OK, Kathleen. You can use mine.”

We were both tired. But at least Whitefish Lake is completely still now. Maybe tomorrow will be calm, warm and dry.

(Note: For those of you who might not know, an esker is formed by rivers flowing beneath the surface of a melting glacier. When the glacier collapses, a ridge of sand and gravel remains elevated above the surrounding landscape.)
 
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Such a great storyteller! You make ordinary things very interesting. Beautiful photography!
What canoe are you using? What tent?
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Michael, re your extensive knowledge of Barren Grounds botany and geology, why are there conifers on that esker whereas most of the landscape seems barren of them, as in the prior picture of you?
 
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Michael, re your extensive knowledge of Barren Grounds botany and geology, why are there conifers on that esker whereas most of the landscape seems barren of them, as in the prior picture of you?
Good, observant, informative question, Glenn. Thanks for asking. Eskers provide a coarse-textured soil, where water drains away quickly. The permafrost is deep under ground, the active layer is thick, and the surface soil is warm, loose, and dry. This allows spruce trees to grow beyond the “nominal” limit of treeline.
 
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The Barren Grounds is a landscape I will never see. I'm very appreciative of your unique reports about the life of a canoeist up in those beautiful places. The "pre-trip" stuff is great too, makes for a total experience, from start to finish.

Now, to digress to my baser nature.....can we expect any naked pics in this report?
 
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Now, to digress to my baser nature.....can we expect any naked pics in this report?
Sorry to disappoint, mem, but this trip was mostly not at all conducive to nakedness.

Kathleen has a meeting in town in 30 minutes, and I will go in for coffee. Will post the next Instalment this afternoon. Then I think I will take a break for the US Thanksgiving weekend. Will resume posting on Monday. Hope there are still viewers around after such a long layoff.
 
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I can so relate to many of your pre-trip hiccups Michael although not the destination. However, I'm learning to appreciate that too. Meeting Robert Perkins would've been like meeting one's tripping talisman (for me), his canoe tripping films are so inspiring and inciteful.
Your TRs are also bringing me round to discovering the tundra tho' I will never set foot there.
(If you're taking a poll...I vote for everyone keeping their clothes on. (I mean no offence))
ATB.
 
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Wednesday, July 6. Lightning & thunder, followed by rain, beginning at 4:30 a.m. I am not yet having a good time on this canoe trip. Despite the early morning storm, Kathleen and I both slept well last night. We rose late, and leisurely enjoyed our tea and bannock for breakfast. The wood was too wet to start a fire, but the stove worked well—no leaking flames.

After breakfast we strolled to the southern tip of Gordon’s Esker. Along the way we reacquainted ourselves with common tundra plants: lingonberry, cloudberry, bear berry, northern labrador tea and prickly saxifrage. The esker supported varied habitats, including sand, scree slopes, clumps of spruce, bogs and rivulets.

From the end of the esker we viewed south across the water to our 2001 camp, where we had been windbound for 24 hours. To the west we clearly saw “Tundra Tom’s” old camp, covered in what appeared to be a white structure.

Approximately half of Whitefish Lake lies in the Thaidene Nene (“The Land of The Ancestors”) National Park Reserve, established in August 2019. The Reserve covers 14,070 square km (6,579 square miles) of nationally significant boreal forest, tundra, and freshwater ecosystems. The reserve works to protect caribou and pelt animals such as lynx, wolf, red fox, wolverine, marten, moose and black bear. Parks Canada shares management of the Reserve with the Indigenous governments who have a cultural connection to the landscape: Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, Northwest Territory Métis Nation, Deninu Kųę First Nation, and Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

Tundra Tom’s” old camp occurs in the Reserve. I wondered what is planned for the site. When we returned home, on July 29, I emailed Parks Canada with the following:

On July 5 this year, my wife and I were dropped off in the northwest corner of Whitefish Lake. From a distance, we could see that Tundra Tom’s old camp seemed to be covered with a large, white structure. Out of curiosity, could you please tell me what is, or what will be happening at this site?

I received the following response on August 3: Good afternoon Michael, I hope that you and your wife had a great trip into Thaidene Nene NPR! Thank you for your inquiry regarding Tundra Tom’s old camp. We are in the process of cleaning it up. There were lots of abandoned buildings and materials left at the site that were starting to degrade and blow away on to the surrounding landscape. Last year, we took out 2 twin otter loads of refuse and properly disposed of them. We hope to complete the job next year, including the dismantling of the Quonset. Our hope is to restore the land and viewscape to a more natural state.

Good news, I must say. Kathleen and I returned to camp with bits of firewood collected along the way. The weather was finally warm and calm. We lounged in our ground chairs near the lapping lake. We periodically dozed in the sun with an afternoon temperature of 25 degrees C (77 degrees F). Very few mosquitos. “This is why we came, Michael.”

Kathleen prepared a refried beans quesadilla for supper, grilled over an open fire. The wood we had brought back from our morning hike had dried out somewhat in the heat of the day, but I couldn’t find sufficiently dry kindling that would hold a flame. Kathleen suggested that I add some margarine to the kindling. “Margarine has oil, you know.” I never thought of that. Dang if it didn’t work spectacularly!

While sipping tea around our fire, we could see smoke from fires started by yesterday’s lightning rising from the northwest. We hope that the common northwest winds of the tundra don’t spread the fires in our direction.

We’re finally feeling rested. If we wake up early tomorrow, and the weather is good, we plan to make a bannock, pack up, and head south.

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As Usual, Bannock For Breakfast

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View From Gordon’s Esker To 2001 Windbound Camp On Beach

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View From Windbound Camp in 2001 to Gordon’s Esker

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View From Gordon’s Esker to Tundra Tom’s Old Camp—Note White Spot

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Tundra Tom’s Camp in 2001

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Sand And Clumps of Spruce on Gordon’s Esker

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Collected Bits of Firewood While Returning to Camp

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“This is why we came, Michael.”
 

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Michael's reports are somewhat different than most others because he incorporates storytelling devices, such as dialog, multi-sensory details and flashbacks, along with his professional knowledge of flora, botany and ecology. Now, we are treated to flashback photos—2022 photos interspersed with 2001 photos to give us perspectives on the story.

But, superficial me, I'm now fixated on a trivial detail about the warm-up travel stories—to wit, does a couple consume more white wine when living out of a 1990 van or when staying in hotels?
 
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Michael's reports are somewhat different than most others because he incorporates storytelling devices, such as dialog, multi-sensory details and flashbacks, along with his professional knowledge of flora, botany and ecology. Now, we are treated to flashback photos—2022 photos interspersed with 2001 photos to give us perspectives on the story.

But, superficial me, I'm now fixated on a trivial detail about the warm-up travel stories—to wit, does a couple consume more white wine when living out of a 1990 van or when staying in hotels?
Glenn.Thanks for your support and kind words. I do like dialogue among the participants to present the story. Makes it seem more real, personal, and in the now. I also try to write with active verbs. Way back in 1973 or 1974, I handed in the first draft of my Ph.D. thesis to my major professor. 280 pages. He came into my office space the next day and chucked it on my desk. Thunk. “I’m not going to read it. Too boring. Too isy and wasy.”

I felt insulted. Everyone uses is and was. What’s the problem? I considered him to be a good writer, and re-read some of his papers. Very few ises and wases. His writing was also tight.I concuded that if there are lots of little words in a row, then the prose needed to be tightened.

Compare the following two sentences.

I was trying very hard to get rid of all the passive verbs that I was using.

Or

I struggled mightily to eliminate passive verbs.

I vote for the second version.

I ‘m pretty sure that we drank more white wine in hotels than in the 1990 van. ‘Twas languorously fun and pleasant to sit in the pub.
 
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