It’s been a little while since I posted about our Woods Explorer adventures. Let’s change that.
(If you’re new around here, the Cole’s notes version is that Cedric and I were hired to do a five month hiking trip across Canada a few years back – start here, then check out some of my other stories from the trails.)
The time has finally come to talk about our time in the Northwest Territories – which is where we found ourselves on the 11th leg of our trip.
It’s hard to find the words to describe our time in the NWT. Cedric says it’s his favourite leg, but I wouldn’t say it was my favourite (that honour goes to Quetico). I would, however, say that it had the most impact on me. It was a leg that opened my eyes a little wider, that tested me a little harder, and that allowed me to feel very connected to my country.
It was a life changer, folks.
So life changing that I’m probably going to take a few blog posts to sort through all of my Northwesterly thoughts, feelings, and memories. Bear with me.
Our mission in the Northwest Territories was straightforward: paddle the Mackenzie River. Not the entire thing (which is doable, but requires a few months – we only had a week and a bit), but the section between Fort Providence and Fort Simpson.
We flew into Hay River, where we rented a canoe from a company called Canoe North. They’re a great resource and the owner’s daughter wrote a really good guide book that quickly became our favourite book on this trip. The folks at Canoe North drove us all the way out to Fort Providence, dropped us off at the boat launch, and bid us adieu.
We looked out at the Mackenzie River, which was simply huge. Looking at the land on the other side, it felt more like we were looking across a lake than a river. On this particular day, the water was looking pretty angry. It was very overcast, there was lots of winds, and the water was rough and full of white caps.
Our trip included a few buffer days to account for weather, so we decided to delay our start until the winds died down a little. The only problem was that we had no idea what to do. We were at a boat launch with barrels full of stuff and no idea where the town itself was. Then, it started to rain.
Just as we were trying to figure out what to do, a truck rolled up. Two people were checking in on their boat to make sure it was still in one piece. “You’re not going out in this weather, are you?”, asked the lady. They offered us a ride into the main part of town, even though we didn’t know exactly where we were going.
We loaded our gear into the truck and the strangers drove us to a hotel – the only one in town, I’m pretty sure. We thanked them, unloaded our stuff, and headed inside to figure out our next steps. I sat by our stuff while Cedric headed in to get some direction from the hotel staff. The hotel didn’t look like much to write home about, but the nightly rate rivaled the Fairmont in Whistler – yikes. After asking about other lodging options, we were told there was a campground just outside of town. We asked how far, and the lady at the front desk said it was too far to walk – especially with all our gear. She gave Cedric the phone number of the only taxi driver in town. Cedric promptly phoned, and the driver told him that he was in Hay River for a few days. Now what?
I stayed at the hotel with our stuff while Cedric crossed the street to a little restaurant. When he came back out, he told me he’d found us a ride. Two girls and a guy, around our age, came out and helped us load our stuff into their van.
If I remember correctly, they were all from Yellowknife, and they were taking part in a program that went to small communities around the province and organized activities for the local youth. They were really kind, and after we dropped our stuff off at the rainy campsite, they invited us to come back to the restaurant with them to play a few rounds of cards.
We played cards for a little while, then someone mentioned that they wanted to check out a little store nearby. We entered through the workshop, where a few people were working in front of sewing machines making gorgeous fur products. In another room, all the merchandise was on display. I’m not usually much of a fur person, but I have to tell you – it’s a lot different seeing it on display in a small town in the NWT with the artisans in the room next to you than it is, say, at the frou-frou Snowflake store in the Fairmont Chateau. I touched the softest mittens on earth and contemplated buying some knit hats and headbands, except I knew they’d probably get very dirty throughout our canoe trip.
My favourite part of the store was a rack of damaged beaver pelts. The damage was minimal in some of them – maybe a little hole or two – and it was only $40-$80 for an entire pelt. (The mittens were like, $300, to put that into perspective). The guy from the group we met ended up buying one with intentions to sew his own mittens out of it.
Eventually, they drove us back to our campsite and said goodbye. NOW HERE’S A CRAZY STORY – a few weeks later, we were in a parking lot in Canmore, Alberta AND WE SAW THE GUY FROM THE GROUP WHO’D BOUGHT THE BEAVER! Can you believe it?! Woods Canada magic!
We spent a quiet night at the camp and crossed our fingers that when we woke up in the morning, the river would be calm and the wind, non-existent. Story to be continued…