The sound of silence. Something rare and precious in our busy
lives. It was a privilege to be on this river, in our canoe watching the sun
kiss the horizon and then gently, slowly rise. We welcomed another day in the
Arctic, paddling down the Mackenzie River.
I love Canada’s North. The scenery
inspires me to return again and again. Our Indigenous neighbours share many
gifts of Mother Nature, of thriving in our North.
Inuit life, culture, music and art has
established the Northwest Territories as a unique corner of the world.
I’ve invited my son, Tavis, to join me on
a two-week canoe trip paddling from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk some 210
kilometers down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean.
I knew this trip would be an adventure
that would require careful planning. I’m also grateful to Kelly, Tavis’s wife,
for staying home with their two daughters so he could share this journey with
My son was in charge of navigation and
ordered detailed maps, and a small solar charger for the GPS that used Russian
satellites, which allowed our loved ones to follow our progress. I was in
charge of arranging all the equipment and packing delicious meals in the bear
barrel. I included a case of Sleeman’s beer to cool in the bottom of the canoe
along with a few bottles of wine.
Getting to Inuvik was an adventure of
it’s own. I drove 7,500 kms alone, camping in my Aliner. Northern British
Columbia was breathtaking. Then there’s the Dempster Highway, 735 kms of gravel,
mosquitos and mud!
Our first day of paddling started with
perfect weather and a calm river. Within hours dark clouds moved in. We headed
for shore and quickly set up one tent, before the violent storm arrived . The
Mackenzie can be frightening, changing conditions in minutes.
Our outfitter, Kylik, at Tundra North
Tours, had warned us of the wind, the storms, the mud that was like quick sand
and the grizzlies. The mud scared me the most, because my boots were too
big and every canoe exit ended with me on all fours in the river, sinking into
the mud. Poor Tavis figured out the best way to get me to shore was to
literally pull me through the mud. “Faster Mommerdog….you can do this.” I felt
useless unloading the canoe, but I could set up my tent and cook delicious
meals – the secret is in the spices.
The wind forced us to sleep all day and
paddle all night. In July the sun never sets. We’d find a lovely spot to camp,
enjoying the wilderness, and a fancy dinner before convincing our bodies it was
time to sleep. Paddling from midnight till 6am felt ‘normal.’ The soft light
Every Inuit fisherman stopped to chat
making sure we were safe in their Territory. It was reassuring to know if we
capsized we would be rescued.
The sandbar in the middle of the river
was totally unexpected! We thought Tavis would have to push us to the Arctic
Ocean. We laugh now, but at the time is was a really bad day.
Another morning we were visited by a
curious grizzly bear. I prayed Tavis would remember the instructions on staying
calm, getting the bear spray out, and not firing until the bear was only two meters away. That bear took one look at my tall son and ran. We shoved
everything into the canoe and ran too!
The weather changed as we paddled towards
Cold wet days and nights had us looking forward
to the whaling/fishing Camp that Kylik promised would accommodate us, and
transport us to Tuk.
We were greeted by Gayle and
Steve, who recommended we warm up in the comfortable tent with cots
covered in caribou skins. The small stove heated the space and we felt like we
were in heaven. Their two adorable kids asked a million questions about
us. We reciprocated with a million questions about them.
“Fishing and hunting, fishing and
hunting”. Even their school year revolves around hunting seasons, as it
requires all hands securing and preserving food for the year.
The small community of Tuktoyaktuk is
known as the Land of the Pingos, famous ancient Arctic landforms created by
permafrost and pressurized water.
|Joanne at Mile One|
Tuk is also Mile One of the Trans Canada
Flying back to Inuvik over the Mackenzie
I knew the memories we created would last a lifetime.
Joanne McAuley does her best to experience any
adventure. Her happy place is paddling in the wilderness, skiing Whistler,
exploring quiet country roads on her Ebike, or ﬁddling French Canadian tunes,
especially with other musicians. She retired 8 years ago and is living her
dreams every moment of every day.
See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing
workshops, weekly online writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Alliston,
Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown,
Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo,
London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines,
Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel,
Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.