Now that the immediate joy of a hot shower two days running has sunk in it is time to try and express our reaction to the journey of the past fifty days.
It is a complex reaction as we are both so tired, especially John who not only slept deeply last night but had a long ‘Nana nap’ both this morning and again after lunch. There is a certain relief that we have arrived but also an enormous sense of accomplishment that we undertook a challenge and not only overcame it but killed it. We both had some doubts and misgivings about our ability to do this not inconsequential trip, both at the planning stages and at times along the way but can feel proud that all our planning paid off and we reached our goal. We even did the trip in less time than John’s notional itinerary.
Generally speaking the weather was kind to us, headwinds are part of the story for all canoeists and we did not lose as many days as we anticipated due to wind, though perhaps the intense heat for the first two weeks was something of a surprise. We learnt much about running rapids from our trip down the Fond du Lac last year and John’s ability to read the river and steer us around ledges and holes and through many a boulder garden was brilliant. Last year I was fearful every time we ran white water, this year I felt both excitement and confidence as we crashed into high waves.
I am not sure at what point I found that I could lift the food drums without assistance, I think it was somewhere before the long portage around the Dubawnt Canyon but it was great to be able to fully pull my weight on portages and loading and unloading. The detailed planning for our meals paid off, the variety of dehydrated vegetables greatly added to our meals and we had sufficient of everything to get us to Baker Lake. John’s fishing was a tremendous success, he loved the concept of partially living off the land and we both enjoyed the delicious and filling lake trout. The ability to communicate with home, to listen to Radio Australia and obtain daily weather forecasts, especially the wind direction and speeds were luxuries we revelled in.
The country we travelled was magnificent. It was amazing to see the change from the typical taiga forests of Northern Saskatchewan with its park lands and sandy beaches through the gradual lessening of trees to the wide open space of the Barrens with its ‘bouldery’ expanses, raised beaches and glacial geology. The rivers were magical with their swift currents, thrilling white water, rugged banks, hills and gorges. The memory of paddling the length of the Dubawnt and probably being the oldest couple to do so is a memory we both treasure. I guess the only disappointment was the lack of wild life. That said we did see wolverine, Arctic wolves, caribou, moose, ground squirrels, a solitary musk ox and many water fowl. If you were to count insects as wildlife, (after all they drive you crazy), we have seen too much wildlife however we shouldn’t really complain as we knew they are a major part of the ecology here and apparently play a big part in feeding the fish.
There is something truly special about paddling 1200 kilometres in genuine wildness. There are not many places in our polluted world where you could spend fifty days drinking water from the lakes and rivers without a worry. After Selwyn Lake, apart from the odd abandoned trap cabin there were no signs of human life, not even bush planes, just the occasional jet trail high overhead. Much of the satisfaction of wildness canoeing comes from having to rely on yourself, make decisions, trust yourself and feel confident that all your preparation will pay off. It is working as a team with total confidence in each other that makes an adventure like this so worthwhile. Hence the mixed feelings of relief at having made it without incident, pride in our accomplishment and sadness that we will most likely never see this awesome part of the world again.