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  • Writer's pictureAlec McColm

Taking a Break, NWT

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Summer 2015

Taking a Break, NWT.

Life at this particular moment is good. Just having had my first swim after four days paddling was part of it. Being comfortable on the hammock, under tarp, on this day off, was also nice. Mostly it was sweet just feeling at home in this place.

If I had to rate gear brought in terms of pound for pound value, on this trip the hammock (small, light and cheap) and the lightweight nylon tarp would rank near the top. As the wind and rain had been fairly regular since I was dropped on the route by float plane. Though the breeze and it being mid August was also serving to keep the bugs down. More little things to be pleased with under the circumstances. I guess you could call me a man of simple pleasures.

On second thought I’d have to admit that it wasn’t completely simple getting here. Roughly a twenty hour drive out of Calgary to Yellowknife (I wanted to bring my own 14’ Clipper duraflex prospector, rather than use a local 16’ royalex available). For the canoeing destination it was roughly the equivalent of throwing darts at a map. Though instead of a dart the main criteria was a float plane range that was solo affordable for me out of Yellowknife. For me that was a 150 km circle.

Panning the topos had me developing interest in a connecting lake section from drop off top of Thistlewaite to pickup bottom of Wagenitz. The flight service, Ahmic Air, had certification on its Beavers for external canoe loads; and confirmed the trip would be about what I was looking for. A recreational though remote week in the backcountry. So that was it, about 70k distance around the edges, for generally short days with a couple off along the way.

I suppose I have to admit that my solo canoe trips could be considered a selfish endeavour. Though Kathy has always encouraged me to keep it up (and I honestly don’t think she’s just been trying to get rid of me for a break). She knows its been what I like or need to recharge my batteries. Though at age 59, for me, it can take a couple days off after the trip to recover the go back to work energy level. So its less of a recharge now and more like a healthy reset of perspective, or reconnection with a good friend.

Yet there are times that I’m sure that one would wonder why this is an enjoyable calling. Like when knee deep in muck slogging through a nasty portage, or going deliberately brain dead to paddle all day through a steady rain. Huddled wind bound on the lee side of a little rock island waiting for waves to subside (though I kinda like that one, as no chores, just killing time). Or running into a tent refuge to leave most of the black fly cloud behind. Or those too long days on the water when you are tired and hungry and all the promising campsites across the bay that you paddle to are no good.

But you learn to pack and proceed in a way that allows you for the most part to be dry and warm, nourished, reasonably comfortable and cautious with the water and the course you are taking on it. The gear compact enough and going in and out of the boat smoothly. The finding and setup of camps routine. Enjoying the scenery, the fishing, the long northern sunsets. Paddling strong and confident as you approach the trips end, thinking of a cheeseburger and strawberry shake. Feeling competent in this wonderful world.

Then there are the times that are simply magic, on top of or out of this world. Rafted up with your buddies, makeshift sail up, blowing across that big lake that you thought might be a problem. You’re 14, ten days out and the last few have been in rain; the clouds and mist are breaking and your trip leader has you pull together in the middle of the lake now becoming still; and breaks out a secret stash of glossette raisins, half a box each (I’ll seriously never forget how good those tasted).

Or the times I’ve been out paddling in golden sundown or sunrise mists, all around, with the boat light and suspended in it on the mirror. Amazing. Reminds me of what one of my favourite characters Forrest Gump said, you couldn’t tell where earth stopped and heaven began. Or was it the other way around?

I think it was then, in those young years, that I fell in love with the land, the country. And the canoe as my way of getting back into it. So yes, life is good right now, taking a moment to appreciate the feeling of good work, that backcountry canoeing is.


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