Saturday, August 5, 2001
KUUJJUAQ: Re-entry is always a bitter-sweet experience
I find it is the same after every long canoe trip. Especially one where , although we are wired to the world, there has been no sign of other human life.
The immediate universe has been our group of six, inter-dependent in a way that normal society does not duplicate.
Suddenly, there are other people. Hot water in a shower. Pickup trucks. Dill pickles and chips. Sheets.
The first warning of all this is the pilot of whatever float plane has come to pluck you out of the wilderness.
The Otter is suddenly heard above. Heads jerk up. It's not just another bush flight (we'd seen a couple of small aircraft in the final days on the Korok): it's OUR plane.
It circles the landing place, unfamiliar on this occasion and not short of rocks. Once. Twice. Three times.
Swooping low, the pontoons touch and within minutes a ball cap-clad head peers out, checking the unoccupied fish camp dock where we are gathered like waifs waiting for a soup kitchen to open.
We peer back. He brushes the dock perfectly, like a Bloor St. habitue nosing into a Toronto parking metre slot en route to lunch.
No drama, just: "Do you speak English or French?"
The gear goes in, Geoffrey takes the seat beside solo pilot Michel Beaudoin (it's a single engine De Havilland). Next, the familiar rattling-growl as we gather speed up the widening of the river, then liftoff.
Below, the last rapids of the Korok spread out in disarming simplicity. Ungava Bay opens up on a larger screen through the windows.
That's the moment when it always hits me, that the actual trip is over; re-entry has begun.
Memories of the last three weeks flood in, competing with each other for brain space and priority. The stunning beauty of Saglek and Nachvak fjords. The amazing sight of polar bears AND a herd of caribou occupying the same bit of arctic 'hood. The bruising slog up the Palmer River valley. The rocky Korok.
We had to abandon thoughts of a boat ride into George River yesterday when rain started at 4 a.m. and the Ungava tide brought in more fog. There was only one way out. It came in the shape of Johnny May's Air Charters, and Tony Sweet, the dispatcher who answered our call for the cavalry to come in. (Let's hear it for satellite phones!)
He was confidently reassuring. "We'll get you out of there." That the weather for yet another day failed to co-operate, and the HACC finds itself, for the first time, a day late flying home is just another facet of a truly memorable trip.
We hauled everything back upstream a kilometre to above the Korok's final rocky fling, to a spot where the plane could land.
By the time Tony had the guarantee of the cloud ceiling he needed we were too late for the Kuujjuaq-Montreal-Toronto hopscotch planned. So it is happening Saturday.
Labrador Odyssey 2001 is all here in detail and photos on this website, and Geoffrey and Michael are also writing windup columns. My thoughts will be entirely personal. Rejoining the world generates introspection.
This was a momentous trip. We saw scenery of a variety and splendour unmatched on previous expeditions. The tripartite nature - ocean, mountains, wild river - combined to cook an intoxicating brew of visual and physical memories. The spicing was the satisfaction of carrying it all off successfully.
No one was hurt. Friendships were more deeply cemented. Limitations reached and duly noted. The encroachments of age ruefully observed and temporarily repelled.
This was an extremely rough trip physically, and to make the technology work under the conditions faced is most satisfying. The way the six of us meshed and worked, backed each other up and endured is probably more so. People are still the final link, and in that I include the many thousands of internet fellow-travellers who joined the HACC's daily travails.
I did say this would be personal, and my homecoming is to be different from any other in the past 20 years of northern paddling. Readers who have checked out the pocket biographies of we six accompanying this site will have observed that I have a rather important reason to be back.
A baby, the first for Christie and I (and the first for both of us as individuals) is due. The timing is soon, perhaps within days and certainly two weeks. Everything is currently on track. It's a girl.
I come to this late in life, obviously, but with a delightful feeling of anticipation and wonder and hopes of being a better than adequate father. Certainly our daughter will have an exceptional mother.
What the world will be like when this child is old enough to see for herself some of the things I have enjoyed the past month I don't know.
How do you properly describe the Labrador coast on a clear day, with minke whales surfacing, icebergs rumbling and growling, polar bears sunning?
It's hard. Pictures most assuredly help. Words too.
But I will tell our daughter to go and see for herself. Explore in the company of like-minded friends. Observe. Preserve.
Meanwhile, the funny little $10 chair I bought in a Canadian Tire store in Summerside, P.E.I., in which I sat to write many of these daily logs surrounding by breathtaking views, is going home with me.
When she is big enough to sit in it - and that won't be long, it's a tiny chair - I'll tell her where it has been.
And say again: Take time when you are able to go and see for yourself.
It IS the real world.
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