Sunday, August 5, 2001
About 6 pm today, after the rain and mists had cleared, a single Otter from Johnny May's Air Charter in Kuujjuaq flew over our camp, circled twice and touched down. Within minutes, we loaded the remnants of our gear-paddles, clothing, tents, computers, generator (now several hundred pounds lighter without food and fuel)-and were airborne again. The pilot banked hard over the last rapid, leveled out, then headed west. On that final turn, faintly off the right wing, maybe 100 km away, I could see the unmistakable outline of the Torngat Mountains to the east, silhouetted against the horizon.
For the rest of the flight, as we flew over the barren rugged shoreline of Ungava Bay, I thought about the previous three weeks. Twenty-one days ago we were still stuck in Happy Valley, waiting for the weather to clear, uncertain when our Labrador Odyssey would begin.
What an amazing three weeks.
More than any other trip, our journey up the Labrador coast, across the mountains of Labrador and down to Ungava Bay has distinguished itself with an unparalleled variety and depth of scenery. In the course of this trip, we have traveled the rolling open waters of the Labrador Sea, paddled below wave-lashed cliffs and down steep-walled fiords, past polar bears and herds of caribou, floated by whales and icebergs, tracked up the crystal waters of the Palmer River, carried over the rugged spine of the Torngat Mountains, and run many rapids of the Korok to tidewater at Ungava Bay. I cannot think of any other place that can lay claim to as much richness and beauty-and isolation--as the Torngat Mountains.
We have also braved the heat, cold, exhaustion, an incalculable number of blackflies and mosquitoes, and-most of all-the sheer logistical challenge of mounting an online trip on a trip that already was not lacking in physical challenge. But for all its challenge, for all my complaining about the weather and bugs and rapids, this trip has surpassed all expectations.
Years ago, in the spring of 1982, CANOE magazine published an article, OF MYTHS AND MOUNTAINS by Ron Beebe, that described a paddling trip through the Torngats. The pictures from that trip-shots of icebergs, glacially carved fiords, and the indomitable Torngat Mountains themselves, planted a seed that eventually grew into the Labrador Odyssey 2001.
Now that the trip is over, and my worries as Chief Guide are through, there are a number of people who turned this dream into a reality that I would like to thank.
First, I would like to offer my appreciation to both the Governor and the Historical Director (Michael and Sean) for their tireless efforts in climbing a mountain of logistical problems to make this trip happen. This included all the regular planning that goes into an extended canoe trip, but also in building a complete (and attractive) web site to support it as well. The Governor in particular, worked tirelessly for months on end to ensure every possible detail was covered, and it is to his credit that-aside from the weather (which he apparently does not yet control) and a missing container of table salt (apparently my fault), this trip has been a testament to flawless organization.
Also, I want to thank Infosat for providing the most critical piece of tech equipment we brought: our satphone. This one item (plus the hours and hours of connection time) were what allowed us to download the dozens of pictures and journals every day, and to hear and respond to those of you who are following this trip online.
First Air provided invaluable assistance with our flight arrangements-and have generously found rebooked us on our southbound flight to Toronto tomorrow.
Greg Oliver and the crew at CANOE have done another amazing job in putting the pieces of pictures, stories and comments together and posting them for the entire world to see. For a third time, I offer thanks.
Most of all, I want to thank Woods Canada-and David Earthy and his family in particular-for their enthusiastic support in making this trip a reality. This trip would be nothing but a paddler's fantasy if David hadn't stepped in and generously offered to do whatever it took to get us on the water. Your help both before and during the trip can never be adequately repaid, but I offer a tip of the paddle to you just the same.
For all of you who have followed us on the web at your home or in the office or wherever you have plugged into our little adventure, thanks for coming along with us. We may not be the fastest or strongest or even the most skillful paddlers in the world, but our goal in doing these trips is simple: We enjoy seeing for ourselves the distant corners of this country, and we like sharing it with others.
As I've said before, hauling all this tech gear around on a trip at times seems totally ludicrous, and ultimately, incredibly fragile as well. We had to observe almost obsessive care of all things technological to ensure they worked. It would only take a few well-placed drops of water to shut us down for good.
Yet, when we read the comments from those who are following our trip at home and hear how we have inspired others, we feel like all that extra work is worth it. At times it seems bizarre that the notes and comments I write late at night in a tent go out into the world and have a life of their own, but that is the power of technology.
Here's a great example of what I mean: tonight, when we checked into the Kujjuuaq Inn, the six of us were standing around the front desk hauling in our packs and paddles and all the other stuff we've been carting around for the last three weeks. A few of us were wearing trip jackets, and a woman walking past stopped and looked at us. It took her a moment of thinking, but suddenly a flash of recognition twigged in her eyes and she stabbed a finger toward us. "You're the Labrador canoeists, aren't you?" She introduced herself as Maggie, and breathlessly stated "I've been following your trip every day". Maggie was clearly excited to see us, and shook all our hands in turn, saying, "which one of you is the guy who makes the bread?" Maggie had a bunch of questions to ask me about how we bake our bread while on trip (I use a small folding oven), and she'd read enough of the trip to know most of our names and our adventures.
We sat in our rooms later and marveled that, minutes after getting off the plane at the end of a trip, we run into someone who has been following our trip on a daily basis in the little town of Kuujjuaq. This is the strength of an online trip.
So, to all of you who have paddled and portaged by our sides on this Labrador Odyssey, thanks for coming along! At night in the tent we've read your comments and messages of encouragement and they have given us the sense that we are all connected, if only in some virtual way, in this adventure. I hope you gained some sense of the power and majesty of the Torngat Mountains, and in closing I'll leave you with one last thought that sums up better than any other why we are here and why we do it.
Until next time, Au Revoir...
WE WERE NOT PIONEERS OURSELVES, BUT JOURNEYED OVER OLD TRAILS THAT WERE NEW TO US, AND WITH HEARTS OPEN. WHO SHALL DISTINGUISH? J MONROE THORINGTON
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