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Guide's Report

By Geoffrey Peake

In Your Face

Friday, July 27, 2001

PETER
BREWSTER


Campsite: Upper Palmer River 58º 46.91'N, 64º 08.10'W.
Distance Today: 4 km
Total: 215 km

 Every good adventure story needs a villain. In today's chapter of our Labrador Odyssey, we have three -- the blackfly, the mosquito, and the willow.

  The first two come under the general category of bugs, and are an integral and unavoidable factor of summer travel in the north. Time and time again on our northern travels we have found ourselves saying "this place would be paradise, if only there weren't any bugs." The first time we went to the barrenlands, Alex Hall, a outfitter and guide in the NWT sent us a note wishing us well on our journey, and his final postscript was MAY THE WIND ALWAYS BE IN YOUR FACE. We were quite puzzled by this at first. Did he want us to have headwinds for the whole trip? Did he just make a mistake? Soon we learned that when the wind is in your face, the bugs are at your back. There's nothing worse than having a slight tailwind and having the bugs take shelter in your face -- it means wearing a headnet during the day.

 Anyway, today we continued our portage adventure. The weather cleared and we were blessed with clear sunny skies. The mountains looked amazing, as ever, still blanketed with a thin layer of snow on top. We also had the wind at our back, which means the bugs were in our face. And it was hot.

 We continued climbing toward the height of land. Now, in the past we have done some very long portages -- the Grand Portage, for example, which is nearly 9 miles long. What you learn is that it's not the distance that gets you, it's the terrain. That's where our three villains come in. The blackfly and mosquito were there to harass us during the day. The willow, that insidious little plant that up here grows anywhere from knee high to well above your head, has this exasperating habit of twining around your feed as you walk, threatening to topple you and your load to the ground.

 Now, I know I'm supposed to approach this whole portaging thing with a zen-like state of calm and compassion. I really shouldn't blame the bugs or the willows for doing what just comes naturally to them -- and after all, they were here first. But I still think even if you were to take the very soul of compassion-like Gandhi and chuck him up here in the buff and have him carry canoes and packs through this terrain, he too might start fantasizing about napalm and DDT and wind machines and a whole host of other man made, totally artificial ways of overcoming the noble torture of portaging on a hot buggy day.

 Anyway, I spent the balance of today with the wind at my back and the bugs in my face with Sig and Omond on my back. No, these aren't two new crew members, but the names of our packs. In order to keep things straight about what goes where, we adopted a naming system to our packs, and we use names from the crew of travelers, called The Voyageurs, who through the '50s and '60s rediscovered the old canoe routes and trails, and have served as an inspiration to us. In the past we've talked about some of these people -- Eric Morse, Sigurd Olson -- whose writings have influenced us. And now we get to carry their namesake packs on the trail. Just for the record, Sig and Omond together weigh about 130 pounds these days.

 Tonight we camped just shy of the height of land by about 2 km. Tomorrow we need to make it to the Korok if we want to keep to some kind of schedule. Were we paddling on a lake, we could make that distance in less than an hour. But this is overland travel, through willow and canyon, and I expect it will take us most of the day to make that distance. This is tough work-about as tough as it comes in the canoeing world, at least in our experience. But despite the aches and pains, we're all still loving life, and the amazing Torngat Mountains.

 We must be crazy...

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