SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I.: It isn't often that we have 14,000 people gather to wish us bon voyage.
Okay, they're Scouts, and we've been sharing their enormous campsite here at the CJ'01 Jamboree
while we conduct the final preparations for Labrador Odyssey 2001.
As I write, there are tents stretching almost to the horizon under an overcast sky, each group proudly bearing the colours of home base, all trying to outdo each other with ingenious kitchen rigs, wry welcome signs and expressions of camaraderie and humour.
It's a busy scene, on a rolling hillside close by the ocean, and the site swarms for much of the day (and part of the night) with individuals and groups heading purposefully from one locale to another (the fish and chip shack is a magnet).
HACC members Peter Brewster and Geoffrey Peake display the small assortment of chocolate bars we are taking for fuel on the trip. (Digital photo by Michael Peake)
Amid all this bustle, the untidy chaos that is the temporary HQ of the Hide-Away Canoe Club blends happily in. Our tents, part of a full product exhibit erected by Woods, our sponsor, are in the center of things.
The myriad items of gear that are somehow going with us on our 24-day journey up the Labrador coast, through the Torngat Mountains, and down the Korok River to Ungava Bay attract constant attention and a stream of question. We've been trying to answer everything with patience and good humour, while making sure that the smaller kids don't pick up and drop anything vital.
(I DO say good humour, but if the guy who was quizzing me about the boats as I was feverishly gluing foam knee pads into place this morning - and found me a tad abrupt - is reading this let me add that contact cement is a one-way street.)
And so, it begins again. Tomorrow (Wednesday) morning, when we board an Air LabradorTwin Otter for a flight from Summerside to Saglek Fjord in northern Labrador. This, our third on-river, on-line canoe expedition, following on from electronic adventures down the magnificent George River in northern Quebec in 1997, and two years ago, the surprising, entertaining Winisk in northern Ontario.
But this one's different. Labrador Odyssey 2001 combines the cold weather, harsh terrain elements from earlier outings on (the Povungnituk and the Kogaluk in northern Ungava come to mind) with the complexities of an on-line venture.
To all the extra gear in the form of digital cameras, Mac laptops, satellite phone and tiny portable generator you can this time add ocean travel along a scenic but unforgiving coastline that is the summer highway of icebergs following the Labrador current.
Sean and Geoffrey Peake help a volunteer scout at the CJ'01 jamboree. The unnamed volunteer came out of the audience to try and carry 120 pounds of packs using the traditional tump line method. (Photo by Daron Earthy.)
You can meet the members of the group elsewhere on this web site, and within an hour or so we will have the sixth man in camp. Tom Stevens, the backup all along, flew from London, where he'd been enjoying Wimbledon) to Toronto yesterday, and then to Charlottetown this morning. He'll be just in time for a pre-departure barbecue.
Also on the website, readers who wish to follow us from time to time - or better yet, every day! - will find very complete historical and geographical details about this expedition, the country we will see, the gear we have along, and a little on why we take a month out of our busy lives every couple of years to do this.
But it is not enough to say that the north and its people and history get into your blood, although that's true. Nor does it suffice to wax lyrical about the beauty of the wild places, the animals and the scenery, although that too is honest.
We go on these trips for intensely intimate reasons, each searching for something, chasing personal devils too if you will,. We go, also, to honour travelers who went before, under tougher conditions and without the high-tech equipment we love so much. Men who saw things firsthand and encouraged others to do the same. Men like Eric Morse and Angus Scott.
The response we've had to our previous trips has been increasingly gratifyisng, culminating in the wonderful armchair travel feeling so many expressed when they followed us down the Winisk to the tune of 160,000 'hits' in two and a half weeks.
So come along for the ride, if you like. We'd we proud to have you join us.
(This expedition is dedicated to the memory of Angus Scott, the prominent educator and canoeist, who died tragically last week. Angus was the father of our regular travelling companion the Rev. Peter Scott, whose capable presence we will miss dearly this trip.)
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