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  • July 30, 1999

    Back in the North

    Geoffrey Peake writes:

    PETER
BREWSTER
    First I would like to welcome back all those readers both old and new to our Winisk River trip. To those of you who followed our George River trip, can you believe its already been two years? We are excited about getting back on the river, and the promise of high water and many rapids (not to mention bugs) will fill these pages in the next few weeks. Glad you could join us!
    Our long train journey today has got me thinking back to the last time I rode this train, and the awful lesson I learned about getting off. The year was 1985, and we were riding the rails to begin one of our most ambitious trips, a 55-day, 1000 mile journey across the Barrenlands (a trip which, nearly 15 years later still features as our most amazing adventure, but that is another story...). The trip entailed a lengthy train ride to Lynn Lake, in northern Manitoba. We boarded in Parry Sound for the two-night trip, and everything was going according to plan until we reached Kenora, the half way point.

    The train stopped here for about 10 minutes. While seated in the observation car, I couldn't help but notice a brand new supermarket situated just up the hill from the station. One of my great weaknesses on all my trips (and one that my comrades never tire of pointing out) is my tendency to overbuy food for the trip. Alas, the sight of that crisp new store proved to be my undoing. Unable to resist, I bounded off the train and bolted toward the store in high gear. I remember the porter's parting words well: >'I'd make it quick if I were you.'

    I was quick, but not quick enough apparently. As I ran back to the platform, I had the rather alarming site of that observation car pulling out of sight with increasing speed. I sprinted to the end of the platform, desperately yelling and flailing my arms, in a vain attempt that this, somehow, would cause the train to stop. I was wrong. I exploded in a string of expletives cursing the train, the conductor, and anyone vaguely associated with the company.

    Aside from a bag of ice, a bag of cookies and some club soda, I had approximately $2.50, and was stuck about a thousand miles from where our trip was to start, with no apparent means of getting there.

    What began then was a endless marathon of catch-up that seemed hopeless. I managed to hitch a ride with the next freight train leaving for Winnipeg, and arrived in the main terminal only minutes after the northbound train left to Lynn Lake. I hitchhiked through an awesome thunderstorm across the prairies at night, catching a ride only minutes before the deluge dropped from the skies. I became familiar with several of Viapis toll-free operators, who would tell me just how far behind the train I was, and offered words of encouragement. The station manager at The Pas, my last chance to catch the train before it entered the trackless wastes where no roads followed, told me how Michael had tried in vain to delay the train, in the hope that I would arrive. Eventually the manager fed me dinner and drove me nearly two hours up the road to the truck stop, where I hitched a ride with the mine trucks, and then caught the bus in the morning to Lynn Lake, where I arrived about 18 hours after the rest of the group, still clutching the bag of cookies and soda water. I learned a few lessons that trip; aside from the obvious one about not getting off the train, I also realised how invaluable northern hospitality can be.

    Common sense prevailed on this trip, and without mishap we arrived at Savant Lake. The Canoe Frontiers Suburban was waiting to whisk us to Pickle Lake, where we enjoyed some norther hospitality at the home of Bernie and Lynn Cox, who own and operate Canoe Frontiers. Over burgers and beer, we talked about how their business was going, including the interesting saga of how their Turbo Otter fell through the ice, and had to be pulled back out again by a Sea King helicopter (he even has the pictures to prove it). Because they operate both an air charter and guiding business, they are in a unique position to offer trips that would be too expensive for a normal outfitter due to the large flights required to do many of the rivers in this distant part of Ontario. Bernie will be our pilot tomorrow, and our take-off time is set for 9 am (Central Time).

    Well, as usual, I'm the last one up, trying to file this diary.

    Michael is busy snoring up a storm next to me, the northern lights are dancing in the skies overhead.

    The mosquitoes are out. Yes, we are back in the northland again. All Aboard!




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