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The plan to update the blog in Wrigley did not quite work to plan. We did not have the opportunity in the town so pushed on, all the way to Norman Wells, bypassing Tulita (Fort Norman) in the process as the weather convinced us to hurry.
The travel since Fort Simpson and the joining of the Liard River has been good. The Mackenzie River is fast and the camping sites have been getting better as we travel further North. Initially, we were a little worried because the sides were steep and rocky, but since the Liard the shores are predominantly sandy on the left (South/West) and rocky to the right (North/East).
Our thanks to Diane and Tom Thomson in (at the time) Fort Simpson, who let us use their internet (the library’s internet not working), shared some great stories with us and gave us some snacks which came in handy over the next few days of longer distances. The terrain has changed, with us now into the Mackenzie Mountains which are spectacular. It was great to paddle towards them throughout the day and watch them gain definition through the heat-shimmer across the water and the heat-haze in the air. A sandy beach at the outpouring of the North Nahanni River between the Nahanni Mountain and the Camsell Range provided us with our first campsite along this beautiful stretch of water. Whilst the weather has been predominantly hot, the nights are cooler, and in Norman Wells, we have seen the first yellow leaves on trees – Autumn/Fall is on the way!
The weather has been uniformly hot with clear skies, though there are regularly strong gusts of wind from the North and very notable exceptions to the good weather. The insects have lessened which is a relief after the Slave River with us not being hounded morning, noon and night by the little critters. We can now enjoy the paddling that little bit more. We have seen thunderstorms though almost never on the river itself. Last night in Norman Wells being the exception. Camped on the shoreline a huge storm moved in and for a time I was considering the possibility that the tipi or canoe would be washed into the river. There was so much water pouring down the slope that the entire shore was a sheet of water, channels opening up in the now thick, deep mud, even under our tipi. The inner-tent floor turns out to not be as water-proof as we would have hoped, the zippers leaking water and having us pack everything into dry-bags, just in case. I had to get out in the storm to dig channels around the tipi so that the water would run either side of us as much as possible and not underneath, causing us more problems. A real test of equipment, with a solo-paddler`s tent set up on the beach being flattened by the wind it was so strong, and with help he was quickly moved further up the shore with his gear by another camper and myself.
We have been moving faster as planned, with us averaging 50km per day. We also wanted to – just once – break the 100km mark and paddle into 3 digits in one day. This we did to get to Norman Wells, travelling 102km in 10hrs – a long day and surprisingly, not as tough as we imagined with us fuelled by coffee and good weather, hearing risk of thunderstorm on the radio which had us paddling that little bit faster! Even though we are travelling bigger distances, we are usually finished paddling before 5pm which allows us to enjoy our evening, swimming in the river after the hot day`s paddle to cool and refresh us.
We continue to see wildfires, and spent 2 days paddling past one on the Western shore. On the 22nd July we were camped on a large island in the middle of the river called McGern Island, a sandy beach provided a great campsite and across the water a wildfire raged, pluming smoke into the sky and across the sun, presenting a stunning sunset. It was with this backdrop that I asked Vicki to marry me – and of course, how could she refuse with such a romantic scene? Our experience over the past 3 months has shown me we make a great team.
We had an interview in CBC North which was fun. I called in from Wrigley and spoke with Joselyn Oosenbrug, host of `The Trailbreaker` which made me a little nervous (first time on the air) but was fun. Unfortunately, we were out of radio range for the next few days so never heard it on the radio. One of the questions I was asked was about the wildlife – of which we have seen very little since leaving the Jasper area. Not 3 days later we have had moose walking around our tipi, black bears on either side of the river, with us filming a cub playing in the water and on the shore for a long time, as well as porcupine. The last week has been one of the best of the entire trip.
We have been seeing other paddlers as we travel, one a red canoe with family, one a yellow canoe with solo traveller though we have been passing each other at different times and have not had the opportunity to speak, constantly just missing each other. That changed after we arrived in Norman Wells as we have all met through coincidence and camped upon the shore. The family is Dan and Alice with 2 children which is great to see, and we spent a most enjoyable evening exchanging stories and laughing long into the night, the sun almost rising again by the time we each turned in to our respective homes. The next day Brian arrived, though just minutes before the storm broke so a prospective story-telling group around the campfire never materialised much to our dismay. It is interesting that we are all travelling in a similar way though through very different means, goals and aspirations. Dan and Alice are with their children, and so started in the town of Jasper and have avoided the rapids, etc., that would be too much a danger with so precious a cargo. They are, however, much better provisioned with food and very kindly gave us the extra they could not fit in their boat. Brian has been equipped by an outfitter and started in Hay River, unfortunately because of his time scale no longer able to reach Inuvik, and finishing at Fort Good Hope, a few days from here.
Norman Wells is a town that has suprised us, certainly embracing more the oil that provides the town with its subsistence for the most part. This is contrary to Fort Mcmurray, which seems to wish to hide the large refineries from its populace. Norman Wells is a much, much smaller town (800 people compared with 77,000) and is most hospitable. Alasdair Veitch, the head of tourism in the area had heard us on the radio talking about our adventure and saw us walking through the town. He has been extremely helpful (thanks Alasdair!), giving us the grand tour of the town and surrounding area, and taking us to where we can wash our clothes, have a much needed shower (especially after 100km the day we arrived) and taking us to a cafe where the burgers were great. We had heard of them from a guy in Jasper and it lived up to the hype. Very good and again, most welcome! We were also taken to the Royal Legion (Canol Branch) – the towns bar – where we could use the internet and have a nice cold beer. The museum is also fascinating with a varied history presented as well as modern arts and culture on display. Everything from the Canol Project (a WWII grand venture of building roads and pipelines across the North to support the war effort), the oil industry and geological make-up of the area, as well as Native arts and traditions displayed. The craftwork and arts on display in the museum really are amazing. The quality of craftsmanship fantastic and a real pleasure to see.
Our plan now is to move towards Fort Good Hope, from where our next update will be from.