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Day After Day

Ross River

 

Published on May 12th, 2016 by Michel
How long were the last hours of walk before Ross River, eager that I was to arrive… But before explaining why I have made a remarked entrance, escorted by a policeman and a mushroom picker, I have to come back on these 2 months of adventure. To remember them, I don’t delve into history; I have to look elsewhere, in a dimension where the time doesn’t exist. Above all it has been an intense inner exploration that I wouldn’t be able to transcribe off the top of my head.
Now that I am aware of the terrain difficulties, I believe that all of it was madness. I left while completely ignoring what was awaiting me. I wish (sometimes) that people who encouraged me at Norman Wells telling it was possible to cross, were with me on the Canol Trail to show me how they cross non-frozen rivers and landslides, how they pull the sledge in the branches, how they climb escarpments or how they walk in more than 1 meter of snow, a snow so light we could sweep it until the ground. Here is a brief sample of the natural obstacles I had to overcome. And as I mentioned in a previous post before leaving, I needed two supplies and only the first was planned. I had no idea what I would do for the second one. But it was already time to leave and I had a strong intuition to rush without too much thinking and that everything would be alright.
I have then left with paltry experience and organization, counterbalanced by nerves of steel and a determination to go through. As the main issue was food supplies, I have started to ration since the first day. During three weeks, I think my body has accomplished strength feats without showing the slightest weakness sign. I simply overcame obstacles one after another. I already received the first supplies and I was at only sixty kilometers from the road, the game was almost won.
Things went worse during the ascent of the Caribou pass where the snow was more thick than everywhere else on the Canol trail. Besides, I had lost too much weight and my nervous system began to show some weakness signs. During three days, I progressed at a ridiculous speed of 0.5 km/h. Not to mention that I had only 10 days of rations left and still half of the way ahead, it was a disaster. Then I remembered the mails of two Americans in which they told me that sometimes Mother Nature “kicked your ass”. I lost my dignity and I started to rage against the sky and cry. A child dream led me to the Canada, there were also all these years of work to prepare the expedition and, much worse, this force which shook me to the guts and told me to rush. If all these emotions were only a mistake, a delirium, leading to failure, then living wouldn’t be of interest to me anymore. I only had to walk until falling exhausted and never get up again. But deep inside me, in the darkness of despair, a little candle kept shining. All of this had to be something else than a nightmare and I would wake up.
Like a small light of hope, there was this hut pointed on the map, where I went very laboriously. Against all ods, the door was opened et there was a lot of food: I was saved! I was then overwhelmed by a huge feeling of shame when remembering the rage and despair previously consuming me. How could I doubt? I had planned to stay only a few days, but the sudden warm which formed an ice rind on the top of the snow pack, had made it even more unworkable. However, I only needed that a second warm happened in order for this ice rind to be strong enough to allow me walking on it without sinking. Fortune smiled on me except that I had to wait during four long weeks… In the meantime I got sciatica and all the traumas kept in my flesh woke up. No question to leave anymore.
When the mountain decided that I had enough waited, I left again thoroughly to reach the final pass, MacMillan Pass, and the road. What a chance that a snowmobile passed by here during the winter: I then only had to follow the tracks to go down until Ross River, Yukon. This time the game was won… well almost won, because there was no snow left on the 130 last kilometers due to an excessively warm winter in Yukon. I had to drop my almost entire equipment and continue with a little backpack. For having so much profited from the hut and its food, it has been a real release to offer this counterpart. The Mountain, which called me from so far away, let me go through and released me totally skinned. Only the shoes that I kept could witness that it had not only been a dream.
Travelling 130 km in three days, without anything to sleep outside, while it is freezing during nights, is quite uncomfortable. Once again, an inside force told me to rush and that everything would be fine. And every night, after 10 to 12 hours walking, I had the opportunity to sleep in a hut and to find blankets and wood for the stove.
Yet a big fear was to come during a night while I had dinner, comfortably installed in a hut. The wind was very strong that night and was closing the door again and again, despite the board holding it. An umpteenth squall closed the door and this time, while I was eating turning my back to the door, discouraged, I didn’t reopen it. A few minutes later, a grizzly, attracted by my meal’s smell, was trying to smash the door of the hut. Life really hangs by a thin thread… Thanks the squall!
I left Monday March 6th, 2016 and after 64 days of adventures, I finally arrived at Ross River, more exactly, on the other side of the river where the bridge is broken for 3 years (information that I didn’t know!). Tha Canol Trail had clearly be unpredictable until the end! A bit more and I would almost have been in complete shock. The disappointment wasn’t very long because I have been quickly spotted by inhabitants. That’s how a policeman and a mushroom picker came with a boat to rescue “the man on the other side of the river”, ending a great episode of America Extrema.
Next I will talk about my incredible stay at Ross River and my meeting with Norman Winther, the actor of the movie “The last trapper” by Nicolas Vannier. By the way it is with him, nearly fifteen years ago, that he crossed the Rockies via the Canol Trail with his dogs. Norman was the guide of the snowmobilers’ team who drew the trail.
Meanwhile, I left you with this poem that I wrote during my month of hermitage at the hut of the Caribou pass:
Caribou passe
Recluse au col du Caribou
Trône une cabane en rondin
Office pour les pèlerins
Las, arrivant sur les genoux.
Qu’il est bon d’y trouver refuge
Lorsque le vent hurle si fort
Que le froid de la nuit vous mord
Ici, à l’abri du déluge
La montagne est son bel écrin.
Il sourit à votre réveil,
Chasse les tourments de la veille
Et c’est ainsi chaque matin.
Là-haut le temps s’est arrêté.
La folle course des nuages
Les jacasseries des ramages
Seules troublent l’Éternité.
A l’embarras des questions,
A jamais le blanc des sommets.
Par le vert bourgeon d’un bosquet,
Parfois l’auguste ciel répond.
Un murmure dans le silence
Une brise caressant la joue
Oh ! Comme ce contact est doux
Et raisonne avec éloquence.
Dans ces solitudes glacées
Par quel miracle, par quel tour ?
Mon corps, d’énergie et d’amour
S’est-il soudain retrouvé gonflé.

Sur cette immaculée blancheur
Où printemps doit tout réécrire
Mon bonheur, je ne peux décrire
De voir planer les migrateurs.
Toit, à l’avant-garde du monde,
J’ai soif de nouveaux horizons.
Puissé-je y goûter à foison
La paix de ces longues secondes.
Reclus au col du Caribou
Alors que neige cesse enfin
Je me souviens du jour lointain
Où j’arrivai sur les genoux.
22.4.2016

Dodo canyon

Dodo canyon

Former building of the pipe-line

Former building of the pipe-line

My friend the stove

My friend the stove

One of the countless open rivers

One of the countless open rivers

zigzag of the terrain

zigzag of the terrain

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1209.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1265.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1276.

Caribou Pass Hell

Caribou Pass Hell

The hut which saved my life

The hut which saved my life

Early melt in Yukon

Early melt in Yukon

Happy day on the Canol Trail

Happy day on the Canol Trail

Ross River at last

Published on May 10th, 2016 by Michel

Florian has just arrived, safe, at Ross River. He has been welcomed and housed. He is preparing us a summary that I will publish online very soon.
Michel

the rest

the rest

Mount Sheldon

Published on May 7th, 2016 by Michel

No snow under 1 000 meters in altitude, the sledge is going to break at any time because I’m pulling it on the track’s stones. Tomorrow I will continue with a backpack. I am forced to leave almost everything behind me, including the tent. I am spending tonight in a hut. I still have 128 km! I look forward to reaching Ross River!

Mount Sheldon (google)

Mount Sheldon (google)

Note from Michel: Florian has camped on this part of the Canol trail, on the red spot, at the foot of Mount Sheldon.

Mac Millan Pass

Published on May 3rd, 2016 by Michel

That’s it I did it! I am happy having succeeded in it. I have crossed Mac Millan Pass and reached the road. What a joy but also a relief after so many tests! Now I only have to follow this way until Ross River, still 200 km, but this time I only have to follow the snowmobiles tracks. The problem is that on this side the snow is almost completely melted, I doubt there will always be snow until the city. In this case, I will make a makeshift backpack and finish on foot. I think I have enough food.

Happy birthday !

Published on April 28th, 2016 by Michel

America Extrema is 1 year old. After 4 unforgettable weeks, spring is here: 18 hours of light per day. Snow is hard as rock, I will be able to walk without effort, it is an unspeakable happiness. Departure is fixed tomorrow morning at 4 o’clock. Farewell to the hut of the Caribou pass will be difficult, despite my eager to meet a human being after 2 months of loneliness. See you soon!

Still at the Caribou hut

Published on April 25 , 2016 by Michel

The snow isn’t going any better: I can push down my sticks 1.20 meters deep. But there is no urgency about it because I won’t be able to paddle before June due to the Yukon meltdown. So I will wait for snow to be enough melted.
In order to save the batteries, I will begin a hermitage: no daily messages or meteo until further notice. How long can one live by eating Knorr every day?

Waiting for melting

Published on April 11 , 2016 by Michel

Ten days that I am waiting at the hut of the Caribou Pass that freezing and melting of the snow harden it enough to be able to walk on it; at least that’s what I’m hoping for!
I am suffering from a sciatic, but frostbite on my face is healed. My main occupation is to collect dead branches in the rare bushes for heating. I am waiting with ptarmigans and a lemming.
I think it will be fine and I don’t worry too much. I am waiting for a hot day like when I reached the hut and I will leave just after.

The hut of the caribou pass

Published on April 1th , 2016 by Michel

I am at mile 192, halfway to Ross River and at 50 kilometers from the road.
For 5 days I’ve had a hard time in 1 meter of melting snow.
I’m moving at 500 meters per hour, at intense efforts cost. I had no strength left when I’ve been able to take refuge in a hut.
I am enjoying this voluptuousness rest while waiting for temperatures to decrease.

The hut….in summer. (google)

The hut….in summer. (google)

Mile 131

Published on March 20, 2016 by Michel

I am at mile 131, after having crossed the Twitya River! The last 50 kilometers were exhausting; no natural obstacle was spared to me. But now a big part of the difficulties is behind me!

In the plains of  Abraham

Published on March 6, 2016 by Michel

I am at mile 80, in a décor made of rocks and snow. I’m getting ready to cross the highest point of the expedition: 1700 meters high.
The conditions are excellent and I’m moving faster than in my previsions.

A new start

Published on March 6, 2016 by Michel

Two weeks ago, for the second time, I gave up the encounter with the mountain. In September, it was because of the storms and accumulated fatigue and in February, because of a lack of experience and it was also the coldest week of the winter. The Rockies have character and forgive you no weakness. On my side, I never give up so I hope we will find common ground. Retrospectively I don’t regret coming back because I clearly wouldn’t have gone very far. As a matter of fact I already broke a hook of the harness linking me to the overloaded sledge and the sewing, although strong, were threatening to tear. Furthermore, I had a frostbite to one of my fingers and my shoes were only a mass of ice because I neglected wrapping my feet in plastic bags to contain the sweat.
I have thus entirely rethought my way of travelling in light of this new experience, while using the “rule of two”. I have divided by two the weight of my equipment and food, and also the length of the projected daily steps. In this way, I can forget about crossing in autonomy and I will need 2 supply deliveries to rally Ross River in nearly a month and a half. I have been able to organize the first one thanks to the local aerial company. As for the second one, nothing is planned so far, everything in its own time!
While I was selecting which material was really mandatory, I remember jubilating to every element put apart like if it was a negative part of me I was eliminating. The too big volume of equipment carried out was only the reflection of my fears: those of being cold, hungry, tired or lost. There was also the hidden fear of failure, the most terrible, because the least well-identified. Instead of protecting me, these fears have stood in the way of my progression and led me to a dead end.
This new start is planned for Monday March 7th 2016, with longer and milder days than last time. The area on which I will venture out is known for its deep snow, fact that I experienced myself in the woodlands as I was sunk into it until the waist. Here is the difficulty: move at least 10 kilometers every day into that snow which can also be very compact in opened spaces.
I don’t know how to clearly explain the issue that this challenge represents for me. It is like all my adventures and life choices had blindly led me here and their meanings suddenly being revealed to me.
I have no certainty concerning my chances of success, so I don’t see any other solution than having faith into life and fully rely on it. This would be the true way of victory. And no need to reach any summit for it, only give the best of you. And this is only in this sense that there can be no failure and this is with this state of mind that I am going back on the adventure paths.

Dodo canyon, beginning of the Canol trail (in summer)

Dodo canyon, beginning of the Canol trail (in summer)

Back to square one

Published on February  24, 2016 by Michel

I made a mistake as big as the Rockies, resulting of my inexperience, by underestimating the weight of my sledge. After 40 kilometers (25 miles) during which I only had to follow the snowmobile tracks, I ended up to the Dodo canyon doors, commencement of the mountains. The conditions were good, although nights at -40°C (-40°F) are fresh, and the snow compact enough to ski. But my sledge, too heavy, sank into the snow behind me. Instead of sliding on the surface of my tracks, I ended up hauling a kind of harrow which made my progression almost impossible. After 4 days pushing with all my strength on the edges of my skis, the only performed achievement was making a hole in a new pair of socks. With considerable bitterness, I decided to come back before breaking any material, injuring myself or needing rescuing. Sunday evening, after a small week of adventures, I was back to Norman Wells where Margrit and Harold were waiting for me with a great meal which above all have warmed my heart. Then, after an invigorating cold shower, I had only one question in my head: when am I leaving again? During the 3 days of my way back, I had all the time to think over and over to my defeat and to formulate new plans. Strategy is simple: divide by two the weight of my equipment. Besides, I still have 3 weeks for a new attempt. To significantly alleviate the weight of my impedimenta, I had no other choice than to benefit from aerial supplies. The day after my come back, I have then inquired about planes and helicopters pilots in order to know if they would have shortly a mission in the mountains. For their part nothing is planned so far and I don’t intend to hire their services for myself. Meanwhile I cherry-picked the really necessary stuff and I’m ready to leave again. If I am offered no opportunity during the forthcoming weeks, I would have to wait for June, while everything thaws, another long wait into perspective…

P1010079 comp

P1010084 comp

Crossing the Rockies

Published on February  15, 2016 by Michel

Monday, 2016 Februrary 15th: it is a great day for me, the day of departure. Not so easy to visit one last time every people I have stayed with and that I will never see again. I’m trying as much as possible to engrave in my memories the places and the people and to remember the present moment, but time is running out like sand between fingers. The “Norman Wells” experience: almost 5 months living in full dependence of 800 people, is now over. I will remember a lesson of deep humility.
A new experience is opening its arms to me: bearing day and night the subarctic climate, crossing plenty of frozen rivers while hauling my sledge, 10 hours a day, in deep snow, free from any track. In case of serious issue, it will be my first flight because only a helicopter could rescue me and I really don’t want it. That’s why I’m carefully preparing and packing my equipment: nothing can be left to chance. Any negligence has its cost when facing alone the wild, especially with bitter climate.
I did everything I could to be on the starting line today and to be the first to attempt to cross the Rockies by the old passage of the pipe line, solo, without any motorized mean or supplies. This episode was not on the initial schedule of America Extrema: it’s a gift offered by Norman Wells’ people. I could never have undertaken it without their support.
All is resting on my shoulders now. It’s up to me to get the machinery turning over again, to meet the confidence I have benefited from, and finally meet one of the most beautiful sanctuaries of the planet, where hordes of wolves and herds of caribou live, tirelessly repeating the game of life.
Farewell Norman Wells!

From Norman Wells to the MacMillan pass

From Norman Wells to the MacMillan pass

Then until Ross River

Then until Ross River

 

Preparations and training

Published on December 17, 2015 by Michel

There has not been so much water under the bridges since my last post, because the MacKenzie is literally frozen! With the help of excavators and drills, workers are realizing the ice road which should be opened early January during a few weeks only. An uninterrupted cohort of trucks will therefore bring all kinds of commodities to which inhabitants, shops and industries, who cannot be delivered by air often because of the packages being too heavy, are looking forward.
Water of the river is not the only thing to remain still: my everyday life is at least stabilized and I’m progressively and carefully settling. The recent problems I’ve related have removed my spontaneity and forced me to, temporarily, inhibit my naivety that I perceive as one of my strengths. It is then difficult for me to feel relaxed and the slightest incident is amplified by my imagination which has no bounds anymore since I’m speaking in the language of Shakespeare! My bad English leads into real quid pro quo worth of one of Molière’s plays.
For this reason, added to the pressing need of roaming the mountains, I’m looking forward my departure, planned for mid-February. To this end, I’ve gleaned a lot of information leading to this conclusion: the Rocky Mountains have been crossed during winter, via Canol Trail and without any motorized mean, only once in January 1999, by Nicolas Vanier. He was drawn by a team of ten dogs, preceded by two snowmobiles, followed by more and has profited of many supplies by helicopter. This story has been related in one of his books: the White Odyssey. I’m prepared to follow the same track through the mountains but in reverse direction, solo and without supplies. In short, even if I am eager to leave, it is hard for me to realize how considerable the challenge is.
I am thus trying my best to avail myself by chosing on the internet the most adapted equipment: skis, sledge, snowshoes, clothes, etc and even shoes. When temperature is -40°C (-40 °F), no discussion about pulling a toe outside, or not for long. I have spent almost 50 hours in front of a screen to make this difficult selection. And now that there is enough snow, I begin my first ski trainings. Fortunately, in order to help me in this delicate preparation, I had the opportunity to meet Wes. Former employee of the local oil company, currently manager of the recyclable packages deposit, he knows well the Canol Trail for having fully browsed it in summer and partially in winter. Besides the numerous advises he’s providing me with, we ski together on the tracks around Norman Wells. Wes doesn’t cease surprising me with his numerous skills, being able of cutting his wood by himself, fixing a bike from A to Z, getting his hands dirty, as well as playing the piano, the violin, etc. Wes and Michelle, his wife, do everything they can, with success, to make my wintering pleasant. They have done me a lot of favours I won’t ever forget!
Something else that I am looking forward with impatience is Tuesday December 22nd 2015, the winter solstice. At the present time, the day duration is only 3h30, which doesn’t leave much time to do every outdoor tasks requiring daylight, like logging. So I am wearing most of the time a headband lamp when riding my bicycle, running or skiing. With so few daylight, physical activity is of importance as it stimulates serotonin production. Lots of people suffer then of depression or procrastination. But the end of the tunnel is near and a celebration will occur soon: a pyre will be set up near the river to celebrate the long-awaited return of the sun.
In the meantime, dear readers, I wish you a very happy festive season.
I will have the opportunity to write again before the end of the year. See you soon!
I almost forgot to tell you about Tummo, a Tibetan yoga technique which enables to increase inner body heat (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tummo). Once mastered, this technique based on concentration and breathing enables to stand cold weather even without any clothe. B A BA consists of taking cold showers (I’m practicing for more than one year now) and cold baths. In the absence of liquid water, I simply wallow naked in snow, which is worse. Of course the purpose is not to open a naturist camp, but to develop one’s own coldness resistance abilities and learn how to increase one’s own basal metabolism without needing physical effort. I’m still far from mastering it but I’m getting on, step by step. Moreover, thanks to barefoot walking and running which I practice when the weather is warmer, my feet have “earned” at least 10°C of cold resistance. Maybe you think that Tibetan yoga “is not serious”: have a look in this case to Maurice Daubard website http://www.mauricedaubard.com. He is the French world-wide famous specialist of Tummo. On January 14th 1995, in the city of Moulins (Allier, France), 64 years old at this time, he stayed immersed during 55 minutes in crushed ice without having any damage. This prowess has been filmed and monitored by numerous doctors, who were there to ensure his safety as well as to authenticate the performance.
The amazing capacities of the human body make me dream. And to think that the sun is always present, there, very close, in our hearts…

Le givre, œuvre d'art

Frost artwork

Sur une route d'hiver

On a winter road

Wes, mon coach et Princess

Wes, my coach and  Princess

Le soleil au zénith

Sun at zenith

Ouvriers préparant la route de glace

Workers preparing the ice road

Lagopède

Groose

Chouette chevêchette

Burrowing owl

 

Norman Wells : Small City, Great History

Published on December 4, 2015 by Michel

Norman Wells is a small 800 inhabitant town located on the north shore of the Mackenzie River, at the foot of the Norman Mounts, in the Canadian North-Western Territories. At the south east of the valley of the River, which is 5-km wide at that place (13th greatest river of the world), one can see the mighty range of the Rockies. The climate is semi-arid and subartic, the polar circle being only at 145 km further north. Temperatures frequently plunge below – 40°C, and there is rarely more than one meter of snow.
One of the most isolated cities in Canada, Norman Wells is accessible only by air, at a prohibitive cost. It is also accessible by boat, on the Mackenzie. Between the end of December until March, when frozen, the Mackenzie is used as a winter road by all kinds of vehicles, who are then connected to the rest of the country. However, no less than 48 hours of driving are needed to get to the closest big city, Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. The global warming, which is particularly visible in this area, makes the inhabitants wonder how long still this winter road will be safe to use. A project of building a permanent road in the mean term is being discussed. The population is very favourable to the idea, but the government seems hesitant to commit the millions of dollars that would be needed to build a road in the middle of nowhere. In the meantime, the Mackenzie River remains the North Highway.
In the Canadian Great North, the isolated villages generally consist of Amerindian communities who, in the last two centuries, settled in the vicinity of trading posts (based on fur trade) and churches of different denominations : catholic, anglican and protestant. Having only 30 % Amerindians in it population, Norman Wells is the exception: it is a «White» village, where only recently dit people start to come, because of oil. It could have been because of diamonds (as is the case nearby, in Yellowstone), or uranium, or gold or still others ore bodies. Canada’s subsoil has abundant resources. Aided by the global warming, the extraction of those resources explains the progressive urbanization of the Great North.
In bygone days, the oil that was visible with the naked eye along the shores of the Mackenzie was used by Amerindians to seal the seams of the caribou skins they used to make their canoes. In 1789, a Canadian explorer, Alexander Mackenzie, sailed down the river, to which his name was later given. His first intention had been to discover the famous North-West Passage leading to the Pacific Ocean. His trip rather ended in the Arctic Ocean; however, he had already noticed the presence of oil in the area. It was one century later that geologists working for Imperial Oil, a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, explored the region again and discovered reserves of very high quality crude oil. In 1918, Imperial Oil obtained the lease and, one year later, the bed of the Mackenzie River trembled when the first wells were drilled. So was born Norman Wells. No one seems to know who this Norman was, except for the fact that his name had already been given to nearby mountains. In early 1920, a refinery was build and supplied only the villages upstream. It is only 10 years later that the oil production increased considerably when the Yellownife and Port Radium plants went into operations. Since then, the site industrialization has always been developing, until the construction, en 1980, of six artificial islands equipped with derricks.
Norman Wells is anything but a city without history. It is precisely because of its history that I decided to come here. At the beginning of the 1940s, during the Second World War, Alaska and Yukon, both contiguous to the North-Western Territories, were underdeveloped and without any access road. So as to protect their interests against the Japanese with whom they were at war, the USA, en 1942, decided to build two colossal projects: the Alaska Highway (2451 km, built in 8 months) and the Canol Project. Norman Wells was selected as the supplier of oil for the military operations in Yukon and Alaska. To that end, a huge pipeline had to be build across the Rockies and up to Whitehorse, where an important refinery was located. This was the enormous Canol Project («Canol» standing for «Canada Oil»). Between 1942 ans 1945, 300 million dollars were spent and 30,000 workers were mobilized to install 1600 km of telephone lines and 2650 km of pipeline. The works were completed in the 1943-44 winter, and the oil started flowing to Whitehorse. In 1945, when the war ended, Norman Wells lost its strategic importance and the pipeline became obsolete, especially because of its high maintenance costs. So, less than one year after it was put into operation, the pipeline was dismantled.
Seventy years later, the remnants of this troubled past are still visible: there still remain many camps, bridges, vehicles, pumps, etc.; so many artefacts of an open-sky museum. All that took place there have and will durably leave its mark in the area, but one can still, by foot, cross the Rockies by following the old passage of the pipeline, now renamed the «Canol Heritage Trail». This is the road I plan to follow with skis and a sleigh, at the end of the winter.

Abandoned_Graders_on_the_Canol_Heritage_Trail comp

Abandoned_trucks_on_the_Canol_Heritage_Trail comp

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Internet pictures

November 2015 – My day-to-day life

Published on November 26, 2015 by Michel

Not unlike the Mackenzie, life is not a long quiet river. This November was definitely fertile in emotions and my cold sweats were not attributable to climate.
After having found a roof and some work to do, I had barely begun developing new habits in Norman Wells (NW, for insiders) when problems started to emerge. My only source of income was picking up recyclable wastes at the land disposal site, and I entirely devoted myself to that task, picking up more than 4000 beverage cans and other containers a week. Alas, a rumor came to my ear: one of my competitors at the disposal site was complaining that nothing remained to be picked up after my passage, and he was threatening to give me away to the Immigration authorities. Because of that major problem, Harold was starting to regret having let me use his cabin. Never had my America Extrema expedition been so seriously threatened. In order to calm things down, I had to renounce going at the disposal site, after which everything went back to normal and I was able to keep a roof over my head. Phew! But my blood turned ice in my veins some time later, when a police officer came to me, saying that he had received a phone call about me. He was looking for a bum who, without permission, had been using amenities in a workers camp located not very far from my cabin. Well, thank you for having thought about me in that context! Sometimes, I wonder who or what the people in this town think I am…
Job-wise, everything was to be done again from the beginning. In these difficult moments, the call of the forest once more came to me and, for my great pleasure, my qualifications in logging were requisitioned. Working alone in the wood is a valuable asset. Moreover, working outside, at -20, -30°, is an excellent training opportunity.
When I am not in the forest, I try to find every possible occasion to keep myself busy : I offer my services to empty the garbage bins (them again…) of the food store, and, in exchange for that service, I get spoiled fruits and vegetables as well as all products older than their «best before» date. The total value of that « salvaged » food is nearly 275 dollars a week. I share the food with people around me, free of charge. My « clients » list is getting longer and longer, and, without contest, the distribution day is the day when I have most fun. This abundance of vegetables also allowed me to reconnect with the vegan habit that I had to leave aside for monetary reasons.
In this respect, I would like to share with you the short monologue below, which is part of the Innu set of beliefs and was reported about by Knud Rasmusen (for more info about him, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knud_Rasmussen):
« Our world is good, and Innus have their place in it. The gravest peril threatening us is that, just like us, the animals we kill for food and clothing have a soul. We must appease their souls so that they do not take their revenge on us for having used their body. »
Nowadays, when veganism seems to be to only solution to the many problems that the consumption of animal products represents either for our health or our environment, we better than ever realize the wisdom of these ageless words. I believe that eternal truths have always been accessible to Man.
So, working in the wood, studying the plants, running as well as yoga and meditation keep me busy throughout the day and become the daily fabric of my life. This is the only way I allow myself to gather new energies for what is coming next and to face up to the hardships that come by.
I invite you to read me again next month, when I will tell you in more details about my preparation work in anticipation of the resumption of the expedition, expected in less than three months. Until then, dear reader, take good care of yourself.

My sweet home

My sweet home

A pleasure for the eye

A pleasure for the eye

A cool morning

A cool morning

Fool’s cap for an environmentalist

Fool’s cap for an environmentalist

After a walk by -30 °C

After a walk by -30 °C

Good training

Good training

One of my wood supplying trips

One of my wood supplying trips

Another pleasure for the eye

Another pleasure for the eye

The landfill, major touristic attraction

The landfill, major touristic attraction

 

 

 

November 2015 – A Happy Ending

Published on November 2, 2015 by Michel

On October 12, day of the Thanksgiving, I met Margaret and Harold Harris, who have been living in Norman Wells for more than 30 years and had invited me for supper. I told them about the problems that I had been confronting since a few weeks, including my urgent need to find a new shelter. After I told Harold that I had been a logger by trade, he put at my disposal a shop that he owns outside the city. This little building is well insulated and has a good performing stove. One has to know how to operate a chain saw in order to keep the stove well fed in the winter. My encounter with the Harris family was a blessing; since then, my daily life in Norman Wells was transformed and finally came to make some sense.
The shop is a real Northern version of the Ali Baba’s cave, where I found clothings, dishes, furnitures, blankets, skis and, of course, all that is needed to do little bits and pieces and cut fuelwood. After a few days sorting and stowing things, and cleaning the place, my den was ready for the winter. On the «inauguration» day, I even found an old pair of basket-ball boots which allowed me to run in the snow. After many weeks of asphyxiating sedentation, running gave me the impression of getting my head out of the water. I was so happy that, had I not feared being perceived as a madman, I would gladly have hugged everybody I met. Since my very first days of «captivity» in the city, I had resumed training in a sports hall, but I was expelled because I wore no shoes… I could tell you about other stories of the same kind, but why should I annoy you, dear readers, with such sad stories that society has in store for us and that you know all too well because they are the «trade-marks» of our times.
Harold showers me kindnesses and takes care of me as a father. He took upon himself to find a bike for my small trips here and there. He introduced me to many interesting people who also extend me their help. Since then, I have a daily occupation: at the waste-disposal site, I reclaim all returnable or recyclable containers. Each can or bottle is worth 10 cents. Cent after cent, in the company of crows who never leave the place, I pick up the necessary money to finance the last sections of my expedition. My encounter with Harry also embellished my projects for next year, because I now expect to resume my trip at the end of February or the beginning of March, with skis and a sledge to go across the Rockies. All my energy is now focalized on this demanding winter step, during which all the experiences and knowledges that I have accumulated over the last years will be put to use. Nothing is more exhilarating than seeing all the pieces of an abstruse puzzle fall into place so that a dream takes shape. I now have 4 months to train and find the necessary equipment.
Before the end of November, I will surely keep you posted about my preparation status.
See you very soon !

My cabin in Canada

My cabin in Canada

Face view

Face view

The mighty Rockies

The mighty Rockies

Sunrise

Sunrise

Sunset

Sunset

October 2015- a hobo in the Great North

Published on October 19, 2015 by Michel

Located many hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest road, Norman Wells is supplied by airplane and by barge – and also by truck, when the river is frozen (January to March). Because of this isolation, the price of food climbs to surprising levels: 5 euros for a salad, 1 euro for a banana, etc. The prices for housing are not any better: 2000 euros per month for boarding. As you see, Norman Wells is not the ideal destination for a vacation or for spending the winter. My situation is also complicated by the fact that I have no employment authorization, which is all the more regrettable that many job opportunities do exist. Obtaining such an authorization in the North is an easy thing to do especially if you are willing to spend many months in completing kafkaesque forms, which I flatly refuse to do. As a consequence, my situation is rather precarious, to say the least, and, with my only set of winter clothes (with holes in them), I am as close as one can be of becoming a hobo in the Great North.
I temporarily have a roof as a co-tenant. At first, the tenant had invited me to stay at his place. But it was just after I had placed all my stuff in the apartment that he announced to me that the price was so many dollars per month…
Although I am immobilized, my expedition still continues, with this potentially trying test that civilization is putting me through. All I wish to find is a warm and calm place, with something interesting to do during the day, in the company of normal people. This is not asking for the moon, is it? After three weeks of fruitless efforts to find what I am looking for, I begin to have doubts about ever finding it. Yet, when I look at the snow-capped mountains all around and when the cold bites my cheeks, I feel ready to do anything to stay here and to discover the hearth of winter.
Having no possession here, I feel like a wisp of straw that the wind carries here and there. I wait for a stroke of luck that will allow me to meet people who will guide me towards some light.

Frozen bank of the Mackenzie River

Frozen bank of the Mackenzie River

Pipeline

Pipeline

Idem

Idem

The « bowels » of the earth

The « bowels » of the earth

Jackfish Lake (1)

Jackfish Lake (1)

Jackfish Lake (2)

Jackfish Lake (2)

Norman Wells

Published on October 2, 2015 by Michel

After having been blocked in Tulita (Déné word meaning confluence) for three days, I paddled non-stop for eleven hours to get to Norman Wells. Unconnected to the South by a road, this 500 inhabitants town was constructed when it was decided to extract the oil resources lying beneath the Mackenzie River. To this end, five artificial islands were created in the river. The quality level of the oil extracted from this site makes it almost the best in the world. What is exceptional in the Great North is that Tulita is not an Amerindian community, but a «White» village. For two days, I collected all maps, material and informations I would require to cross over the Rockies, all alone with by packsack, on a distance of 600 km (i.e. an equivalent to crossing Switzerland on an East-West axis).
Most of the people I met tried to dissuade me from undertaking such a trip, because of the first snow falls and because the grizzly bears, due to their imminent hibernation, are avidly looking for food. Having now been in the northern forests for five months, I must admit that I am getting tired of hearing those stories about bloodthirsty bears, because, from a statistical point of view, they do not deserve so much attention. So, I listen to them, but with only half an ear. On the other hand, I felt seriously concerned about the snow which was already falling uninterruptedly, one month earlier than last year. I already felt so much intimidated by the mountain and the advanced season that all my senses were on high alert to estimate the risks. Without being able to decide on a course of action, I was waiting for some sign on which I could rely. However, given the momentum I had gained in the last five months, I was ready to leave on Friday September 25. Then, I received an email sent to my care by an employee of the Environment and Natural Resources Department, which stated the there was already 50 cm of snow in the MacMillan Pass and that much more snow was forecasted for the coming days. The distance to cover, alone and without snowshoes, was such that leaving was out of the question, especially since I have very little experience of the winter environment. So, I decided to stop in Norman Wells for seven month, until the spring snow melt.
This was a hard decision to make, but my body felt relieved to the point that, a few hours after the decision was made, and without warning, it experienced a complete decompression : a sudden fever confined my to my bed for 48 hours. Though sick, I felt good: feeling warm in the bed without having to move a finger, what a joy! It was high time that I interrupted my travel, since I was exhausted when I got to the finish line determined by the winter. Looking back, I can say that my five-months journey allowed me to learn a lot about myself, be it in managing a very long lasting effort or in deciphering sensations unknown until then.
I spent the following days looking for a job and a shelter, and have now found both. So, I will winter at Norman Wells, a magnificent place located on the shore of the second biggest river in North America, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. My objectives for the coming months are quite simple: put some money aside for the next season, really learn English and experience the Canadian winter which is already well on its way.
I will certainly keep you informed of my adventures in October. In the meantime, I send you some of the snow flakes that now fall in abundance.

Ryan after the storm

Ryan after the storm

West of Norman Wells

West of Norman Wells

West of Norman Wells

West of Norman Wells

East of Norman Wells

East of Norman Wells

Tulita

Published on September 20, 2015 by Michel

 From a cultural point of view, I spent a very interesting day in the company of Michel, who did all he could only to be nice to me. I ended up thanking the gods of wind for bringing me to Fort Simpson. I can’t resist the temptation to give you a list of Michel’s various professional activities. Chronologically, he was a beadle, a soldier in the Marine Forces and the manager of the Personnel department of a telecommunication agency. He presently is a math teacher at Fort Simpson and, during the summer, gives training to the waiters of a high-class restaurant located in Toronto. A skilled international traveler, he plans to marry a young Chinese millionaire and to get involved in wine trading. Wow! This proves that adventure can also be found in a very civilized context! Thanks for everything, Michel. I wish you a complete success in all your projects! .
Once again, I left behind the agitation of the civilized world. As fascinating as it might sometimes prove to be, it always quite rapidly ends up being a strain on me, even though I feel unable to definitely cut all links with it. As Kessel superbly wrote about Mermoz: «In order to live, he had to evade from life.» I cannot better express how I feel when I must gather my energy to say farewell to newly-formed friendships. As long as there will be wild places in the world, there will be emergency exits – and there was the Mackenzie River…
There is nothing romantic about paddling in the month of September, north of the 60th parallel. Half of the time, I am in fog or low clouds, and the trees have already lost most of their leaves. And the weather gives new meaning to the expression «performing one’s ablutions». Wiser than me, the migratory birds already are flying to the south, aided by the north winds that most often adversely affect my progression. Still worse, the cuts and abrasions (mainly on the feet) do not heal anymore because the air humidity is often higher than 90%. And snow is forecasted for the coming days… It is high time that I get to Norman Wells, still one paddling day away, and so put an end to the kayak section of my travel. On the other hand, however harsh the climate might be, Mother Nature always finds a way to reward the azure lover who submits to it with resignation. The mere sight of a proud lynx looking down at me from the top of a mound and escalating another with grace, as lightly as air, was enough to make me forget all the bad moments. Generally speaking, at the end of the season, animals do not hide as much, and it is not rare to see black bears, foxes or elks on the shores.
After Norman Wells, I will start a 600 km walk, alone, through the Rocky Mountains. Already while paddling on the Mackenzie River, I see them, mysterious and intimidating, which fuel curiosity and apprehensions. Right now, I am blocked by a storm in Tulita, a small isolated Amerindian community. Clearly, I am at odds with the wind : third storm in three weeks. However, I have once again been lucky to meet an employee of the National Parks, Ryan, who offered me shelter in a warm and dry place, and in excellent conditions to heal my wounds.
I will write to you again as soon as I have picked up my winter equipment in Norman Wells and gotten ready to escalate the Rockies.
Until then, dear reader, take care!

Michel, in Fort Simpson

Michel, in Fort Simpson

Fort Simpson

Fort Simpson

A cold morning…

A cold morning…

… and the appropriate clothing

… and the appropriate clothing

The wild Mackenzie

The wild Mackenzie

Over-sized barge

Over-sized barge

Roche-qui-trempe-à-l’eau

Roche-qui-trempe-à-l’eau

A good night, in a warm place

A good night, in a warm place

Fort Simpson

Published on September 13, 2015 by Michel

After I finished writing my previous chronicle on Tim’s computer, we shared a friendly and lavish meal which restored my energy. I then realized how exaggerated had been the doubts I had expressed about my physical shape. So, it is with a renewed vigour and under a clement sky that I resumed my trip on the Mackenzie River, brilliantly illuminated by fires… but those that are ignited by the autumnal colors.

I briefly transited in Fort Simpson, where I visited a camp in which the Déné (Amerindian nation) ancient knowledge is transmitted to young children. They learn how to take care of a vegetable garden, to sew, to smoke fish, etc. Among other things, I learned that the head is the most nutritional part of the fish and is used in making soups. In the past, every 3 years, Fort Simpson was the location of a huge gathering where thousands of Amerindians reunited, coming from all directions. The shores were covered with birch bark canoes, and tipis were erected a bit everywhere, each one with its own column of smoke. It is on one of these ancient sites, and around the same fireplace, that the camp dedicated to the younger generations was built.

After Fort Simpson, I paddled for yet another 80 km before I was stopped by a storm which uprooted some trees. By chance, this storm started just at the moment when I got to the landing site of a ferry also halted by the storm (that gives you an idea…). This time, I have enough food to withstand some delay, but I am getting short of reading material, which is almost worse! Presently, I am avidly reading Les mille et une nuits (Tales of the Arabian Nights), of which, unfortunately, there will only be a few. Because of my eagerness to read and because I should be blocked here for at least 36 hours according to the weather forecasts, I hitchhiked back to Fort Simpson to find new books and to spend more time visiting this community. Again by chance, I met Michel, a math teacher, and Robin, a logger, both from Québec; the two of them granted me an absolutely extraordinary welcome. It is then in good company that I will be visiting Fort Simpson before the winds calm down and allow me to resume my trip.

As Gilbert, a teacher at the camp, told me : «When the wind forces you to stop for a few days, there is always a good reason. Sometimes, it is simply that you should spend some time visiting around.»

It is with pleasure that, as always, I will share all that with you in my next chronicle.

 

Autumnal colours

Autumnal colours

Confluence with the Liard River

Confluence with the Liard River

Educational vegetable garden at Fort Simpson

Educational vegetable garden at Fort Simpson

Ferries

Ferries

Fort Providence

Published on September 6, 2015 by Michel

Despite the rather cold reception I had in Fort Resolution, I challenged myself not to leave the place without first having taken a shower and washed my clothes. It took me all day to do just those two things and, even then, the shower was cold… After vainly spending a while to find an Internet connection for sending this chronicle, I met a self-proclaimed shaman supposedly known across America who, in return for a pack of cigarettes, offered to pray for me so that weather would be good for me. But since strong winds were forecasted for the whole week, I rather chose to travel on a bike for 160 the km where a road runs along the south shore of the Great Slave Lake. To that end, I was «lent» a bike that had been salvaged from a public dump: no break on the back wheel, distorted wheels and steering. Until the last moment, I was sure it would break, but it got me to my destination.

After I left Hay River, I paddled on the Great Slave Lake, where the water level is so low that one has to get away from the shore, sometimes for as far as one km. The winds were so bad that it took me six days to travel only a hundred km or so. I should have bought that pack of cigarettes, after all. Maybe the angry shaman cast a spell on me… In the long periods when I could not travel because of the wind, I did a lot of reading. After Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir and Joseph Kellel’s Mermoz (a splendid book on aviation), which kept me company along the Slave river, Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris brought some excitement in the otherwise long and boring days spent under the tent.

Sometimes, when tired of fighting against the wind, I walked on sandy beaches reminding me of the sea at low tide. Congregations of migratory birds seemed to be discussing about the procedures to be followed in the impending migration. Sometimes, they flied off in formations like the «V for Victory over gravity» (according to the nice formulation by a French author), as if making sure that everything was in good order in anticipation of the big move. In the Great North, in effect, the fall has already begun. Leaves are turning yellow and the night temperature flirts with the freezing point.

These long days spent at doing nothing allowed me to give some rest to a lethargic body which has lost the freshness it had when this expedition began and now shows signs of weakness. Never before have I gone so far in my efforts, and I am getting closer to the limits of my endurance. Yet, before the long winter rest, I wish to paddle for another 800 km on the Mackenzie River and to get across 600 km of mountains. This means that my limits will have to be pushed still further. It is in the pure pleasure of freeing myself from those limits that I intend to find the required motivation ans strength. Will I succeed?

And what about Canada? After Fort Chipewyan, I traveled across the Wood Buffalo National Park, where wild bisons graze around salty plains. Unfortunately, I saw none. However, it is with shivers of pleasure that I heard a wolf howling. On the same day, I saw a skunk running on the shore, a couple of steps away from my tent. In all these regions, each one being a paradise for ornithologists, you can see great white swans as well as pelicans. Wild nature is a grandiose scenery!

Since I had lost five days because of the winds, my food supply was almost exhausted. Consequently, it is almost without eating anything that I paddled one and a half day to get to Fort Providence, where I was welcomed by Tim, manager of the food store where the Post Office is located. He very obligingly opened the office on a Saturday so that I could pick up my food boxes. This way, I will be able to leave as early as tomorrow and head for Norman Wells, located 800 km away on the Mackenzie River, one of the longest rivers in the world. Kayaking down there should take less than two weeks. See you then.

Brown bear by the Slave river

Brown bear by the Slave river

Daybreak on Slave river

Daybreak on Slave river

Unending meanders of the Slave river

Unending meanders of the Slave river

Great Slave Lake at « low tide »

Great Slave Lake at « low tide »

Mackenzie River

Mackenzie River

 

Hay River

Published on August 31, 2015 by Michel

The wind was blowing in the right direction, but too strongly. Enormous waves. This lake is the most dangerous one on my itinerary. It is a good thing that I took the bike, so as not to lose time.

I am now in a camping site, where I try to make myself useful. The manager is trying to get a journalist to meet me, but it is not easy, because we are on a Sunday.

Some people in Hay River heard about me on the radio. What a good surprise !

 

 

Fort Smith

Published on August 22, 2015 by Michel

I just arrived in Fort Smith, an important step for me, because I now entered the mythical North-West Territories. Bad weather these last few days, but things should get better tomorrow. Yesterday evening, I was all wet when I got into Fort Fitzgerald (12 inhabitants!), where I was lucky to be invited to stay at John’s home. Formerly a logger from British-Columbia, he spends his retirement in the North, where he raises chickens and takes care of a large vegetable garden.

Thanks for your help, John !

John, Fort Fitgerald

John, Fort Fitgerald

First dietary results

Published on August 18, 2015 by Michel

For many weeks already, I have found a comfortable and sufficiently efficient diet balance that allows me to paddle all day:

In the morning: snack of dried fruits (75 gm)

Mid-day (no fixed hour): 100 g of oats or buckwheat grits with some olive oil

In the afternoon: snack of dried fruits (75 gm)

In the evening:  100 g of oilseeds + 150 g of rice or lentils, with dehydrated vegetables and some olive oil.

Some extras may be added when I meet someone. As a beverage, I only drink a few mouthfuls of water (around 50 cl per day) drawn from rivers or lakes, without using any filter or so-called «purifying» agents. The water my body needs is essentially the water I use to prepare my oats grits and my cereals. In total, this represents 2500 kcal which are enough for me (stable weight) to produce 9 or 10 hours of daily efforts. Il is precisely this conclusion which I wanted to share with you, because it is astonishing. According to the laws of dietetics, a science still in its infancy, I should burn 4000 kcal to produce this type of effort. By way of comparison: based on the traditional diet and its full of wisdom «everything without excess» motto, I needed 5500 kcal everyday when I travelled in Norway. Walking, however, is more demanding than kayaking. There is a double advantage: first, I leave with a lighter packsack and, second, I save a good deal of energy, because I read somewhere (but where?) that digestion accounts for 30% of the energy expense of an individual. In short, I am so surprised by my conclusion that, for now, I don’t dare believing it fully. The next four kayaking weeks will be decisive in allowing me to look more closely into the matter and see if I can or cannot confirm this first result.

As for now, I prepare to head north by following an effluent of Lake Athabasca, the Slave River. In 400 km, it will get me to Fort Smith, in the Northwestern Territories, where I should arrive in ten days or so. In the meantime, dear readers, take care!

 

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0871.

 

 

Fort Chipewyan

Published on August 17, 2015 by Michel

I left Black Lake under favourable auspices, with a generous easterly wind that accompanied me for five days and allowed me to navigate in full sails towards new adventures, which I devour voraciously without ever having my fill: they are mo oxygen. Since my last chronicle, only twelve days have gone by, but I feel they lasted forever. I don’t know what to begin with.

First, a few words about Lake Athabasca. I navigated the whole lenght of it, i.e. 400 km including the mouth of the Fond-du-Lac River. The name of the lake is derived from the Cree word athapiscow, which means «open area». That lake is so huge that it can hardly be distinguished from an ocean, except for the absence of salt. Lake of excessiveness, more than 200 m deep, it is the home of many species of fish, including trouts weighing more than 40 kg. One can admire is mostly rocky shores, its dunes (on the south shore, where I did not go), the gigantic caribou mountains surrounding it, its white sand beaches, its small islands covered with wild berries, its cliffs and caverns, to name but a few things. The eye is restlessly attracted by so many jewels of the creation that look intact, as though they had been placed under glass since the beginning of times.

I met only few human beings these last few days, but those were interesting encounters. Among others, I have excellent memories of a team of geologists I met in their camp, on top of a small rocky island. Equipped with Geiger counters, they were looking for uranium, potassium, etc. If I was a geologist, I would manage to falsify my data so that nothing would ever be found and mountains would forever be left alone. Further, in Uranium City, I met a very pleasant man, Robert, an employee of the Nuna Company, who works on the burial of the last radioactive sites of that company, which closed in 1982. I hurried to leave Uranium City so that I would not have to blow out the 31 candles of my (virtual) cake in such a place. For a green, that would beat everything!

Though I was alone to celebrate my birthday, nature showered me with gifts: a good night sleep in a log cabin after a choreography of northern lights, followed by a splendid sun without any trace of wind, and blueberries in profusion. I could not have wished anything better!

The lake can be generous, but can also prove to be quick-tempered. When it does, beware any careless action. When landing on a beach, a simple lack of concentration was all it took for a wave to capsize my kayak. You’d need to have eyes all around your head to watch for the waves, approach them in the right angle or accelerate as much as possible to avoid keeling over. I also think about the occasions when, while I was navigating at a few kilometers from the shore, the wind started blowing and I had to relentlessly arm-wrestle against it because it was trying to push me further away from the shore. In such moments, I fly into a violent rage and I howl my anger to the wind which, in turn, uses the same language to make me take the measure of my insignificance. This goes on for a few minutes. Then, I fall into a kind of salutary trance that sometimes can last hours. I feel in a state of absolute inner calm and can paddle as if I was a machine, without feeling even slightly tired, but in possession of all the strenght I require to get out of my predicament. Strangely enough, I always keep good memories of those hard times. Otherwise, I would have gone back home long ago!

After all this flow of sensations and feelings, I arrived, safe and sound, in another isolated Amerindian community, Fort Chipewyan. This charming 1000 inhabitants village is, in itself, a summary of all the representations one can have about the Canadian Great North: behind a thick curtain of coniferous trees, the mushers’ dogs howl, the chain saws play their high pitch concerto and log cabins are being built. Surprisingly, though, vegetable gardens thrive at only a few hundred kilometers from the Polar Circle, and they very well stand the comparison with those of my fellow country men and women!

Once I was somewhat lost at an intersection, tired and dirty, I had the chance to meet Laurraine Mercredi, an anthropologist, who is presently a member of the Board of Directors of her town and who kindly offered to accommodate me until Monday morning, i.e. until I can pick up my supplies at the Post Office. I spend this Sunday making all the repair work needed on my equipment and giving a rest to my left foot, which again made acquaintance with a sharp object… I have forgotten to mention that Laurraine is one of those rare persons, in Fort Chip’ (as people here call their village), who grows her own vegetables. So, I feel very much at home with regards to the nature of my meals. Ah, tasty vegetables! What a joy!

I learned with pleasure that the people in Fort Chipewyan community oppose the building of an «all seasons» road (such as the Black Lake road) that would connect them to the South and open the door to all kinds of mining operations and traffics. I was astounded and saddened to notice the differences between Amerindians communities that are connected by a road and those that are not (refer to my Oxford House chronicle). One can only be delighted that at least some people develop such an awareness, just in time. May their example inspire others before it is too late!

 

 

Robert, at the Nuna Company

Robert, at the Nuna Company

Road to Black Lake

Road to Black Lake

Absolute quietness on Lake Athabasca

Absolute quietness on Lake Athabasca

Rest time

Rest time

My own version of a « spinaker »

My own version of a « spinaker »

Thunder storm getting closer

Thunder storm getting closer

Fort Chipewyan

Fort Chipewyan

« Cliff … hanger »

« Cliff … hanger »

Veggies garden in Fort Chipewyan

Veggies garden in Fort Chipewyan

 

 

 

 

Lake Athabasca

 

Published on August 13, 2015 by Michel

Given my present isolation conditions, all I can do is give you my position. As soon as I can find an Internet connection, I’ll give you further news.

 

 

News from Sachigo Lake

 

Posted 31 July 2015 by in Featured

Barefoot Explorer Visits Northern Communities

 

SACHIGO LAKE – In April Florian Gomet flew to Canada from France to start his exploration of the great North, traveling only by bike and kayak. In his travels he has stopped in several remote aboriginal communities. “I know when people are remote they are more kind than in the big city,” Gomet said. “I am very curious to see how they live and discover their way of life.”

On June 11, 2015 Gomet arrived in Sachigo Lake First Nation after forty five days of travelling. His first means of travel was by bike from Cape-Saint-Charles, Labrador to Pickle Lake, Ontario where he gave away his bike to a family in need. He then kayaked on Windigo Lake up to Muskrat Dam, where he had to walk the winter road and do a bit more kayaking to get to Sachigo Lake First Nation.

Even though Gomet left Sachigo Lake over a month ago, the people of the community are still talking about his visit and are keeping up with his online travel diary.

“Gomet has inspired me to look back at how our people used to travel all the time and it is nice to see someone who is tackling it, and bringing awareness of how we used to travel without the means of motor vehicles,” said Councillor Claude McKay. “It is nice to see someone who is following his dream.”

Gomet decided to travel across Canada was because he wasn’t happy about his job and life in France, so he decided to fulfill one of his childhood dreams. “When I was a child I read a book about hunting in Canada, and never forgot that story,” Gomet said.

He wanted to change his way of life and become happy.

“I’m interested in finding a new way of life, to have good relations with man, with the environment, and to find a way of life to be more happy than now,” Gomet said.

One noticeable thing about Gomet is that he doesn’t wear shoes. “I don’t wear shoes but there is a good reason,” Gomet said. “You can’t feel the ground and you don’t take a good natural posture.”

Gomet explained that wearing shoes caused him back problems, and he decided to throw them away when he read that it might help him. It has taken him two years to get used to not wearing shoes, but he did admit that he has to wear them in certain conditions, such as walking on gravel.

Community members were surprised that Gomet doesn’t wear shoes.

“I thought it was pretty strange that someone who is walking across our rough terrain is going barefoot,” said Councillor McKay. “But it is nice that he took off his shoes to walk on our land.”

His daily source of nutrition while on the road consists mainly of a mixture of nuts and dried fruit during the day. In the evening he eats grains, such as rice, buckwheat and oats. When he first got to Canada he purchased a 6 month supply of food, which totaled 180 kilograms. He sent packages consisting of his food supplies to the post offices in the communities he will be travelling through.

Since departing Sachigo Lake, Gomet has passed through Manitoba, and has made it as far as Wollanston, Saskatchewan. He will continue travelling west, and hopes to end on the coast of Alaska in the Bering Strait.

“I was excited to meet him and I’m still excited to see him finish his journey,” said Councillor McKay. “What I learned from him is that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, and follow your dreams.”

Jerry Augustine & Tracey Mckay

To follow Gomet’s travels visit his website www.cap-au-nord.com

 

Black Lake

Published on August 3, 2015 by Michel

I had to stay an extra day at the Hansens because of the fierce wind that was blowing on Wollaston Lake. Since this lake is 45 km long and has very few islands, the wind gave me the impression of being face to an ocean. The day after, a «mild» 20 km/h wind was enough to raise 75 cm waves. On a small inflatable kayak, riding such waves shakes you pretty much and somewhat hinders navigation. Generally speaking, these last 10 days, winds (almost always face winds) made life difficult for me. Often, it is only thanks to my innate strength of purpose (kind synonym for stubbornness…) that I was able to make my way.

Regarding the Fond-du-Lac River, I was hoping for a long quiet river. Well, I got my wish. «Rapids», here, does not mean «fast flowing»: I had to walk to go faster than the water. But before you change site, reassure yourself: I will not spend this whole chronicle complaining, even though I have to admit that reaching Black Lake was not at all a picnic. But… what a journey!

The Fond-du-Lac River is the nicest one I ever paddled. The rapids, even if shallow before the first affluents, have never been dangerous. As a loving mother, the river rocks the kayakist in its cradle, and her endless meanders are her own way to embrace him. Beyond its French name in an Anglophone territory, the specific features of this river are its many sandbanks hosting multi-centuries old pines, its gneiss protrusions capped by hirsute fir trees and, of course, its thunderous water falls. Drinking its water (without filters, without chlorinating agents), bathing in its water under a scorching sun, those are eminently simple pleasures which give life a transcendent flavor that compares to nothing else. The underbrush is so clean that one can easily walk into it and pick up the first blueberries and boletes. Even mosquitoes do not dare troubling this pleasant harmony of shapes and colors. In short, this river is a jewel, even though, here and there, the forest fires have toned down its many charms…

I keep up walking barefoot while portaging and it is with undescribable pleasure that I jump from a rock to another. Half-way in my journey, I was pleasantly surprised to find a log cabin. The only master of the house, a big black bear, nonchalantly moved away as if to make me understand that I was not the first human being he encountered, and that he was not at all impressed. To dissuade wild animals from getting close to the cabin’s windows, the builder placed on the ground wood boards «garnished» with spikes. Of course, I put a foot where I should not have and a spike deeply perforated my skin. Because of the pain, I was unable to sleep for the whole night, but two days later, all looked fine. I was very, very lucky!

The moral is that even though I am very grateful to India for meditation, buddhism and yoga, fakirs’ nailboards are definitely not my cup of (Indian) tea. There is a limit to «Made in India»…

Black Lake, so it seems, owes its name to the abundant presence of black flies. I have not seen any, thanks to the wind which (not so thankfully…) forced me paddle like a mad man. At the end, I could not tell whether it was me who had no strength left, or the wind that blew really hard. All doubts disappeared soon after, when I placed the paddle on the kayak that I was towing onto the beach and a sudden gust of wind transformed the paddle into a bird.

I am now in the small city of Black Lake, where I was welcomed in the Throassié family. They kindly accepted that I stay with them until next Tuesday. Because I arrived in Black Lake on a Saturday, and because Monday is a statutory holiday (I do not know what is being celebrated, but I am sure that Yvon will let us know), is it not until Tuesday that I will be able to pick up my supply parcels at the Post Office. So, I must be patient for two days before I can head to the north shore of Lake Athabasca and follow it for nearly 300 km, which should take me to the Fort Chipewyan First Nation community in 15 days or so.

Dear readers, until we meet again, I ask you a favor: don’t wish me «fair wind»!

 

The first rapids

The first rapids

Simple portage

Simple portage

Manitou Falls

Manitou Falls

Unexpected comfort at the end of the day

Unexpected comfort at the end of the day

Black Lake

Black Lake

Fond-du-Lac River

Fond-du-Lac River

Wollaston Lake

Published on July 22, 2015 by Michel

I am already in Wollaston Lake, after only six paddling-days instead of ten, as I had expected. Sailing across Caribou and Wollaston lakes, as well as the portages, all went perfectly. There was a small incident, however… At the beginning of my expedition, I had planned to go to Lac Brochet and I had mailed to myself two supply parcels (food, maps, batteries, etc.) for delivery in that community. But, while at Lynn Lake, I decided to take a short-cut that would rather bring me to Wollaston Lake, instead of Lac Brochet. Through an intermediary (so that I would not have to speak English on telephone), I made arrangements to have my parcels transferred from Lac Brochet to Wollaston Lake. But for some reason unknown to me, my parcels never left Lac Brochet (they still are there today!) and the next plane is due only next week. Anyway, I was able to buy the food needed for my next stage and to print the necessary topographic maps thanks to my USB key, which contains them all.

In altitude, the Wollaston lake is the highest one on my whole path. Its clear drinkable waters flow down to the Arctic Ocean. From now on, I only have to go with the stream, which will guide me all the way to the Rockies. This will be my rendez-vous with the mountain. I can’t wait for that great moment, which will come in September, if all goes well.

In the meantime, I paddle, long days after long days, while meditating. By taking the time to observe all thoughts and emotions running through my mind, I learn a lot about myself. Hunger, fear, anger, boredom, pain, tiredness, etc., all feelings that I may experience during the day are reviewed and analyzed with a view to better master my emotions. In such circumstances, I realize the full meaning of the excerpt I quoted at the end of my previous chronicle, about everyday meditation. Little by little, I learn, among other things, to distinguish between «need to eat» and «feel like eating», or applying my thought to relax a contracture. The applications of meditation are unlimited so long as one does what it takes to put it into practice. The «inner travel» that is part and parcel of all periods of isolation is not just a metaphor!

To relax from this kind of work, which requires great concentration, I lie down on a sandy beach and I watch the clouds traveling the sky and sometimes taking the shape of wild animals. Or I read Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Jivago, a Russian novel as I like them. As for myself, I can’t dream of a better life.

I wish that the long Fond-du-Lac river, an effluent of Wollaston lake, will quietly take me down to Black Lake, my next destination point. I should be there in about 10 days.

Lots of thanks to the Hansen family, of Wollaston, who welcomed me as a brother. At a moment when I could not anymore rely on my own supplies, I spend only 24 hours in their company and here I am, ready to leave again. I was even able to get my maps secured in plastic-coated covers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you !

Right in the middle of Woolaston lake

Right in the middle of Woolaston lake

Flowers in the swamp

Flowers in the swamp

A little corner of paradise

A little corner of paradise

Swan Lake, without black swans

Swan Lake, without black swans

Hansen family

Hansen family

Kinoosao

Published on July 15, 2015 by Michel

In the Cree language, Kinoosao means «fish». And indeed, in this small village (200 people at the most), all activities revolve around fishing. From Lynn Lake, I got here by following a 100-km sandy trail, after pedaling an hour and a half for nothing, because of an orientation error I did at a crossing. There are not that many roads around here; so, if I did not realize my error sooner, I must have been quite tired…

Immediately after my arrival, I went to the Grand Slam Lodge (grandslamlodge.com), where I was very warmly welcomed by Floyd Olson, a dynamic man who offered me one of the many log cabins he built himself. As a gesture of thanks, I offered him Barry’s bike.

Floyd helped me to find the remaining maps I will need to get to the Wollastone Lake community, 10 paddling-days away from here. I will have to paddle across lake Caribou (11th biggest lake in Canada) and upstream on two rivers (Swan and Blondeau) with about ten portages before reaching lake Wollaston. Then, I will paddle along the shores of that lake to get to the same-name village.

I am now in Saskatchewan, which means that the time difference between here and France has widened once more, now being 8 hours. For the next two months, my program will only consist in kayaking until I reach the Mackenzie river, which flows to the north along the Rocky Mountains.

On this day, July the 14th, I salute you, my dear fellow countrymen and women and say to you: See you soon!

I recently received by the mail (thank you, Claude!) a small book on meditation, Méditer au quotidien (or «everyday meditating», roughly translated), by the Venerable Henepola Gunaratana. I do not know what English book this specific one would be a translation of, but a list of Guranatana’s English books on mindfulness, among other subjects, can easily be found on the Net. I recommend any of those books to all those already practicing meditation or wishing to learn.

Here is an excerpt (translated back into English, however awkward that may sound):

«Look once for good to an emotional response that you want to get rid of. Have a real, deep look at it. See how you feel in its grip. Look at its influence on your life and at its impact on your joie de vivre, on your health, on your relationships of all kinds. Try to see how others look at you. And see how you stop yourself from making any progress of the way to Liberation. […] Let arise in yourself the same feeling of disgust as the one you would feel if you were forced to walk around with, tied around your neck, the decomposing carcass of a dead animal. Only by itself, this step can cure the problem.»

Grand Slam Lodge

Grand Slam Lodge

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Floyd Olson

Floyd Olson

Lynn Lake

Published on July 14, 2015 by Michel

I am in Lynn Lake and I just found someone willing to bring my packsack to Kinoosao. I will leave in a few minutes. Everything is going fine, except that the bike I was given somewhat hurts my behind, especially since I have no bicycle pants.

As I said earlier, I will modify my initially planned route after Kinoosao and go directly across the Caribou lake to get to the Wollastone lake. Because of this, my initial timetable should be reduced by two weeks!

I found almost all the maps required because of this change. I hope I will be able to find the remaining ones when I get in Kinoosao.

 

The wolves invaded Thompson

The wolves invaded Thompson

Lynn Lake’s Main Street

Lynn Lake’s Main Street

Waiting for someone to carry my packsack

Waiting for someone to carry my packsack

On the road again

On the road again

Thompson

Published on July 9, 2015 by Michel

As expected, here I am in Thompson, after two pleasant days walking and paddling, without mishaps this time. Initially, I had planned to walk a 450-km mostly paved road going to Caribou Lake, in the province of Saskatchewan. But I now think that, in order to save some time and spare my feet, I will rather travel that section of my trip on bike. So, today, I will have to find a second-hand bike sturdy enough do the job at least for a few days. After that, I will have to solve the problem of getting transported to Caribou Lake those parts of my equipment that are too bulky to be taken with me on the bike. To that end, I would like to find a trucker willing to do me that favour, like one did for the 300-km road between Pickle Lake and Windigo Lake.

Thompson is a 17000 dwellers city. Though some people recognized me, for having seen me on Facebook, here, I am just an ordinary tourist and, in the preparation of the next step of my trip, I do not enjoy the same level of privilege as in small Amerindian communities.

However, I am confident that I will rapidly get organized thanks to Barry, whom I met in Thicket Portage and who, precisely, lives in Thompson. However, until now, I have been unable to contact him on his cell phone. Before I do a last attempt to reach him, I finish reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I started reading shortly after I finished reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (the French version, in both cases). Reading those two fascinating American masterpieces brought me great pleasure.

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Early in the afternoon, yesterday (July 9), I finally contacted and met Barry. He pulled all the strings he could to help my find a bike and a trucker willing to transport my equipment. After a few tours in the Nickel City, decorated with multiple colored statues of wolves, I already had an all-terrain bike with a repair toolkit, generously offered by Barry’s daughter. As for the transport question, the solution came through Facebook, which allowed us to contact Jane. She had already planned to drive to Lynn Lake (350 km west of Thompson) in the evening, and she kindly accepted to leave my packsack at the police station.

I wholeheartedly extend my thanks to all those persons! Isn’t it a formidable message of hope, to see so much generosity and kindness all along my path? I love to think that, if I see my expedition through, it will not be a single-man’s success, but a collective one, the success of all those who even remotely will have contributed to help me go further.

Our next rendez-vous will be in a few days, near Caribou Lake.

Barry and the bike

Barry and the bike

Thicket Portage

Published on July 5, 2015 by Michel

Via the most direct path by water, the one I was following in the last few days, the Oxford House – Thicket Portage section of my trip includes 250 km of lakes and rivers and some fifteen portages. This was expected to be the most difficult part on my expedition. In fact, from the information I gathered, Indians never used to go that way, but rather made a long detour further south. Beyond paddling upstream on three rivers, the major difficulty was to get through six km of virgin forest (as the crow flies) where, of course, no trail exists. In such a forest, you may observe different biotopes: coniferous trees, deciduous trees (birch and aspen), mixed-wood, swamps, with or without trees. Essentially, I got the worst of all: a young and dense pine forest where you have to push trees away from each other just to be able to get between them sideways. After a forest fire, these new trees grew amid burned-up tree-trunks as intricately woven as sticks in a Mikado game. Each meter is hardly fought for, either crawling or climbing with a 25-kg packsack and despite the never-ending, infernal humming of mosquitoes, black flies and deerflies (dozens of them). These endless and exhausting hours to gain but a few kilometers left me almost in a state of semi-hebetude. When in such an impenetrable and confuse environment, where every stumble might result in a broken ankle, the main danger is fear. It is vital to stay calm. For the rest of my expedition, I should not have to repeat this kind of feat. Most happily, the worst is now behind me!

Various unexpected encounters punctuated this part of my trip. A moose on an island, one km away from the bank, only saw at the last moment that my tent was too small for its purpose. A beaver, unfamiliar with tourists, very reluctantly accepted that I spend the night in its kingdom. A forest fire followed me on the shores of a lake. Since then, the sky is always dark.

I had the opportunity to extend a helping hand to two Amerindians who were carrying a sturgeon population survey on the Nelson river.

Tomorrow morning, I will leave for Thompson, located only 70 km away from Thicket Portage. I will first have to paddle for 25 km on a lake and then I will be walking along a railway. Walking some day on rails has long been on my «to do at least once in my life» list. That prayer will soon be answered.

Easy to walk portage

Easy to walk portage

Mahigan River

Mahigan River

Portage and cliff

Portage and cliff

Fire on the lake

Fire on the lake

 

 

July 1st in the bush

Published on July 1, 2015 by Michel

I am now 80 km away from Thicket Portage. I had a very hard day because of a terribly difficult off-trail portage which left me totally exhausted. My average? Only 1 km/h!!!!!!

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DSC00149 (1)

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Back to Oxford House (No, this is not the title of a movie, nor an indication that I failed to reach Thicket Portage, but simply a follow-up on the comments I promised to you recently concerning the development activities expected to occur in the North.)

Within 30 years from now, Oxford House as well as God’s Lake will be connected to the global Canadian road network by an all-seasons road. I learned about that in the municipality’s offices, where a big poster shows the project as well as its good aspects (increased buying power) and bad aspects (environmental disasters, increased drug traffic). Since nobody, in the Amerindian communities, seems to be complaining of not having enough money for a living, I asked my interlocutor, who happened to be the field coordinator, what would be the point to build that road, what interests it would serve. My poor English seemed to very conveniently give him a good occasion not to answer me!

The real, but hidden, motivation behind the construction of that road lies in the harvest of the northern forest and mineral resources, among others. The fate of the Canadian North has already been decided. I am among the last privileged ones who are able to walk these lands while they still are wilderness.

In relation to the preservation of the environment and its importance on physical and mental health, I invite you to read the following: http://www.mindingourbodies.ca/about_the_project/literature_reviews/the_nurture_of_nature.

Yvon Boudreau sent me the few words that follow. I am happy to share them with you.

Hello, young man.

First, I sympathize with you because of the ordeal you went through on July 1st, on the very day of the national holiday of the « plus meilleur pays du monde » (literal translation: « the most best country in the world »), in the words of one ex-premier of Canada. I know it is out of sympathy, or should I say empathy, that you inflicted yourself so much suffering on the national holiday of this country which inflicts itself so much suffering so as to become what it should be if it set itself to the task of seriously thinking in the right way, rather than in twisted ways… Thanks be given to you.

In my younger years, this national holiday was known as the « Confederation Day ». We then knew what was being celebrated: a political covenant between the constituents and between the two founding peoples of Canada. This notion of «two founding peoples», which has long been central in the Canadian political history (and arch-important for Québec), has now completely disappeared from the political scenery, «thanks» to Pierre Elliot-Trudeau, former premier of Canada, who once decreed that French Canadians were, in Canada, nothing more than an ethnic group among all the other ethnic groups (there was a French-Canadian ethnic group just like there were the German, Ukrainian, Chinese, Italian, Greek, etc., etc. ethnic groups).

Since Pierre Elliot-Trudeau, the «Confederation Day» has been replaced by the «Canada Day». This year, for example, Canada celebrated its 148th birthday (the Confederation dates back to 1867). As for myself, try as I may, even if I repeat time after time that my own Canada is 333 years older than that and was born in 1534, in Gaspé (the city), where Jacques Cartier planted a cross and took possession of the land on behalf of the King of France, the good François Ier, it is to no avail and the powers that be, in Ottawa, show how deaf they can be when they decide they do not want to hear. This is how, in Canada, with a quick wipe, you erase the history of a whole people. Then, it was no surprise to see that, in 2008, year of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City, the Canadian premier (as well as the Governor General of Canada, who now is the General Secretary of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie) came to Québec and went to France and delivered speeches depicting Champlain not so much as the founder of Québec City and the founding father of Québec (the State) and of the Canadian and even North-American francophonie, but rather as a founding father of Canada, period («a» founding father, i.e. one among all others). That says a good deal…

I know that nothing of the above will change anything to your July 1st ordeal, but I just wanted to try and change your mind a bit, in case you still would have the blues.

I hope for you that you do not have to go through such days again. But even more, I hope that your expected path, for the next few days, will get you away from rather than closer to the smoke clouds emanating from the hundred or so forest fires presently raging in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. As I can see on the Net, the smoke clouds cover a big portion of Manitoba too. Let’s hope that the winds blow them away from you. In those areas, maybe winds rarely come straight from the north, but little quiet winds from the northwest should provide some relief, especially since, if I remember well, your expected path, if it did not already, should soon make a turn straight to the north and get you away from the smoke. At least, that is what I wish for you.

Take care, my friend, and fare well.

Yvon

 

Oxford House

Published on June 26, 2015 by Michel

Portrait of Larry Watt

Larry was my providential host in God’s Lake. In his company, space and time took a different dimension, nothing less…

Born into a 20 children family, Larry is actively involved in his community, helping youngsters with drug problems to regain their freedom; for that purpose, he organizes fasting sessions in the wilderness, among other things. This is the nature of his work in God’s Lake, but it is far from being his only contribution. In as little time as only one day, I saw that man help young neighbours to set a camp on an island, pick the right plants to cure my common cold, give me a short course in botany, become a tourist guide to show me his village, show up at a party, go fishing, gather eggs on the islands, cook the fish and, above and beyond all that, finding the time and energy to philosophize with his guest until late into the night. And in all what he did, he always kept a smile on his face…

His secret? Larry did not tell me, but I think he might be a shaman. I realized that when, listening to him singing in Cree, I felt the sky suddenly filled up with the peaceful soul of his people. His voice then became the way! In his way of respecting nature and speaking about it, again it was the soul of his people manifesting itself with all its strength.

Thank you, Larry, for all these enriching moments spent in your company, and keep up doing the good work in God’s Lake.