Our original "plans" called for us to go to Tuktoyaktuk on Monday, our first day in Inuvik. Then, we would go to Herschel Island on the second day, and be dropped off with a canoe to paddle and camp at Campbell Lake for Wednesday and Thursday. Friday would be a free day to putter around Inuvik before heading back down the Dempster on Saturday. In fact, these were really the most solid plans of the entire trip, and Stuart spent a great deal of time talking to folks in Inuvik by phone in the weeks leading up to our trip.
Well... The best laid plans...
When we arrived in Inuvik, as we have said, it was raining. Incidentally, they tell us this is the first major rain they've had since May. Figures.
Anyway, because of the rain, the Tuk and Herschel trips are on a minute-by-minute status... They monitored the weather every few minutes or hours and then decide whether to go or not. It turns out that we were a little shagged from our Dempster Slip and Slide, and so we decided we'd rather not go to Tuk on Monday, anyway, and that we'll rearrange the week to fit around our Campbell lake camping triip. We have an extra day, after all.
Then we find out that the "schedule" for the trips to Tuk and Herschel is also up in the air. So, the 10:30 trip to Tuk could actually go at 11. Or 1. Or 2:15. Or 5:30. Just depends. This is the kind of schedule that makes planning easy as pie. Herschel seems much harder than Tuk, because of the extreme volatility of weather there, so we try to schedule that one first.
Monday, the tour folks tell us to call Tuesday morning at 9:00. We do this, and find that we should call again to check on the status at 10:00. We do this. And, again at 11:00 we call. And noon. And 1:00. I think we called about 750 times on Tuesday, and they even called us once, but in the end, Herschel was weathered out. We spend Tuesday sorting through pictures and reading in the cabin. Not highly adventurous, but some nice (well-needed) down time.
By the end of Tuesday, it's still raining and cold (in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit) and we're supposed to go camping the next day. We talk to the fellow we're supposed to get the canoe from, and he says that he can either drop us with the canoe the next day, or we can just take it ourselves.
This is a new twist that we hadn't considered. If we could take the canoe ourselves, this would alleviate a huge number of the problems that I was blowing out of proportion in my head. First, if it turned out (as the tour people suggested) that we might be able to go to Herschel on Wednesday morning, then we could go there and then go camping when we got back. Also, it would placate my wild imagination that had been painting pictures of us with sleeping bags, tent, food, camp stove, etc., all sopping wet in a huge heap in the middle of the canoe. We have no dry bags. It's a canoe.
If we have the truck, we can modify our plans so that instead of paddling some insane distance trying to keep all our stuff dry and camping there, we can paddle some insane distance and then paddle back and camp by the truck, thus needing only to take cameras, munchies, and a jacket in the canoe. We have zip locks for the cameras. It's not the end of the world if the rest gets wet. I'm not sleeping in my munchies.
So, Wednesday morning, we go and get the canoe.
Do you know how big a canoe is?
In my mind, canoes shrink as time passes. We haven't rented a canoe in a couple of years, and in that time, canoes got a lot smaller in my head. Well, in person, hello. They're huge. And, we have a very small vehicle, as far as trucks go. So, we begin the comical task of tying a full size canoe to the top of our pint-size SUV, noting after we begin that there are no horizontal luggage racks on the truck at all. The fellow we are renting the boat from has an old egg crate mattress pad that we throw over the roof to keep the canoe from denting it (or the roof from denting the canoe?) and Stuart and I heft the canoe up there. Since I'm going to have to do it when we finish canoeing, I figure I'd better do it now to make sure I can.
Stuart is the master of all knotdom, so I have no concerns about his tying job. However, we don't actually have the best rope in the world for the job. One end of the canoe has a nice rope, but the other end we tie down with a bungie cord (not optimal). And, in the middle, for good measure, we run some thin plastic twine across the canoe and tie it to each luggage rail. Anyway, it's up there, and it's funny.
So, we go jauntily on our way, still trying to track down the Herschel trip, and after parking our tiny little jeep with its huge canoe several places in town, the tour company sends us directly to the flight people to see if we can get a flight from them directly.
The flight people are called BeauDel Air. We kept wondering if this was a play on Baudelaire, but we concluded probably not. Anyway, they have an impressive dock of float planes, and I am hugely enamored of these beasts, so I take a few pictures of some taking off. But, inside they tell us that Herschel is almost never accessible in the morning because of fog, and that it's been terrible weather there for almost a week.
We spend some time negotiating either a flight to Herschel for just the two of us (which is not cheap, but kind of neat), or just a flightseeing flight as far as we can go along the yukon coast to see whales and muskoxen and reindeer. When it is clear that Wednesday is not going to be the day, we head to Campbell lake.
After retying the canoe several times (did I mention that bungee cords were not optimal?), we arrive where we need to be, and we get the boat off the truck. Unfortunately, we have miscalculated, again. This is a day-use area (meaning you're not supposed to camp here), and it requires a permit for day-use. Well, we are supposed to be camping, and we don't have a permit. Sadly, it appears the original plan we made was contingent on us being dropped off, so that we've driven ourselves is a wrinkle.
We decide to go ahead with the canoeing, and we'll decide what to do about the camping later. So, we put the canoe in the water, park the Jeep as inconspicuously as possible, and we're off.
I like canoeing, because I feel rather safe. Canoes go quietly through shallow water, allowing you beautiful views of birds and habitat that you couldn't get otherwise. I can swim well (or at least I once could... I'm a little out of practice now) -- Stuart and I were once both certified lifeguards, so I'm not so concerned about that. But, the water here is wow cold, and there are lots of plants and things in a lake, and the water is murky. These are all things that make me panic, and I know better than to think I could easily get out of an emergency situation up here, in the middle of nowhere, in ice-cold water, with a slippery, murky bottom.
So, the canoe, which is hard to flip (knock on wood), and goes in shallow water, is the perfect answer. Except, much to my surprise, as soon as we push off from the landing, my paddle goes all the way up to the handle, straight down, without hitting bottom. The water is deep. So, this little creek that leads to the lake is 20 feet across, and at least 5 or 6 feet deep, only a few feet from the shore. Great.
I will myself not to think about this, and we set off. The water is moving rapidly in the creek, but it's so deep that it's still rather placid at the surface. The light is beautiful, the rain and clouds having just broken, litterally hours before. We head towards the lake, and as the water widens out, we see some beautiful ducks and other water birds. There are interesting plants growing up from the bottom of the creek and lake, with only an inch or two sticking out of the water (the stalks must be 10 feet or more long in places). We see some song birds.
We paddle out into the lake, and I realize is vastness. It is so long you can't see the other side, even though it is relatively straight. In the middle, there are whitecaps from the stiff breeze... Ah, if only we had a sail.
At some point, as we putter about, one of us sees a line of white along a far bank. We wonder if it's a dock or a pier, and we move towards it. When we look through the long lens on the camera, it turns out to be a flock of swans. We paddle like mad and after quite some time, we actually manage to get close to the swans. They, of course, paddle gracefully in the other direction. We chase the swans around for a while, taking pictures showing them getting closer, and eventually we get some great shots (we hope, knock on wood). Then we leave the poor birds alone.
After exploring some more, we meander back to the creek, where we see a mama duck and two ducklings. We are going in her direction, and she thinks we are chasing her, so she implements evasive maneuvers, including sending the ducklings off into the weeds while she flaps and splashes to divert our attention. When we seem unconcerned, and have followed her a long way from the ducklings, she turns tail and heads back to her young.
When we get back to the truck, we stand there, thinking about where to camp, when we are nearly carried away by swarms and swarms and swarms of horrid flying, biting insects. As a side note, this is probably the very best summer we could have come up here. The bugs, by what we've heard, are fewer this summer and right now specifically than they have been in years. But still, at any one time there were at least 30 mosquitos on stuart's back. I started to seriously consider taking him up on his Deet offer.
We'd been out in the canoe for 5+ hours, we had no permit, we weren't supposed to camp here, and we had mosquitoes competing with the Red Cross for blood extraction records. We are wusses. We decided not to camp there.
Back in the truck, we swatted mosquitoes for a while and drove around, looking for alternative camp grounds, but we couldn't find anything that looked promising, so we finally just decided to go back to town.
Thursday, we called about Herschel again, but dispite going directly to the source, the weather is still not cooperating. But, we do find that there's a tour going to Tuk on Friday, so we sign up for that.
When Friday comes, we are told that they can take us to Herschel on Friday afternoon, but not as late as we'd get back from Tuk. So, now we have to decide between Herschel and Tuk. We have already signed up for Tuk, so we decide we'll just stick with that, and we pile in. See the Tuk page for more information on that exciting journey.
With Tuk and the Arctic Ocean under our belts, we settled in to have a Muskox burger (only me) and watch the sunset over Inuvik for the last time (at about 12:30 am). We didn't do everything we wanted to, but it's still been a good week.
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