Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Journey to the centre of the earth

It’s funny, but obvious, that we’ve moved thousands of kilometers and yet managed in some ways to end up in the same place. Yes, our home is an isolated island on the fringes of Canadian awareness, largely irrelevant in the greater political scheme of things, with bad weather and treated horrifically by the airlines. Am I talking about Newfoundland or Baffin Island?

Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been suffering the violent pangs of homesickness you hear Newfoundlanders exiled in Alberta whine about. How can I be homesick? It’s like
I’ve moved to a more northerly version of Newfoundland. Or perhaps what Newfoundland was like decades ago.

Yes, it’s the end of May and there is still a couple of feet of ice in the bay, snow on the hills and ski-doos zipping around. But judging by the forecast here and the ones I’ve been seeing in St. John’s recently, the weather is about the same. That is to say, cold, grey and a touch miserable. Granted, we’re at about 63 degrees north and that kind of thing is expected.

And yes, we get pretty much 24 hours of daylight at this time of the year. My father thinks this would be cool to experience at some point. I’ve tried to tell him the novelty wears off quickly once you go several weeks without a proper night’s sleep, but he still seems enthusiastic.

But it only dawned on me this morning the other thing that my former home and current one has in common – we tend to attract nut jobs off on big adventures.

Newfoundland has a very long history of being on the receiving end of such craziness. The Vikings, English, French, Spaniards and Portuguese were all crazed adventurers in some ways. They went across a vast ocean in technologically dodgy pieces of equipment looking for fortune and glory. Then in the early 20th century we became the launching point when we had people trying to fly non-stop across the Atlantic in a variety of manners. Towards the century, it was all about ballooning across the Atlantic.

And a more recent vintage has seen people trying to sail, paddle or float in a variety of strange way back to Europe.

Heading west is also popular. Terry Fox really got the ball rolling and every year since I’m sure someone has tried to go across Canada for some charity or another in some form of strange way. When I used to work at The Packet, I was in the ideal position to catch them when they were just beginning to grasp what it was they had set out on.

They leave St. John’s full of fire, determination and a hint of giddiness over the grand adventure ahead of them. Give or take a few days, 170 km of the some of the best of Newfoundland’s geography (the hills, wind and fog of the isthmus always takes a toll) and you tend to get them in the “Holy fuck, what am I doing?” part of the trip.

I was in Clarenville for three years. I interviewed a guy who was taking a horse and covered wagon across Canada (I think it was to oppose the gun registry) and a paraplegic biking his way across Canada in a specially designed wheelchair/bike.

(“My God, I had the bike in first gear going down hills in spots,” he told me. “It gets better, right?” “Nope, it actually gets worse,” I told him, with perhaps a bit more glee than I really ought to have.)

And yet, my new home is hardly immune to strange people in search of adventure on the fringes. The history of the Arctic over the past couple of hundred years has been of people searching for the North West Passage or trying to reach the North Pole. The fact that those feats have been accomplished still doesn’t stop people from trying. There are normally a dozen or so expeditions that trying to head to the North Pole from Nunavut (They normally leave from Resolute and not Iqaluit) each year. An environmental group dogsleded from Iqaluit to Igloolik this year – with Richard Branson (he of Virgin Airlines) participating. Jewel performed for the crew at the end of their journey. Others will be sailing or kayaking the North West Passage.

I read the other day of a man who is planning on going swimming at the North Pole in a few weeks. He’s doing it to raise awareness of Climate Change, apparently, and to set some kind of record. Oh look, I just found his home page.

Oh, and then there’s this story.

I appreciate that these fine folks are actually launching from Russia, and not Canada. Nor does it look like they’re ever going to enter Canadian waters (unless the mysterious gateway to the Centre of the Earth is on Ellesmere Island), but it just got my thought process going today. Because I’m sure as I speak there’s someone in Newfoundland, walking, skipping, ridding or towing a 20 pound ball and chain across Newfoundland, the first step of his/her grand Canadian adventure for some charity.

There’s something about being on the fringe of things that more often than not seems to attract the fringe cases.


Anonymous said...

though I am quick to post a ho-hum comment when you buy a vacuum or your dog has new fleas, I am also as quick to congratulate you on a great piece of writing!

One of your best, for what it's worth.


Anonymous said...

I am either much less insane or just a wimp, but just painting on the beaches and cliffs has caught me a little off-guard with respect to *exactly how fucking cold* those refreshing seabreezes are. I've been securing my easel with tent pegs, so far it's holding.