Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Out on the land...

Iqaluit is not a big place. It’s bigger than when we first arrived here back in 2005, mostly courtesy of the Plateau subdivision, but it hasn’t suddenly become Toronto or anything. Plus, there’s the whole “no roads out of town” thing. So if you’re feeling claustrophobic you have limited escape options. There’s no driving to the next town for a break. You either suck it up and deal with it, hop on a plane and go somewhere or you hop on a ski-doo/boat and get out on the land.
I’ve always gone with options #1 and #2. I like living in Iqaluit, but the place does make you want to get out for a break every now and then. Until my recent trip to Vegas, it had been more than nine months since I was last outside of Iqaluit. Tell that to Inuit and they shrug their shoulders. Tell that to most qallunaat and they’ll nod their head sympathetically and say something like “Yeah, that’s a long haul.”
Going out on the land, either via ski-doo or on boat has never really been much of an option. When people ask I always why I don’t go out on the land more I always say, “I’m a search and rescue party waiting to happen.” Big laugh.
I’m not kidding.
Look, the name of the blog is “Townie Bastard”. I’m probably slightly less of a bastard these days, but certainly no less of a townie. I have no land skills. The last time I went camping was in 2002. Cathy and I decided to go camping in Atlantic Canada for a couple of weeks. It was as much a cheap vacation as it was a test to see if our new relationship could handle camping together in arduous campsites that occasionally didn’t have shower facilities.
The Middle of Nowhere, Nunavut
We’ve been married almost nine years, so it worked out for us. Haven’t been camping since, though.
I love cities. I love New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Edinburgh and Rome. I like the outdoors, just not to stay out there for weeks on end. You know, as a day trip. That sort of thing.
So the whole idea of me hopping on a ski-doo, go blasting out the sea ice, finding some frozen river to zip up and hang out at a cabin for a weekend and ice fish and do whatever….no. Just…no. I understand it appeals to many and I’m happy for them. Just not for me.
I have zero land skills. If the ski-doo breaks, I’m screwed. Odds are I would get lost, even with a GPS. Plus, you really do need to have a gun with you, just in case you run into a polar bear. I don’t like guns. I went to a firing range once, back in 1995. I was told that under no circumstances should I ever try and fire guns again. I’m perfectly all right with that.
Still, it had been awhile since I was last out on the land. Last time was, I think, in 2008. Might have been 2007. A group from work hopped on ski-doos and went out on the land. There was ice fishing. My boss head shot a Ptarmigan from about 100 feet. I have no idea how he saw the bird let alone do a head shot. I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. Was also probably thinking “qallunaat” with a sigh…
It was a fun enough day, but the fact I went six or seven years without needing to repeat it should give you some idea. Perhaps it was being towed on a komotik by a ski-doo for hours that did the trick. Riding in a komotik is like hopping into a bumper car ride at an amusement park. It’s fun the first five minutes or so, but loses its appeal after the second or third hour…
But I got the chance to go out last week. I figured it was about time to go out again. It was going to be about a 90 minute ski-doo ride where we would do some ice fishing and maybe build an igloo. I was not looking forward to the komotik ride, however.
That’s when I was told there were extra ski-doos and I could drive one if I wanted.
To her credit, Cathy immediately recognized this as a bad idea. To my credit, I also recognized this as a bad idea. However, it did not stop me from hopping on the machine. Cathy, wanting to show some faith in her husband, took her life in her hands and got on behind me.
Me on a ski-doo. Notice it is not tipped over or exploded.
Ski-doos aren’t toys. I haven’t driven one since was about 10 years old. It was on my grandfather’s farm/campground. Driving around some open fields and flat gravel roads with my dad nearby is one thing. Ski-dooing in Nunavut it something else. Those people who tell you that something you haven’t done in awhile is just like riding a bike? Liars.
Plus, there’s the whole “People can get really fucked up on these things” aspect. A local guy nearly got himself blown up real good a few weeks ago during a race. Wrecked his machine hitting a bump doing around 130 kmh.
Still, I figured I would give it a try under the premise that the only way to learn to do something is to actually do it. I skipped the whole “and perhaps you should learn to do it on a trip less than 90 minutes each way.”
Which explains why I tipped the ski-doo after driving it for five minutes. Cathy was unimpressed, but bravely got on the back with me again. There were other tipping incidents on the way out. Three in total, I believe.
In my defence, it was not total incompetence on my part. I mentioned to the outfitters, once we got to our destination, that the ski-doo seemed very determined to veer to the left. I thought it was just bad driving on my part, but they spent 15 minutes fixing one of the skis and lo and behold, she stopped veering to the left all the time when we headed back. There were no tipping incidents. Considering it was my first time on a ski-doo in decades, I think I did pretty well, over all.
As they say back in Newfoundland, "nar fish". She even did
the fishie song with no luck.
And was it fun? Sure. There’s a certain joy of blasting across sea ice doing 40 (never was sure if it was mph or kmh. It felt like mph, but what do I know…). I was less thrilled with having to navigate tricky (for me) little paths through the ice when we got close to shore. And my arms were hurting for days afterwards from fighting to get the ski-doo to do what I wanted.
And look, it was stunning when we got to the frozen lake many kilometers away from town on a brilliantly sunny day. It was +1C, and with all the layers we had on (it’s easier to lose layers when you’re warm than to magically find new ones if you’re cold and didn’t pack them) we were sweating more there than when we were in the middle of the Mojave Desert last month.
So yes, out in the great outdoors, ice fishing (didn’t catch anything, but neither did anyone else), enjoying  the quiet and the beauty….it was great.
Then we rode back to Iqaluit and now I’m good for another couple of years. I bet there were people I went out with who were back on their ski-doos the next day. The outfitters I spoke with couldn’t conceive of doing anything else. An office job? It would kill them.
I like the outdoors, but I feel no urge to be out there all the time. Which is perhaps an odd thing given where we live. I have a cousin in Calgary who told me that a ski-doo would be the first thing he bought if he moved here. I know people who moved here months ago and have been out a dozen times. Different things for different people.
I can appreciate the beauty of Nunavut. The view out our window is one of my absolute favourite things in the world. I would miss it horribly if we moved. But I apparently don’t need to be out there to appreciate it. From a distance works just fine...

Last Five
1. She's gone - Hall & Oates
2. In a world called catastrophe - Matthew Good
3. The reason why - Ron Sexsmith
4. Sawchuk - Ron Hynes
5. I am a man of constant sorrows - Soggy Bottom Boys*


Sara Dorman said...

Why not just let cathy drive the thing?! (Classic post btw. Nice to have you back)

Maria said...

I'm so with you - I live in the Arctic and have zero land skills. *laugh*

But a snowmachine and/or 4-wheeler do look like fun.