08/21/2005, Back River, Nunavut; GPS Coordinates: 67 deg. 6 min. north; 95 deg. 17 min. west
Preface: The events I am about to describe are true. The title is a reference to a song sung at Manito-wish and should in no way be associated with the ten wonderful people we met in the past week. If anything, we ourselves are the bums, but the trout we ate was incredible.
No joke; there we were. Our two canoes rafted together facing the Cessna 185 boat plane that had just landed a few hundred feet away on the glassy waters of Franklin Lake. Only moments before, the plane had come over the ridge behind us, almost without a noise and had circled a few times before landing. We sat in astonishment wondering who it was, if the pilot was just curious, or if they were bringing news from the outside world. Unsure, brimming with excitement and slight apprehension, we drew together as the plane taxied forward and decided to paddle up to it and meet whatever was in store for us.
I don't think any of us would have ever guessed at the incredible series of coincidences that came together to shape the next few days. "I'm looking for five women," the pilot said, as he stepped out onto his float. His smile growing as he read each of our names and handed us a note, laughing at our disbelief. Beth read the note out loud immediately, not even stopping to ask questions until she reached the end which was signed "with love, from the 2005 Canuck Expo." Laughter and questions filled the air until it was established that the two men in the plane were part of a group of ten men in five planes that were flying over the tundra on an adventure trip (see www.adventureseaplanes.com). They had run into a group of girls from Manito-wish at Kazant Falls, and had been instructed to keep an eye out for us on the Back River since they were heading up our way. The fact that in the vast expanses of the tundra, news had just reached us from a group that included our friends, sisters and campers was astonishing. We had just received airmail from the Kazant to the Back, delivered by our new friends, Eric and Wolfgang, pilots from Florida and Germany, who had just dropped out of the sky.
While all the explanations and introductions were taking place, another plane, which we would soon come to know as a Super 150, came up the river from the east, buzzing crazily close to Eric's plane and our boats before landing. A man in waders got out, sat on his float and paddled his plane over to us and so it was that we met Kirk, another pilot from Florida on the northern edge of Canada. The Adventure Seaplane group was staying about seven miles down the river at an old fishing camp and we were promptly invited to join them for dinner. It may seem that we have been receiving dinner invitations left and right, but such is not the case. We have not seen any other canoeists for 86 days and the only people we have seen we had anticipated meeting at all of our re-supplies. To have ten of the most generous and welcoming people drop out of the sky right next to us, bearing notes from our friends, was incredible. Meeting anyone up here in the northern reaches of the Canadian tundra is special in and of itself, and you immediately share the unique connection of the land you are traveling through for a call at home for any period of time.
Meeting the group of seaplane adventurers was an unexpected gift. Not only did we have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the tundra from the air, after being escorted by our pilot friends to dinner, but we had the opportunity to see our enthusiasm and love for the land reflected ten-fold through different means. I have never heard of a float plane adventure trip before, but as we soared above the Back River, zooming over the astounding hydraulics and the rapids out of Franklin Lake, I was convinced that there could be no better way to experience the Arctic than by seaplane, except by canoe, of course.
The planes landed and we caught our breath, and found ourselves wading through murky waters, to scattered outside buildings reminiscent of Tuckto Lodge. The buildings that had once made up Chantrey Inlet Lodge were now the temporary lodging for a group of pilots, chefs, fathers, husbands, adventurers, fishermen, professors, lawyers, inspectors and guides who shared their space, stories, intrigue and encouragement with five young women from Wisconsin and Connecticut. Over an amazing dinner consisting of fish tacos, Oreos and popcorn, we talked to Bruce, Matt, Brian, Bruce, Craig, Gary and Mike, who like Eric, Wolfgang and Kirk, shared a love of flying and a love of adventure. We were delighted to swap tales of our current trip and past travels and we were excited to make connections of colleges and home towns. It truly is a small world, even above the Arctic Circle.
The following day after being transported back up the river to our regular life, we began the much slower journey back to the lodge. While we had attempted to scout the rapids from the plane, a rare opportunity to say the least, it still took us the rest of the day to make our way down the river through incredible whitewater and over calm stretches of flat water before coming once more to the white buildings of the old Chantrey Inlet Lodge. We set up our camp and while Nina was fly-fishing with Bruce, Karen and Beth took Matt for a paddle, and Meg and I chatted with Mike, Wolfgang, Craig, Bruce and Brian as we baked them a coffee cake for the next morning. That evening, as we enjoyed another amazing meal of fish, the moon glowed huge and orange above the horizon at the cabin next door and again we watched the stars and the northern lights play in the sky. When it came time to leave the next morning, we packed up our boats, paddled over to where the pilots were loading up, getting ready to head south again. We said the final round of good-byes, hugging Gary from our boats as he stood waist deep in the water, Brian's words "Run for life" echoing in our ears. I think it is fair to say that anyone you meet while traveling above the Arctic Circle will definitely remain a friend for life, whether you meet again in the future, or simply carry the energy of the memory with you to share with others along the way. It is difficult to express how genuinely touched the five of us were by this chance meeting on the Back River. It could not have come at a better time. Being able to share our stories with such interested and appreciative listeners put an incredibly positive twist on the bittersweet ending of our journey.
The night before we met our friends, I stood outside watching the sunset, willing it to last as long as possible and for the day not to end. The thought of being so close to the end of our trip was overwhelming and it hurt to count the small number of days left. Our time on the Back River has been beautiful. A huge river, carving its course out of smooth bedrock on one shore and rolling green hills, dotted with caribou and musk oxen on the other. The best thing about our meeting with the Seaplane Adventurers was not only their incredible generosity, but the opportunity to share with them the ability to dream big and always be thinking of new beginnings. As we left that morning, we had not paddled far before the roar of engines filled the air and the planes took off one-by-one, tipping their wings and buzzing over us as they climbed into the air. Leaving us alone in the tundra again, looking at each other in disbelief for confirmation that all this had really happened. We tried to sing to lift our spirits, holding on to a bit of hope that even though we had watched each plane disappear over the horizon, that one might come back. Sure enough, the humming sound reached our ears before we could spot the two tiny dots that we knew were Eric and Kirk, coming to say a final farewell that we knew would be good. Eric's 185 came in first with Kirk's Super 80 close behind. As the planes approached, they split, circling around each side of us, while we stood in our boats, waving and belting out the song from Top Gun, "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" at the top of our lungs. Eric flew over Kirk, one plane 100 feet above the other, while Kirk did a full circle above us, skimming along the surface of the water on one float. One final pass from each plane, Kirk's arm waving out the window, and they were gone. We kept singing as the planes were lost in the endless blue sky.
A heartfelt thank you to our seaplane friends, we truly enjoyed meeting each of you. We also want to thank WPC Brands, Meriter Hospital, Emergency Preparation Services (EPS), [phone interference], and ACR Electronics for providing us with first aid preparation and emergency supplies necessary to deal with whatever came our way. We have had a wonderfully, rather uneventful trip in that sense, but we are glad to have had all the supplies for the preparation that you enabled. We truly appreciate your efforts to help keep us safe and healthy out here.
Epilogue: I am writing this only 15 miles away from Coppermine Bay, where we will be picked up in a few days by motorboat from Gjoa Haven. We are so close to the ocean we can smell it. The water is growing increasingly brackish and in the distance we can see the steep rise of the Victoria headlands, which border Chantrey Inlet. The sun just set and it is raining. We will soon set down our paddles and canoe no farther, but our trip is not quite over as we still look forward to our time with Gjoa Haven, and we will carry all of the memories, thoughts, images and friendships with us on our future adventures. Tomorrow night we will drink a toast to the Arctic Ocean and the rivers we have traveled and to everyone and everything that helped us get here.
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