This year’s journey north to the Canadian Arctic started off uniquely – and by unique I mean with the wedding of two of my friends, one from St. Louis and the other from Austria. On Saturday, Katie and Markus Schober (#Schoberfest) celebrated their wedding in St. Louis with family and friends. Many people even made the trip from Austria for the weekend of festivities. After the wedding and the reception concluded, the celebration continued long into the early morning.
That is where my story of my second trip to northern Canada, more specifically the Canadian Archipelago, picks up.
I looked at the clock as I got back in the car – 2 AM. I thought ahead to my flight leaving from Lambert International Airport – 5:05 AM. Although my math was a little slower due to lack of sleep, I very quickly calculated that I would be lucky to get 30 minutes of sleep before I had to turn around and head to the airport. Nevertheless, I returned to my apartment to finish packing (yes, for some reason I was not 100% ready to leave even though the flight left in 3 hours). After another 45 minutes of packing I set everything out for one final check. With only a few minutes to spare I brought my gear out to the car and took off for the airport. Carolyn volunteered to drive my car back from the airport, despite having to cut her sleep in half for the night. At 3:45 AM we got on the highway and sleepily made our way to the airport. Now it was 4 AM and I pulled up outside the American Airlines terminal and walked, zombie-like, into the fluorescent lighting.
Between St. Louis and Chicago I slept on the plane – one hour of sleep to start making up for the deficit incurred from the previous day’s festivities. In Chicago I met up with one of the lead researchers for the trip, Greg Lehn. Greg and I were roommates in college, and are both self-proclaimed science nerds. We both love the process of observation and discovery that science provides. It was for this mild (ok, maybe severe) addiction to studying nature that we decided to wake up early on a Sunday morning, leave our daily routines, and step onto a plane pointed north for a research trip. It is never easy leaving behind people and things you care about, even if only for a short time, but the thrill of learning more about a new place (at least new to us) was too enticing to pass up. So we stepped onto the plane between Chicago and Calgary and then from Calgary to Yellowknife.
Each leg of the journey I gained ground on my sleep deficit. According to Greg, there were numerous times that he walked by me on the flight and found me, mouth ajar, fast asleep at my seat. Thankfully for me, he doesn’t have any photo-evidence. I am not a heavy sleeper, but I am self-conscious of sleeping in public places. This feeling quickly evaporated when I remembered a line from one of my favorite books by Bill Bryson called “Australia – In a Sunburnt Country.” In this clip he describes the full-sensory experience that his body gives those unfortunate enough to be around him when he falls asleep. Since I know anyone (is there actually anyone?) reading this blog is curious how bad his condition can be, enjoy the passage below:
“I am not, I regret to say, a discreet and fetching sleeper. Most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; I look as if I could do with medical attention. I sleep as if injected with a powerful experimental muscle relaxant. My legs fall open in a grotesque come-hither manner; my knuckles brush the floor. Whatever is inside—tongue, uvula, moist bubbles of intestinal air—decides to leak out. From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, my head tips forward to empty a quart or so of viscous drool onto my lap, then falls back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling. And I snore, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character, with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve exhalations. For long periods I grow un- naturally still, in a way that inclines onlookers to exchange glances and lean forward in concern, then dramatically I stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole- body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown. Then I shriek once or twice in a piercing and effeminate manner and wake up to find that all motion within five hundred feet has stopped and all children under eight are clutching their mothers’ hems. It is a terrible burden to bear. “
The flight to Yellowknife, a town of approximately 20,000 people, arrived at about six PM. After sending a few quick emails to family confirming that we survived the day’s travels, we began searching for a place to grab dinner. We quickly discovered that many places were closed, some because it was Sunday, but others because of an annual event called “Folks on the Rocks.” We walked for about two hours searching for open local restaurants, along the way stopping to take in the various landmarks around town. From the top of the lookout in the old section of Yellowknife we could see more of the daily life and happenings of Yellowknife.
It consists of many colorful homes of every shape and size nestled unimposingly amongst the many rocks and crevices around town. Many homes had three or more stories and twisted unsteadily into the sky similar to, I presume, the Weasley household from Harry Potter. On the water, houseboats sat quietly while the occasional float-plane touched down and small boats glided by.
The view from the lookout provided a more complete view of a town that we did not get to explore last year when we came to town. While we were taking this all in, our stomachs returned to their grumbling, apparently un-swayed by our newfound appreciation of this remote Canadian city.
We set back on the trail to find food and eventually settled on the “Number one Vietnamese restaurant in Yellowknife.” We were not able to confirm whether the second Vietnamese restaurant we passed in town was still in business, but the sign and our growing hunger eventually led us back to this restaurant for dinner. We arrived fifteen minutes before close, but the owner graciously offered to serve us regardless. We quickly devoured our plates of stir-fry and returned to “The Explorer Hotel, perched solidly atop one of the few high-points in town. After grabbing a drink at the hotel’s bar, we retired for the day, anticipating the start of our remote research trip. In the words of Chris McCandless, “I now walk into the Wild.”