Back

The Long Road Home

Final Campfire
The resonating grind of chains against cogs and the whine of diesel engines drifted up river. It was unsettling. The unnaturalness of it jarred against the surroundings and we would now have to accept that the wilderness part of our journey had come to an end. It took the best part of half an hour after we first heard the ferry to actually see it. It marked where the Dempster Highway crosses the Peel to get to Fort McPherson. A few pickup trucks seemed to be making the crossing but mainly large freight lorries. In a few months time the ferry would be pulled up the bank and the town would be cut off until the ice becomes thick enough to support the huge trucks carrying supplies to these Northern outposts.

The Dempster Highway
In my head this was going to be an emotional, celebratory, moment. Reaching the Dempster Highway, the road to the roof of the World, should represent a great achievement. I didn't feel that great about it though. Partly, I think, because the presence of 'civilization' felt a bit over whelming. To keep it in perspective, when I say civilised I'm actually talking about a ferry, a couple of trucks, maybe 5 people and a few cabins. At the time it felt like too much. There was a campground marked on the map right next to the road and we had figured this might be a good base for our last day to get gear sorted before the pickup. I started wandering up the road toward Fort McPherson to try and find it. True to Canadian form, I hadn't gone 50 metres, before the one and only pickup to pass had pulled over to see if I wanted a lift. Sometimes stereotypes are a positive thing! Niall stayed with the boat whilst I crouched down over the wheel arch in the back of this very smart red F150 cruising along on the dirt, on permafrost, highway. The campground it transpired was over a kilometre away, unrealistic for taking the boat and gear, and besides it was closed! The kind Gwich'in driver and her mother where again very Canadian in offering to drive me back to the ferry. I responded in British style, saying no I couldn't possibly inconvenience them so, and we said our goodbyes. Some while later I got back to my dad. We looked about and there wasn't anywhere we could camp. Industrial odds and ends scattered over a muddy shore. Not particularly idyllic! So we took the decision to get back in the boat and paddle back up stream the way we had come.

One Last Sort Out of Kit
Although still in earshot of the ferry it felt so much better to be around the corner and out of site. We found a nice sandy beach that we later discovered belonged to a couple of beavers. They gave us a surprise after dusk, smacking their tails against the water surface in protest to our occupation. Bald Eagles circled overhead and we were treated to a spectacular sunset. It was just what we needed to extend the wilderness experience for a little while longer.

The Van with a 'Dempster Paint Job'
The next day, nature was on our side, and we were able rinse off and dry all our kit and repack it for the road transport out. I also frantically went about filming anything I thought we might have missed earlier. I felt a huge weight of responsibility to come back with some decent footage and this last day represented the last chance to record on scene. I even found time to sit down with a pair of headphones a start cataloging the film we had shot. I felt a little better after this. At least we weren't heading back empty handed.

I got Niall doing his acting bit, sitting in the beached canoe, reciting Robert Service;

"Were you ever out in the Great Alone,
when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could  hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf,
and you camped there in the cold..."

The "Pull of the North". An intangible allure that draws you in. A part of the North had entered my soul. The season changing, colder snap in the morning air, and trees turning to blazing reds made me wonder. What would it be like to over-Winter here? Don't get me wrong, I was excited about heading home too, but that magical landscape was seducing and every bend and rise tempts you to explore just a little while longer. I could completely understand how folk come up on a fishing trip and find themselves 20 years later in a self-built log cabin.

Gopher Saying Hi
Eagle Plains Hotel
 
Driving back Through Tombstone
Morning came, and with it, our last voyage. The short paddle took us from the wilderness, seemingly unchanged for millennia, to a highway artery linking  us to the modern human world. Soon Tom arrived with the van and we were speeding down the mud and gravel, bordered by autumnal tundra, towards Dawson City. There is little out there between the Caribou and the Gophers. Just road and mountains until you get to Eagle Plains. This motel and diner in the middle of nowhere is the only place you can get gas between Fort McPherson and Dawson so makes for a wise stop! We helped ourselves to coffee and sitting down to eat the best slice of blueberry pie in the world marked the happy conclusion of our wilderness canoe adventure. The Yukon Assignment was accomplished.
Taking It All In