This past season, Dan Clark, his wife Alice Young Clark, and their two children Koby (8 years old) & Ava Fei (6 years old) along with friends, Bruce Bembridge & Marilyn Toulouse, traveled to the Tundra on a 55-day canoe circuit. The following is a sample of one of the more harrowing sections written by Dan Clark.
Water pours through the crumpled canoe. Our well travelled canoe rests uncomfortably on the bottom of the creek deformed beyond belief. About the only thing holding it together is the spray deck. Moments before in a narrow swift that I could have waded, I lost control of the bow of the boat. It swung instantly into the current and caught on the far side. The force of the water folded it. Everything went in the water: all of our gear, weeks of food AND the kids.
I try to take stock of the situation and sort through my inner turmoil. We are 42 days into the most vacant wilderness in Canada with 250 km of tough travel to the nearest road. If we can’t rescue the boat the trip is over and we will have to call a float plane. But in the here and now, responding to the situation starts with getting the kids into dry clothes and pulling gear out of the boat. Our friends Bruce and Marilyn jump in to help, but Ava Fei is inconsolable because she lost her lunch bag and Koby because he lost a boot. We are all worried about the canoe.
Within a couple of hours we have bent the boat back into a workable shape and use cord to pull the gunnels together where they are broken. We feel like setting up camp and crawling into our sleeping bags, but the hummocky tundra offers nothing nearby. We do what we have done every other day of the trip - we paddle.
The hours that follow in the boat are therapeutic. The kids talk about their scary swim and how mama waded in and pulled them from the water. We analyze the mistakes, look at the positives, and decide what we will do differently in the future. We talk a lot about how we work together as a team and how our responses to challenges define who we are. As the shock of the wreck wears off, our thoughts drift back to myriad fun moments from the first six weeks of the trip: fish we caught, playing the ukulele, bannock pizza, our visit to the Olesen homestead and their sled dogs, caribou antlers lying in lichen, fairy houses built by little fingers, the herd of muskox, running naked on the beach, and picking an endless crop of ground hugging blueberries.
By mid-afternoon we are feeling much better, and a short portage has us warm and dry. We consider setting up camp at the end of the portage, feeling like we have had more than enough adventure for the day. But a chill goes through me when I see a brown lump on the far side of the next lake. It is too far to tell what it is with the binoculars, so we reluctantly load the canoes so we can put some distance between us and what could be a grizzly bear.
As we paddle silently across the lake nervousness is replaced by the excited realization that the bear is actually a muskox. Near shore, we watch the lone bull slowly rise from his day bed in the shrubs and plod to the top of the esker. We revel in this rare moment, hearing his snorts and the click of his hooves on the gravel. Our group of six sits in awe of this rare northern creature and minutes feel like hours. We are spellbound until he ambles out of sight. We chatter about our good fortune, the intimacy of the experience, and about the unknowns around each corner in this tundra wilderness. We are struck by how a day can start so terribly and end so memorably.