On the Road Across Canada

2015.07.15 - Seattle

It’s 2:45 in the morning, and I bolt awake, my brain spinning in full hamster-wheel mode. I am so not ready for this.

But the sun comes up whether I’m ready or not. And soon, it’s time to go. My eyes brim with tears as I hold Janet in my arms. Despair grips me. Is this the trip where my luck runs out? I suck it up as best I can, head down the driveway then stop, running back for one last kiss.

And then I’m off.

It’s early enough that I miss most of the morning rush hour. But as I drive east, I work myself into a blossoming panic, nearly overwhelmed with anxiety on the interstate. The distance, the expense, the raw stupid danger of going so far, so alone, so close to so many things that can kill me. My mind fills with all the stupid near misses of the last two summers. I can see it in my head, the boat rolling in breaking seas, raw fear seeping in with the ice cold water.

That’s me, the agoraphobic travel photographer.

As I put on miles, 100 then 200, 500 behind me, I settle down and begin to look forward. It’s going to be fine. The boat won’t sink. The bears won’t get me. The sea will let me pass one more time.

Right?

Somehow, three long days of driving pass in a blink and are forever lost to highway monotony and the steady books-on-tape drone of a Norwegian crime novel. I pass over the Cascades and Rockies and out onto the Canadian prairie in a single day. Then it’s more prairie, suddenly cool and windswept, until I catch the cold front, marked by crackling thunderstorms over an endless boreal forest. Day three brings stuffy heat, swarming black flies and yet more stunted forest driving across northern Manitoba.

 

I drop off 340 pounds of gear and provisions at the air cargo office in Thompson, one of my least favorite towns in the northern hemisphere. Half a dozen guys stand around and watch as I wrestle with the heavy cases, but only the shortest of them, a wiry Indian kid, makes any offer to help. It all goes onto two wood pallets, is shrouded in plastic and then disappears into the void. It’s arrival time in Rankin Inlet is left vague. Confidence is not inspired.

From there it’s another 188 miles over dusty gravel to Gillam, the end of the road. Two summer ago I put my small boat onto the Nelson River about 30 miles from here, and drifted off on the current. I’m back to retrieve the boat trailer that I’ve stored here, hauling it back to the rail depot in Thompson. If all goes according to plan, I’ll bring the boat back to Churchill at summer’s end, load it onto the train for the 600 mile southward trip, drop it on the trailer and head for home.

In my absence, someone managed to run over and mangle the trailer, smashing lights and breaking off parts. They also helped themselves to the spare tire and boat strap. Even the license plate is gone. I suppose I should count myself lucky that it’s still there at all, and I drive south through a dismal afternoon, the gravel run turned to muck and mud in a cold, steady rain.

Not for the first time, my ill-tailored plans feel like they’re coming apart at the seams.

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