Hudson Bay Expedition – Thompson, Manitoba

2015.07.18 - Thompson 01

During more than 2000 miles of driving, there are no epiphanies, just cloying little aphorisms. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” “Sitting on the couch is free, but where does that get you.”

Actually, sitting on the couch, cold martini in hand, watching Mad Men re-reruns sounds pretty good right now.

So far, this trip has been neither cheap nor easy. I found a motorhead garage that promised to mend my mangled boat trailer. I pre-approved $1000 in repairs and went to find what meager diversions Thompson has on offer.

The Hub of the North ranks #1 on the Trip Advisor rankings and I thought, what the heck, splurge. It’s conveniently located adjacent to the town’s homeless shelter and the Star Wars bar, so there’s no shortage of local color. My glass of red wine is nothing if not full. It’s redolent of car fumes with a punchy kerosine finish.

After a sad steak and salad, I emerge blinking and burping and blinded not by alcohol poisoning but by the unexpected return of the sun. I decide to entertain myself flying the remote control quadcopter (bullshit, it’s a drone) at the massive nickel smelter. The old Inco smoke stack rises a good 600’ above the forest, the highest structure in 1000 km or more, and it billows a long plume of white smoke.

A massive industrial plant in a foreign-ish country with prominently displayed private property signage: what better place for a test flight?  Granted, in my younger days, I would have scaled the fence and try climbing the stack hand over hand but now…not so much.

Instead I find a nice spot along the highway that seems safely within the public domain, sent the Phantom up and out. One, two, four thousand feet out, climbing to 900 feet. Holy crap. That’s a thousand dollar bill I just sent out over the horizon. But it’s showing me a view that I’d never be able to see without a real helicopter, a suitably pliant pilot and a gas mask. Right there, on my iPhone, I’m flying through a plume of smoke, turned golden in the setting sun.

But where, precisely, is it anyway? My hands are starting to sweat and palsy at the prospect of losing this thing before the expedition even starts. I try to imagine my conversation with security, me banging on the wire gate and asking if I could scout around for a missing Chinese-made, American-piloted spy drone.

When the low battery alarm sounds, I push the “Come Home” button and to my considerable surprise she re-appears overhead, hovers, then descends in seamless fashion, landing at my feet.

Fun stuff.



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