Happy New Year! Since I didn’t quite manage to get the countdown completed before the new year dawned (oh well-it was more fun to ski than stare at my laptop), here is 2018’s entry. With a 90-day expedition that year, I could have filled this post but instead, invite you to four entries that I wrote closer to the end of that trip (Paddling North) as it was coming into focus what we had done and what we still had to do to complete the 3000 km trip. Enjoy!
Originally posted on July 13, 2018
As I was paddling last evening against a potentially building wind, I thought about how this expedition shares similarities with climbing Everest. I’ve made three attempts at climbing Everest and reached a high point of 7600 metres in 2010. I’m currently on day 58 of this expedition (paddling 3000 km between Jasper, Alberta and Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories) in my tent being blasted by wind and baked by the sun and am flooded with memories of similar times on the flanks of Everest.
So you ask, “how are the two expeditions alike?”
1. Both are long expeditions. Everest is usually a 50-60 day expedition and this one is 90 days.
2. Both involve living in a tent for most of the expedition with your tent being key to your safety and securing. A thin nylon cocoon, that is both surprisingly resilient and remarkably fragile. A sudden intense gust can break a pile which can rip a hole in seconds if your tent is not properly secured ( or sometimes even if it is).
3. Both involve leaving positions of relative security to move through the landscape, exposed to intense elements of weather, topography, and water/ice. These intense environments can change from awe inspiring and easy to terrifying and life threatening in the time it takes to consult your map.
4. Both involve moving through the above in the dark, at dusk or dawn, with little sleep. This makes such movement more challenging than moving in the daytime but also more special and rewarding as you are treated to displays of stars, planets, and the wicked dance of the sun setting or rising.
5. Both involve the ability to stay focused and motivated for the long haul. Everest requires that you traverse lower camps repeatedly as you acclimatize to the altitude and paddling North requires that you paddle a marathon most days and then set up camp. You must ride waves of motivational doldrums when weather forces you to sit still and progress stalls for several days in a row. You must be able to stay positive and committed to your expedition goals on both easy and difficult days.
6. Both involve spending time away from friends, family, and support networks in remote locations where rescue is very expensive and never guaranteed. Current communications technology helps cross this divide but it can be time-consuming and sometimes distracting, to keep all electronics working to enable such contact across the miles.
7. Both involve “Stay or Go” decisions at regular intervals where you need to assess weather and environmental conditions as well as health and psychological factors in deciding whether to push on or stay put.
8. Both are deeply rewarding, intensely challenging, and ask you to be the best adventurer/climber/paddler/teammate you can be.
9. Both (for me anyway) are spiritual quests that connect me to my core to the landscapes I am traversing, regularly humble me to my core, and provide embodied lessons of spiritual teachings around every corner and crevasse.
10. Both involve long months of planning and preparation that are indeed, part of the expedition.
OK. Gotta stop for now since the wind is gusting more strongly and I want to add more guy lines our our cocoon. I love having you along on this (and all my expeditions). Sharing the experiences helps me understand them more deeply.
Originally posted on August 8, 2018
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the similarities between this expedition and climbing Everest. You can find that post here: How #PaddlingNorth is Like Climbing Everest https://taloeffler.com/2018/07/13/how-paddlingnorth-is-like-climbing-everest/ This is part two.
Marian and I reached Inuvik last night about 1:30 am after two days of long paddles with little current to assist us. We decided to push into Inuvik because we knew we would likely be winded off today and we wanted to use it for planning and decision making. We were winded off and we did use the day to make our plans.
Some may remember that Marian and I were up here in March doing a dog sledding program (as well as scouting for this expedition). We had a fabulous learning time and even paid a visit to Tuktoyaktuk because the all weather road had opened to the community. We also went to Tuk in case we didn’t get to paddle there on this expedition because we were stopped by weather, injury, or fatigue.
Marian and I had totally been putting off the decision about whether or not we would paddle to Tuk until we reached Inuvik. We’d originally thought it would take us four days to get here but, because we pushed, it only took two and thus today was our decision day. Today reminded me of summit bids on Everest (and all mountains really.). Thus the part two…how this “summit push” to Tuktoyaktuk is similar to one on Everest.
1. Both require specialized clothing to protect you from the cold (and in this case, the bugs. )
2. It’s hardest to push to the end/summit/goal through the haze of acquired fatigue. This fatigue can be intensely demotivating.
3. Just when you are most tired and wore out, the biggest, longest, hardest, most technical, and most committing challenges come.
4. Many folks around you, some of whom you’ve climbed or paddled with, will opt not to climb higher or paddle further and will head home. This can also weigh heavily on your mind and be demotivating.
5. You will often face the most wind, most cold, and challenging weather nearest the top/ocean. (Most bugs too).
6. As you climb, the altitude gets higher and hypoxia (low oxygen) makes you slower. As you paddle a river delta, the current dissipates and you much work harder for each kilometre.
7. As your summit bid draws near, doubt builds as well. You question your ability to pull it off and if you even still want to pull it off. Then you remember why you took on this mountain/river in the first place and make the decision to go for it, forsaking comfort, ease, and slacking off for one last big push to the top/end.
8. It’s much easier to go down that to keep climbing up but the views from the summit are life-changing.
9. The summit is obtained by taking one step after another step for hour and days or by taking paddle stroke by paddle stroke. Even when you think you don’t have another step or paddle stroke left in you.
10. The summit is only halfway. It’s important to continue to have the big picture, keep an eye to risk management, and never let the goal be worth more than returning safely to climb and paddle again.
We are off on the final phase of Paddling North, our summit push, tomorrow. We are not sure how long it will take-that will depend on weather and paddling conditions…likely in the vicinity of a week or so. We’ll continue to share audio posts and SPOT posts so you can hear witness to our daily progress making our way past the 3000 km mark, past 69 degrees North, and our arrival in Tuktoyaktuk. As always, we appreciate you cheering us on. We plan to continue our conservative paddling decision making and risk management style that has brought us 2880 kilometres safely thus far!
To the summit and safe return!
Posted on August 13, 2018
After an epic day, we achieved our summit and paddled to the pingos just outside Tuktoyaktuk.
Two weeks ago, in the middle of the night, we pulled into Tuktoyaktuk, NWT having done somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5 million paddle strokes. In the picture above, we are enjoying a toast to finishing our expedition.
One week ago, we arrived back home having only adopted one additional adventure pig-Amelia is our new addition-she considers herself to be an explorer pig.
A few hour ago, we shared our first Moo Moo’s ice cream in a year signalling that we were home from all of our grand adventures of the last year.
It’s been a good week of settling back in, wanting for the river, seeing loved ones, telling stories, and unpacking from our last four trips and unpacking the house. Not to mention reclaiming our vegetable garden from the weeds and a bit of blueberry picking. Now, just as I felt like I was finally home,
Delilah and I are off to the Royal Geographic Society International Conference to present some of the work I did while on my sabbatical.
We will both admit that we’ve resisted a wee bit, the process of settling back into regular life. We speak often of the river, sharing spontaneous memories, and wishing we were back there where the only things we really needed to do was sleep, eat, paddle, eat, paddle, eat, sleep, and repeat. But as I often say, you can’t stay on the summit forever.
What a grand adventure and so glad to share it with my dear co-adventurer Marian. I’ll be missing her sometime fierce this week as we’ve only been apart one eight hour period in the past year. Only six sleeps until we adventure together again, albeit the adventure of settling back into our everyday.