We awoke on our third day at Karl and Sandi’s cabin to learn that the temperatures had dropped even lower than the day before. I may have shivered and snuggled a little deeper into my blankets on the news that it was -25C outside, and that wasn’t factoring in the windchill.
The smell of fresh coffee eventually convinced me to get out of bed. After pouring a mug I settled in on the couch; me on one end, Ashlee on the other, a mountain of blankets somehow protecting us from the harsh reality of the outside world. The coffee was delicious, and soon to be paired with Sandi’s homemade bread and jam, plus a mountain of bacon, and sausages.
Sated, we began the task of tidying the cabin and packing up our stuff for the long trek home. I was excited to return to Rigolet, but equally saddened by the fact that I had to leave the comforts of the cabin. I may have also been a bit hesitant about the trek across English River in the extreme cold. To be clear, I wasn’t worried that anything would happen – we had two amazing guides in Sandi and Karl. I was, however, concerned that my untested-for-me gear wouldn’t be tough enough to prevent me from getting cold.
After packing up our gear we were off. Oliver joined Sandi on her skidoo, I rode again with Ashlee, and Alex sat in the back of the komotik. Karl, however, was not returning with us. Instead he ventured deeper along his trap line, not planning to return to Rigolet until Wednesday.
It was a bright day with clear blue skies. The sun brilliantly lit up the snow as the wind caused it to dance across the ice of English River. The wind was very cold, but I was extremely cozy in my many layers. Ashlee and I laughed as we rocketed over snow drifts, leaning left or right in unison to adjust the balance of the skidoo. As we crossed the ice I marvelled again at the scenery around me. The shoreline at times was lost to blowing snow, and even when visible was difficult to differentiate from the ice unless trees or rock announced its existence. In front of us, Oliver, and Alex punctuated the stark white and ethereal blue with their bright red jackets. With every gust we were presented with a new vision of swirling white that blurred the line between ice and sky. At times the gusting wind and snow made it appear that Sandi, Oliver, and Alex were flying through the clouds; not quite on solid ice, but also not quite in the blue sky air above. They were fixed in some undefined middle ground; a snowy cloudy limbo.
Despite our winter gear and many layers, we found it necessary to stop along the way to dance around on the ice to get the blood flowing to our feet. My left foot had taken the bulk of the force of the wind and was feeling the ache of cold. Running on the spot in this wintry landscape under layers and layers of thermal clothing and parkas likely looked ridiculous, but it did the trick. We were off again – but not before Sandi informed us to keep an eye out for polar bears, as we were in a good area to likely see one. I spent the rest of the ride unsuccessfully scanning the ice for even a glimpse of one of these creatures in the wild.
The ride across English River lasted about an hour before we arrived at the mostly tree-lined trail back to Rigolet. We stopped so that Oliver and Alex could trade spaces; he taking position in the komotik, she on the skidoo with Sandi. Before we took off again, Ashlee and I danced around some more to warm up our extremities. I took some comfort knowing that the remainder of our trip would see us sheltered from the wind.
As we wound our way along the path back to Rigolet, we were continually presented with scenery that was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. At a loss for words Ashlee and I seemed stuck in a loop, constantly muttering wow with every twist and turn of the trail. At one point we reached the top of a hill that gave us an incredible view of the water below. It was dark, yet vibrant, and decorated with what seemed to be impossible clouds of steam. As we descended the hill to drive along the ice that lined the shore, we were granted a view of the trees that were now covered in layers of snowy ice crystals – a result of those impossible clouds of steam we first saw from above. The effect was a forest of trees seemingly spray painted with the snow-in-a-can that people often use to decorate their Christmas trees, but this was the masterful work of Mother Nature; far greater and breathtaking than any artist armed with a can of fake snow could ever hope to achieve.
Eventually we began to see signs of civilization that announced we were almost home. Parts of me were slightly chilled, and my back was tired from navigating and constantly adjusting for the movement of the skidoo. My hat, balaclava, and face warmer were covered in the frozen remains of my breath, and I wanted nothing more than to strip off all of the layers, have a hot shower, grab a blanket and tea, and relax for the rest of the day. But more than that, I felt rejuvenated and centred in a way that I haven’t been in a while. I felt alive, and peaceful, and extremely grateful, but most importantly, I felt content.
My experiences at Sandi and Karl’s cabin, with Ashlee, Oliver, and Alex were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The land was harsh and dangerous, but at the same time sustaining and full of life in a way that I’ve never known anywhere else I’ve been. It was beautiful and breathtaking, and it reminded me at every moment how god damn lucky I am to have had the privilege of experiencing this place, and the magic it holds.