June 30, 2006

The Journey to Ellesmere Island

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to Resolute Bay, Nunavut – (Day 2)

At 7:30, with rain threatening from an overcast sky, we get disconcerting news at the First Air cargo office. No way will the plane be able to take all our stuff the way we have it packed. Undaunted and determined, we get creative. We can each check 2 pieces of luggage, so we consolidate the food into three boxes. The stuff-able things like tuna-in-pouches and the bags of M and M’s get tucked into the pockets of polar fleece jackets and crammed into corners of the bulging duffel bags. And miraculously, it all fits. If anything bursts, we hope it will be the M and M’s and not the tuna. My scuffed old duffel is now strapped with duct tape to pinch hint for an over-stressed zipper that has finally given up.

Lugging our fat backpacks, we struggle onto the plane to Resolute Bay, our last commercial flight on our odyssey to the High Arctic. The final leg to Ellesmere Island must be by charter plane since no commercial flights span the hundreds of miles to this almost inaccessible destination. The charter flight is very costly, and weather conditions often make departures and arrivals difficult. Long delays, sometimes for days, can take place. Dave’s permit allows him to work in an area where there is a small weather station, and since this is a government facility, more paperwork and clearances are needed to allow the flight to land there.

The commercial plane to Resolute lands at Cambridge Bay for refueling and to take on passengers, but there’s a delay because of the need to change aircraft due to a mechanical problem. Another moment of mild panic – will our supply boxes get left behind? We try to watch the baggage carts as they load the replacement plane, but then we get fatalistic and figure what will be will be. We can survive without the tuna. The M and M’s are another matter altogether. M and M’s are a basic food group along with Werther’s caramels.

Resolute Bay, Nunavut

We (and the luggage!) arrive at Resolute late in the afternoon where we are greeted by Rhonda Peterson, the cheerful proprietor of a comfortable motel near the airport. We ask Rhonda how we can get into the hamlet of Resolute, a distance of 5 miles. Without a moment’s hesitation, she tosses us the keys to her vehicle. “Just leave ‘em in the ignition when you get back,” she says.

Resolute, established in the early 1950’s by the Canadian government when it relocated groups of Inuit from Baffin Island, hangs on determinedly despite its isolation and a struggling local economy. The children are beautiful, their faces alight with smiles. In a village of 150 people, it has not been necessary to instill in them a fear of strangers. They are openly curious about us, and with unabashed directness, they ask Nancy and Dave why they are so tall. Me they can relate to better in terms of adult height. During his 20 years of travel to Ellesmere, Dave has established some firm and lasting friendships. The proprietor of a local inn lends us parkas in anticipation of low temperatures and cold wind on Ellesmere. He insists there is no rental fee and waves away our protests and efforts to pay him. “Just bring ‘em back. You lose ‘em, you own ‘em!” he says with a smile. Another example of the hospitality and the generosity of people in Canada has just been logged onto our mental scorecard.

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