The call of the wild should not always be answered

Dear Uma: Pete does have his own little moments of drama, doesn't he? I am sorry he gave you such a scare when he called you from the hospital in Whitehorse. There was no medevac; I was told later there was never even a thought of it.

Dear Uma:

Pete does have his own little moments of drama, doesn’t he? I am sorry he gave you such a scare when he called you from the hospital in Whitehorse. There was no medevac; I was told later there was never even a thought of it. My hypothermia was not a severe case, and the ankle was not broken, merely sprained. It wasn’t necessary for him to send the photo; indeed it could be considered cruel and in bad taste, but I think it was some sort of demonstration of his relief that I was OK.

Though bruises and scrapes are not exactly an uncommon occurrence in my life, they are nobody’s best look.

I am home now, getting waited on scraped hand by sprained foot, by my loving husband. At least he is loving again; he was quite seriously angry with me for awhile, mostly because I undertook this adventure, or misadventure, without telling him about it.

Really, though, it was only going to be for one night, and who knew there would be such a series of small disasters in what ought to have been a pleasant, though admittedly unusual, little jaunt?

I blame it on Cee. She was the one who invited me to go to Whitehorse with her and she is the one who took me along for a ‘girls’ night’ and she was the one who ordered the margaritas and she was the one who did not dissuade me from agreeing to go winter camping with the biologist I met at the gathering.

Of all the people I have met in this territory, Cee knows me best; she ought to have remembered my history of unhappiness when it comes to outdoor adventures.

Anyway, here is what happened, in my own words; Pete was not there and his version of events really cannot be relied upon.

I met Jeanette at the pub with the other ‘girls’ and we talked about her job a lot because I find such things fascinating. She was going out the next day to look over a herd she was monitoring, or some such scientific task, and the plan was to stay out overnight – in a tent. The herd was some distance into the bush; overnighting would be easier, and besides, Jeanette assured me, winter camping was wonderful.

The tequila agreed when Jeanette asked me if I would like to go with her; in fact the tequila was very enthusiastic. The other outdoorsy women assured me they could outfit me, and Jeanette already had all the other gear. Because we would leave at first light, we all went over to the home of the woman closest to me in size and spent a hilarious time outfitting me. It was such a hilarious time that Cee and I ended up staying over and it was there that Jeanette picked me up the next morning.

The tequila was very silent and subdued, all interest in the jaunt entirely gone as though it had never been. My real, sober, cold-light-of-day self was not at all keen on participating in the insanity of sleeping outside, miles in the bush, on a Yukon winter night.

Why did I go? I can hear you ask. Why embark on a venture so alien to my nature and beyond my abilities?

I was too embarrassed to chicken out, Uma; just like a kid who wants to be part of the gang, even though the gang does things she knows are not for her.

I zipped myself into the one-piece adult snowsuit, stomped into my borrowed boots, shouldered my borrowed Arctic sleeping bag and got into Jeanette’s truck – the one with a snowmobile in the back.

We drove for what seemed like hours, leaving the highway to churn our way through the wilderness on a sort of path that hadn’t been ploughed, maybe ever.

Jeanette very capably unloaded the snowmobile (or ‘sled’ as Jeanette called it) and soon we were flying over the snow, again on a faint path that looked as though no one had been on it for months.

It was actually enjoyable, this part; it wasn’t too cold, and I had the driver to duck behind if my face got too frozen. The scenery was pretty, and there were animal tracks everywhere we looked.

It wasn’t long before we found the caribou; I sat on the sled, or stamped around it keeping my feet warm while Jeanette walked around looking through binoculars and writing things down for what seemed like hours.

By the time we camped, I was nearly stiff with the cold and the weight and bulkiness of the snowsuit rendered me mostly useless as Jeanette went about setting up the tent and building a fire.

The flames cheered me, as did the stew and bannock, followed by cookies from the favourite bakery in Whitehorse. I helped clean up and I even made the coffee in a clever little camping pot that Jeanette told me was the latest in camp cooking gear. We sat around the fire and talked, the night as black as tar, and seemingly as dense. By the time we settled into our sleeping bags, I was warm and snug and feeling very good about having the courage to be a part of this trek.

I fell asleep dreaming of Pete and I getting our own winter camping equipment, and how pleased and proud he would be telling our friends, “Yeah, it was Heather that first tried this sort of thing; she was the one that got me into it.”

Hours later, waking to the deepest silence and the deepest blackness I have ever experienced, I realized nature was calling me. She was not luring me out to stand in the snow and marvel at the night sky; she was telling me it was time to pee.

Try as I might, I could not persuade my body that emptying my bladder was not really all that urgent; eventually I had to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag and venture into a world that was “black as the pit from pole to pole”.

Jeanette had the only flashlight, and loathe to wake her, I made my way out of the tent entirely by feel.

Outside, it was deep cold; I had not put on my clumsy snowsuit and the chill went to my bones immediately. Thinking I would go no further than a few feet, I stumbled on, wearing only my heavy wool socks. I knew the dry snow would not soak the wool of the socks before I was able to get back to the warmth of the tent.

The wood we’d left laying beside the place where we’d built our now extinguished fire was what did me in. I fell over it and then, trying to right myself, I fell into it. I guess that was when I sprained my ankle, though I didn’t notice any pain at first, being far to occupied with getting on my feet.

True to the plan, I walked the shortest possible and decent distance from the tent before relieving myself.

It was when I went to go back that I got lost. Really, you would have to have been there to know how very dark it was; it was like being in a sensory deprivation tank.

Later, they saw I had managed to get a good ways from the camp before I fell again. I was in the bush by then, and feeling fairly panicky; I fell hard into what felt like a thorn bush. That was when all the scratches happened, and it was shortly after that that I fell for what may have been the last time, hitting my head and blacking out.

Fortunately, Jeanette is a very early riser and found me before I was solidly frozen, and dead.

Also fortunately, she had a satellite phone and summoned a helicopter to come and get me. The rest is history.

Pete is not pleased with me, nor is he proud of me. He is waiting, I think, until I am fully recovered before telling me what he really thinks about my attempt at playing Eskimo.

Maybe I am not cut out for northern life, although Pete has reminded me I didn’t have much better luck in the tropics …



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