March 14 (Day 17)
Wake up to a gray day, high overcast. There is no sunrise but a light patch on the horizon. A balmy last night of only –6C at 7:15am. On this last morning, I’m allowed to start the fire – do this by putting wood shavings (done last night) in to the stove and lighting a single match – the stove damper is open and they readily burst into flames….a few larger splints of wood go on and I shut the door, open the vent on the door and poof! An orange flame licks the inside walls, heating the coffee pot.
It should be a short walk (time and 7 km distance) across Lake Menihek given the empty sleds and our now snowshoe strong legs. No one hurries and the weather starts to change after breakfast (still more sausages, steel cut oatmeal, dried fruit). As I wash the breakfast dishes, stove pipe sections keep coming apart and I’m getting fumigated from the smoke – how annoying!
We don our wind gear in preparation for the unsheltered conditions of crossing a large open expanse. Garrett takes a compass reading as the wind is building. If there is a white out we won’t be able to navigate by sight and must rely on the magnetic needle. Janet has lent me her Ventile jacket, a double layer 400 count thread Egyptian cotton with a beaver ruff around the neck. It’s toasty warm and very light, top of the line anorak just made for winter conditions like today.
By lunch we have reached the half way point across the lake, stopping at the same islands as on Day 1. Joe is freezing, not wearing any type of wind stopper pants. Some people suggest that its almost ‘turn back conditions’ but I don’t know why turning back would make anything different except the wind would be in our faces instead of coming from the back. It’s whole different technique of walking and pulling with the toboggans being blown sideways to our bodies.
We walk in a group rather than single file…its easy to loose sight of the others. I stop for a bathroom break, sheltering behind the sled and quickly lose sight of almost everyone. Ric is lagging behind, waiting for me. I catch up, almost thrilled at the prospect of being lost, alone under these conditions. Imagination runs wild, it’s a bit frightening, like an arctic explorer pushing on to destination unknown. The key to surviving such a storm is stopping the wind. I’m warm, dry and comfortable, humming under my breath. Only my camera suffers as I change film and snow dusts inside the body.
Occasionally I trip over my own snowshoes, something I haven’t done before. Depth perception is difficult, everything is so white soft and blurry through the snow goggles. No wonder some people tie colourful wool tassels on the toes of snowshoes – besides being decorative, it helps you see your toes.
Too soon, the towers of the dam are evident above the swirling ground snows. Tiny telephone poles and hydro poles that follow the train tracks appear in the distance, wavering in and out as snow and wind allow. Garrett beelines for the dam shack, I’m right at his heels, pulling easily and wishing the day wouldn’t end. It seems that everything is happening in fast motion, too quickly to comprehend. Before I know it, a heap of sleds and people need hauling up and over the train tracks. I want to turn the clock back and replay the last 6 hours again and again. But it’s the last haul, down along side the steel rails, on a plowed road and beside the buildings. There’s no relief, no hurray just sadness of ending a remarkable 2 weeks plus….
The last sled unloaded, we shake off the last clinging snow as we enter the houses by 4pm. I feel no particular rush for a shower, but when I finally do, the rinse of soap from my hair is black! Pat and John, keepers of the dam, along with daughter Nicole, son in law Sean and 5 year old Riley have invited everyone to a ‘jigs dinner’: apparently a traditional Newfie meal of mushy peas, boiled corned beef, caribou , veggies, potatoes, gravy with blueberry and cherry pie for desert. Claude thoughtfully supplies red and white wine for the celebration. We also meet Luke, a good friend of Garrett and Alexandra’s. And even better news: Alexandra’s camera has been safely recovered…someone from the dam was on a snowmobile over Menihek Lake, noticed an unusual dark object and investigated. It was the camera case which had fallen unnoticed off a sled. Happily, owner and camera are now reunited!
The party atmosphere lifts my spirits and I join in the welcome back mood. The freight train will arrive about 3am tonight to pick up our gear although we won’t board until tomorrow mid day. Garrett, Ric, Leif with John’s truck meet the train in the dark at that ungodly hour while the rest of us sleep the night away.