We can’t walk on water, but we can hitchhike on it

We can’t walk on water, but we can hitchhike on it

Submitted Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Macdonald Stainsby

written originally for Digihitch.com

Yukon Territory From last Summer, (2006)… Triumph beyond triumph for the thumb master.

The Joe Henry Highway north and the Deh Cho south

 


Well, a few hours after running into him literally as he arrived in Dawson, André and I were heading out of town to hitch up the Joe Henry Highway, or the “Dempster” as it still appears on maps. Talking to one another about the form rides take when hitching as a pair of men, we agreed it meant that women were less likely and single women almost impossible to expect rides from for obvious reasons. About a minute after that discussion, a young woman named Kylie picked us up and gave us a ride to Dempster Corner. Waiting there for maybe twenty minutes, we chatted with two women who pulled over in this slow traffic gas bar and motel location. Within a short span of time, we were headed with this car licensed from the State of Pennsylvania, up to the Tombstone Campground, 70 odd clicks up the road. both headed to Alaska but exploring Yukon a bit first.

The four of us got along pretty much right off and decided to set up a joint camp for the night, at the Tombstone Territorial campground. After setting up, we headed out to hike along the edge of the Klondike River. Of course, I remembered getting off the trail here and having to bushwhack the last time I went down this path. So, of course, it was imperative to get lost again, and fortunately we did. Constantly going “just a little more” to get a proper view of the Tombstone range from a long way out, we eventually decided it would make more sense to head what must have been East, in the direction of the highway, which involved some rock faces, small but not quite what at least I was expecting on this little nature stroll. Aside from being really annoyed that this was proceeding without water, we eventually ended up over enough little ridges to hit the road right at the human constructed little viewpoint of the range. We walked back along the highway, all in all we must have done a few good clicks. After a good night of yapping by a fire, André and I bid farewell to Katy and Holly the next morn before setting up a home at the exit from the campground, heading north.

Upon getting set up to stand, we got bored pretty quick but I also noted that André and I did have sufficient means to discuss all manner of the worlds subjects, very important when hitching with someone on such desolate and timeless a schedule as this highway. Especially for me, since it is my favourite roadway in terms of beauty by quite a margin. Eventually, we started to simply walk a bit, and were given a ride by a couple visiting from Alberta, they took us only 10 or so clicks, a perfect distance to get somewhat isolated- isolation will make a lot of rides happen, with the first question then often: “what the Hell are you doing here?” Well, the first people to stop along the road didn’t ask us that. They deliberated, told us they were heading for Inuvik, looked around and decided it wasn’t going to work to pick us up. About ten minutes after we thanked them anyhow for stopping, Dan and Marinda came back, Dan saying “It’s starting to rain, we can’t just leave you there,” which of course was really wonderful for us. After several attempts, Dan and André got the packs tied down to the back of their truck. Marinda was now in the back seat with two kids on one side and André on the other; I was seated in the front with Dan. They took us all the way to Eagle Plains past the most amazing landscape and were really great hosts in the vehicle.
When we got out in Eagle Plains and after thanking Dan, Marinda and their kids again we wandered over to where the road north picked up. Since all there is here includes a motel with a campground next to it and a pub inside it-this was a short little walk. We stood there quite some time, and then began looking for a place to stick our tent. The bugs here were pretty intense, and after we gave up on any more traffic going by we put up the tent Clare had given me back in Dawson and went inside for a couple of beers and a few games of shuffleboard, which André took me apart at. Back to the weird little campspot down the other side of the highway on a ridge with an incredible view, basically in a gravel pit a short little walk from the road. We needed an intense fire to hide in the smoke from the bugs. I am pleased that I was able to resist using bug goop for the entire trip, despite near insanity from bug intensity a few times.

Aside from the usual slow but steady pack up when we awoke, not much happened before our ride came by, a rented RV with a German tourist couple: Ingrid and Harold. André had to try his luck with his German that he hadn’t used in awhile, but it seemed to work. They took us through some more incredible scenery, stopped at the Arctic Circle for obligatory pictures and eventually let us out in Fort Macpherson. Finding most everything in town shutdown, we headed back out to the highway– but not before André took pictures of street/electrical posts. This was the theme of his whole hitchhiking summer, and became commonplace for me quickly. When we got to the edge of the highway, a local teen kid came by and asked me if I wanted to smoke hash. I said sure, he said he was going to get a pop and that he would be right back. Cool, I thought. André quoted me to myself about pot just finding hitchhikers. But it was not to be, alas. Caleb and Laura from Ontario gave us a ride. They were really nice to do it, and even admitted they did so from feeling guilty about driving past us while we were trying to leave Eagle Plains. Young teachers, they seemed nice enough. They decided to stay in the same place we did, the “Happy Valley” territorial campground right in town. They had even phoned ahead for their own reservations.

After setting up, we headed into town and ate first, before going to the “Mad Trapper” pub where we played a bit of pool, met an artist and musician from Rankin Inlet named William and ranted about Israel destroying Lebanon (not necessarily in that order) before going back to the campspot.

The time spent in town was very interesting, as there was a “Great Northern Arts Festival” on. In the Summer of 2005 I spent a few days in the south Mackenzie Valley Deh Cho community of Wrigley/Pehdzeh Kí during their annual spiritual gathering, and André had visited the same community only a couple weeks prior to the current day. We ran into a man who is from Fort Smith most of the year, but who spends a lot of time in Wrigley and who both André and I had spent time with there. This happened at “North Mart”, a sort of expensive northern version of Wal Mart. He was here to play with some of the kids in the Wrigley Fiddlers. This would become a bit of a theme. Just as the continuation of “post” modernism for André, as many a pole was photographed.

After the performances and another night talking and hanging with William, André tried to get a job on the phone in Switzerland. After the next sleep would come the attempt to hitch back south, for André to get to Ron and Cora’s ceremony/non-wedding, and for me back to Dawson to work now that the Music Festival will be done in a couple of days, and more jobs will open up in the tourist industry.

Well, leaving was slow, as we both had little chores to do before leaving: phone, email, mail… But we were heading out of town by 12:30 or so if memory serves me right. We were picked up before more than two cars passed us where we started hitching-this young woman from Sachs Harbour took us to the turnoff from the Joe Henry to the Inuvik Airport. Here, things got boring quick. No one went by for long, long stretches. To pass the time, I used Andrés rubbing alcohol to try to get the last of the gunk out of my pipe. That’s a lot of time to waste. We had already walked about and determined where the tent was going to go in a couple of hours when we were to give up. We thanked the wind for blowing, keeping the bugs to a minimum. I got the last of the guck out, so I thought. A truck slowed down to remind us about giving up when the ferries are closed for the night. It really hadn’t been that long, but the experiences of friends who have taken a long time to get out of Inuvik (in 2003 our ride to Inuvik also drove us back out- I had not hitched south from Inuvik before) had me prepared for a long sit. But after “only” 3.5 hours, Dennis who operated the Peel River crossing by Macpherson picked us up.

The plan after the drive to Tsiigehtchic (former Arctic Red River) was for me to look up a woman I was unable to speak with last year, but as I would discover later ironically enough she was in Inuvik for the Great Northern Arts Festival. By that time, something else was animating my mind anyhow. As our ride was getting closer to Tsiigehtchic I joked to André “We should go down to the boatlaunch and see if we can get a ride into Fort Good Hope on a boat.” Dennis interjected:
“Actually, there is a music festival going on in Good Hope this weekend, some people will be going tonight,” he said. Then he glanced at his watch, “In fact, people will be getting off work about now, you should go down to the boat launch and ask around,” he suggested. “You never know.”
A tingle went through me instantly. I knew I had to try this. André, using the rational side of his brain, was hesitant citing time as a factor, specifically getting back to Vancouver for the ceremony.
“Oh, don’t worry. The only hard ride will be the first one, if we don’t get one tonight, we’ll give up.” I offered. We stopped off the highway in Tsiigehtchic for dinner, and to stay the night here if we were to continue south. After eating, one of the local kids came up on her bike and told us that some people down at the boatlaunch were planning on going to Good Hope tonight. A buzz hit me again and we headed down to the edge of the water to talk with all the people there. I simply offered that we would like to get a ride to Good Hope and that we could even throw in something for gas. In a couple of minutes a woman named Elaine offered us to get in with her boat, when the wind died down (the wind was really blowing strong). I started dancing a bit, and the feeling I got through me was one I had been missing for sometime: pushing boundaries. There is no adrenalin like hitchhiking adrenalin.

Off the Road, On the River:
Tsiigehtchic to Fort Good Hope

I hugged André and we set about wasting our time until the boat left. Well, it finally did after about 12am, but we were quite a ways north of the Arctic Circle, so it didn’t really matter much. Vision slightly darkened but by 2am, along with the clouds, the haziness got as dark as it was going to-not very. We stopped early on, and then the wind died back down and we met up with other boaters heading the same way. Our two boats stayed together to Good Hope.

André and I were not prepared for the cold of the boating on the river, and both of us also started to pass out sitting in the back after a few hours. For the final 8 hours or so of the trip, we were under tarps and sleeping bags, trying to sleep while shivering a bit. After a total of 14 hours on the river, including two roughly one hour interludes where we had to simply wait for the weather to improve and the wind to die down, we made it to Radilih Koé, more commonly called Fort Good Hope. Elaine and her partner Jeffrey spoke to a woman there already, and she came over to us and asked us for $100 each. Fearing this was a normal fee, after a slight knock down to $80, we handed over the money; after hearing from several other people in the village that we were basically ripped off, the feeling was of deep disappointment, almost defeat. But we were indeed in Good Hope, and we would park ourselves at the boat launch after meeting with a number of people, including myself getting a chance to get some political work done, including a talk with former Premier Stephen Kakfwi as well as Ian Jackson who I had met in Vancouver the year before. Besides all that we immediately ran into Louis and the kids from the Wrigley Fiddlers again, causing him to ask us if we were following him.

After the day and a half at the festival, including midnight soccer matches on the field and feasts of moosemeat on the fire, we packed up Sunday morning to leave. Walking the 200 or so meters to the launch, we spoke to a few people who were there and got lectured by a local white guy about how stupid we were to hitch here with no money for travel. He offered to take us to Tsiigehtchic for $800. Yeah, right. We got here for 10% of that each! The first day was to be a day of getting used to spending time at boat launches. In this one however, it was incredibly awkward for us, given to a variable impossible for anyone to figure into their plans. A boat of four people came down the river from Norman Wells on the night we came south upriver from Arctic Red. The same winds that hundreds of kilometers north had basically forced us ashore had flipped over four people near the Sans Sault Rapids south of the Ramparts. There were many search and rescue boats of volunteers going upriver to search for them everyday. One woman had made it to shore by clutching onto a Jerry Can. Unfortunately, the boat crew included people who were known to drink on the river, so it is more likely than not that alcohol has taken more lives from Fort Good Hope, especially when the six people who died in one of the small planes that crashed-on their way home from the funeral for the men whose boat overturned- get counted as well. This chain of events, before the plane crash but after the capsized boat, could be felt through the entire length of the valley. At any rate, it certainly meant that getting too worked up about having our ride take awhile was even more difficult, and complaining was still just as forbidden for the hitchers as ever.

We did have to put our tent back up and sleep one more night, though during the day two men, Dale and Delbert, stopped by to tell us that if we were still there tomorrow we would get a ride with them and their families, one each.

Patience is of Virtue:
Fort Good Hope to Norman Wells

Well, Monday came around and that’s exactly what happened. Around 2 or 3, we were loaded up, myself with Delbert’s family and André with Dale. Within a couple of minutes on the river, we were surrounded on both sides by the Ramparts. I don’t think I can possibly explain how old, amazing and beautiful these formations are, and my ride told me about the historical stories that go with certain sites. For that I was grateful.

The whole ride to “the Wells” took about 4.5 hours, only about 4 of them in nice weather with incredible natural designs all around me, including this bear family. The boat that André rode on was usually within view, a bit ahead or a bit behind. We arrived in Norman Wells about 7:30, and Dale and Delbert got the respective thank you’s from myself and André.

We immediately tried to get on the Cooper’s barge before even putting our packs down here (we had already been turned down by the NTSL barge in Good Hope), where a big guy named Pete with a big handlebar mustache called out to us. No dice, but he offered to stash our things for the evening for us in a cargo carrier, a giant metal lock box actually. After we put our things down he drive us into town, telling us about the place. A feature that seemed obvious ever since we had seen the fake islands in the middle of the river, he proclaimed with what I hope wasn’t pride:
“This is the only community in all of the Northwest Territories that was founded by white people,” also stating that if oil ever dries up here, “it’ll be a ghost town, the town was built by Esso.” He showed us the Chinese restaurant, where we ate.

After we left the restaurant we started to walk towards where Pete had told us the local pub was. He drove past us again and gave us another ride, turning into this little area and pointedly stating “Over there is one bar, on the other side is the other bar.” He pointed in the general area as well to the local Northern, the post office, the school… we got the full tour in a few seconds. After two days of sitting at a boat launch and a spectacular boat ride through the Ramparts, I wanted a beer. And what a beer! Upon entering the northernmost bar (across the parking lot from the other one), I immediately seized visually upon the snooker table. Well, the table was horridly warped, but playing snooker in this ****ed up little oil and gas town was cool, as was the look at people’s faces when they asked how we got there:
“We hitchhiked,” I’d answer to a pause, an eye looks down and then back at us…
“Excuse me?”
“Yeah, we waited in Good Hope at the boat launch until someone could take us upriver South,” Personally I’ll admit this was one of the greater joys I had, silly though it might be– it’s all mine and I’m keeping it.

Apparently in the Wells the bars have no official closing times, but simply close whenever the server thinks her time would be better spent as a customer at the other bar. That happened to end our mini tourney of snooker, and we crossed the parking lot. In the other bar two people we met– as different from each other as could be- both had profound impacts, at least for the evening.
The first fellow we met was a man named Arthur who grew up in Tulita, only two hours by boat south upriver. He was a good drinker, that was clear, and making conversation he asked what we were doing. I replied the brief version of how we got there and that we were hoping the wind would die down and we would get a ride out on a boat. He paused, put his beer down in front on him and looked at me very intensely.
“Well, what great luck for me to have met you then, I’m looking for someone to drive my boat!” He then explained that he was too drunk to go on a boat, but that he wanted to leave for Tulita in a few hours. The wind that had hemmed us in here was really intense, and I did not believe that this was a good idea at all. However, the very fact he was explaining this at some length was obviously getting my attention. We talked about this a little longer, and then I excused myself a minute and jokingly told André a condensed version of this idea.
“He knows he shouldn’t try to operate his boat and wants us to do it in a few hours,” I said with a chuckle. André eyes got very wide and he stated flatly without hesitation “Okay!” to me. I stared back and I’m certain my ears folded as much as possible.
“Are you nuts? Dude, we’ve never operated a powerboat and the winds out there just killed four people on that last stretch of river,” I retorted. He seriously wanted to do this.
“How hard can it be? All we have to do is point the boat and go,” Though I was still very sketchy about this and did not think that it was at all as simple as André was making it out to be, I also have a general policy of not trying to stop people when they make crazy spontaneous plans like this. I took a deep breath and said:
“Okay, well talk to him and see what you think,” and I introduced André to Arthur. Both knew a lot about engineering and they had much to talk about, but (and I say fortunately) after Arthur explained his parallel desire to go hunting in between the Wells and Tulita André thought better of it.
“It might be possible to boat upriver with little experience and a drunk guy in the boat, but not a drunk guy with a rifle who wants to stop a lot and hunt.” The images that flashed through my mind of us chauffeuring this alcoholic hunting excursion in a wind storm told me that André had seen wisdom. Meanwhile, while André spoke with Arthur I spoke with another woman who immediately told me she was working on a magazine in the Wells.

She was indigenous and the magazine was put out by CanWest Global, the Canadian news outlet far-right media dictatorship conglomeration. She said something about how awesome it was for her to be in a “fly in only aboriginal community.” I startledly pointed out that this was not an indigenous community, so she changed the subject. I asked her what she thought about the conditions of the Valley in particular for the local nations, she had nothing to say. She then started talking about “Dene from Québec” who don’t exist, and basically proved that yes, indeed she was the perfect employee for CanWest Global-completely uninterested in asking probing questions, trading on what rather than who she was, helping promote a colonialist existence-basically she was representative of so much that is the way CanWest and others like them “redwash” themselves by putting Indian faces on colonial programs. Her main asset was ignorance, yet in the bar her friends were the other white folk who lived here for work and were from the south. These are the people that get contracts and grants from the south to go north and “learn”. She was kind enough, however, to smoke me up out back, so she certainly wasn’t “bad”. She could have been the nicest woman in the world, and she was not mean or rude in any case. But she was being used as a weapon by the Asper family, who would never deign themselves in need of voices that are both from Denendeh and critical.

After having the good fortune to get on a roll and run the pool table for quite awhile, we stumbled home to try and put up the tents in the worst possible wind for it–when a nice guy from Providence who was working on the barge came up to us while we struggled. His name was Tom, and he laughed at the wind literally snapping off one of the tent poles as I struggled to get the tent up. He also got a joint, we chatted for awhile and he helped me get the fire going before I passed out while André was trying to phone Europe once again. Sleeping while the entire tent was tossed around by the strongest wind I’ve ever tried to tent in was interesting yet ultimately successful. That was the first few hours of Norman Wells.

Hitching from the Wells to Tulita:
Getting Lucky in the Wind

Waking the second day was the same as sleeping the night before-the dominant feature was the wind, relentless and powerful. André and I quickly surmised that there was little chance that a boat would be leaving in the wind. Taking our campspot down in order to stash our things in the bushes (it was sunny and hot, no concern for rain at all) we decided to walk into town and check it out, first eating and then seeing the museum. A very typical outsider type of day later, we headed back and got our tents and packs slightly away from the boatlaunch, choosing instead to make a nicer camp where we had a view and decent conditions. Fires and general attempts not to worry about being stuck here waiting for wind was pretty much a psychological order of the day. André tried to turn it into a positive and sleep off the wear and tear on his system-sadly it was not successful. With the wind still blowing “At least a little less than 10 minutes ago, don’t you think?” eventually I went to sleep.
Waking late the following day, André was nowhere to be seen. He returned shortly enough, to announce that the still-blowing wind was causing him to explore the cost of taking a flight to Edmonton, and then onto Vancouver for the non-wedding/wedding. Though I was already late for finding work back in Dawson City, I was not interested in such surrender. Personally, I would get out of here hitchhiking if it took several weeks, though I had no belief that would happen. André decided against defeat and decided to persevere, and like the day before we headed into town to do what we could in this “place with oil and gas”, the slogan plastered in and around the airport that André had walked over to in the morning.

There is a nice little café in a trailer next to one of the bars and sandwiched between it and the Northern store. Reading an up-to-date Edmonton Journal and having a small lunch, my deaf ear thought it heard someone say “We are waiting for the wind to come down a bit, and we’ll be heading for Tulita later.” I asked André if he also heard that, but apparently only I did, making me wonder if my ear was tricking me. I suggested that we ask them, André was uncomfortable with it. We ate our food, and yapped about other things. Then they were leaving and I chased them outside, more or less.
“Pardon me, forgive me but did I hear you say you were heading for Tulita later today?”
“Yes,” replied the woman of the couple.
“Well, we hitched a ride to Good Hope and then to here, and now we are more or less stuck here looking for a ride south upriver, would you possibly have room for us as well?”
“Yeah, okay,” came the answer. André thanked them as did I, and we learned that we had about an hour and a half to get our things from the boat launch about five miles south of where we were back to this “other” boatlaunch. Rose and Richard were leaving around five o’clock. Aside from excited expressions of delight from both of us, it was now time to hitchhike in town, basically, and get a ride back to our stuff. This worked immediately, getting a ride with a woman who just moved to the Wells from Nicaragua. After a fast packing and leaving, we got another ride in the back of a truck back down to the area where we met Rose and Richard. We walked the short walk down to the boatlaunch and waited, with me climbing on logs to pass the time. Shortly after 5pm Rose and Richard drove down and started trying to get their boat loose, it was too close to shore. After about 20 minutes of struggle, the
boat was ready
to go. We climbed in and were told the wind was only bad along this particular corridor of the Deh Cho. After maybe 15 minutes, a man named Archie from Tulita came by in his
larger, covered boat
and Rose asked us if we would like to ride with him instead.
“Sure,” we answered and went over, leaving our things on the other boat. Archie didn’t speak much, and we
went straight to Tulita
with only a pause when the two boats neared one another and briefly spoke. We arrived only about 2.5 hours later, and after getting off the boat and saying our thank yous, André started to laugh on his own.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s just that we climbed on a boat, and here we are in another town.” I smiled at this- the absurdity of our form of travel was tickling him, and well it should! It’s a beautiful thing. We set up camp and walked into town and past it to the Sahtu/Great Bear River before getting ready to try our luck at the last and also hardest ride to get the following morning. First, as always, was the building of our fire, this time on a nice sandy beach absolutely deluged in the best driftwood available. While we were building the fire some local kids stopped by and we chatted, and they reminded me that the Ndulee Ferry between Wrigley and Fort Simpson would only run until 8pm. Considering the boat ride was at least six hours and then the ferry was another hour past Wrigley-with other timeframe issues coming along the way, such as docking the boat in Wrigley,etc- if we didn’t have a boat ride by noon, we were probably done for the day. The fire was built up and was allowed to extinguish itself overnight, but as this campspot became more familiar over the next couple of nights we stood firm against extinguishment and the fire would burn on while we slept.

Surrendering to Insanity and Loving It:
Trying to get out of Tulita to Wrigley

We tried to get up early, André always first-his infection, caught on the boat from Tsiigehtchic to Good Hope, was causing him coughing fits that lasted the whole night- in order to tear down our camp to the point of being able to move with mere minutes notice. After this chore, how we made the day pass was up to us; we were a decent walk from the bulk of the community and yet couldn’t leave for fear of missing a boat. After I climbed out of and tore down my tent, André informed me we had been visited by a fox; good news as I am guided by the fox-of that I remain more than certain. So I believed this was proof that we would be fine, though the date was far too late for André already. The first day I spent several hours running rubbing alcohol through my pipe, boiling river water on the fire several times over, going for a very short pair of swims in the Deh Cho. At one point with the sun relentlessly able to shine I hid under large driftwood for awhile to get the rays off my head. Why such attention to detail? For the entire day it was nothing BUT detail, only one boat went in the water and it was headed to the Wells. We went to sleep with the fire built up first; by maintaining the fire for so long a time frame we managed to clear up a larger and larger circumference but no one seemed to care. Early in the day I had walked into town for food, and now it looked like dinner time right before bed time.

I awoke the next morning to hear of two foxes paying their respects in the morning. So as frustrating as it was getting, I was not nervous-it was clear this would work and we were looked over while stuck here. Around 11am a boat left for Wrigley, though absolutely packed down and not with any extra room. After that we both headed briefly into town, and were back at the boat launch soon after. Within a couple of hours I was searching madly for something to focus energy on. I found an old nerf-like bouncy ball- about half the size of a basketball. I started to look about, trying to think if there was any way to make a game of this. André protested he didn’t like games, I whined and remarked that staring off over the river wasn’t passing the time any faster. Shortly after I made up some physical targets for a game, he relented and we played a game we later dubbed “Crack and Jack” for absolutely no explicable reason. At the time, self-satisfied with the game, I wrote out “rules”:

Take two long (ten feet or more) logs. Place them on a hill with a slight incline, parallel approximately two feet apart. Use smaller sticks to create separate boxes among the larger logs, and allow the sticks to over-extend-also creating open “boxes” along the top, above the closed boxes within the two larger logs. Assign points: one each for the closed boxes on the left and right, two points for the closed box in the centre. The top slots (or “open boxes”) should be negative in character: one that gives up your turn but gives you one point, one that gives your opponent one point, one that is really small and gives you two turns in a row, and one that is larger and costs you a loss of one point. Like many games, this game aims for 21 points. There is a foul line, and there is a minimum distance line for taking a shot-a shot that must first bounce off the ground before settling into a box. Like 21 the basketball derived game, the opponent must shoot from wherever they pick up the ball. When shot from far enough away, certain shots would gain an additional point in closed boxes.

We played this for a few hours, stopped awhile and then played it some more. André summarily humiliated me at the game all the while protesting his disinterest.

In the later evening, a floatplane flew overhead. André was somewhere in Tulita, I was in the “try everything” headspace and started flapping my hands at the thing, holding out my thumb at least a kilometer below. It did a hairpin turn and pointed itself in a direction that felt like it was coming at me, causing my mind to go where it wanted to. “No way”, I thought-correctly, as it turned out. The floatplane landed and I wandered over and chatted up the pilot. He was there on a charter to nowhere with road access, so it seemed rather pointless to ask for a lift. As I walked back I chatted with a series of boats that had come in from Déline to get part of a barge drop left in the Tulita boat area.

After this, it was naturally time to use sticks to dig out holes in the sand for a foot-based golf course using the same spongy ball. Got a hole in one on the third hole! Some kids from town showed up about 11pm and we taught them both games, and they greatly preferred to play golf. After a seven player golf tournament of the six holes, André and I both went to sleep in our tents.

Again, we awoke early to take down camp and hope for the best. We had now been here 3 nights, about 2.5 days. This time the fox came as I was there to say hello. After the camp again became just the still-uninterrupted fire, the day moved slowly. André and I began a discussion at one point about water quality in Cuba, a discussion that felt incredibly ridiculous while only a short way north in Colville Lake the people were boiling water in their homes that had come right out of the lake, as they had no water service at all (Tulita, where we were, had a treatment facility put in a short while ago). In that context, the deficiencies of Cuban water systems were an incredibly odd discussion point. Perspective is everything- even geographically speaking.

By this point my body was aching a bit, and time had taken on an entirely different set of principles. What to do? Enjoy the endlessness, start to sink into it and let it take over. What else can you do? Anxiety ain’t a ride provider. Besides, you get the real freedom that the road (even on water) provides when you give up control. Needless to say, André needed to be somewhere and he was sick of my philosophizing of our plight-he had about 48 hours left to try and get to Vancouver. Admirably, he wasn’t giving up. And I would never say give up. But I was trying to give in and smile about it all. Frankly I guess I am kinda crazy, because for the life of me I was glad to be stuck in this spot as the joyful insanity set in.

A truck drove down, without a boat as happened many a time in the days we had been there, but then another came by with a boat. At nearly the same time, a boat was whipping along upriver out on the Deh Cho. André started towards the truck with the boat in tow, I was 100 meters or so from shore writing at a log when I began a somewhat involuntary dash for the shoreline and the other boat. Instinctively, I stuck out my left thumb and started flailing it about as I darted to the edge of the water, waving madly from shore. The boater looked over, and did a quick turn to the shore. I hadn’t really thought of what to do if he pulled the boat aside, so I just asked him quickly:
“Do you mind if I ask if you are going to Wrigley?” he paused, having just took off his ear blockers.
“Yeah…why?” he replied.
“Ahh, well we got ourselves stuck here a few days back and are more or less stranded waiting to get a ride to Wrigley where we can get back on the highway. Is there any possibility that we might be able to fit on your boat?” I spewed very quickly and rambling.
“Define ‘we’,” he responded.
“Just me and my buddy over there!” I pointed to André, who was standing near the other boat but staring at myself and this guy talking on the shore. “All of our stuff is packed and we can be ready to go in 2 minutes flat.”
“How much weight do you have?” he asked. I lied a bit.
“About fifty pounds each in our packs and a couple small things,” about 20-30 pounds too little each. He paused, looked up at André who was still standing a distance away. I repeated the same thing I said during the same pause at the same boatlaunch last Summer. “I’m totally willing to get down on my knees right here and beg you right now!” He shifted his body language enough to show more comfort, and then he said
“Do you have any tokes?”
“No …but are you going on to Simpson after you get to Wrigley?”
“Yeah,”
“I’ll buy you a couple of beers in the local pub there if you like.”
“Well, I don’t drink…hold on, just give me a second to pull around over to the dock there,” to which I belched out loudly to André almost interrupting who I soon found out was ‘Bob’ by screaming:
“YEAH! ANDRÉ! WE GOT A RIDE!”
“I heard!” said André.
Yes, we now had a ride, and I was laughing at having actually used my thumb to get a boat off the river. How very poetic (though Bob later explained he thought someone was giving him the finger and he was no guy to back down from a fight). The sun was shining beautifully and would stay that way the entire time spent on the Deh Cho. The boat was deafening and we were both handed earmuffs, which André named “headcups” causing laughter from Bob. He told us he was planning to spend the night somewhere near Wrigley and he would be heading onto Simpson tomorrow. This would mean André would get back onto road highways with 24 hours of hitchhiking to go all the way to Vancouver. Knowing what a tiny, itty bitty chance he had of making it, I was both respectful and somewhat envious of the turn his summer was about to take. Bob stopped at a really nice spot with a little pond and drying out mudpack. I followed out some bear and wolf tracks for a little distance, found an antler and then headed back where Bob had started cooking lunch. Smokies on the fire. First one I had eaten in probably 15 years. T’was good, too. Ate and smoked weed (thanks, Bob!) right after a soapless bath in the little pond. Bob was quite a good guy to talk with and had a lot of interesting things about the ‘neighborhood’ to offer and as the husband of a Dehcho woman, he lacked the usual racist crap from a white guy. Then we headed on to Pehdzeh Kí.

In Wrigley we helped Bob as best we could load his boat onto a trailer before driving to a gravel pit near the Ndulee Ferry, where we camped and had a fire, food and sleep. In the morning Bob woke us and we headed to Fort Simpson/Liidlii Kué where André and I swapped photos and other digital info and headed back onto the road. We got one short ride to the ferry across the Liard just outside of Simpson, and on the ferry we met Phil who put us in his truck, smoked us up but good and drove us several hours to the Liard Trail (BC Highway 77) and Alaska Highway junction. Hugs and thanks later, André and I parted ways, having seen this fabulous road tale together. The rest of the summer, including my work in Dawson City still awaited. It would have to wait longer: I found no ride out of there that night and slept with very heavy bug content, hiding in my tent.

André, I was to find later, went madly onto Edmonton(?) that night, and then got a ride to Kamloops. In Kamloops, a born again Christian picked him up and said he would then get a ride to Vancouver. The guy stopped short in Chilliwack, only an hour from Vancouver. This goes to show you just can’t trust people who say Jesus talks to them. So close and yet so far, poor André but good show anyhow, making it 3 or four days average trip in less than one. Probably made the “failure” worse, but to me it’s still an accomplishment he can and should own.

I myself was rudely awakened the next morn by a property lover at 5am before hitchhiking back west and then north. I was on the edge of Whitehorse three rides later, including one with this American couple who lived up to my usual experience: Americans driving through BC on this stretch of highway like to pick up hitchhikers because it’s “safe” in the Northern Rockies (apparently). I don’t know why, but they also always take pictures of me. Feeling like that might happen for the fourth time on the exact same stretch of road, I pre-empted this and took my own snap. I slept and hitched the rest of the way north to Dawson City the next day, refreshed and bracing myself for a month and a half of work. I got a lovely ride with James and Rachel from New Zealand, which made me feel better since that morning my digital camera had died.

For the first time the whole summer (for that matter in at least a year) I felt somewhat complete. The only reason that makes sense is that I had done myself one better than prior and felt like I owned the road, though the road cannot truly be owned, and a mighty river even less so. You can hitch anywhere, it’s just a matter of how bad you want it. Where do you want to go?