As well as being a personal challenge, he also wanted to raise money for Mind, a UK mental health charity, so started a Just Giving page for donations.
Since his return he's written the story of his expedition, which I've copied below.
This is a bit of a read, so get a coffee and get comfortable. Alternatively, to really get into the spirit; wait until the start of winter, hop in a cold shower fully dressed and start slowly walking to Scotland.
Preface: Well, first, my name is Oliver and I'm 30. I work in an office. I have never met a bear. I have spent a total of 40 minutes canoeing on Loch Ness. Which is to say, I have spent 40 minutes canoeing. I learned the J stroke, so should be okay. Anyway, back to the point. I've not done anything like this before, in case you were wondering, I've not wild camped before either. This is both a personal challenge and hopefully a way to raise money and awareness for Mind and mental health. So, on to the plan...
Canoe 490 miles (what’s 10 miles between friends?) from Johnson's Crossing to Dawson City. Which is in north west Canada. Yukon, to be more precise. I have given myself 12 days to travel the distance, solo (no guide or partner) in a Canadian canoe (naturally). Someone who has done more canoeing than me, asked how wide the canoe will be: I'm not sure, or how long it is. But it's pretty big. I'll be camping the whole way down, living off rations I bring and maybe a fish if I catch any, which I won't. So just rations. I'm not foraging, because I've seen 'Into the Wild' and that's very sad, indeed. Though, perhaps pertinent to this cause! I digress...
The main challenges here, other than the fact it's almost 500 miles in a canoe in 12 days (if I take any longer than 12 days I will miss my flight home. It's tight) are as follows:
1. Navigation: I know it's a river, so shouldn't be to tricky to navigate, but I'm not so good at reading maps (unless they have a blinking blue dot on them). The river splits on several occasions, and I will need to take the correct one. Failing to do so will mean ruining my trip. It will be over.
2. Cold and wet: The temperatures will be between 6 and -9 centigrade. Which is grim. It will likely be wet and snowy too. But not too bad, as in, it is supposed to be doable. It's the very start of their winter. Getting my belongings and clothes wet at -9 would also be catastrophic and bring a swift end to my trip.
3. Bears and wolves: Enough said? Apparently the way to deal with a huge grisly charging at you 35mph, is to stay calm, stand your ground. I don't know whether I have got this in me. I hope any bears I see to be at a considerable distance and remain there. I'll be keeping food 150m downwind whilst camping. And I will have bear spray. Which, contrary to popular belief, is not for spraying on yourself as a deterrent. Doing this will end in tears. It's for spraying in the charging bears direction, and hope it doesn't like it sufficiently to run away forever. I don't have much to say about Wolves. I haven't seen the Grey or the Revanant, though have been asked many times of late.
I will have no comms with the outside world, other than a satellite emergency rescue beacon thing.
Day 1. Woke up in Whitehorse. Arrived at 00:30 this morning. Woke at about 06:00. Still a little tired but not too bad. Wish I could trim the beard.
Figure 1: Motel I was staying at
07:24 just finished breakfast. In the hotel restaurant. It’s more of a motel, I suppose. And it’s a cafe, more than a restaurant. Strange little place, but friendly enough. Lots of big grey beards and trucker caps. Breakfast was coffee, pancakes, sausage, bacon and eggs ‘over easy’. Excited to hear someone say that in real life. The moment tainted by me asking what it meant. I thought it meant runny yolks, but had to check. Common belief seems to be that it means fried both sides. Maybe it does. There was a bit of an accent barrier.
Figure 2: Breakfast, the Boondocker.
Arriving at hotel last night surprised the night guard by knowing his name: Dave. I explained the dull story.
“Vietnam…” Dave has finished his night shift now and having some breakfast in the cafe. Talking about the good old days and Viet’ vet’s. Could be joking. He is making this point: they were not the good old days at the time. Hindsight has a rose tint. He has a lilty voice like the bald one from Anchorman.
So tonight I’ll be sleeping in the wilderness in my Lidl tent. Got to do some shopping first: food, bear spray and pack it all into dry bags at the rental store. Will need to get a taxi to town and work it out from there.
07:34 the sun is just coming up through cafe window, fairly normal pink and high wispy cloud. A backdrop of low mountains surround Whitehorse.
Figure 3: View from the cafe. Computer keeps trying to put an accent
on the 'e' but it wasn't that kind of cafe.
So ~2k living in the back of beyond
Thinking about how much I will smell by the end and whether I will care. Answer: I didn’t.
Day 3. Back at the hotel, supping a nice cold beer. IPA on draught. Is it odd to have an IPA in north west Canada? The Queen is on the notes, so presumably it was part of the colony once. Would have needed to be an IPA in order to travel the distance from UK to Canada. Still, that would make it a CPA, I suppose. I feel out of place here. It’s all beards and stubble and grease and sweat and brawn. Which can’t be the reason, because I’m ticking four. Anyway, I guess I missed a bit of the story. I’ll tell it whilst it’s fresh, but first a look at the menu; I’ve not eaten yet. Monte Cristo, wings or liver…
Well on the way back Glen asked me what I did for a living and I just started laughing. First time I’d laughed in days. Nervous and relieved. He was probably expecting a funny answer now, like “mountain rescue” or something, but I said “project manager” and there wasn’t a joke in sight.
Everyone loves the Blue Jays. I had their baseball cap when I was younger. Funny, unexpected links. There is a fish tank hanging from the ceiling with a burnt out fire in it. TV showing American football in the restaurant. They wear so much padding and protection and smash into the walls and each other. Maybe if they were better at the sport they wouldn’t need as much protection. Or maybe it’s the other way round; if they had less protection they would be more careful. Like modern cars. Where does it end? In 50 years it’ll be a field of talentless brutes charging at each other in robotic exoskeletons. Or maybe they will remove the people all together and just smash things together, like matchbox cars in the playground.
The diner is like something from Fear and Loathing, this evening. Peculiar, curling laughs and faces. Someone just left stumbling drunk after an awkward exchange with the waitress. Unless he lives in the motel, he’s driving home.
“Damn calories in a Caesar salad ain’t in the lettuce, it’s in the goop they put on it”
A pickup lurches onto the road.
Nicely stuffed from liver and bacon.
So we left off at breakfast day 1. It was stressful from there on out. After breakfast, got a razor and tidied the rough edges. Neatened up. Packed all belongings but one and got a taxi outta there to buy some supplies. Food and bear spray, pretty much. The lady behind the desk at the motel said Walmart should sell bear spray. I’m basically in a movie, now.
Figure 4: Errr... Walmart.
Arrived at Walmart and they don’t sell bear spray:
“Canadian Tyres do”
“Canadian Tyres? For bear spray? For bears?” I ask, thinking I have been misheard again.
She is pretty confident they sell bear spray. I’m thinking maybe they sell stuff for going out into the wilderness – offroad tyres, guns, bear spray etc. Who knows. It is at this point I realise I have left my tracking device back at the motel, so call them from Walmart and ask them to put it to one side. Thankfully they find it and put it aside. I’ll be back for it later.
Food shopping at home I dilly dally enough. Must have spent an hour and a half wandering around the aisles of Walmart looking for good camping food. There isn’t any. Where is the packet catfood stuff for humans?! I end up buying pasta, tinned fish, tinned chilli and a lot of chocolate. Two sacks of prunes for fibre. That’ll have to do. It’s enough to live off for two weeks in any case. I also buy some fire lighter fluid (cheat) and ask an assistant for lighter fluid (for my lighter, and generally just more flammable liquids). I follow him for about ten minutes; he is as lost as I was. I don’t mind. He finds a lighter and a gas refill, hands it to me and I ask how much it is. He doesn’t know and walks off to find a lady with a scanner. He appears from a side aisle and hands it back “37.50”. “thirty seven dollars and fifty cents?”. He raises his eyebrows in reciprocative shock “yeah!” pulls a face and walks off. I put it back and go and pay for the food. $180. That’s about £100.
Figure 5: Ha ha bear bells. They call them dinner bells out here. I didn't get any.
Flag taxi to load up, tell him I want to go to Canadian Tyres, motel and canoe rental. I explain I need bear spray and that apparently the tyre shop next door sells it. He says that it’s better to do Canadian Tyres, canoe rental and then motel as it’s the wrong direction. I ask him to do the order I suggested as I want to end up at the canoe place not the motel, though in hindsight this was regrettable. Pull over at Canadian Tyres and I pop in, telling him I shouldn’t be long, and he agreed I shouldn’t be long. Walk into Canadian Tyres and it is not a tyre store. This explains the confusion. It sells everything. They should really change their name. They sell guns, bicycles, hoovers, food – Think big Tesco’s but with guns. And bear spray. They also sold a variety of decent camping food, but alas that ship had sailed.
Figure 6: Canadian bear protection.
Figure 7: Tourist bear protection.
Find the bear spray. All locked up. Find bear spray manager. Open glass cabinet. Two varieties to choose from:
“Which one do you want?”
“What’s the difference for the price?”
“0.8% capsicum or 1% capsicum. One you spray the bear at a distance of 18 yards and the other you spray him at 30 yards”
“Well I’ll take the 30 yard one thanks” I’m not happy with the price about £45 but I’m hardly going to pass it at this point.
“You know you don’t spray it on yourself, right?”
Apparently this does happen, just the other week a group of German lads sprayed themselves before setting off and had to go to hospital. I smile and fill out the paperwork before he will give me bear spray. Pick up some lighter fluid (hurrah), pay and get back in taxi. Taxi driver is shocked at how much it cost as well. He just uses a magnum when he goes out. Chatting to the taxi driver, he is pretty old school – Looks a bit like the craggy one with a cat from Harry Potter. Filch? He says my trip sounds tough but doable. He thinks my biggest risk is getting shot by hunters. I haven’t considered this. He says it’s hunting season and they’ll have too much Fireball and could mistake you for a moose or a bear. I’m wearing a big brown overcoat. We stop talking for a bit. Everyone has a nugget (tenuous pun there, Teslin river was home of the gold rush) of information from their past experiences to share, and whilst some of them are obvious, they drive home importance. Lesson 1, don’t dress like a Moose.
Grab tracker, give a $5 tip, back in the taxi. Drive past Canadian Tyres and onto canoe rental.
“Cash or card?”
“You’re a rare breed”
I’d rather pay by card anyday, but I got cash out thinking they wouldn’t accept anything else.
Everyone has a bear story. This guy was camping out in the wild, godknowswhere, this bush started shaking violently. Knew it was a bear. A grizzly. His puppy started getting excited, luckily it wasn’t yapping. He grabbed that pup before it could investigate.
“If that pup got to the bush, bear comes out, pup runs back to me for protection, bear follows. I took that pup and backed away quick as I could. Bear came out. Got back to my truck and that bear started to run. I sleep with my magnum out there, but it don’t make me any less scared”
He helps me unload my gear to the wooden veranda at the canoe hire place. It’s the wild north west. I feel like we should shake or something. I don’t think he does.
“Wish me luck”
Canoe lady opens the door and we have to move all my stuff to the other side of the door as it opens outwards. My bottle rolls off into the street. Sign waiver.
Figure 8: The waiver. I've still not actually read the whole thing.
Canoe lady is from Hamburg. She asks why I came to Yukon to canoe. I says for a bit of nature and peace. She says there’s lots of that. I ask why she came to Yukon. She says she wanted to be a Marine Biologist, living off the coast of Vancouver, so came over a few years ago. She’s a shortfall in Science, so working tourism instead. Yukon, where the over ambitious under achieve.
Steve arrives to drive me to Johnson’s Crossing, 80 miles east of Whitehorse. There is nothing there and nothing on the way. Just forest and lakes. He recounts his bear story, which I cannot remember. He is eager to tell me what happened to ‘my’ canoe the days before, and the occupant of said canoe. I listen to the catastrophe and start to feel scared. He says my biggest issue is getting cold and wet, I agree. He says it sounds like I have it sussed. Other than say I thought it was one of my biggest risks, I don’t know what gave him this impression. Either way, this was not the biggest problem – The river had another surprise.
Figure 9: Just leaving Whitehorse. So this is Whitehorse.
Figure 10: You can see Johnson's Crossing in the distance. It's a big metal bridge.
Steve’s story: It’s about an unknown guy, so we will call him Lucky.
Lucky was just out doing the Pelly river. It was his third or fourth year out canoeing in the Yukon. His biggest mistake was that he wasn’t wearing his PFD [my brain whirrs and it must be Personal Floatation Device, read lifejacket]. One of his biggest issues in previous years was getting cold feet. So he got some thick winter boots. He’s going down the river, coming up to some rapids, wasn’t prepared, or just lost control, either way, he hits a rock and capsizes. The way he was sitting in his big boots means he couldn’t get his legs out. He was trapped upside down in the icey water, dragged down the rocky rapids.
Lucky struggled but managed to pull free of his boots, leaving them in the canoe he managed to get his head above water and gasp for air. The canoe was gone, now he was trying to keep his head above water whilst getting dragged in the powerful swell of the Pelly. Getting pulled under and hitting rocks. After some time he managed to get to the side and out of the big, fast river. He should have had his PFD, he was very close to drowning there. Lesson 2, always wear life jacket. So he was standing at the side of the Pelly, without his canoe, soaking wet, cold, no shoes and evening is drawing soon. He has little choice but to walk down the river in search of canoe. He knows if he has to stay out overnight, wet and with no means of fire, he’ll die before morning. So he started walking. He walks for hours. He doesn’t know how long exactly, but a long time, barefoot, cold, scared. Eventually, he finds his canoe. It’s on the other side of the river. This is a problem, because you cannot cross this river. It’s too wide, too deep and too fast. Now he is stuck for ideas. It will be at least a week’s walk before he finds settlements, and he can’t get to his stuff to make shelter. Lesson 3, always carry emergency bag on person. Two locals back from a day hunting come down the river in a small light motorboat (they call them jets or something). This is the difference between life and death, he flags them down and they try to help. They get as close as they can to him to pick him up and take him across, but they break a prop in doing so. They get him aboard, move down river, pull over, repair prop – Luckily they have a spare. They cannot go back up the river, or are otherwise now unwilling, and it is too late for them to continue down, so the three of them spend the night on a tarpaulin. He is between the two of them, and they spend the night telling stories of how awful Whiteman is. He is scared. But make no mistake, they saved his life. The next day, they take him to a police station and the river crew take him to pick up his canoe. Steve picks him up from lawn in front of police station; he is sorting through his stuff. He knew there was a story. I ask Steve if the canoe is okay after this ordeal. He doesn’t hear or thinks I’m joking. I ask again. He says it’s fine. Says it’s a great canoe.
Steve drives for another hour or so. Drops me off in the middle of nowhere. He offers to take a pic on my phone, I accept. I wonder whether I should tip. He says he bets the other guy wished he had a tracker. I pack the canoe and tie everything in, in case I capsize. Set off. The water is deep and wide. I am a little scared.
Figure 11: The picture that Steve took. And the bridge close up. Probably wasn't a bridge back in Johnson's day, otherwise they'd have called it Johnson's Bridge. Probably just a good spot to cross by horse. Who knows! Get on with the story...
Day 1 was two ‘til four, twenty miles, good camp, finish for the day. So when I put in at one, I thought I had time to spare, and paddled until four. By four o’clock I should have gone thirty miles, but had only done about ten. This meant I was still ten miles away from my first camp site (I had picked out good camp spots for the end of each days travel). I had decided, before coming out here, that I will camp in good spots and paddle between the hours of 10:00 and 16:00. This gives time to assemble and disassemble camp. Other than paddle into dark, which is highly risky, I have no choice but to pull ashore. I step out of the canoe and sink in mud, maybe 12”. Panic, calm, pull canoe up river bed. Look around. Eyes wide, always looking for danger. There are huge bear tracks everywhere. Scared. Decide to move on to a better campsite. Do not find one and after 1.5 hours searching pull ashore again. Almost 18:00 now. Much later than planned. I have 1 hour of sun. Pull canoe up bank. Within a minute of reviewing site, thigh deep in wet mud. Panic, scared. Climb out of mud. It just got more urgent to make camp and fire. Return to calm and get on with it. Move canoe to other side of mud hole so I don’t need to keep jumping over it. Carry bear barrel (food barrel) downwind as far as I reasonably can. Nowhere near the recommended 150 meters, but far enough and I’m running out of time. Wedge it against a fallen tree to reduce chance of it getting pushed into river by inquisitive bear. Return to camp and erect tent. This is not a good campsite. The ground is thick, wet, muddy marsh. Puddles fill my steps. It is easy to spot all the bear tracks, as well as moose and large bird prints at this site. Two kinds of bears around here, black bears with smaller paws but highly visible claws, and grizzly bears with huge friendly padded feet, and occasionally massive claws.
I make a fire and dry the mud on my trousers and socks. I cannot entirely dry my boots. The fire was not nearly as good for morale as Ray Mears said it would be. He has people with him to enjoy it. I let the fire go out and go to bed. No food. Too scared and tired. Change into clean, dry clothes in tent and try to sleep. Scared. Cold. Can’t sleep. Feet gone totally numb. Wriggle 10 seconds, wait 20 seconds, wriggle 10 seconds, this was my night, cold, lonely and scared.
Wake up at 06:00. Still dark. Gets light at 08:00. Get up. Don’t make fire or coffee. Take down frozen tent and pack canoe. Dressed in wet clothes again [this is when I took the video on my phone]. Brush teeth, eat some chocolate quinoa bars and Twizzlers and try to eat some Nutella but it has frozen solid. Switch tracker off to update only when pressed, to conserve battery. I’m worried the spare alkaline batteries will have perished in the cold.
Note: I bought the Twizzlers on the plane, $3.50. Assumed it would be a tiny little single serving bag, but no, it was a great sack. Probably a mistake ordering:
Bert: What size Twizzlers do we usually order?
Bert: Seems expensive.
Bert: I’ve ordered them.
Kurt: We usually order 50g.
Shared them with everyone around me on the plane. Nobody could believe how big the bag was including the flight attendant. Someone else orders a bag but they’ve run out. The Twizzler compartment could probably only fit the one bag. Glad now, as it’s my main diet on the river. Strapline: Twizzlers contain ‘artificial and non artificial colour and flavourings’.
Paddle for 2 hours. Rain begins after 1. Rain slowly becomes torrential. I cover everything as best I can with tarp. Boat filling with water, clothes beginning to get wet. Trying to work out what to do. Carry on paddling until 16:00 and then make camp, or pull over and wait for rain to stop. Pull ashore on a gravel bar by 12:00 and erect tent as quick shelter. [before the trip I thought I’d make a joke about gravel bars not being very lively, or something. There was one called O’Briens gravel bar which was ideal. All jokes had left me] Tent still covered in ice. Move tent as gravel bar worse than marsh ground and flooding. Tent is now erected on the boggiest bit of marsh yet (though the highest ground available without going into the woods which is a no-go) and torrential rain comes down. Move some items to tent. Upturn canoe to empty water. Wait in tent. Surrounded by bear prints, getting used to it.
14:00 rain stops. Been waiting desolate for 2 hours or more. Not sure whether to make a move or not. Decide to wait. Starts to rain again. Bed down for the night at 14:30. Thirsty, unbelievably. Get up at 18:00 to fill water bottle. Worried that dehydration has / will affect my decision making.
Drink some water and feel great immediately. Worried.
Sleepless hours. Tent taking in water. Cover with tarp, which helps a little. Not as cold as night before. Worried about wet and cold. Won’t be able to make another fire in this weather. Cannot survive another cold night with wet bedding. Decide to wait until morning and see what weather is doing. Always looking forward to something, be it a time or a corner in the river. If it is raining still at 07:30, stop, if it is clear, continue. My thinking is that if the weather clears a little, I can make fire and dry sleeping bag etc. This is evidence of terrible decision making. Wait until 07:30 and see if it is still raining and what weather looks like in immediate future. I have a barometer on my watch, helps predict the next few hours. Up good, down bad. I assume it will take at least 4 hours for river police to arrive if I call for assistance (Royal Canadian Mountain Police; yes, the Mounties; yes, Due South), so need to factor this in if I am not to proceed. 07:30 still raining. Press button calling for assistance. Green light blinks.
10:30 rain stops. Still too wet to make a fire and heat anything. Pack some stuff up. Eat chocolate. Eat prunes. Wait hours for rescue boat, around 5. Glen, Dooley and Brian arrive.
Dooley asks if I had noticed all the bear tracks around my camp. I said I had but that there had been tracks everywhere I stopped. He seemed surprised. Bad camps. Dealing with a bad situation.
Whilst waiting for the river rescue, a hunting boat appears round the corner. I haven’t seen a boat since Monday. I wonder whether I should flag them down, as it may be my only chance, and play out the prospective conversation in my head:
“Hey are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine, just need to get back to civilisation as there is no way I can make Carmacks and the weather is flooding out my tent”
“Do you want a lift?”
“I better not, as expecting river rescue to be here later today and they are coming to these coordinates”
“Oh, alright then. Why did you flag us down?”
Glen asked why I didn’t flag them down, and I said I wasn’t sure. They won’t take the canoe, only me and my stuff. So I figure to leave the rest of the canoe hire stuff there too. Better to have 1 pile than 2. That and I don’t want really want to see the canoe hire people again. Sadly, I also left my work phone in the bear barrel. Never has a work phone been so lost.
We pass the hunting boat and everyone asks each other why I didn’t flag them down. I’m staring at the mountains. Worrying about canoe rescue costs. Before pressing the button I was worried about rescue costs and hoped they didn’t send a helicopter and I’d have to sell my flat to pay for it.
Get back to hotel and feel like giving Glen a hug. This does not happen.
The journey back with Glen was nice, comparing the Yukon to the UK. Which is nice to say out loud. He asks if we have wagon wheels, I say yes. I ask him what he calls day vans and he says paedophile wagons. The conversation goes on. Policing must be simple out here. Day van = Paedophile. BMW = Drug dealer. Pull ‘em over boys. Drive a pickup and you’re golden.
Check back into motel and nobody can understand me, but there’s lots of smiles and laughing as she tries to explain slang for dollars and I try / fail to use newfound slang.
“So that’s two and a half loonies?”
“No. You see this one is a looney, and this is a tooney. That’s just five dollars”
“You know a looney is a crazy person in the UK”
“Yeah, maybe. Have you ever heard of the loony toons?”
“You know, Walt Disney, Loony Toons?”
“It’s a cartoon. Doesn’t matter”
Catriona calls and we chat for an hour or more. Mark calls, canoe rescue is 600 – 1000 dollars. Says they are not trying to become millionaires, just cover costs. I believe him. Can’t see it catching on as a business model. 3 outcomes: they make it, they die or they need canoe collecting from middle of nowhere.
So now I have a huge canoe bill and a multiday stay at a hotel until I manage to bring my flights forward. Maybe £1000 down. Still, that’s nothing for a life, I’m happy to be alive. Thank you to everyone!
So I travelled 15 miles on day 1 with a lot of paddling. More than could be maintained every day. To try and reach a ‘good camp’ but by the time the light started to fade, I was still 5 miles short. I was averaging 3.5 miles per hour. Which was bad. The following day I managed 5 miles before getting rained off. “I can’t make it” I tell myself, even if I keep the pace of day 1, I’ll by 50 miles short of halfway by the time my flight leaves from Dawson. Which is another 250 miles from the halfway mark.
The river is especially low this year, I’m told. This significantly reduced volume of water passing through and therefore, speed.
Day 3, with sleeping equipment and clothing starting to get wet. Still raining. Can’t make fire. Getting wetter. Don’t have time to get even half way. The choice remains, either stop or carry on. Stop and deal with the failure and cost. Continue and get to an undetermined place and then call for rescue. At this point, it was really just a matter of time as to when I was rescued. Though that was not as clear to me at the time. My unsure and unclear decision making worried me and pointed me towards an early exit.
I’m back in the cafe now having another Bookdocker and coffee. People seem more normal today. Fly out at 13:00.
I regret the wasted time, money and stress. I am glad I tried. Under different circumstances, I may have finished. Higher river. Less rain. More water, less water. Ha ha. I think a companion would have been good too, but not for that trip, unless it was Ray Mears. I think Bear would be a nightmare. Let’s just chill out for a bit, don’t try and catch a Moose. I’m happy eating pasta and chocolate. We don’t need to skin an Elk and sleep in its carcass. I’ve got a tent.
Talking of bears, I did see a black bear. Bald eagles, Falcon, Magpie, Crow… Geese (yep, Canadian) various other ducky birds. Bill Oddie, eat your heart out.
Figure 12: Bald eagle. This one must still be young.
Figure 13: A dead thing being eaten by living things.
Probably would have made a good camp spot too.
Brian and Dooley kept asking me how to pronounce ‘Oliver’. Population of Yukon is 30k according to Glen. It is remote here. I think about all the suffering around the world and how far removed his place is from it all. Shut away, detached from global society.
On the way back Glen was trying to help me work out what to do with my remaining time in Yukon. He suggested hiking up into the mountains and camping. He isn’t joking. I give him a sideways glance and say I’ve had enough adventuring for a bit. He doesn’t mind and goes on to explain where I should go and keeps talking about going out into the fields behind the motel to put my tent up and dry my kit. Save hotel costs. He’s right, of course.
“Well what’s the weather doing?” I ask, humouring his suggestion.
He gets his phone out and starts explaining how weather forecasts work in Yukon, which is much the same as anywhere.
“You see here in Yukon we get 3 forecasts a day, one for morning weather, one for midday and another for evening” he explains, whilst scrolling through days of rain.
“Yeah, okay. It looks like more rain then?”
“Oo yeah. But clearing up Friday! Watch out for the cold, dropping to -9”
“I think I’ll leave it”
“Hi again, Glen, yeah, I went up into the mountains and that was a ridiculous idea, thanks”
The bear spray was about £45 so I’m reluctant to throw it away. I offer it to Glen who said he could find a home for it. Then explained they would destroy it. He said I might want to keep it if I’m going hiking in the mountains. I’ve nothing to say. He says if I don’t use it, I can give it to the airport, but don’t tell them the police said that ‘cos they mightn’t like it. Or, he said, you can let it off in the field out there. Again with the field. I don’t much fancy setting it off, what with it being the extra strong and all. A face full of bear spray is the last thing you need. I gave it to the airport clerk, in the end. They said they would donate it to the girl scouts. I said it’s extra strong.
Major design flaw with the spray canister. Like a fire extinguisher, there is a tag you pull out before you can trigger it. You can only do this from one direction. The text saying ‘push’ is also this direction. However, once de-tagged, the nozzle is then pointing at you!? I dread to think how many people make this mistake. Then again, they probably teach it in girl scouts.
Whenever I heard a large animal by the tent, I had this clip playing over in my head:
1. Bear pops head into tent.
2. I grab bear spray and prepares to fire.
3. Maybe the bear bites my hand at this point, a mere flesh wound.
4. I spray the bear.
5. Bear backs away startled, unharmed.
6. I run out of tent with a face of mace, desperately splashing water from the river.
7. Bear watches, bewildered.
I have since seen a YouTube video of something similar happening, but instead of spraying themselves they sprayed their pal. Jolly funny. The video cuts before you see it unravel.
I keep thinking maybe I should have carried on. That addict part of the brain. It’s sunny. Should have stuck it out. Dwelling on the decision to leave and not paddle on. If it were raining now, as I leave, I would be feeling much better. The point is, I did not know what the next few days’ weather held, so you make the best decision you can. I remembered the forecast saying 4 days rain before I left. It is sunny now, which means cold nights. It was too dangerous. Getting wet at -9 would be fatal. Good weather or bad, missing the fundamental point that I would have ended up, at best, 180 miles down the river, 50 miles from civilisation, whilst my plane left Whitehorse. Silly brain.
Would I do something like this again? Similar perhaps. If it were warmer, water higher and I had a companion. Any volunteers?
As a mental experiment, no pun intended, if I think of the challenge as a 3 day trip in the Yukon, braving the elements and wildlife, then I succeeded and that feels good. But that wasn’t the challenge. So was it too big an undertaking? Well, not necessarily. It was high risk, but could have paid off if the river was faster and I’d made it to the proper camp spots, meaning the tent would not have been sat in bogs seeping water through the bottom, and I could have made even halfway in the time (to get a flight back to Whitehorse). But it wasn’t.
I suppose at the end of the day it’s all just experiences. This one both scary and disappointing. But I also learned something. What? I’m not sure yet. We live and die by our decisions. Was it the wrong decision to go to Yukon this time of year? Possibly. But I tried. Was it the scariest thing I’ve ever done? Certainly. Proper fear. Keep on trucking.
Figure 14: Preparing a freshly caught Chinese takeaway with my hunting knife.