Saturday, September 14, 2013

Journey to the Edge: Extended Time

The MV Ithaca
Sometime after visiting the fort on Friday, we decided to accept Parker and Belinda's gracious invitation to stay on in Churchill for another three days; instead of returning to Thompson on Saturday with the others, we would leave on Tuesday's train instead.

I try to maintain a degree of suppleness on vacation, requiring a structure and schedule to ensure there is time to do everything you want, while also leaving room for spontaneous opportunities, but we'd never extended a stay like this.  There is usually some reason to be home on time, like work or school or an appointment of some kind, but this time there wasn't, so we cancelled our train tickets, bought new ones (still on sale!), and said goodbye to Mum, Tara, Jason and Jerry at the station that night.

The shindig at the cabin had turned into a runaway the night before, so a modest evening was mandated.  Splitting an elk burger with Glory at the Tundra Inn and enjoying the entertainment provided by a singer/guitarist and a contortionist (not at the same time) made for a relaxing, if somewhat surreal evening.

The next day was pretty laid back, beginning with a relaxing and delicious brunch at Parker and Belinda's house, after which Parker showed us the garage where he keeps some of his trapping and skinning gear, and where he is prepping his new snowmobile for the upcoming trapping season.  He also showed us some pictures from his remote cabin, which last spring's wildfires came uncomfortably close to.

We decided to do use the Ford Expedition we had access to to do a little exploring, and Belinda suggested we check out 'Brian's Castle', a large stone foundation which a local man is hoping to turn into a hotel.  We had driven past it, but were discouraged from exploring on foot by the bear warning signs.  Parker said there were next to no bears in that area this time of year, but gave me a jumbo can of bear spray in a nylon holster, just in case.

It is an impressive edifice, even at this early stage, and it's unfortunate that the momentum on the project has apparently been stalled.  Still, it would be a remarkable place to stay if it should ever get completed!  As it sits now, it was an excellent place for the girls to have a bit of a scramble.

The next day, I awoke to the sound of car horns honking.  It's just like being back home, I mused dozily, before a sharp realization:  Wait a minute, I thought; what the hell kind of traffic can there be in a town of 800 at six in the morning?  Sure enough, the horns were soon punctuated by the sounds of shotgun blasts, perhaps six or seven of them.  Incongruously, this actually made more sense than the horns by themselves, and so I went back to sleep.  Later on we discovered that a bear had decided to mosey into town by way of Kelsey Boulevard, the main drag, and the Conservation officers had turned out to scare him off.  Business as usual by Churchill standards.

We took advantage of the remainder of the day to do a little more sightseeing, including a trip up to Twin Lakes, which is about as far as you can get from Churchill by road.  Bear spray at the ready, we took the rutted old gravel road, and later a dirt trail, up to where a cabin stood by a pristine lake, and the girls took advantage of the opportunity to roll up their pant legs and at least get their feet wet.  Unlike the day we arrived, the temperature was in the mid-high twenties the last few days, and the cool water was a welcome respite.

The drive back took us past the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, which is the same site as the old Churchill Rocket Range, so I had to take a picture of the old launch site and blockhouse; after all, Captain Canuck had gone to space via this route when I was a kid.

The tide was beginning to come in as we made our way back to town, so we decided to take the off-road path to see the wreck of the MV Ithaca, an 80 foot cargo vessel that had been abandoned offshore by Bird Cove after running aground in 1960.  As we slowly made our way out to it, we spotted a white rock juxtaposed against the darker ones by the shore.

Sure enough, it was that morning's wake up call, peacefully snoozing on the rocks after finding the townsite's hospitality not particularly forthcoming.

This was the fourth polar bear we'd managed to see in Churchill, and even though it was some distance away, it was thrilling to be on the same level as this one, not separated by the thick walls of the fort or the elevation of the Tundra Buggy.  In many ways, this sleepy specimen was my favourite, simply because we had stumbled across it on our own.

Our last stop was The Weir and marina southwest of town, which we visited mostly because we could.

It is by no means necessary to have access to a vehicle in order to enjoy Churchill, but being able to range far and wide on our last full day in the area was a real privilege, and we took full advantage of it.

Hang'd we manage to miss the floatplane base?  I guess we'll just have to go back...

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