Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that the most limiting factor for trips into the Great Northland might be TIME. Appropriate equipment does add to ones comfort and safety but poor equipment could be compensated for with time. Outdoor savvy certainly helps but could be replaced (to a certain degree) with time. And canoeing skills surly help but again could be substituted to a certain degree with time.
May be the one reason so few travel the North might be their lack of time in these restless days. Any trip along the shores of any river or lake north of 60 is firstly and foremost asking for your time.
Advice from Greg Allan:
Greg Allen - a paraplegic to canoe the Mackenzie River 3 times solo - initially brought this to my attention. He once wrote:
"Being solo becomes a matter of time not physical ability. Rushing almost always leads to mistakes. Mistakes almost always lead to problems. Problems almost always lead to disaster in a wilderness situation. When you travel solo you can not afford any mistakes. Any mistake can be disastrous."
www.stillmevoyage.com on web.archive.org
An appreciation of Greg Allen on normpaddle
Advice from George Luste:
In the 1996 winter edition of the Nastawgan (the quarterly journal of the Wilderness Canoe Association) George Luste wrote about another of his epic trips („Canoeing“ Great Slave Lake in June). And among his reflections I found good advise.
George (at 56 years of age) wrote:
“So today I am more apprehensive about getting myself into dangerous and extreme situations. As I age I have become more conservative, more careful, in what I commit myself to. I no longer possess the physical resources of a younger me, and I try to use my experience, and ‘an ounce of prevention’ instead of relying on quick reflexes and pure strength as a ‘pound of cure’.
I am still a good ‘plodder’, however. I can put one foot in front of the other on a long steady grind on a good portage trail – but I no longer have the agility to skip across wet rocks while carrying a canoe. I no longer want to test my survival ability by running an intimidating rapid. I no longer care to be as casual in expending my energies in futile efforts. And so today I am more inclined to paddle long hours on a calm day or evening and not paddle at all if the weather looks unstable and threatening. I’m more inclined to stop early at the end of a normal day if faced with a rapid, or the possibility of a dump, or even the need to make a marginal decision late in the day. I have convinced myself that plodding is alright when tired. Dealing with risk is not.
Thus I have come to embrace a varied and flexible paddling schedule on my long trips. There are advantages to doing so. One expends less energy for the same distance and I think it makes for a safer overall trip. But it also means that one is faced with more decisions and uncertainty about when to stop and start than a rigid nine-to-five routine implies. Perhaps if the conditions are stable, then a schedule makes sense. If the conditions vary considerably, then a varied schedule is preferred.”
To be, or not to be.
For some people a similarly difficult question may arise. Namely: to go solo or not to go at all. This was the question for me in the very beginning – some 20 years ago. There was just no one with ample time and money and a congenial mindset at hand. And today I am glad I went. Though – admittedly with my pants plenty full. Without much of a clue really about wilderness travels. But a lot of good luck carried me all the way to Dawson City. Today I chuckle when I recall launching my historic Klepper folding kayak. So heavily laden that the stern upper (canvas) deck was under water. And only by levelling out my cargo perfectly I was able to move on with an inch of freeboard down the Teslin River from Johnson’s Crossing. Those were the days when I was carrying a huge family size iron cast fry pan weighting more than 10 pounds.
I am writing this to encourage people to go on their own. There is a lot to gain when going solo. And I found competent backing of this point of view in an interview with Robert Perkins on herondance.org.
Advice from Robert Perkins:
“With another person it's twice as hard. If you are with five people, it's five times as hard. You end up tuning in to them, wanting to take care of them. Letting them take care of you. Are you alright? Can I help? Your mood is up. Mine is down. We are always looking in each others eyes. If I am alone, I don't experience that. Instead, I have the sights and the sounds of nature. Of other creatures. They become companions.
Solitude is the deepest well I have ever come across. I imagine it would be different if solitude was forced on you, but to choose it is to find a source of sustenance that never runs out. It places a person in proper alignment, in proper order....Some people are less interested in trying to understand or pursue or embrace their inner life. Every time I go on a solo canoe trip, I have to listen carefully to my thoughts and memories. It's the impact of stepping outside with a minimum of things and a great deal of landscape around you. A great deal of quiet. You begin to listen to what is around you and to what is going on inside of you.
It doesn't matter what your concerns have been over the past year -- they just kind of boil off over the two months. Like maple syrup. You get down to some pretty fundamental, beautiful moments where you just catch yourself doing something. With no prior thought and no afterthought. You are totally absorbed making a fire, cooking dinner or just paddling. Those moments are the reason I do it. I just love those moments."
www.herondance.org on web.archive.org
Now that said, a word of caution (by Alex Hall) appears appropriate.
"Nobody should be going on a solo canoe trip in the Barren Lands unless they are a very experienced canoeist and an experienced wilderness traveller. The Barren Lands are the Himalayas of wilderness canoeing. You only go on a solo trip there after you have proven yourself in lesser wilderness locations."
And regardless of your assumed outdoor savvy:
Make sure to put down some tobacco before heading out.