It’s a true story and I’ll come back to it in a minute.
What made me think of this old story is how incredibly cold it was while I was walking Rex, the husky-who-hates-being-outside, this morning. Maybe it was when I blinked too hard and my eyelids stuck together, or the burning feeling in my legs as I walked in circles while Rex p*ssed on every snowbank on the street, but the powdery, sparkly snow made me think of the time I spent in Yellowknife quite a few years ago.
A lot of you know that I spent some time “up north,” but what you may not know is how it all happened. Here is the quick version of how I left home to spend six months in Jasper, AB, and came home two years later from Yellowknife, NT.
After I finally graduated from College/University attempt #3 (a story for another day, perhaps), society dictated that it was time for me to get a “real job.” But because I was only 22 and didn’t want to do that, I came up with a series of other things to do that summer, none of which involved working, but all of which involved spending money. After a whirlwind trip to Europe (13 countries in 40 days – woo hoo! And more stories for another day), and applications to every job opening in my field in Halifax (probably about 3), I declared that Nova Scotia had nothing to offer me at that time. So I did what everyone this side of the nearest Ikea does – I headed west.
In September of 2002, I took a job working room service at a popular lodge in Jasper. (PS. on my way to Jasper, I met Ken at the Halifax airport. Again, a story for another day) I liked it there, the money sucked, but it was fun. I signed a contract for six months, and by the time 5 months and 29 days rolled around, I was ready for a change – but what?
One night, I went to one of the local bars in Jasper with some friends. I’m not sure how it all unfolded, but by the end of the night, I was the proud owner of a 1984 Toyota 4Runner convertible, complete with the biggest tires I’d ever seen. I remember walking to the bank machine and withdrawing almost all of what was left of my meager savings and then forking it over to the lead singer of the band; a huge smile on my face. WiIthin the week, I was driving north, to Yellowknife.
You might be thinking, “how could she have planned that trip in just a few days?” Well the answer is simple, I didn’t. I enlisted a friend to come with me, got that truck registered, packed up everything I owned and started following the signs to Whitecourt, Grande Prairie, Peace River, Fort Providence…Yellowknife. I can’t even remember if we bought a map.
So, travelling from Edmonton to Yellowknife is one of those trips where you should plan a bit. You should know some basic car maintenance like how to change a tire, you should maybe own a cell phone or a satellite phone, and you should maybe know HOW LONG it will take to get there (about 20 hours on sh*tty dirt roads). Oh, and you should know about the ferry that runs in the summertime and how in the winter there’s an ice road to cross, and if you arrive during freeze-up or break-up, you may be stuck there for awhile waiting for one or the other. We made it across the ice road with days to spare.
I remember pulling over and sleeping in the truck on the side of the road somewhere near the Alberta/Northwest Territories border. I can’t remember what we had for food, but I know we didn’t have many blankets. We huddled in our jackets and turned the truck on every once in awhile to get some heat. If the battery had died that night, I don’t know what we would have done. It was -30 degrees outside and I don’t remember one car passing us that night. We didn’t sleep of course, but it was so dark, that we just couldn’t drive anymore. Yup, I was a little scared but I didn’t care, I’d get there.
When morning came, a renewed sense of adventure came with it. The truck started up fine and we were on the road again. When I passed the sign that said “Welcome to Northwest Territories,” I got butterflies in my stomach.
Why did I want to go there so badly? I don’t know. It’s been one of those places I’ve been obsessing over since I was a little girl. When I was in grade 2, I received the wrong book in my book order one day. The book I received instead was the story of a little polar bear named Andy, who was born in captivity, probably quite a feat at that time. I carried that book around with me for years, obsessed with all things arctic, probably until it fell apart, or just went the way of all the other childhood books, whatever that is. (*The book was called “Andy Bear,” if anyone is wondering or knows what one I’m talking about.)
Anyway, I was excited to finally be going there, and I was never so happy in my life as when we drove around that last bend into town and I saw the highrises of the downtown come into view. Yup, highrises – Google it.
So, now that we were there, what were we going to do? We had absolutely no idea, remember, I’m not a planner. I had the phone number of a girl I had met months ago in Jasper who was from Yellowknife, but wasn’t planning to use it unless I really had to.
And then the clutch blew in the truck.
1500 kilometres with no problems and as soon as we roll into a town where we know no one or nothing, the truck breaks down. Time to break out that phone number 🙂
Anyway, let’s wrap this up. I called Christina and we stayed with her and her family for a month. We found jobs, got some money and got a couple of rooms in a boarding house. When I found out one of the men who was also living there was hoarding under-things from all the ladies in the house, we left there and found rooms in a mobile home that was used as staff housing by the restaurant I was working at. It was gross, so then we moved into a proper two-bedroom apartment. I got a REAL job at an engineering firm and got to do some awesome travelling into some little towns in the middle of the territory. Towns where no one spoke english and there were no toilets and people still drew drinking water from the lakes. These were trips where I had to hire my own plane to get there and then find somewhere to stay in some stranger’s house, and got paid for it! And I loved every minute of it. I stayed for amost a year and a half and it was awesome. I would have stayed longer, but there was this guy back home…
What made me think of my time in Yellowknife this morning was the crazy cold weather we’ve been having. It brought back some great memories, and now I’m going to go through some of my old photo albums. This was back in the film days and before Facebook, so sorry, no pics. I did find this one though that had already been scanned:
Yup, that’s me with my family. They came up to visit me for Easter – cool huh?
We ate Caribou for dinner that year 🙂