(a blog from Jamie)
As the wind smashed into the side of the first vehicle we had seen in thirty days, the driver wound down the window, winced at the force of the storm, and said cheerfully “welcome to Clyde River”, thankfully pointing us in the direction of the RCMP detachment. We had made it. The last two days had seen us cover over 56km in dense fog, buffeted by withering winds that had steadily built to gusts of 40mph as a we crossed a seemingly endless succession of broken ice.
Clyde is a natural mid-point on our journey and the knowledge that this was such a key objective for us along with the incentives of walls, heating and possibly a hot shower meant we were willing to push hard to reach it. The journey up the last section of coastline has been long and windy; with extended days of hauling on broken ice making the trip physically hard work and meaning we needed to be extra vigilant to the risks of cold and fatigue. Our sleds however have been steadily lightened and as the daylight hours have increased as has our fitness and ability to push ourselves harder than before whilst staying at safe level of knackered and on the right side of exhaustion. With this has come the satisfaction of seeing our daily mileage start to climb and our spirits rise as the distances to Clyde began to become feasible measurements and no longer unobtainable distances that only existed in the realms of dreamers or those with motorised transport.
The final two days to Clyde were a bit of a crux for us. Two carrots were dangling; the first a hut at the edge of the peninsular which would be a welcome relief after the last seven days of windswept tundra and the second, Clyde, sitting out of sight but within touching distance, we could almost smell the fruit and vegetables in the Northern Store. We kicked off for the hut with a strong headwind that gradually faded away to leave us bathed in sunshine and enjoying the sight of the first big icebergs we had seen for weeks on the horizon. Like container ships gone astray and stranded against the frozen sea line, these mammoth blocks of floating water grow larger and taller as the sun distorts and stretches them into a mirage of illusions often to staggering proportions. These ice bergs often sit on the horizon for two or three days looming majestically over the flat ice like cathedrals of electric blue gracefully decaying in the Arctic sunshine. However, as you get closer they start to shrink rather than grow until as you reach and pass the block of freshwater you have been endlessly looking at it is no bigger than a decent sized church. Still impressive but not quite the Salisbury or Winchester-sized Gothic monument you were expecting.
We had a tough time over the rough ice surrounding the point and as we rounded the Cape and turned west the freshening breeze gave us cause to eagerly scan the horizon for the hut. As we have been disappointed so many times before this time we were ready for the lack of any human-made shelters and a good thing too. No visible hut. After a brief search we tucked into the headland and found the most sheltered spot we could, comforting ourselves in the knowledge that with a big effort the next day we would be in Clyde and hut or not, without today’s slog those bright lights would still be out of reach.
Colin, who had been given bail the day before had steadfastly refused to be caught at night, even forgoing his dinner, stubborn little git and was duly caught that morning – his growling tummy overcoming his usual razor sharp wit and cunning. Similar to a slightly demented dribbling drunk, convinced that a dirty kebab is a good idea and that he can make a run for it from the large, knife-wielding owner without paying, not realising the glass door to the shop is closed – running straight into it and knocking himself out. Colin sulked for the rest of the day.
Despite securing Colin, we had awoken to a world of white. The fog had descended and enclosed us making the days difficult task even harder. As we set out we realised what a great camp spot we had chosen and the wind began to get stronger and stronger as we moved away from the sheltering coast line, battering us in the backs, pushing and urging us forward. The final blow came when after an hour we hit a patch of very rough ice that slowed us down to a crawl for the next two hours. Needing to make a lot of ground, we grunted and crunched our way through the blocks of broken sea, never seeing more than twenty yards ahead so never knowing when it might end. Thankfully it did end, and as we headed into flatter ice the clouds began drifting higher, and the land we were heading for came into focus giving us the shot of motivation we needed to believe there might still be a radiator at the end of the day. We continued slogging until finally the GPS said less than 1km to Clyde and with baited breath we scanned the horizon. When we were supposedly 300m away from a town of 1500 people and yet couldn’t see an aerial, a post-box, even a skidoo trail we began to think something might be up. It turns out the Garmin coordinates for Clyde are 4.2k to the East of the town and with the wind now gusting above 35mph this was an extra few kms we didn’t really need. Eventually however, out of the mist appeared a collection of man-made objects, first barely distinguishable then growing more solid and become the buildings, street lights and boats of an Arctic coastal town in the grip of winter.
As we dragged our pulks through town, too exhausted to realise fully that we had arrived, Clyde RCMP Detachment Commander Chris Moreau opened the front door of his house and said “you must be the British explorers”, we both smiled and thought well I suppose we are now aren’t we?