Whiskey and Lard
Continued....To the Cape
The polar bear business in Churchill would have taken a bit longer to evolve if not for two key ingredients. You can argue these two things were essential for survival in northern climes long before anyone figured out how to make a buck hauling visitors around. Whiskey and lard were staples in any one's grub box. The importance of the two varied according to who you were travelling on the land with. The guy's I hung with would overlook the fact someone forgot a pound of lard to grease up the fry pan but you could get shunned right quick and delegated to clean up duty if you forgot the whiskey. You never forgot twice. When Len loaded up Buggy1 for the trip to the Cape you know there was more than a few bottles of Canada's finest shipped aboard and no doubt more than a few pounds of lard. Reason being, Len, like any other northerner who has yet found Jesus, loved to drink whiskey and Dan....well Dan was determined to sedate and stabilize the entire polar bear population of Cape Churchill with Crisco.
Feeding or baiting, depending on the interpretation, is not allowed under law but Cape Churchill, although only fifty or so kilometres from civilization, might as well be on another planet; it sure felt like it at times, so abiding by the rules was optional.
If not for Dan's unfettered compassion for the well being of the bears, the distribution of lard might have been challenged. But he was unapologetic and claimed any of the bears showing signs of being malnourished needed to be fed...and hell might as well give the rest a boost while I'm at it. It was Dan's rules, like 'em, live with them or you weren't invited back.
So off they went in Buggy1 heading for the Cape, Len at the wheel and Dan and co-harts wedged into the two rows of seats amongst a ton of gear. Unbeknown to the passengers, the odds were stacked against them ever reaching their goal. Anyone other than Len who built the buggy and knew the strengths and weaknesses would be foolish to think he could pull it off. Others made this trip to the Cape before but not at this difficult time of the year and not with a piece of homemade untested machinery. Len was indeed a pioneer and no-one aboard other than Dan knew what they were getting themselves into. Dan's complete confidence in Lens ability was the foundation the bear business of Churchill was built on.
The terrain Len had to cross would cause anyone to rethink the whole thing. The first half of the trip was done travelling east, a bit inland and parallel to the Bay. To the west, the edge of the tree line blurred the horizon, the last stand of Boreal forest before it gives way to Hudson Bay Lowlands. Straight ahead nothing but an endless stretch of tundra, covered white with snow; now and again broken by islands of stunted black spruce and dwarf willow. The only relief was an anomalous blip called Knights Hill, a pile of rock debris left over from the glaciers that when seen from a distance seemed to reach the clouds but once close barely reached thirty meters above sea level. Other than a few shaky observation towers that disappeared with bad weather it was the only real reference point you had.
Deep ruts embedded in the muskeg left by military machinery during the fifties marked the route that Len had to follow. This trail was highly visible during summer and fall. It all but disappeared under a sheet of ice and snow when winter set in. Buggy1 could only make it if the ground and scattered lakes and ponds were froze and the creeks could be crossed by an ice bridge. Len had to look well ahead to catch signs of the trail where the wind blew it clear. No shortage of obstacles to overcome. Blowing snow would screw you up and turn you around and before you know it you are off the trail and in a heap of trouble. Breaking through ice when crossing a lake was always good for the heart as was hitting a ten foot bank of snow and burying the buggy well past it's axles. If mother nature didn't test you well enough you were tested with beat and busted buggy parts that had to be fixed or jury rigged to get you going again. It would not be that much of a stretch to say Len spent equal amounts of time under the buggy fixing as in the buggy driving. No walk in the park at twenty below in gale force winds, not discounting the odd polar bear cruising around.
After fighting their way through the first part of the trip things switched up. A different set of obstacles amongst a different landscape. The stakes were a bit higher. From travelling over snow covered muskeg to now travelling on the sea ice. This happened where the Cape started to extend at a right angle into the Hudson Bay, the base of the hitchhikers thumb.
When the north winds started blowing and the temperature dropped a rim of ice would start to form along the edge of the coastline. This new ice attached itself to land and built steadily outward. The width varied, at places barely a buggy width other places could be a few kilometres. This band of land fast ice rose and fell with the four meter tides and the stability was far from predictable. You didn't want to suffer any breakdown when travelling along this stretch of the trip. Getting caught on the sea ice in a storm with a strong north wind pushing sea water over top and swirling around the buggy tires can cause serious reflection as to what the hell are you doing this for. This band of ice was the floating highway to Cape Churchill.
They made it. The timing is such that you have to travel when winter first arrives encasing everything in ice and snow but not enough ice and snow that the bears at the Cape have already gone onto the ice to hunt.
Cape Churchill is a wondrous place with polar bears so big they defy logic, with a morning sun rising fiery red from behind the sea in the east and setting in a burst of colour reflected on a frozen lake to the west.
To be continued.......
Next...Living with the bears at the Cape/lets grease them up.