Dose of Awesome # 286

It’s been more than a month since we toasted champagne in the parking lot at Tuolumne Meadows, marking the end of our John Muir Trail. It’s been more than a month since the eleven of us – Bob, Ted, Henk, Lisa, Patrick, Aline, Emily, Randy, and our guides Jarette and Alwyne – parted ways and scattered between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, as we set off to enjoy the remainder of our time in California in our own ways, and made our way back to what waited for us.

As I try to rewind, I am thankful for the magic of the JMT that burns within just as strongly today as it did for the entire 350 kilometres of the trail. I call it magic because I don’t know how else to describe it. It comes from the experience of living day by day with nothing more than I carried on my back; from being totally immersed in nature, unspoiled by any of the distractions that comes from life in civilization; from unique group dynamics, shaped by each of our personalities, and evolving in light of our collective experiences on the trail; from all the aches, sweat, tears, bruises and blisters, but at the same time, the many beautiful and sometimes meditative hours spent hiking each day. It comes from a huge sense of accomplishment as I surprised myself both physically and mentally on a near-daily basis, and the sharing of that with a group of people who were, just a few weeks before, complete strangers. And it comes from something deeply personal and individual, influenced by the events of not only the previous half year, but of my entire life. It’s not only indescribable, it’s something that could never be replicated again, even if we were all to reunite and hike the JMT all over again. That’s how special this magic is.

One month and a bit later, I am thankful to have not lost this magic. I am thankful that it has not even faded. Even though a month doesn’t sound long, it has been busy enough to cause me to forget a little bit. Throwing myself back into work, with a new class of sixth grade students, a beading workshop to teach, meetings and committees, along with a personal life in Kuujjuaq complete with violin lessons, meetings, yoga classes and whatnot, it was easy to lose touch with the magic of the trail. But it doesn’t take much to find it again. Though I know that no matter what I write today, it will inadequately capture this magic, awesome is the fact that I still feel it.

“The Mountains Are Calling, And I Must Go” – John Muir

The actual JMT heading north toward Yosemite starts at the top of Mount Whitney, but we had no choice but to get there by foot. Due to strict trail permit regulations and construction complications at Whitney Portal, our JMT began at Chicken Springs Lake. Thus, we had approximately 50 kilometres of hiking ahead of us before technically starting the JMT itself.

Hiking northbound, we were faced with the highest elevations of the entire trek right from the get-go. With little time to acclimatize, the most strenuous days for us were at the beginning, complete with a 14 500 foot Mount Whitney summit just 4 days in. At the same time, we had to get used to carrying a heavy pack, and carried our largest resupply of the entire trip for the first 7 days.

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The first few days were humbling. Winded by the altitude, the steep terrain, and my pack, I was reminded of a time I was very overweight and very out of shape. In those first few days, I learned that I can always slow down more (as Henk would say “there are 50 shades of slow”). At times, even when I didn’t think I could move any more slowly, I forced myself to reduce my pace by half, as I’d prefer to keep moving even at a snail’s pace, than to stop frequently and lose momentum. I also learned that I can do far more than I ever thought physically possible.

Life on the trail was fairly similar from day to day. We’d wake up in the morning to hot water for tea or coffee, which we drank as we began to pack up camp (a process which worked like a well-oiled machine in no time, as packing became very systematic and fast). I’d found something satisfying in the fact that everything had a specific place in my pack. On a journey as nomadic as this one, this consistency felt comforting.

Then we’d have breakfast. After breakfast, we’d finish packing our tents, take care of personal business (usually entailing brushing teeth and scoping out a good place to bury poop). Just before setting off, we’d do morning yoga and a map briefing.

We typically hiked 8 to 10 hours in a day. We had a few shorter days, and we had a few longer days. But on average, they were 8 to 10 hours, with a few shorter breaks, and a longer lunch break interspersed throughout. In the beginning, as we acclimatized, and as we grew accustomed to the trail, we hiked together. However, after a few days, we were able to spread out more. I’d found a healthy balance of hiking with the group, hiking with one or two friends, and hiking alone.

Our evenings were what made our JMT so unique. Arriving at camp typically around 3 or 4 pm, we’d set up camp, take some time to wash (ourselves and our clothes) in the nearest lake or creek, eat dinner, read a book or write in a journal, and relax with hot drinks, great conversation, and sometimes a game of cribbage or cards. Again, I loved the consistency of setting up camp, and the feeling of it being done after a long, hard day of hiking. But what I loved even more was the fact that every campsite was so different from one to the next.

We were usually sleeping by 9 pm (hiker midnight), but on a few occasions I’d find it within myself to stay up late enough to watch the stars pop out – a truly magnificent sight in the Sierras. On one particular night (at Lake 1160) I’d decided not to set up my tent at all, but rather to sleep under the stars. Patrick and I played Crazy Eights atop a boulder under the golden sun set. When the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we went to bed. A few hours later, I woke up, wrapped entirely in my sleeping bag (save for my eyes), to the stars and the milky way glimmering above. It was so vibrant it didn’t even seem real.

On “Whitney Day”, we woke up at 2:30 am and left base camp at 3:00. The full moon rendered our headlamps unnecessary as we begin our hike to the summit and back. I was the second of the group to arrive at the summit after a challenging 6.5 hour day of seemingly endless switchbacks and steep ascent. Patrick was the first. We passed the time posing for photos and admiring the view as the others arrived one-by-one. It did not take long for the altitude sickness to start setting in, though. Nauseous and with a terrible headache before we’d even finished lunch, I questioned my ability to make the 5.5 hour descent back to camp. It’s true what they say, though – just going even 100 feet down can make all the difference. In no time, I was feeling back to normal and on my way. Interesting was hiking back along the same trail, but seeing almost half of it for the first time. Since we’d hiked halfway up the mountain in the dark, we’d missed much of the view on the way up (though hiking by moonlight is a whole other experience of awesome).

After Whitney, everything felt easier. We left base camp on our fifth day for a 15 kilometre uphill hike to Tyndell Creek, and I found that my pack felt infinitely lighter and the ascents easier. Awesome was getting through the toughest days of the trek!

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Dose of Awesome # 281

I’ve been on summer vacation for two weeks. Like previous years, I decided to stay in Kuujjuaq to enjoy the beautiful (relatively bug-free) weather, finish up some projects, and relax before I travel to California and hike the John Muir Trail. My days have been full of playing violin, reading, drawing, biking, hiking, and just enjoying the land both alone and with friends. I could not have asked for a more rejuvenating and fulfilling time.

1. Awesome was finishing not one, but two new drawings.

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Amaruq – Wolf

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Kayuqtuq – Red Fox

2. Awesome was the opportunity to enjoy 7…yes 7…hikes on the land?

3. Awesome were picnics, and road trips and little walks past the end of the Road to Nowhere, where we found one of the most beautiful spots around Kuujjuaq, had a healing ceremony, and saw muskoxen. Further awesome are muskoxen – a symbol of strength and endurance, and their timely appearance.

 

Dose of Awesome # 255

1. Awesome was a weekend camping and hiking trip in Kuururjuaq National Park. We camped at Qurlutuarjuq, on the Koroc river, which is approximately 25 minutes by plane from Kangiqsualujjuaq. The weather, though questionable upon departure in Kuujjuaq (lots of fog, drizzle and wind), turned out to be perfect in the park. And despite a superabundant mosquito and blackfly population, we enjoyed two beautiful hikes on the land – the first, a five-hour scramble up and down the mountain overlooking the camp, and the second, a three-hour bushwhack to the chutes Korluktok.

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Our chartered plane on the landing strip at Qurlutuarjuq.

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The camp.

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The view from the camp.

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Bug nets saved the day, even way up high.

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Koroc River from the mountain.

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My boyfriend and I – so happy we got to do this together.

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Inuksuk leading the way to chutes Korluktok.

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Chutes Korluktok – worth every scratch, bruise and bug bite.

2. Awesome are early morning bike rides – something I’ve been doing a lot lately. The temperature is perfect, the traffic is minimal, and there’s no better way to wake up than some post-coffee physical activity. Also awesome is coming home to find a cup’s worth of coffee still warm in your french press.

3. Awesome are boat rides. Recently I was invited on a boat ride on Stewart Lake. Though freezing (it gave me a chance to test out my new hiking gear), it was my first time out on a boat since moving to Nunavik. I’m hoping for an invitation on a sunny day.

Dose of Awesome # 238

1. Awesome was an evening of beading, painting nails, and ’90’s music with friends. I finally learned how to make beaded ulu earrings. Here are my first:

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2. Awesome was snowshoeing, despite shitty snowshoes. I had to have tripped over my own two feet at least 9 times (4 of which included the times one of the snowshoes flew off my feet because the buckles refused to stay tight). I’m not going to lie, this made me grumpy. However, I am thankful for the mild weather and another opportunity to go.

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3. Awesome was putting up, and decorating our first Christmas tree. Not only is this our first Christmas tree together, it’s the first Christmas tree I’ve ever put up in my own place.

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Dose of Awesome # 237

I tried posting earlier this week, but the website did not seem to be working.

1. Awesome was taking a hobby to the next level. I’ve been doing observational drawings for years now, off and on. I started drawing from photos in magazines when I was in high school. Then, after an undergraduate and BEd-long hiatus, I got back into it when I moved to Tasiujaq. But for the most part, I never drew from my own photos. Nor did I (with the exception of a portrait I drew for an ex boyfriend, and a portrait I drew for a friend) draw for other people.



After finishing my latest personal project – a portrait of a Quechua woman that I’d taken in Ollontaytambo during my 2011 travels in Peru (below) – I was inspired to start advertising. I placed an ad on a couple of Kuujjuaq’s Facebook groups, and promptly received a request from a woman to have two portraits done of her family. I am about two thirds finished the second.

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2. Awesome was an invitation to a mid-week dinner/taima party, which was last night, with great people and delicious food.

3. Awesome is it being Friday, with an awesome-filled weekend ahead.


4. Awesome is the fact that Christmas vacation is just one week away!

Dose of Awesome # 233

1. Awesome is being on summer vacation. I’m blessed with eight solid weeks of relaxation, creativity and adventure, which I will divvy my time between Kuujjuaq, Italy and Austria. My plans for this summer include lots of drawing, studying French (I recently purchased all five levels of Rosetta Stone français, and have just finished two and a half of them), hiking on the tundra, hiking mountains, reading copious novels, and then topping things off with Aqpik Jam (Kuujjuaq’s big annual music festival) and new teacher orientation in August.

2. Awesome was finishing a new drawing – and what’s awesome about this particular drawing is that I drew it from a photograph that I took myself. Thus, I’m free to make prints (which I’m actually in the process of trying to do) for selling.

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I’m currently working on another – a portrait of a woman and baby that I took in Ollantaytambo, Peru, in 2011.

3. Awesome was an evening spent recently with new friends, not only eating delicious food, but also having the opportunity to relive some fond and entertaining memories of my travels around Canada (particularly the Yukon and Northwest Territories), and to hear, from the others, some tales of their own.

And since I meant to publish this a few weeks ago (procrastinator, I am), awesome was another similar evening, spent with more new friends.

4. Awesome was moving into my new house. Until recently, I’d been living on a slightly rundown, poorly soundproofed bottom apartment in a complex of four. Used to living in the big duplex in Tasiujaq (with my very quiet neighbour), I struggled to adjust to hearing every footstep and pin drop (amplified tenfold) above my head.

Now, I live in a lovely two bedroom house – not even a duplex, but a house – kept sparklingly clean and well maintained by the previous tenant. Seizing the opportunity to move as soon as possible, I spent the better half of two days packing, and only one unpacking. Since, I’ve found great joy in just spending time here, doing all the things that I do – something I’d not really been able to do at the other place.

Dose of Awesome # 232

1. Awesome was surviving what was literally one of the most demanding endeavours I’ve ever involved myself in. And not only that, I did so with some great memories, a desire to do it again next year, and some ideas as to how I can help it run more smoothly if I do. Le Grand Dèfi Pierre Lavoie took myself, another teacher (from Kangiqsualuujjuaq), and 30 secondary students from 5 villages on the Ungava Coast of Nunavik to Quebec City this past weekend. From there, we ran the 270 kilometres to Montréal relay-style.

After an opening ceremony, we began our relay at approximately 8 AM Saturday. We ran constantly as a team until about 7 PM – when we took a 3-hour break in Trois-Rivières. Then we started up again and ran straight through the night, until approximately 5 PM the next day.

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Kuujjuaq 119Team Nunavik on the news.

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Kuujjuaq 115The relay

2. Awesome was reaching a new record – running 20 kilometres in 2 days – thanks to Le Grand Dèfi.

3. Awesome was one last snowshoeing adventure of the season, before everything melted away literally within a couple of days. I’ve definitely found a new passion.
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4. Awesome was the end to that “too soggy to hike but no snow to snowshoe” phase of spring, and a 4-hour hike on the land yesterday afternoon.

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