Dose of Awesome # 285

I need to interrupt my tales of the John Muir Trail to write about the awesome with which I’ve been blessed over the past few weeks since I returned to Kuujjuaq. I’ve not found much time to write, let alone even think about writing, so much has been going on. But, thanks to a long weekend and gloomy weather that goes oh so well with pj’s, coffee and my blog, I feel inspired to write.

I returned to Kuujjuaq on the 9th of August, and was swept away by all the beginning-of-a-new-school-year awesome. Potlucks and lunches allowed me to bond with colleagues, and meet new teachers. Kuujjuaq’s annual Aqpik Jam music festival allowed me to enjoy four nights of great live music from artists from all over the arctic. A birthday full of celebrations with close friends sent me into my 33rd year with so much love.

My return to work was rejuvenated and filled with the excitement of setting up a new classroom and getting ready for a year with new kids. This year I am teaching sixth grade – a lovely class of 11 students whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past few years since moving to Kuujjuaq. We’ve been back to school two weeks now, and we’re off to a great start.

Two weekends ago, I was given the opportunity to spend a few days hiking and camping in Pingualuit National Park. Pingualuit is a 1.5 million year old crater believed to have formed when a meteor hit the earth. It is also said to have the purest water in the world. I drank it, and it’s delicious.

In the spring, I’d put my name on the waiting list to take this trip, but I’d resigned to the fact that I probably wouldn’t get to go. The trip was full, and since I’d had the chance to go to Kuururjuaq last year, open spaces would be given to people who hadn’t gone before (as far as I understood). But, luck was on my side, a spot opened up at the last minute, and I received a phone call two days prior to departure.

Accepting the opportunity, a small group of us (7 teachers and 2 women who work elsewhere in the community) boarded a chartered Twin Otter bound for Kangiqsujuaq (a small village approximately 2 hours’ flight north of Kuujjuaq). There, we met Maali Tukirqi, who picked us up at the airport and gave us a tour of the village (which started at the Nunavik Parks office and Pingualuit Interpretive Centre, and included a drive around the village, a stop at the beach to see the iceburg, and shopping for snacks at the Northern Store).

An hour later, we were back in the plane and on our way into the park, and less than an hour after that, we’d made 3 gut-wrenching swoops over Manarsulik camp’s tiny landing strip (the landing strip is a short clearing in the tundra covered with gravel, which is not maintained so much as cleared by the swoops of the plane before it lands). Excited, we were settled into our charming little cabin on the lake before dinner and a little walk to an archaeological site not far from the camp showing where camps used to be.

The hike around the crater took 8 hours, much of which was sunny and with just enough wind to keep the bugs at bay. Hiking together in the beginning, we enjoyed great conversation and a picnic lunch at the halfway mark. Afterward, we spread out a bit more and hiked at our own pace, enjoying the quiet and solitude as it came.

We got back to camp just in time for an amazing sunset and a beautiful rainbow over our camp as we ate, chatted and played numerous rounds of Yahtzee together.

We were hit by stormy weather the next day, which put a damper on our plans to qajak on the lake and go on a smaller hike. Our flight also got cancelled, giving us another day at the camp. I took the opportunity to work on my sewing project and read almost an entire book (something I don’t get to do in one day very often). We were running out of food, but our guides were generous and brought out all kids of country food – tuttuvinik (caribou), nikkuk (dried caribou) and mattaq (beluga) filled our stomachs that night.

The wind was strong and shook our cabin all through the night, and, though the fog lifted, it still gusted well into the next day. Fortunately, for the sake of work, a classroom that needed to be set up by the following afternoon, a grocery order full of frozen food that was scheduled to be delivered to my house in Kuujjuaq that afternoon, and a few things I had planned over the next few days, we were able to fly out. Our plane arrived at Manarsulik around 3 pm. It was bumpy, but we arrived in Kuujjuaq 2.5 hours later safe and sound.

Awesome was the opportunity, the adventure, and the fact that everything works out, even when they don’t go as planned.

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.

image

 

Amaruq – Wolf

image

 

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 # 278

Snowshoeing season has rapidly melted away with this week’s rain and high temperatures. There is still a bit of snow on the land, but I’d imagine its texture is an unenjoyable mix of slush and ice. At the moment, I am taking advantage of the extra time to read, draw and play the violin as I await bicycle season.

1. Awesome was one last beautiful weekend of snowshoeing, two weeks ago. The weekend was full of sunshine, light wind and hours on my own enjoying the land.

image

image

2. Awesome was finishing a new drawing – sled dogs, inspired by the recent Ivakkak dog sled race.

image

3. Awesome was finalizing some of the biggest details of my upcoming summer adventure. This summer, I will be hiking the John Muir Trail, after spending a few days in San Francisco and Mammoth Lakes. With my flight booked and my trek organized, I can start looking into accommodations and plan some ideas for the rest of my time there. It’s starting to feel real!

image

Dose of Awesome # 277

The community of Kuujjuaq came together yesterday to welcome the competitors in this year’s Ivakkak dogsled race at the finish line. The race began in Quaqtaq, and went through Kangirsuk, Aupaluk, Tasiujaq, before finishing here.

1. Awesome was an early school closure that allowed everybody to head to Stewart Lake to welcome the Ivakkak teams. Team 10 was the first to arrive in Kuujjuaq, but team 7 won the race.

Waiting for the first team to arrive.

Team 10, from Puvirnituq.

2. Awesome was a mid-week afternoon of snowshoeing, thanks to the early school closure. Since I’d gone in early to get some work done in my classroom before school began, I decided to take advantage of some amazing weather and get a few more hours of snowshoeing in. I went for a beautiful 3 hour loop through Nuuvuk Bay and by the marina. What I love about that loop is that every time, it can be so different, as the land is so vast.

Snow drifts and tree shadows inspired me.

3. Awesome was progress made with a challenging student – thanks to an awesome and dedicated team of people and their support. Sometimes things take time, and sometimes lots of it, but this, I hope, goes to show that if you don’t give up, great things can happen.

Dose of Awesome # 276

My favourite time of the year has arrived in Nunavik. It’s spring, but it still feels like winter. It’s -30 degrees, we have tonnes of snow, and there’s more coming. I love it because after enduring an average of approximately -45 for seemingly forever, -30 feels mild. I love it because it stays light out longer – long enough that I feel a notable boost in energy each day, but not so long that it causes you to miss the northern lights. I love it because I know it’s only a matter of weeks before the snow melts – and it will melt fast. Then I’ll be able to go hiking, and biking. But in the meantime, I appreciate the snow and cold all the more because I know it will soon be gone.

I love it because it’s the perfect time for snowshoeing.

1. Awesome was 2.5 hours of snowshoeing yesterday, by myself. It’s been a long time – since my third year in Tasiujaq, in fact – since I’ve been out on the land by myself. I forgot how peaceful it is. I forgot how liberating it is to just drop everything and go (my plan for the morning involved doing laundry and reading, until the sun started beaming through my living room window), without having to wait for, or answer to anybody.

Yes, company is nice. But, every once in awhile, so is this…

Yesterday, I went through Nuuvuk Bay and then toward the marina – making a huge loop up and down the hills and back the way I came. Further awesome was finding my own tracks again as I neared the start of my loops – a definite boost to my confidence in my own navigational skills.

2. Awesome was another 3 hours of snowshoeing today. Only this time it was with friends. Today’s route took us through Nuuvuk Bay toward the marina, and on a loop back down to the Koksoak River, which we followed back to where we started.

3. Awesome was time to catch up with friends this weekend, through phone conversations and dinners. It’s crazy how busy life can be – time can really slip by if you let it!

Dose of Awesome # 273

At the beginning of this weekend, I found myself overwhelmed by a lot of different emotions as I tried to begin processing the loss of another community member and student. This is the sixth suicide since Christmas – the second this week. Though I didn’t know this person personally, I’m faced with this constant worry that grows each time, and my heart hurts for the people of Kuujjuaq who are effected, as well as all the people working so hard to provide any support possible in this seemingly unrelenting time of sadness, confusion, and pain.

But now is an especially important time to focus on the awesome things in life, because, as hard as it may be to see, they still do exist during tough times. One of them might be the only thing getting a person through a day. I know I would have struggled a lot more this weekend if it weren’t for these awesome things:

1. Awesome is a discovering a new outdoor activity. This sunny afternoon, a friend and I went cross country skiing in Nuuvuk Bay. It was my first time. Though I like to think I did quite well for my first time, it did take me awhile to catch on to the technique, and required a lot of concentration. Not only was it a good 2.5 hours of exercise, sunshine and fun, it was a much-needed distraction from all the stresses life has thrown my way as of late.

image

Older photo, but same place. 

2. Awesome are adventurous meals with friends. Yesterday evening, I went to a 6-course gourmet Scottish dinner party, where I tried both haggis and black pudding for the first time. On the menu were scotch broth to start, cod fish cakes with home made tartar sauce, black pudding with caramelized apples and whisky sauce, haggis with turnips and potatoes, rabbit kidney and steak pie, and raspberry custard and short bread for dessert. I’m still full.

But that wasn’t my only social meal of the weekend. I’d also joined some friends at the restaurant for dinner on Friday evening, and some other friends for brunch this morning. Again, there’s nothing like coming together with friends for some laughs and relaxation over delicious food during a difficult time.

3. Awesome is massage therapy, and starting an amazing Sunday with an hour-long deep tissue massage. If I were rich, I’d start every day like that.

Dose of Awesome # 234

I’m back in Kuujjuaq after an amazing vacation in Italy and Austria. Starting with two days in Venice, my vacation took me from the tourist-ridden canals of Italy, through the Dolomites and up into the Austrian Alps before returning back to Venice and flying to Montreal for a day of pampering, shopping and all you can eat sushi with a friend.

My vacation was relaxing, challenging, refreshing, productive and a lot of fun – everything I needed!

5Venice canal from the Rialto bridge.

1. Awesome are mountains, and the opportunity to hike approximately 160 kilometres on steep mountain terrain (think: 1000 metre ascents and just as crazy descents) over the course of the last 3 weeks.

After a few days in Venice (which I explored, but did not take very many photos of because I’d been there and done that already, two years ago), I went to the mountains.

First, I hiked alone on the trails of Domegge, to a rifugio where I drank a tiny, yet delicious caffe americano while watching cattle frollic in the fields surrounded by a panorama of the tallest, most rugged mountains I’d seen to date. I continued my hike to another rifugio where I had an amazing mountain lunch of meats and cheeses, and complimentary shots of grappa with the hosts.

11View from the dining room at Albergo Adelia – the albergo where I stayed during my solo time in Domegge.
9Trail marker showing the way to the rifugio, on my solo hike.10Rifugio Padova – where I drank coffee and watched cattle run on my mid-morning coffee break.

Then I hiked 120 kilometres – from Cortina to Bolzano – with a group of people I did not know. Like the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Camino Inca, I booked the trek through G Adventures, so as to enjoy the expertise of a mountain leader, and the ease of having all accommodations and most food taken care of for me.

For the duration of the trek, life was like this: wake up, pack up, eat delicious gourmet mountain rifugio breakfast, set out on a 7 to 10 hour day of hard, steep hiking, arrive at next rifugio, shower, relax over beer/wine/coffee with new friends, read, relax some more, eat fabulous 3- to 4-course mountain rifugio meals, sleep, repeat. It was wonderful.

16Lake at our first rifugio.19Rifugio Croda da Lago and its fantastic view – where we slept on our first night.24Foggy second day of hiking.15My favourite parts were the ascents (this was at a little flat bit of a big ascent).
29Amazing view at our second rifugio – Rifugio Scoiattoli.

33Beautiful view of the valley.40Another beautiful view of another beautiful valley.
43The group, trekkin’ away.
13Lunch break!
35The views just kept getting better and better.
44The group, just before the rain came.52The group at the summit – the highest point of our trek.

After the trek, I continued my trip with more solo hiking – once up the Alpe di Siusi, from Seis to Compach, and another time up one of the mountains in the Austrian Alps near Innsbruck.

2. Awesome was sightseeing in a new city.

I spent three full days at the end of my vacation in Innsbruck, Austria. For the first two days, it rained, and though I did go on a hike during one of the rainy days, I took this also as an opportunity to spend lots of times in museums – including the Alpine museum (a museum dedicated entirely to alpine mountain climbing and hiking).

57Part of the alpine museum in Innsbruck, Austria.
58Cool houses across the river in Innsbruck.
59Innsbruck’s old city.
62View of the city of Innsbruck from the top station of the Nordkettenbahnen cable car.

3. Awesome is a productive day of getting ready to return to the north, in Montreal. My list of things to do included getting a haircut (a priority, since my last one was last December and my hair was growing large and out of control), get a pedicure (after 3 weeks of trekking in the mountains, this was also a priority), buy some new clothes, and see a friend or two. I only had one day, and was very lucky, as it turned out to be a holiday and things very well could have been closed, but they weren’t.

In one day, I managed to cross everything off my list, and then some.