Wednesday, March 25, 2020

North of 60 : Kicksledding and other adventures in Yellowknife, day 3

We had seen our post-Blachford days in Yellowknife as something of an "insurance policy" -- extra chances to see the Aurora, plus a visit to the Snowking Castle were the only things on our list. So how to fill the days?

Enter Sundog Adventures.

I'd seen a brochure in the hotel lobby offering kicksled tours across Back Bay on the Great Slave Lake. I looked on their website and saw that the tour included a visit to the Ice Cave and I was sold!

We stopped in at the Dancing Moose Cafe for breakfast -- we both had the Arctic Char Eggs Benedict in the cosy spot. We were lucky and got a table right away; soon all the tables were full. But service was great and the food was excellent. No wonder it's popular!

Afterward we went up to the Bush Pilots Monument for stunning views of Yellowknife on such a gorgeous day. Amusingly, I watched a woman take two dogs on a kicksled across another part of the bay and thought, "That looks like what we'll be doing." Spoiler alert: I had seen some of our dogs and our guide!

We walked across the bridge to Latham Island and went to the Sundog Adventures cabin, where our guide greeted us and told us about kicksleds. They're Scandinavian in origin, where they've been popular for 150 years. The "modern" kicksled design, of two ski-like runners with footbeds connected to handlebars that you twist to steer, appeared in 1909. They're most often propelled, as the name implies, by kicking -- like you do on a skateboard, sorta. But you can also attach dogs to them!

Our kicksleds had been adapted for being pulled by dogs with the addition of a "brake pad" that you could step on, suspended between the runners, which added enough friction to make the dogs stop. After trying out the sleds in the cabin, we walked across the street and onto the frozen lake to meet the dogs.

The dogs were resting happily in some straw-filled shelter boxes. We had been a little worried, before, about the dogs and how they were treated, etc., but they were clearly happy and healthy, and very nice. We met all the dogs, including puppy Tuk Tuk, who was just along for the run.

We got on our sleds, the dogs were attached, and we were off! We had been told three commands:

  • "Hike up!" to get the dogs moving or moving faster; a "let's go" sort of thing.
  • "Whoa whoa whoa" to get the dogs to stop; and
  • "On by!" to move the dogs past a distraction.

Thus armed, we set off. The dogs knew the trail and where we were going, so I didn't need to steer. I did attempt, once, to assist the dogs by kicking, but it made me feel super unsteady and I felt like I almost lost the sled for a few seconds. So I just stood evenly on the runners and let the dogs do the work.

When we got to the other side of the bay, we unhitched the dogs, put them in more straw-lined boxes for a little break, and we walked through Back Bay Cemetery. Apparently the soil wasn't deep enough to bury folk on Latham Island -- it's that Canadian Shield bedrock -- so the buried their early settlers across the bay. There are more than 40 people buried there, but they were all hidden by the snow.

A few minutes walk and we arrived at the "Ice Caves" -- not really an ice cave, but also not really a frozen waterfall ... there's just a steady seep/drip of water that grows and grows over the course of the winter. Still, it's pretty cool.

Eventually we headed back to the sleds and hitched up the dogs again. We kept the same teams (I really liked Wacko and wasn't about to give him up; he reminded me of the canine version of our Bubble.) This time Wil sped off, doing a lot of kicking to help the dogs along. Me? Well, I managed to kick a few times, especially as we got closer to the home base... probably because I was less worried about losing the sled!!!

Once back we said goodbye to the dogs and our guide, we wandered back to downtown, stopping in at The Woodyard, the brewpub operated by NWT Brewing Co. Having had a huge breakfast, we weren't even slightly peckish, but we managed to snag a pair of seats at the bar and enjoyed the beer amidst the bustle.

Then home, and a lot of hassle with our flight reservations. Some sort of miscommunication between the "Chase Travel Concierge" and WestJet and Delta -- all of them agreed that we had reservations and flights, but no one could agree on the ticket number or allow us to check in) which meant an hour plus on the phone and in the end just the advice to go to the airport early and let them sort it out. Spoiler alert: they did, thank goodness.

Later in the evening we had excellent Ethiopian food (yep, you read that right) at Zehabesha, which is the #1 rated restaurant in Yellowknife on TripAdvisor (yep, you read that right, too...).

Late at night, having packed and gotten everything ready, we bundled up one last time and stood in a nearby park for our last Aurora glimpses -- even with the city lights, it was still pretty magical.

Our trip home was tiring and a increasingly odd. Calgary Airport was huge yet seemingly pretty empty, and we had to walk nearly the entire way across it. (Okay, we could have taken the little bus/trolley, but we wanted to hustle...) And then landing at Sea-Tac, where we saw hardly anyone and there was only one person in the Uber/Lyft area. It would be the start of several strange weeks, and we're already wondering when we will get to travel again. I hope you are staying safe, social distancing, and washing your hands.

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