In the Land of the Midnight Sun
Summer in Yellowknife: a place where the sun never sets, where seemingly suicidal pike fish chase down your fishing reel, where the pick-up truck reigns supreme (more so than the United States’ south) and where mosquitoes are organized into what can only been deemed military platoons. I had the wonderful fortune of visiting Yellowknife for ten days during the month of July, and while not precisely falling into my writing milieu of adventure sports, it was enough of an out-of-the-ordinary adventure that I decided to write about it anyway.
For those who don’t know, Yellowknife (named after the copper blades the local Indigenous peoples used to make), is located in the Canadian Northwest Territories, well above the 60th parallel and only 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the Arctic Circle. With a population of a little over 18,000, Yellowknife is more of an overgrown town than a city (although it remains the biggest city as well as the capital of the Northwest Territories).
Descending into Yellowknife is a slightly surreal experience. Emerging below the clouds, all you see is lakes, patches of conifers, and rocks. Perhaps I was on the wrong side of the plane for the descent, but I saw no semblance of civilization upon my arrival. As is customary of small airports, when you disembark from the plane, you walk right onto the tarmac, into one of the smallest airports I’ve ever been through (and I’ve had the good fortune of visiting quite a few in my short lifetime). Even then, greeted by a gigantic stuffed polar bear (apparently the gate-keeper of Yellowknife airport), I had not yet seen the skyline of the “city” I was supposed to be visiting. Having spent the better part of two weeks visiting Yellowknife, I can now honestly say that there is almost no skyline to be seen of the city. Yet this just so happens to be one of the city’s biggest charms. While it rained the first few days of my visit, the rest of my trip was blessed with sunshine and warm weather (I say warm weather because I was lucky enough to be basking in 23 degree weather while the rest of North America was cooking at a toasty minimum of 35).
I spent my afternoons wandering around the town, discovering cafés called Bullocks Bistro, watching hydroplane after hydroplane land on Great Slave Lake, or simply watching the beautiful combination of ethnicities that have for some reason all chosen to settle in such an isolated place. On one exquisite day, we tied a borrowed canoe to the top of the truck and left the city behind. The Ingraham Trail is the road that heads north out of Yellowknife for approximately 60km, after which it abruptly ends into nothingness, just wilderness. All along this road there is nothing but lake after lake, chock-full of fish. Choosing a lake at random, we spent the day under the sun fishing; lo and behold, I caught my first fish! Maybe I’ve been too much of an indoor girl up until this point, but never in my life have I caught my own food only to eat it 45 minutes later… it’s quite something. It was also delicious.
I can’t say that any of the activities I took part in during my time at Yellowknife were new experiences – I’ve hiked before, swam, fished (though not as successfully), climbed, and paddled my way around a lake. However, being so far away from everything, realizing that a twenty-minute drive out of the city brought me into utter isolation – that was relatively new. Even hiking the Appalachian trail in Maine never brought me the same feeling; I was always aware that civilization was not too far away in any given direction. Paddling along Hidden Lake 40km up the Ingraham Trail however – it was as though our canoe and we were alone.
However, it is in those moments when you feel the furthest away from civilization, that you realize that loneliness is a purely human invention. Isolation does not exist; we are never alone. Even in those moments when all you hear is your own heartbeat, listen closer – your heart never beats alone. And that, quite frankly, is a comforting thought.