In June I travelled to Rádeyı̨lı̨kóé (Fort Good Hope) in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories. I was heading there to pay a visit to a friend, Daniel T’selie. We had paddled the Mountain River together in the summer of 2018 and through the course of the winter had hatched a plan to catch up. Northern communities are all unique, and the chance to learn from Daniel and his family had me full of anticipation.
For the past 30 seasons, Nahanni Wild guides have come together for spring training in May. This year is no exception; this season we saw a talented and energetic group of guides gather on the Kananaski river for three days of skill building, pre-season training and a chance to socialize with their colleagues before dispersing across the North for the summer.
I was so very fortunate this summer to work along side an incredible female guide team. I have appreciated their support, their intuitiveness and been so very impressed with their professionalism and skills. Every bit as tough as their male colleagues (and yes they are paid the same amount!) they accomplish their work with smiles and while caring for others.
This week we came together for our annual training expedition. As much as we worked through rescues scenarios, first aid and camp management we also built relationships. The teamwork, camaraderie and respect that our team shows each other, acknowledging areas of strength in each other and collectively is the core of Nahanni Wild. Through the course of your expedition you will see their skills on the water, around the campfire in the field as they share their love of wilderness.
As I come to understand what the body is really capable of undertaking, this was an important learning experience. The day’s heat was unexpected and intense. A winter of training in Vancouver Island’s dark forests was unfortunately poor preparation for the realities of the day. The left side of my body now carries a darker hue, having experimented with being a human sundial once our tracks turned due North, and the lingering effects of electrolyte imbalances are still lurking. It is hard not to immediately look to the future in this fast paced world but the recovery process is providing some much needed space for reflection.
Along with the skills I impart to these young women I share my belief that the river is there for them as a place of respite, sanctuary and inspiration. That they too can walk down and sit by its edge, splash cold water on their faces and feel their place ‘in the family of things’. This is something I wish for everyone, especially women, for as Mary Oliver reminds us:
2017 saw Nahanni Wild accomplish a great deal as a business, growing our operation and increasing our contributions to conservation initiatives. But in light of the revelations across industries in 2017 it was time to make sure our own house was in order. Ensuring a safe, respectful work environment is essential if we are to realize our vision as a progressive business affecting positive change.
There is a difference between doing something and living something. I believe that when you are living you are filling the moment. You are finding a way to take it all in and you develop another sense. With a day’s tasks piling up it can be hard get beyond simply doing. As I work to share who we are as a company and as a family the to-do lists can seem endless. But of the blue it can become something beautiful.
For my father being an outfitter was much more than simply selling his brand of adventure. It was about sharing an intimate love of wild places with like minded individuals. About knowing that each paddle stroke was a joyful release for each trip participant. In close to thirty years I have never seen him return from a season, not happy to have shared the river and himself with guests from around the world. The hundreds of stories told and countless cups of coffee as much the tools of his trade as a canoe, a paddle and a lifejacket. He made memories with his guests that would remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Growing up with a guide for a father taught me many things. Some basic, like the value of good rain-gear, dry socks and a secret stash of chocolate. Some more advanced items too, such as the evils of camping in sand, knots to use in a rescue situation and that you always double check how your boats are tied up for the night... But the most significant lesson was how to love a wild place.
"How do you come up with your menu?"
This might be one of the most common questions we are asked, usually shortly after fresh cinnamon buns grace the breakfast table, deep in the Northern Wilderness. Like anything, if you want to be good at it you have to practice. And to practice you have to enjoy it.
Late winter is a weird time of year for someone who identifies as an outfitter, conservationist or adventurer. We leave the well travelled paths that takes us to our happy places, the lakes, rivers, mountains and forests. We find solace in the yoga mat or a recommended ale, we trade in a hug from loved ones for the handshake of the cabbie. It is different. But this difference is essential and drives us to come out of our bubbles of nature, gear, photographs and maps. It drives us to connect.
This is why we do what we do. To share what we love. To remind people where our country came from and that if we are truly to realize our potential as a nation our wilderness will have to continue to shape who we are.
So, while we stretch stiffening knees after long flights, and search with sleepy eyes for a decent cup of coffee you can be sure we look forward to meeting you.
Toronto, thank you for having us. Your are lovely, your beer delicious and energy infectious.
Vancouver and Calgary, we look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks.
Vancouver Outdoor Adventure Travel Show: March 4-5
Calgary Outdoor Adventure Travel Show: March 25-26