What a Difference a Day Makes

The Yukon Blind..... Canoeing the 'Big River'
Team "Imtiaz and Howard"
Sun 19 Jun 2011 17:59
What a Difference a Day Makes
61:23.52N, 135:13.53W

A full day since I was writing yesterday's blog, and here I sit in my tent, the patter of rain on its roof a reminder that nature is largely in charge of our experience on this adventure.

The paddle yesterday was in very warm almost perfect conditions, and we took the direct route to the Yukon River outlet at the northwest end of the lake. This meant we crossed the lake; something not recommended because of the icy water, but on a day like yesterday, it was virtually without risk.

After almost two days of truly amazing solitude we did come across another group of canoeists right at the end of the day. We had planned to overnight at the start of the river proper (the end of the lake) and they fortunately carried on, returning us to our heavenly state of solitude.

For all those dealing with the short southern hemisphere winter days, it's almost 24 hour days here. After a wonderful deep crimson red sunset, and dusk that lasted through to midnight, a huge wind came through around 2 am, needing me to go outside and make sure the canoe was out of reach of the sizeable waves that were developing. The rain followed shortly, and soon I felt very snug inside my sleeping bag, head on my wonderful soft, 'I love Canada' pillowcase made by Balese my special friend from Ethiopia, who was part of the Brooks Junior High School I visited last week. (thank you Balese!) The noise of the crashing waves completing that real outdoor adventure specialness.

Our campsite is right at the river outlet, and the, soon to be experienced, current is a pleasure to watch as it flows past the last bit of lake bank. There is a small island just off our lake bank, and I paddled across on my own to explore the rowdy seagull colony. Well if I thought it was rowdy from our campsite, as I beached the canoe, war was declared, with all available sea gulls called to air to defend their sea gull land. The reason was the presence of many couple week old chicks, and the noise and air attack was impressive. The star fighter pilot finally won, the perfect dive bomb, dropping a huge, slimy turd all over my shirt, and sealing my decision to retreat!

The day paddling although short in distance was a bit tough mentally, as the sore muscles from the day before and our route far from the lake shore created the optical illusion (only for me!) of us making very poor progress. Imi confirmed that due to his lack of visual reference points, he didn't struggle at all, and felt we had gone at the same pace as the day before. He also reflected on how much easy the mental side was versus the 1st time he paddled Lake Lebarge. Maybe competing blindfolded in endurance events is the key to new personal bests!

The day started with a challenging experience for Imi. We had agreed that on day 2, he would have a chance to take the back seat and see if he would be able to steer a straight course, with minimal intervention from me. Having paddled solo many times, and desiring of the confirmation that his loss of sight hadn't taken away his ability to steer the boat, I could sense how important this 1st ever trial would be for Imi. Sensing it would probably be impossible, I delayed the trial to Day 2, using Day 1 to try and get him to assimilate steering by telling me when he thought I was off course. He made me feel hopeful, when he told me he could just make out the shape of the mountain skyline as it ran parallel to the lake shore, but knowing the need to constantly make small course corrections, I felt he had an impossible task ahead. Who was I to judge and with his huge optimism, and my hope that somehow a sixth human sense would present itself, we agreed that he would start Day 2 in the back seat. I really wanted this to work, and reconciled myself to foregoing trip progress in favour of spending the time and patience to help him achieve what in my view would be a truly remarkable human achievement. His optimism and determination were amazing.

The hour that followed with him in charge was both filled with huge moments of hope, jubilation, but also despair and disappointment. We tried everything, and there were times where we went straight for a couple of hundred metres with his obvious feel and control, without my intervention but this was inevitably followed by a patch of tortuous way off course wandering. We didn't give up, with time not an issue on the day, I encouraged him to persist, not worrying about me or how I felt. I watched on desperate for some new inspiration or innovative technique, as Imi started dealing with the reality that he was on a hugely disappointing impossible mission. He finally accepted the reality, suggesting we beach the canoe and swap positions. I sensed we had both lost something, Imi's loss much greater, and I attempted to console him by adding that he could use the day ahead to try and work out what he could do better, and then we would try again another day.

Last night around the fire he shared with me how devastating the reality of this experience had been. He said humans, and particularly disabled ones, just want to find out new things they can do. Discovering what you can't do is such a blow and filled with helplessness and disappointment. Sobering stuff, and makes one feel obliged to use all the desire and commitment energy we have to conquer things where we have the faculty capability but sometimes lack the free to access willpower. Here was a man who had will power beyond most normal faculty people, but he was cut short by a faculty gap not of his own doing.

Half way across the lake, probably in our attempt to move things on, Imi asked me about my loss of sense smell, and how smell is probably our least critical sense. I mumbled along about the inconveniences, trying to elevate this sense loss closer to his one by talking about how my lack of sense of smell was 'quite' critical when sailing solo, with diesel, gas etc around, but the comparisons were embarrassingly irrelevant, and his point had been made. He then asked me whether I thought blindness or deafness was worse. He has clearly asked many this question, and with a seemingly high level of authority told me that generally women say deafness is the worse, and men say blindness. His conclusion being that women are bigger communicators and need to hear, while men need mobility to feel powerful, and blindness takes away mobility.... Oh well, let’s be thankful for all we have today.

The plan today is to do around half of the 1st 'thirty mile section' of the big river north. All my readings say that this thirty mile section is the best on the whole river, so we want to savour it, not getting carried away doing huge miles because of our new found help from the flowing river. The river will be quite narrow (50-100m) in this section, and flowing at 5-6 km/h. There is a very tortuous section that includes a bend called U.S. Bend, being a combination of a 'U' and 'S' bend. Should be fun....

Just hope the rain stops and things warm up again....

The next blog will have the story about the day Imi lost his sight forever....a very sobering one, but one full of lessons and inspiration for all of us....

H and I