It’s noon on Friday July 5th and we do what we’ve been planning to do for the last year and a half: we start our journey across the Northwest Passage.

Emotions swim in my head as we begin rowing down the mighty Mackenzie River. The obvious elation in realizing a dream is tempered by the reality that this dream will entail lots of hardship and effort. The fact that it’s been an abnormally robust ice year – in recent years – weighs heavily as well. We know if we succeed under such  circumstance our expedition will speak to the reality of climate change even louder still.

Arctic ocean

But before long heavy thoughts give way to the majesty of the environment as we snake our way down the murky brown waters of the Mackenzie, its green walls seemingly impenetrable in their thickness.

We’ve immediately fallen into rowing shifts of 4 hours on and off with Paul and I starting things out. By the end of the first 4 hour effort my body screams to the fact that I’ve been spending far too much time planning for this expedition than training for it. My hands are blistered and my backside sore.
By noon on the 6th we’ve rowed continuously for the past 24 hours with each team of two having rowed 12 hours each. It’s been tiring work but the effort has brought us to the mouth of the Mackenzie opening onto Kugmallit Bay and the Beaufort Sea.

The Mackenzie carries mountains of silt in its waters and deposits much of its load in the delta. Navigation can be very tricky through these murky waters as sand bars lurk everywhere – much of the delta, hundreds of square kilometres in area, is less than 4 feet deep. Our magic number is roughly 2 feet – anything less we’re grounded. And grounded we were, countless times. It got so bad on one occasion that we had to get out and haul The Arctic Joule across a seemingly endless sandbar.

It would take us hours to negotiate the delta but by 1:00 am Sunday morning the sun shined brightly over a calm sea and we were moving up the coast to Tuktoyaktuk, some 60kms to the Northeast.

Listening to my iPod, randomly pulling songs from a 3000+ shuffle mix, Stan Roger’s Northwest Passage comes up to play. I row in calm disbelief as Stan’s anthem unfolds:

“For just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the Sea”