CAT TRAIN NEWSLETTER

JULY 2005

 

    When I did the Ilford Missions as I called them back in late 2004, I got to experience the great white north with one of the men who opened the north. Yes, Kip was a winter freighter, road builder and best of all man who shared his knowledge of the north. This adventure begins with the KING OF OBSOLETE back in Ilford, Manitoba in December 2004 to finish off loading the last of the railcars of scrap. So when the loading was completed, Kip and I decided to ski-doo to the Lodge. To get his wallet and personal items he had left behind in a travel bag at the lodge airport. When the last plane came in late for Kip and his crew, the bag was forgotten in the excitement of being the last flight out until the next year. So Kip realized that the bag was missing when he arrived at his house in Ilford, Mb. but you are not going to get the plane to go back for the missing bag. Because it only cost $1500.00 cdn to travel one way to Ilford, Mb so going back was not in the budget.

 

    Kip and I talked about ski-dooing in the 70 miles to the lodge to get the missing bag as soon as the ice and snow conditions were safe enough. But God had different plans; he would give us the weirdest winter freeze up in history. It snowed and then everything froze good, then it rained and melted everything that froze, then the snows came big time! The snow by the first of December was unreal because of how much had fallen in a short time, but the biggest problem being was the ice and ground was not frozen underneath. So now with all this snow it was acting like an insulating blanket to keep everything from freezing up good no matter how cold it got. So it was decided that on December 2 2004 the window of weather opportunity is here. The weather network said it would be only -26C for an overnight low and warming up to a -18C during the day. So it was decided that Kip who is 79 years old and the KING OF OBSOLETE at the age of 37 will ski-doo to the lodge. Well I didnít see any other volunteers lined up to join in on the fun. The Table of Truth Boys wouldnít go because coffee was on the special this week at the cafť. Plus they had done it already in twice as deep snow and cold.

 

     The plan sounds simple by watching the weather and picking the best days to do the trip. Then ski-doo the 70 miles to the lodge and spend the night and return the next day with the missing travel bag. But this is the great white north and nothing is that simple! The adventure for us had just begun when we left Ilford, Mb at 9:00 am which is first daylight in the short days of December. We made good time on the 2 ski-doos that were pulling sleighs with our supplies for survival. With Kip in the lead because he knows the way, he crossed the first creek and had no problem. But when I came to the creek and gunned the ski-doo over the so called ice, the ski-doo broke thru and I got very wet but didnít get the machine stuck. A face full of cold water at -20C is a real eye opener. So now I have a frozen skim of ice all over my winter clothes, which makes moving a little harder. But no problem we must continue on. I figured if a 79 year old man wanted to continue Iíll out last him no problem since Iím a northern tough guy with an ever expanding bald spot on my head.

      The farther we traveled the worst the conditions got and the ski-doos were having a hard time pulling the loaded sleighs with our supplies. About 20 miles from the lodge the ski-doos were just getting stuck with the sleighs behind them. This is not good, something on the poor ski-doos could break and then we are walking for sure. Or Iím walking and Kip is riding in the sleigh that Iím puling by hand. So a decision was made to leave the sleighs and do a trail break for about 5 miles and then come back and get the sleighs. This worked great but it was a lot of extra traveling back and forth, plus you donít want to have a break down 5 miles for the sleighs. It is a risk, but it had to be taken. But the ski-doos were easier to get unstuck in the over the knee height deep snow with no sleighs behind them. With Kip guiding the way in total darkness, we made the lodge at 7:00 pm. What a relief that was, to see a refection of the glass windows at the lodge from the headlights of the ski-doo. Now we build a fire in the old freighting caboose which has wood already to go for survival. Then head back to the sleighs that are 5 miles back up the trail and this gives the caboose a chance to warm up. So at 9:00 pm we were at the lodge with everything there and the travel bag was in our hands. Kip says that was the worst conditions he had ever seen and he had been ski-dooing this trail for 20 years. I was amazed that we made it to the lodge; I thought we would end up walking or turning back to Ilford, Mb.

     It sure was a nice sleep in the old freighting caboose after a day of trail breaking but everyone asks why we stayed in the old freighting caboose and not in one of the 5 star cabins at the lodge. Well it is simple, a caboose is made for the cold winters and lodge cabins are big and roomy because they are made for hot summer nights. So the old caboose stays nice and warm on a cold winter night and after the day we had we needed all the heat we could get to dry out our clothes for the trip back over the trail from HELL. In the morning we awake and use the satellite phone to call to see what the weather is going to be like. Well, there is a cold winter front coming in and if we donít leave the lodge today we have to stay until the weather breaks in a couples of days or maybe weeks. My old body was very stiff from the trip but Kip was fine and ready to travel home with his missing bag. I figured ok, if he is 79 and wants to go, I guess I can too.

    At 10:00 a.m. we leave the lodge on the 2 ski-doos thinking we have a walk in the park on the trip back to Ilford, Mb. Wrong 10 miles from the lodge, the ski-doo Iím breaks down beyond fixing in the bush. Now we have one ski-doo and 2 sleighs of supplies. No problem, load the 2 sleighs in to one and off we go with me riding on the top of the loaded sleigh. So when I had a ski-doo to drive, I had a windshield and heat from the engine plus handle bar warmers too. But on top of the sleigh I have a tarp of some sorts and nothing else. So within 20 miles, Iím a super frozen Popsicle and I tell Kip to keep going because we got to make it back to Ilford, Mb before it gets too dark and colder.

     We were 20 miles from Ilford, Mb when we lost our trail from the day before. The snow during the night had covered our tracks, now it is really tough going. Once the poor over loaded ski-doo falls off the existing trail it is stuck in the deep snow. Now we have to push the ski-doo and sleigh out or unload everything from the sleigh and get them unstuck then reload everything back in to the sleigh. This is no problem we need the exercise, we only did this about 12 times and it was getting harder and harder each time. When we ski-dooed the last longest 2 miles ever that I have traveled in my life. We sure were glad to see the lights of Ilford, Mb. What a trip and I told Kip that for his 80th birthday we are going sky diving, it canít be anymore crazier than what we had just done. So the next morning Iím on the train out of Ilford, Mb to return to the KINGDOM and the weather turned nasty by dropping down to -35C as a daytime high. So we made the right decision to ski-doo when we did, because that would have been colder on the sleigh

thansk

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