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Way Out in the Wilderness

We've got a postcard from one traveler who took the kind of vacation that, well, most of us wouldn't really consider a vacation. Hear one woman's journey to the frozen realm of Canada's Northwest Territories. Sometimes even the coldest, oddest trips can tilt your vision of the world forever.

Way Out in the Wilderness
by Nanci Olesen

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Dear Rudy,

I got back a few weeks ago from the Northwest Territories of Canada with my six-year old daughter Nora, where we went to visit my brother and his family.

They live 200 miles from anyone on the east arm of Great Slave Lake. We drove the 2,500 miles there in a truck, from Minneapolis up through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and finally onto the McKenzie Highway. The drive took five days. Nora settled right into life on the road and loved the days in the Supercab with her markers and journal, listening to old Neil Young songs. When we finally reached Yellowknife, the big lake was frozen hard. They use it as a road, trucks and snowmobiles driving all over the place.

Way Out in the Wilderness

We flew from Yellowknife in a Twin Otter, those long 200 miles to my brother's homestead. When we arrived, it was 30 below and we needed everything we had brought with us on us at all times in order to be warm, in the sun. We stayed in the log cabin they built and ran their dogs and sleds on the trails they cut, way out in the wilderness.

Nora took all this in: the cold, the snow up to her neck, her cousin who is four and eats caribou and trout and knows all the dogs by name. We helped the little girls build a Quincy hut, sort of like an igloo, and I crawled in to serve them hot chocolate. I took dozens of photos of Nora on the dogsled, scrunched onto a caribou hide, with her cousin in her lap. I carried her outside each night to show her the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. I stayed up late with my sister-in-law, talking and laughing. I even mushed my own team of dogs deep into the Spruce woods. My brother was confident that I could do this and stood by me calmly as I harnessed the dogs, and my own terror, and sped off down the trail.

Way Out in the Wilderness

Then it was time to go. Nora and I climbed into a tiny two-seater plane, and my brother the bush pilot flew us over the empty beautiful land to Yellowknife. We got on a jet, waving bravely, and headed home.

When we got to the airport in Minneapolis, we walked right into the arms of my husband and our two other kids. Nora had big stories to tell. I had a big smile on my windburned face.

The next day the phone rang and the doorbell rang at the same moment as I stood in the hallway with a stack of unopened mail. Later I walked around the lake, really more of a big pond, near our house. Rollerbladers and bicyclists and moms with strollers and little, leashed poodles with their attentive owners cruised by me. Cars circled the walking path and jets roared overhead.

I take the garbage out at night and stand for a moment under the stars, the few that get through the haze of the streetlights.

Way Out in the Wilderness

We had lots of laundry to do when we got home but I somehow never got around to washing my gloves. They smell of woodsmoke and dogs. I wear them in the cool spring mornings as I walk my kids to school. I hold them up to my face to catch a whiff of my trip.

-- Nanci Olesen


Nanci Olesen is the host and producer of "MOM-bo: a mom show with an attitude" which airs on the Pacifica Radio Network.
Savvy Resources for Traveling to the Northwest Territories:

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