The Power of Memories

    The Expeditioners, Bella and Roberto, take in the view of Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. © Far and Wide

    Millennial Travel Program

    There are experiences in each of our lives that leave an imprint forever. Feelings evoked by sounds, adventures, and sights. For the rest of your existence, so many things spark the memory anew. A scent, a word, or a comment brings flashbacks, as if it were yesterday. There are experiences in each of our lives that leave an imprint forever. Feelings evoked by sounds, adventures, and sights. For the rest of your existence, so many things spark the memory anew. A scent, a word, or a comment brings flashbacks, as if it were yesterday. 

    The ones I’m thinking of right now, involve the crunch of ice under a snowmobile, a pack of Inuit sled dogs howling, the sting of snow on my face, the hum of a plane, hearty laughter, and the coldest, cleanest drink of water I’ve ever had. And views: vistas of a raw, barren landscape, a frozen fjord crowned by mountains, a land before time. 

    My life has been marked by the unconventional. Once a weekend warrior hunting for rivers to run, mountains to climb, and lakes to kayak, I yearned to fill my days more permanently with thrill and the search for our planet’s most remote destinations. So it was that my lady and I, like so many millennials today, cast away the lines of permanent residence and lived nomadically for years. We shunned the traditional travel destinations and instead focused on what I like to call “the last wilds,” where globalization had yet to leave its imprint, and development mostly spurned. You know, where nature still rules supreme, and cultures are authentic. Which is why, last year, we chose to make our way across the entire country, and up into the storied land of Nunavut.

    Joavie pulls Roberto and Bella in a qamutiq (traditional Inuit sled). © Far and Wide

    I remember looking out of our plane’s window over endless sheets of ice and snow. It looked like white crackers jostling for space. Some rounded, some jagged. The music on my earphones only amplified the awe. Being a backcountry explorer, I could only imagine how Inuit endure their hunting expeditions out on the land. Sure, I’ve camped in -25C. But never -40C or colder. Yet theirs is a culture where sustenance is found in these temperatures, where going out on the land is the norm, and learning from previous generations simply tantamount to survival. With a spectacular size of two million square kilometres, it’s no wonder Nunavut means “Our Land,” for who could own such a massive chunk of land alone? It belongs not to one, but to all Inuit and all Canadians.

    That is my first experience of Baffin Island. From thousands of feet up in the air, a feeling of wonder. The sheer size, baffling. The beauty, unique. Any time I fly over wintery landscapes, or even listen to the tunes from that flight, the memory is refreshed and, somehow, renewed. But little did I imagine at the time that this was just the first nostalgic feelings being forged.

    Iqaluit greets us with a yellow space station-like airport — redolent of a Mars colony — and most definitely a Canadian outpost. It’s in this town (for city is perhaps not an appropriate term) that my next grand memory is created. Bella and I are whisked along Frobisher Bay by what city slickers would see as the most unconventional of means, dogsled. While I’ve been dogsledding before, Inukpak Outfitting set up the ‘Qimmit’ (dog team) in a fan-hitch format wherein the team is fanned-out. Sitting in our qamutiq (wooden traditional sled) I feel fortunate to be out on the land as the Inuit have done for thousands of years, but it isn’t until a wicked blizzard kicks up, engulfing us entirely that I understand and feel quintessential Nunavut weather. The horizons erased, left looking the same as right, and in front the same as behind us. The snow bites unforgivingly at our exposed faces; it feels like a veritable storm. And I love it! For as much as I feel disoriented, my face raw and cold, the howling of the dogs and the “hup hup” of our guides reassure. For that is the weather of the North and this is a truly authentic experience. So, every now and then when fickle weather descends upon us on an adventure, or I hear the howl of dogs, I reminisce on this memory.

    When someone asks how far North we have been, the query evokes a feeling of seeing one of the most impressive fjords I’ve laid eyes upon, even more so because I was standing in the middle of it. It makes me think of how the world must have been before humans roamed the Earth. It was on this same adventure to Baffin Island that we went to within 17 kilometres of the Arctic Circle, indeed, the furthest North we’ve ever been.

    This part of the journey began with a flight from Iqaluit to Pangnirtung. With a tiny population of less than 1,500 people, the hamlet is situated in the Qikiqtaaluk Region and is the stepping stone to explore Auyuittuq National Park. After an orienteering session with Parks Canada, our local guide loads us up into a qamutiq behind their snowmobile, and off we go over a frozen wonderland. The skis on the sled bite into the blue ice, crunching here and there while Joavee, owner of Alivaktuk Outfitting, threads his snow machine around the snow and ice as only one raised on the land would know to do. Entering the national park is most definitely a highlight of the trip, and plants the hope of one day trekking deep into the park. Living in Whistler, snowmobile’s are common, and every time I hear the rev of an engine, or see a sled-ski gliding over snow, I think of the time I saw one of the farthest reaches of my country. My land. Our land.

    As Bella and I approach the lodge where we are to listen to a duet of singers, a hearty laugh emanates from the building. Whomever is inside is having a great time. Arctic Kingdom invites us to see two young women who’ve fallen in love with one of the traditional arts: throat singing. Also known as “katajjaq,” it is a musical performance sung with rhythmic patterns. At one time, the lips of the two performers almost touch throughout the songs, but this is not as common today. Originally, it was a sort of entertainment for Inuit women while the men were away hunting. Teresa and Alexia (both in their teens) give us a wonderful performance that leaves all of us with jaws agape. Anyone visiting Iqaluit should most definitely enjoy this show. Little do we expect them to invite us to partake — which is when we quickly understand how it takes both practice and talent to reach their level. Still, we try and laugh and try some more. It’s that laughter of kindness and of fun that sticks with me even more so than the song. For it is rich and sincere, the type that echoes from those doing something that they love. When I hear someone laugh so very heartedly, it makes me think of these two girls, living in a place some would call the edge of the world — singing like few do — and loving every moment.

    Dogsledding on Frobisher Bay with Inukpak Outfitting. © Roberto Gibbons Gomez & Bella Gibbons / The Expeditioners

    It feels like I was on Joavee’s qamutiq yesterday, or surrounded by yelping Inuit sled dogs last week, or standing in Auyuittuq National Park just a few days ago, or laughing as I fail miserably to sound something like a throat singer. But no, I’m not. It has been almost a year since I experienced all of these wonderful events. But the memories are so grand that they will stay with me forever. For that is what travel and adventure does, it creates experiences and memories that are simply priceless. And that is an incredible thing about my generation: we understand that.

    VIARoberto Gibbons Gomez
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