our morning alarm (a beeping watch strapped to a loop on the tent ceiling), one of us would rise to start a fire, boil water, and prepare coffee. The other packed away the sleeping pads, bags, and tent. After retrieving our food from the previous night’s cache, someone would cook the oatmeal while the other prepared energy drinks for the day. Soon the packs were loaded, and within an hour of rising we were on the trail. Walking nine hours a day, we stopped every hour to snack and take a five minute break. By late afternoon discomfort and exhaustion would slowly begin taking over, and we would start looking for a place to spend the night. Once we had stopped, one of us would set up the tent while the other collected firewood and filtered drinking water. As dinner cooked, our ration of snacks for the next day was gathered from the supply bags, distances and times recorded in journals. After a cup of herbal tea and an hour of reading or photography, we both collapsed to sleep.
Down into the valley of the Intga river we marched, up and over Caribou Pass, and on towards the Ekwi River. Although much of this high land was barren, tall thickets of alder enclosed the road, two parallel lines springing from the ditches. The growth was often so dense that we could not see past it, and when the branches joined overhead and blocked the sun, they created the illusion that we were traveling down an endless tunnel of shrubbery. These luxuriant stands had grown up wherever the permafrost had been disturbed half a century earlier, and the ironic outcome was that amidst the expansive open spaces of the tundra, we often could see no further than the next bend in the road.
Along valley bottoms, the trail would pass through thick forest of pine and poplar. Here birdsong echoed through the still air. Waxwings and juncos darted amdist trailside branches, colourful finches flitted in the sun, and often the lilting calls of hidden thrushes would serenade us as we hiked. Families of ptarmigan would burst on to the road, squawking and beating their wings as our disturbing presence. Instead of turning and diving back into the protection of the underbrush, the entire group would franticly scamper down the road ahead of us in a vain attempt to escape, agitated parents dashing back to peck at young hatchlings who fell behind. Eventually, succumbing to exhaustion, the family would cower to one side as