Somewhere along the way we passed what had once been the bustling city of Camp Canol. During the heyday of pipeline construction these muddy flats had seen avenues of offices, a hospital, garages, boiler houses, and even a landing field with hangers. But in 1977 the final remains of these relics were bulldozed to the ground by Imperial Oil over liability concerns.
And then the tunnel of bush that had held us captive for so long suddenly opened, the sandy beaches of the Mackenzie River stretched ahead. Red and white oil rigs sprang up from mid river islands, tall towers flamed off gas in massive orange plumes, trails of soot stretching across the sky. We dropped our packs by an enormous cottonwood log, and set up a tripod to take one final photo of ourselves, bearded and grubby. Minutes later, a powerboat charter arrived to ferry us across the five kilometer (3 mile) wide Mackenzie River, and back to the clutches of civilization.
For seventeen days, Ferg and I had been the masters of our own destiny. We left the framework of modern society behind, carrying everything we needed on our backs, and wasting little time wanting for that which we did not have. The focus of daily existence returned to the basics: shelter, food, water, and travel. One returns from such a venture imbued with a glorious sense of inner peace, an effect that lingers days, if not weeks. Distractions that often create ire and impatience - honking cars, impatient clerks, late flights - seem to hardly matter, their insignificance obvious on the grander scale. What I had expected to be nothing more than a walk in the woods ended up being a glorious expedition. I returned from the Canol convinced that everyone should take an extended hike through remote wilderness once in their lifetime, if for no other reason than to reestablish a primal connection - a ‘crawling-on-hands-and-knees-through-dirt’ type union - between self and land.
While hiking along the abandoned route, I was continually struck by the fact that despite an all out and concerted attempt by the powerful U.S. Army to tame this land, they had failed. Fifty year after the