‘No, no. My pack is in my car, I will go back for it. I just wanted to ask first.’ Michael appeared strong and sturdy, but adding a new companion at the start of a long and difficult journey is not something to be taken lightly. I was at a loss for words, and an uncomfortable silence hung heavy between us. ‘Well…, O.K., sure,’ I stammered, hospitality taking the better of prudence. ‘We are only going as far as Milepost two-twenty-two2 tonight, just beyond Macmillan pass, we can meet you there.’ After a few smiles and handshakes, Michael turned around, and pedaled off into the mist.
‘What are you thinking?’ Ferg looked livid. ‘I know you are easygoing, but we don’t know anything about Michael. How strong is he? Does he have the right supplies? In the end we may need to sacrifice our trip, or even endanger ourselves to save him.’ The same thoughts were rushing through my head. We had planned this challenging backcountry trek for months, going through every possible scenario and emergency. For our team of two to suddenly become three in the first hour felt uncannily strange. I knew that it had not been wise to rush in and spontaneously say ‘yes.’ Ludicrously I had done so because I hated to disappoint anyone, even a stranger.
Two disheartened hikers from the eastern U.S. greeted us by the dilapidated buildings that surround Milepost two-twenty-two. They had taken refuge from the weather in the musty hut after flooding rivers had thwarted their third attempt on the Canol. (Sore backs and low rations turned them back in previous years.) They had traveled only fifty kilometers, and both advised us that there was little chance of completing the hike. Small creeks were over their banks, and the big rivers that cut the trail, the Carcajou, the Little Keele, and the infamous Twitya, would be impassable torrents. Rather than feeling deflated, Ferg and I found our determination heightened by the grim outlook. We set up our tiny tent outside the huts, and after eating dinner, jammed ourselves inside, lying in meditative silence, listening to the rain pound against the fly. Michael arrived long after we had drifted off.
2 During construction, locations along the pipeline were designated by milepost markers, starting with Norman Wells at Mile Zero.