Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Yellowknife: Week One-and-a-Bit

Our first week-and-a-bit in Yellowknife has been full of adventure and discovery.

Lawful has discovered a love for climbing rocks, reading Jeff Smith's beautiful and quirky graphic novel series, Bone, and for climbing rocks. And also for climbing rocks.
Exploration #1
Bone #3
On The Run
 Waaaay Up There!!!

Waffle and Felafel have experienced many new things such as the joy of banging on the keys of a toy piano, the thrill of sucking spaghetti noodles up in to one's mouth, the taste of olive bread and of fresh fish... and of rocks, and the wonders of the toy box here in our new home-for-now.

Felafel + Noodle = ?
Waffle outside TJ's explaining that it is, in fact, perfectly acceptable to consume rocks.
T O Y S ! ! ! !
We've explored Old Town where the houses are either shacks, modernist architectural feats, or postmodern combinations of the two. We've eaten mouth-watering fish and chips from a fantastic food cart downtown and from the infamous Bullock's Bistro as well as home-cooked muskox burgers, bison sausages and buffalo steaks. We've gone on long walks to see what there is to see and shared a memorable morning having brunch and hanging out with new friends.
Our table at Bullock's
Maw-full has welcomed some brand new little humans in to the world and is gaining lots of valueable experience while Paw-full has enjoyed the chance to spend days with little ones, marvelling at what the world looks like through their eyes.
...Oh yes, and we've finally moved from the locum apartment we were staying in for the first 7 days to the home we'll be living in for the remainder of our time in Yellowknife. It feels very much like home. The walls are painted funky shades of blue, the kitchen is well-equipped, there are musical instruments all around us, and there's lots of wood and rugs and books and comfortably mismatched clutter.

Today we made the decision to leave our new home-for-now for the next week and head back south to Fort Smith where Maw-full will spend time with a group of midwives running a unique remote practice. So tomorrow morning we pack up and get back on the road!

We'll report on our journey soon.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Day 7-14: One Week Part II

We'll pick up the story on the north side of the Mackenzie River, some of us rather... damp, all of us smiling. We spent that night at the Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence, a small town near the ferry crossing, and then drove the final 310km along the Frontier Highway to Yellowknife the next morning. For the first 80km of the drive, the highway is the boundary of the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, so we saw a great many bison at the side of the road.
This was the drive we were expecting to be quite treacherous. Za Google, we assume taking in to account the typical state of the roadway, suggests that the 310km should take 7 hours to drive. We were told leaving Fort Providence, though, that where the road is "usually a rollercoaster", there has recently been a lot of work done on it and it is in pretty good shape. We found that pot holes, big bumps, dips, and spots of gravel had been marked with orange cones and that, aside from a stop to let a bison cross in front of us and some roller-coaster-esque ups-and-downs, the road was quite driveable; even in an overloaded station wagon. We left Fort Providence at around 9:30 and arrived in Yellowknife at around 1:30.

Upon arriving we found excellent phở at the Vietnamese Noodle House,

...found our way to our first temporary home, a locum apartment next to the Stanton Territorial Hospital,

...and then visited the lovely folks whose home we will be staying in for the bulk of our time in YK, kindred spirits who made us feel very welcome, made great coffee, told us about their lives, and said goodbye-for-now with an offering of a piece of arctic reindeer, which we grilled for dinner:

So we're here! And we're having a great time! We have a great deal more to catch you up on, but we're getting closer. Stay tuned...

Oh! For those of you keeping track:

      Days of travel: 10
      Total kilometres driven thus far: 5235
      Cost of gas thus far: $704.84

...and we'll start counting again in a month-or-so when we hit the road again.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Day 7-14: One Week Part I

After arriving in Edmonton, we decided to take an extra day there to rest, relax, do some minor car repairs and a load of laundry. We were also waiting for word on the Merv Hardie ferry.

At the Mercy of Merv Hardie

Few southerners know that the road to Yellowknife, while accessible most of the year, is usually closed for about 4-5 weeks every year. NWT Highway 3, the only road to Yellowknife, crosses the Mackenzie River near Fort Providence. This route includes a ferry crossing in the summer and is an ice bridge in the winter. However, once the spring thaw comes and the ice begins to become thinner, the ice bridge closes and eventually the ice breaks up. The Merv Hardie ferry doesn't start operating until about 10 days after the ice breaks up.

While planning our trip, we learned that the ferry usually starts operating around mid-May. Maw-full's placement was scheduled to begin on May 18th. It would take us - we believed - at least a day to drive from the ferry crossing to Yellowknife, so we hoped the ferry would be operating by May 17th. After coming to terms with affairs (and subduing our typical urban/southern/privileged reaction of "What do you mean there's no way to drive there? There must be some way to drive there."), we were reassured to learn that in the last 16 years, only once was the ferry not running by May 17th. But in March, the NWT government was predicting a late opening for the ferry due to low water levels, and we learned that the day that we left southern Ontario was the day the ice broke up on the river.  We began to be concerned.

On the day we arrived in Edmonton, there was still no news from the NWT government about when the ferry would open, and it was entirely possible that we would end up waiting for days.  The question was, where to do the waiting?  We settled on waiting in northern Alberta and booked a hotel room only to find out that it had been announced that the ferry would open the day after next.  We headed out on the road. 

After a day driving north we spent our night in Peace River on the farm of a friend's parents.  It was a wonderful, relaxing evening and we were able to head out fairly early the next day and make it all the way to the Mackenzie.  Little did we know the extent to which the forests we had left behind were burning and a whole town was being devastated by the fire. 

Morning on the Farm
Crossing Over!

When we arrived at the river late the next day, we were one of maybe six cars and three transport trucks waiting on the shore.  The scene was almost post-apocalyptic...what looked like the remains of a bridge across the river (which was, in fact, the beginnings of a bridge across the river...the building of which is years behind and $110 million over budget) with ice jamming the river and a dirt ramp heading to where the ferry docked.  It was beautiful and disarming.  The ferry was on the other side, and its trip across the river was a challenging one, the ice pushing the ferry off-course.  When the cars and trucks were finally unloaded on our side, an official came around to tell us that the ferry might not be running for a while - the ice flows were too thick - and, seeing as it was 8:30 pm and the ferry quit operating at 11:30, we might not get across at all.  We worried, not knowing where we would stay that night as we had cancelled our hotel room on the south side of the river in our excitement to get across.  About 30 minutes later we got word that they could see "some blue" coming our way and the ferry would go.  Only we didn't fit on that run, so we had to hold our breath and wait to see whether the blue spot would be big enough to let us pass, too.

View from the Front Seat (note the fabulous array of splattered bugs on the windshield)
It did.  We were the very front car on the small ferry and rolled down our windows to feel the cool breeze as we crossed the river.  We were laughing and excited as the ferry pitched and rolled and then...

Maw-full was hit full in the face through the window with a wave of water and ice chips resulting from the ferry hitting a large chunk of ice on its way through. It splashed past the front seat and all over Lawful (Waffle and Felafel were spared because of their backwards-facing seats) and we collapsed further into even greater laughter as well as sharing a laugh with the guys in the truck parked next to us.

After the Splash: disembarking on the other side
It was definitely one of the most memorable parts of the whole trip for Lawful, who had to tell each of her grandparents about it on the phone the next day.

The next day: the day we finally arrived in Yellowknife and the topic of Part II of this post...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Day 5-6: Easy Rider

Luck with traffic, weather and amazing road-tripping kids, along with the knowledge that the ferry crossing the Mackenzie River is still not operational gave us the chance to have a couple of easy travel days.  We arrived in Edmonton last night, having driven only 4 hours from Yorkton to Saskatoon the day before, and then another five and a half hours from Saskatoon to Edmonton.

We stopped in the very small town of Sheho, Saskatchewan on the way to Saskatoon for a picnic lunch  by the railroad tracks.  

We saw a beautiful old Ukranian-Catholic church in the distance which had a brand new, shining silver roof. Lawful decided it was a castle.

Once in Saskatoon, we consulted our friend, The Consultant (he really is a consultant), for advice on what to do with the hours of daylight remaining to us.  He recommended The Broadway Cafe and we promptly set off there for dinner, mistakenly ordered three milkshakes (one would have been large enough for all three of the milkshake consumers in our group), and then decided to go for a short post-dinner walk along the South Saskatchewan River.

Yesterday we learned that audiobooks are the parent-travellers best friend.  Having lost track of Lawful's iPod, we did not have any audiobooks available and we found that 6 year-olds have a hard time sitting still in the car when there is only music to listen to.  Thankfully, we unearthed the iPod in Vegreville, Alberta, for the last hour of the drive.  Having finished Inkheart on our way to Saskatoon, we moved on to Ramona's World, narrated by Stockard Channing.

Speaking of Vegreville, it is best known for its giant Ukranian Easter Egg but what we didn't know that at the site of the egg is a lovely rest stop with a train car and other things for kids to climb and play on.  It made for a nice break before heading the rest of the way into Edmonton.  Lawful would like everyone to know that the Easter Egg actually spins!

We ended the day being spoiled by Maw-full's cousin in West Edmonton who welcomed us and fed us while Lawful jumped on a trampoline with her second cousin.

So, let's take stock: 3662 km driven and nearly $500 in gas and we are still 3 days' drive from Yellowknife. 

Next: At the Mercy of Merv Hardie

Friday, 13 May 2011

Day 4 - Backroads & Rogue Sleeping Bags

And on the fourth day, the universe began to take the word 'adventure' seriously...

The day began will Maw-full and Lawful swimming in our out-of-the-past hotel's roof-top pool while Paw-full, Felafel and Waffle explored the various staircases the lounge had to offer and looked out the large windows at Kenora, below, and admired the various fans and light fixtures on offer. We then packed up, checked out, stopped quickly for breakfast and groceries, and hit the road for Winnipeg, where we planned to have lunch before continuing on to Yorkton for the night.

All good so far.

In Winnipeg we found a place to stop for sushi before visiting the restraunt-that-must-not-be-named-because-of-horrible-'food'-but-that-has-an-indoor-playground-that's-good-on-rainy-days-for-kids-on-long-road-trips (which we will refer to as 'McVoldemort's from here on in because all of that is quite difficult to write).

Still good.

All, right. We need to pause to introduce you to Elisa. Elisa is our GPS, or, at least, the voice of our GPS. She is named after Elisa Bennett from Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', though she sounds a lot more like one of the maids from the A&E mini-series we all love so much and though she acts more like Mrs. Bennett from that same mini-series. She is all frustration and drama (when we're driving...), though her voice stays unnaturally calm. Anyway, "Ee-lie-za" is fun to say when we mock her.

Elisa has recently been re-born within Maw-full's iPhone and in her new incarnation she has some blips that need to be worked out. One of those blips is that, even while we sat playing and drinking 'coffee' at McVoldemort's, she was brow-beating us to 'proceed fifteen metres, then turn right' -- a rather harmless blip, when it comes down to it. The second blip is by far the more troublesome. The second blip involves sending us down backroads suitable only for a 4x4 because, if said 4x4 were capeable of travelling those roads at the posted speed limit, the family driving in that 4x4 might succeed in shaving three minutes off of their estimated travel time.

Needless to say, we are not driving a 4x4 vehicle. And so, after two hours of Winnipegian backroad adventure we found and checked off the "Avoid" option under Elisa's "Settings > Route Planning > Unpaved Roads" menu and then finally set out on our planned day 4 drive; almost immediately crossing a nearly-washed-out bridge that thankfully allowed us passage -- second "adventure" averted.

Things went smoothly for a while. We got through a great deal more of the Inkheart audiobook that we've been loving so much, talked about how big the sky had become now that we were on the prairies, passed by many flooded fields, and so on. Great. This is the stuff that road trips are made of. Wonderful.

Now, Paw-full has no idea what made him look out the rear-view mirror in time to see the sleeping bag hit the road and bounce around for a while before being blown in to the field by the transport truck, nor do any of us know how or why the roof-top carrier chose to pop open at that moment and spit out only that one item. We're all thankful, though, to the lovely people in the the pickup truck who, seeing a crazy man run up and down the highway in the afternoon sun, assumed he must be looking for that sleeping bag there in the ditch, got out of their truck to gather it up, drove a little further down the highway, did a u-turn to pull up behind the heavily-packed station wagon parked by the side of the road, and kindly offered the rogue sleeping bag to the aformentioned crazy man with a smile and an implied wink. Whoever you are, you should know that you have adoring fans who can't help but think of you everytime they see a windswept prairie scene through their windows.

So, tucked in to our beds in Yorkton, we can report the following:

Kilometres driven: 706 (for a total of 2809km so far)
Gas purchased: $131.00 (for a total of $429.15 so far)
Tie-downs: $54.99 (peace of mind: priceless)

Good night.

PS. We are a few days behind now. Those days went fantastically well. More soon...

Thursday, 12 May 2011

centre of the watreshed

we  went  to  the  centre   of  canada    and  then past  throo  the  arctic  watreshed.  that  is  wher  aol  rivrs  floe  to  the  arctic  oshin.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 3 - The Road to Kenora

We're here. Lawful, Felafel & Waffle are all sleeping soundly. One more successful day complete!

Kilometres driven: 796.2 (for a total of 2097km so far...)

Gas purchased: $74.00

Soundtrack: Except for some Dave Matthews Band in the afternoon, we spent the whole day listening to the Inkheart audiobook. I think we're on chapter 28 or something now. Lawful is capeable of sitting, totally engrossed, for hours on end listening to the story... as are we. It is very well written and, again, Lynn Redgrave does such an incredible job of reading the story and her voices for all of the different characters are just fantastic. Highly recommended.

Best moment of the day: realising that, after at least six hours of driving and having decided that we would push through to Kenora after all, our three amazing kids were all laughing and giggling with each other in the back seat. Born travelers, our Awefull children...

Runner up moment of the day (no 1): finding 'the Organic Garden Cafe' in the middle of an industrial area of Thunder Bay and being blown away by both the great food and the kindness and generosity of the lovely man whom we can only assume is the owner. Check it out next time you're in Thunder Bay (and don't be thrown off by the fact that it looks to be a brew-your-own-wine place)!

Runner up moment of the day (no 2): Paw-full, Lawful & Felafel playing 'imaginary baseball' (no bats, balls, gloves, teams, etc... but baseball nonetheless...) on a real baseball diamond after lunch.

giant goose

i thik wawa got its name from wot the goose says, kas a goose says wawa dosint it? wel lawfull awefull thingks so.

we lookt it up and it cums from the Ojibwe word for Canada goose.

lawfull awefull.

Maw-full's post-script: Do you know this rock? This is a photo of the rock that Lawful and Paw-full were sitting on in Sudbury. We may have to call in Lawful's Grandpa as a consultant.

*Edited to add:

...from Lawful'd Grandpa, the official Awefull Family Mineralogical Consultant:

"It's a little difficult to be sure from a photo, but the rock above looks like a volcanic rock, perhaps basalt. The rock with the red streaks looks like it could be iron formation. If there is lots of silica in it, the red parts might be called jasper."

Monday, 9 May 2011


We are, in fact, spending the night in Marathon, Ontario, but it's not a bad description for our day, either.  We had planned to go as far as Wawa today, about 525 km from Sudbury, but when we got there around dinner time things were going so well (yes, I did write "so well", am I inviting the gods to rain hellfire down on us now?) we decided to drive another couple of hours to Marathon to get a head start on another long day tomorrow.

At the Big Nickel, Sudbury
We stopped just long enough in Wawa to eat dinner at a restaurant where we were the sole diners and so the twin talk with the staff was a bit overwhelming, and to learn that "Wawa needs a new goose".  

The hastily-taken photo below (captured on the way out of town while Paw-full and babies waited in the car) may offer a clue as to why:

See?  It's not nearly as big as they let on!

Kilometres driven: 737.4

Gas purchased: $148.00 (Total so far is $224.15)

Green to Gone and other indescribably beautiful songs by Snowblink
Famous Five Go Camping
The first 13 Chapters of the Inkheart audiobook read by Lynn Redgrave (who is aMAYYYzing)
Rage Against the Machine
More random Lawful Playlist tunes by Joni Mitchell, Midnight Oil, Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen

Next up:  A post by Lawful Awefull, and Travel Tips with Tots (alternate title: What We Ludicrously Presume Will Work for the Whole Trip, Given That it Worked Today).

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Day 1


444 km from Guelph to Sudbury

Listened to:
Don't Carry It All by the Decemberists
Beezus and Ramona Audiobook read by Stockard Channing
A few random gems from the Lawful Playlist

Here we are, about to set out!

From left to right:  Paw-ful, Waffle, Lawful, Felafel and Maw-ful Awefull.


It’s Mother’s Day, and kind of a fitting day to begin the adventure that will take our family of 5 from Toronto to Yellowknife, from there to northern British Columbia, and then as far east as we can get before we drown.  Or, you know, run screaming in five different directions (admittedly, the two infants would probably move fairly slowly, but they’d make up for it with the volume of their screams).

So, some introductions are necessary:

Since it’s mother’s day, let’s start with Maw-full.  33 year-old midwifery student and mother to the three Awefull children.  This adventure began with her decision to spend a month in Yellowknife as part of a practical placement for school.

Then there’s Paw-full.  Also 33, he’s a musician who just quit his 9-to-5 job to begin a Master’s degree in English this fall once the grand adventure has brought us all back home to Toronto.

Lawful Awefull is the precocious six year-old girl who is responsible for our web identities, including her baby sister and brother’s pseudonyms.  She’ll be writing her own posts and keeping a nature journal to share with you along the way.

Waffle Awefull is just shy of a year and sometimes she is just shy.  She enjoys her own brand of crawling affectionately referred to as “froggy-style” and chewing on things.

Waffle’s twin brother, Felafel, is as outgoing as his big sister, and as mercurial.  He loves water, and is looking forward to swimming in many stops along the way.

We vacated our home in Toronto a week ago and are leaving Guelph this afternoon for Sudbury.  We’ll be keeping a log of kilometres driven, sights seen and gas bought as well as musing on this great and complicated country of ours.  Stop by and visit us from time to time.

With love,

The Awefull Family