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...

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