Thursday, September 10, 2009

Closing Up

Well, had a pretty busy couple of weeks. Barely had time to sit still back at base for a day or two and then we're off again on another trip up north to close up camps for the season and do some more project jobs.

We went on two 4-day trips, based out of one camp and flew day trips out to neighboring camps to winterize them. We also spent a few days building docks and boat ramps as well. Truly hard work, and long days to boot.

It would be nice if we could just tear up the old boat ramps and throw the pieces in the fire, pop in to Home Depot and grab some lumber and hammer up a new one. Since we're a couple hours flying time from the nearest home depot, and at least an hour from even a decent source of basic carpentry materials, everything has to be re-used whenever possible. Boat ramps are carefully disassembled, nails pounded out and wood saved for the new one. New logs are cut, hauled and skinned, for the old boards to be nailed back on, sometimes with the old nails. All carefully pulled out and straightened.

The cabins have to be boarded up for thew winter as well. Theres not much for people around in these parts during the winter, but people do come through on occasion. A lot of the lakes are linked, by portages and winter roads over the lakes. Hunters and Natives are around and can sometimes take advantage of a perfectly good cabin sitting there and no-one around for a few hundred miles. You also don't want mice or other creatures deciding to make it their winter home and wreaking all kinds of damage over the winter. All the windows and doors are boarded up and moth balls and rat poison spread around inside. Linens are removed, boats flipped over and chained up, BBQ's put inside, propane disconnected and water lines drained so the freezing temperatures doesn't split the lines.

A couple of the cabins have had trouble with frost heaves and general shifting on their basic foundations as well. Since you cant really just bring in a back hoe and dig a proper hole for the concrete truck to pour you a nice stable foundation, most of the cabins sit on wood posts, driven through the dirt to rock, whenever possible. We spent a few days underneath different cabins jacking up the building off the old posts, ripping them out and building log cribs to set them back down on. One cabin, we even ended up mixing fifty bags of concrete to pour into holes we had dug down to the rock. If you've ever mixed concrete, it sucks.

Fifty bags worth, in the sun, being swarmed by Black Flies and my new favorite, Deer Flies, is interminable unrelenting sucking. It felt good to get it done though. Similarly I guess to how a bank robber feels upon parole.

We've had a nice stretch of good weather though, which has been really nice. Sometimes I caught myself wishing for a little cooler temperatures as we were out there doing something in the sun all day. Luckily we had one more day of rain to give me a little perspective on how much worse an unpleasant task is in unpleasant weather.

Fall is definitely closing in on us up here though. Saw our first flocks of Canada Geese heading south for the winter. I was amazed at the size of the flocks! I'm used to seeing their distinctive " Vee's " consisting of a couple of dozen birds at best. These flocks had to have a couple of hundred birds in them. They make quite the racket too.

Our first trip we'd put in a full days work and then go out fishing on the lake in the evening, to catch our suppers. That was a nice way to finish off a hard days work, out in the boat, catching fish ( not hard to do up here! ) and having a few beers.

Second trip we only got out fishing once, so it was a bit more of a slog... Putting your feet up after a long day is uniquely satisfying.

One night we were out in the boat and we spotted an Elk ( I think it was an Elk, possibly a Caribou? ) out swimming across the lake.

We booted over there and got pretty close to him for a few pictures and a little video. We were told that some people would simply keep circling them with the boat till they ran out of steam and drowned. I guess hunting is hunting, but it seems like a hard way to go. They do get quite panicked when you get up close and we backed off pretty quick so as not to overly distress it. It was cool to see though.

Lots of bald eagles up here too. In fact, most of the lakes have a few "pet " bald eagles that have been kind of trained by the summer-long presence of our fishermen guests. Theres actually a fair bit of buzzards around as well, great big black birds with a stubbly little red head.

Its hard to make out, I know, but this is a bald eagle in flight that I tried to get a shot of as he took off from a dock where some guests had left some fish guts.

Some of them even have a seagull or two. Two of them in particular have seagulls that have learned that all they have to do is sit out on the end of the dock all day and eventually dinner will come to them. We've named all these pet birds with the same name. Guts. Guts the seagull, Guts the eagle.

Once the days fishing is done and the fish are cleaned, the guts are usually put in a bucket and run across to a large rock on the other side of the lake or bay, and dumped there for the birds to eat. You don't really want a big old pile of smelly fish guts by your cabin, and you really don't want the bears finding out that you are offering up a free meal every night.

The eagles will even follow you around while you are fishing, usually just perching on top of a tree near you and watching your every move. On a couple of occasions, we've had a small fish hooked and by the time you get it to the boat and the hook pulled out, particularly if its lodged in a hard-to-release spot, the fish is barely conscious when you throw him back in the lake. The eagles are watching for this and if it drifts a little ways away from the boat they will dive down and snatch it out of the water. Its quite a sight to see, but a little hard to catch with a camera that has dead batteries...sigh.

This is a picture of a dock crib we built. The skinned logs are measured and cut, notched in the corners like a log cabin, and then steel spiked to keep them together. Later this year, it will be towed by boat over to the boat dock and "sunk" with rocks inside, to form a new section of dock. This took us a good four hours to build.

Most nights we had a nice fire as well. It is surprising how mant of the guests that come up here never had fires. All the cabins have firepits and deadfall wood is close at hand and pretty easy to get. We had some fun piling fresh pine branches on the fire for the fireworks show that you get as they burn. I can only imagine what a forest fire would look like in full swing with the way these things burn.

My time here is quickly running down. In fact, I only have a few days left to go before I head out back westward for home. I have to admit, I am anxious for the summer to be over. Its been quite an experience, and hopefully one that will help me get a leg up in trying to find flying work. However, there have been a few things that we've had to do, that are frankly, not much use to me. I really do hope that I can find flying work that doesn't involve mixing concrete. Its a good thing to know how to do I guess, but its not what I had in mind when I got started on this. As much as I love the bush and the type of flying up here, I really would like to get going on the flying end of things. A lot of guys who are just getting started up here are in their early twenties, and don't have a lot of experience doing stuff like that. Not that I'm a handy-man or anything, but I have worked a chainsaw before, I can troubleshoot basic mechanical stuff and have painted houses, shingled roofs and operated a shovel before. I can imagine if I was twenty years old, that learning these things for the first time would be a fairly necessary step towards a bush flying job.

As much as I love the bush, my main passion is for flying.

I did get a couple replies to the mountain of resumes I've emailed out and a couple good leads for next season, some of them out west even, which is nice for a change. We were out flying one day with the chief pilot and he actually had a guy call him up on the radio to check my reference. I had emailed him a resume a while back and I guess he spotted the CP's name and thought he'd ask about me. I don't know if they actually have an opening they are trying to fill, or if he was just making conversation on the radio ( some of these guys up here loooove to talk... ) , but I thought that was kind of neat. For things like that, and some of the other job leads I've come across just be being out here, it makes this summer a bit more worthwhile.

Still, my old job waits patiently for me, and I'm looking forward to an eight-hour workday again. Not sure what I'm going to do with all that extra time, especially since I wont be able to fish off the dock anymore! haha.

Most of all though, I'm anxious to get back to my wife. We've both learned a lot this summer about being apart. Its the first time we've ever tried something like this and its not something I thing we will soon repeat. Once you're apart you realize all the little stuff doesn't really matter. Living in a crap town, having crap entertainment options, crap housing, crap jobs, is all stuff you can deal with, as long as you're together.


  1. Dude...

    your pics.

    It's like I'm there. freaking awesome.

    glad you have gotten some hits already on the job front, I bet this summer you have spent busting your ass will pay off ten fold. a good worker/pilot is hard to come by. and it is obvious you are a stand up guy. If I had a company, I'd hire you right now. but sorry, no 649 win yet, so you'll have to wait.

    anyway, I really wanted to thank you for this awesome opportunity to see what your life has been like for the past summer. I'll keep reading anyway, so please don't stop.

    but yeah, it's been really cool to watch this all unfold.

    all the best. You deserve one rockin job. If I hear of anything, I promise I'll let you know.


  2. Wow, thanks Jen. I appreciate that.

    I'm glad to have you along for the ride, its nice to kind of share this with others who have been there / done that. I kind of figure if no one is sending me private emails telling me I am completely out to lunch, then perhaps I'm not too far off course.

    I really don't see this as a closing up of the blog, or of the adventure, but I do see things changing course for a little while at least.

    Both the wife and I like to live a life less ordinary, so I hope our continuing adventures will keep those of you who have been reading and encouraging me to continue through your comments.

  3. I concur with Dagny. Its been really cool to follow you this summer.

    Also your video of the elk is sweet! Must've been cool to see that.