Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Patti's Story Part 2 ©

Good Morning! Here we go!     

I started teaching at Lynx Track Winter Travel School as a novice assistant in 1978 and eventually became a course leader. I would spend my winters in Ely and the rest of the year at my tiny home north of Colfax, Wisconsin where I made my living with my small design and sewing business named Canvasback Company. My dear friend Bob Cary created the wonderful Canvasback logo you see here after I moved to Ely. My permanent move north with my two small sons happened in Fall 1980 when I boxed up our belongings with the help of one of my girlfriends. We packed up our red 1949 GMC pickup truck with the split windshield and rolled north. That was a great truck. We all have a lot of fond memories traveling in that old red truck. This bit is for anyone who wondered. I'm from Wisconsin.

To gain perspective, I'll note here that my farthest north on this expedition will be the northern end of Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island. Google Lake Hazen Ellesmere Nunavut Canada. It is now part of Quttinirpaaq National Park. People in Ely would frequently ask me if I was afraid to be going that far out. What about Polar Bears? My response is still the same. I would be more afraid if I were going to navigate a big city. I was concerned about Polar Bears. Learning to shoot and hit a distant target with a 30.06 was important know-how and helped assuage that fear. I was surprised to find I was not a bad shot thankfully. Skiing lead on this expedition required traveling with this large rifle in sling position, barrel up. Barrel up Patti! Eventually I will meet up with Will and Bob in Eureka and continue traveling with them. Our ensemble would include one long Komatik style sled pulled by 10 beautiful dogs, two skiers, one musher. I remembered one more important dog last night. Soapy Bear. He was our strongest and largest dog. 'Wheel'. The toughest position. Breaking the sled every morning from it's frozen position. Powerful. Zap and Soapy were the wheel dogs. Will and Bob started dog sledding at Baker Lake, Nunavut, an Inuit village located a distance inland from Hudson Bay. They would travel over 1200 miles before I see them at Eureka Camp in the middle of June.

Now I'm back to June 3,1982 and the story of heading north. 
I'm heading out intending to spend the better part of a year in the Canadian Arctic. On that day, with the help of two friends, we pack 500 pounds of gear and three women into an old Ford. Overloaded. We happily travel southwest, then west, then north intending to deliver me and all this gear to Winnipeg International Airport. The next step is to get to the border crossing and hope it all goes easily. I don't want to have to unpack all these bags. We arrive late in the day at International Falls and on our first attempt are turned back because I need a one year tourist pass and they can only give me a three month. We turned the car around and had to re-enter through the American Border. The trooper walks out and asks for our ID's. (We never got that far on the Canadian side before we turned back.) That's when we discover one of my friends had forgotten her drivers license and in fact had no identification at all. It took some talking but we eventually were allowed back through. We had to drive all the way to the North Dakota border and the Pembina crossing to get the right pass. We first stop in to the US border patrol to let them know my friend has no ID so they will let her back through later that day. My paperwork is finally generated at Pembina and we continued on north to Winnipeg. 

Today I would know that if I had 500 lbs of gear to move I would head for Air Cargo. I wasn't sure what I needed to do when I arrived at that airport. Thanks to all of the friendly and understanding Canadians who directed me. 'We have a novice American here!' I tend to learn things the hard way. Once the gear was all packed properly, dropped and paid for, we went for a meal and said our sad goodbyes. They dropped me off and I waved as I walked into the main terminal with my backpacks and a one way ticket north. I checked my overweight pack. They decided not to charge me, I must have looked that tired and pathetic. The next step was to go through security. Back then it was pretty simple but not so simple for me that day. I had a rather large hunting knife in a sheath in my small carry-on pack. Novice all the way! I can still picture that security officer pulling that big knife out of my bag and the reaction. 'Ms Steger this knife needs to be in your checked baggage. Please take it to the ticketing desk and ask them if they can locate your bag.' I apologized profusely and ran back and caught my backpack just in time.  I've never tried to board an aircraft with a hunting knife in my pack since then. See .. hard way! 

I boarded my flight! Yes I boarded my flight! This first leg was to Edmonton, Alberta. I've had to dig out my old journals because many of the details are gone from memory. It feels often that my life has been a long series of fateful events. I was getting settled into my seat and said hello to the man seated next to me. He introduced himself. His name was Hank Killian. He was famous in the scientific community for his many years studying Polar Bears. Polar Bears had been my only serious concern. I was dumbfounded. You can learn a lot about Polar Bears in a few hours. Thank you!


Patti Steger 
Steger Mukluks
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