A Flight Into the Arctic Circle
“You,” he pointed at me. “You’re in the front with me. No flash photography and there’s a med-kit in the nose.”
Second thoughts fired in my hungover head. If I was ever in a position where I needed to know the med-kit was in the nose, it would mean we had crashed in the Arctic Tundra.
Fighting the muscle aches, I heaved my body into the cockpit of the six-seater plane. Nausea turned in my stomach as the pilot started flicking and turning instruments.
“Might be a bumpy one,” he said.
I was 1600 miles north of Vancouver – and my nearest friends. Homesickness tugged at me.
The engine roared to life.
We put on our headphones and the plane moved onto the end of the runway. I stared down it as the engines got louder. The brakes were finally released, launching us forward. The plane pulled to the left and right in the wind as it gained speed. I could hear my breathing hasten over the microphone. We left the ground and my stomach dropped.
The others in the back – a Canadian Immigration officer, his wife and an elderly couple from Georgia – leered out the windows. Inuvik drifted from view below us. The land grew dirty-green and barren.
Spears of sleet and snow assaulted the windscreen. The engine was deafening even through the headphones. I tried to bury myself inside my winter coat. The hot mist of my breath warmed my beard.
“Hmm, can’t really see anything here,” said the pilot, as the clouds grew thicker around us. He made a sharp dive and turn to the right. I clutched my seat and tried to keep my limbs from touching any levers.
The plane dropped and caught itself numerous times, my stomach threatening to eject its contents (regrettably a mixture of beef jerky and honey whisky).
We emerged from the clouds at last to a stretch of new land where trees no longer grew. I released my grip on the seat. The pilot pointed out Tuktoyaktuk – a dot on the crest of the Arctic Ocean in the distance. Six enormous mounds that looked like crusty, grey pimples on the Earth’s skin – pingos, he called them – were the only detail on the wasteland below.
On the ground we were met by an Inuit woman who escorted us into the township. After passing her house – outside of which were a number of animal pelts (polar bear, muskox, wolf, etc.) – we came to her “smokehouse”.
I left the group and trudged down to the bay, swaying slightly from the alcohol left in my system and on legs getting used to land again. My shoulders tensed up against the Arctic chill. I remembered the plaque in the Inuvik chalet: “dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean!” I removed my boot and sock and plunged my foot into the water. A cold, slicing pain ripped up my leg.
I was at the top of the world.