Travels

Three Important Things You Should Know About Your Vehicle (But Probably Don’t)

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Following in the tradition of blogs everywhere, I have a classic* three-point post today with some interesting and helpful things I learned about my car recently. The first one nearly stopped me in my tracks.

1. Vapour lock: don’t be a victim!

I was part-way through a road trip on a hot day. I had been driving for a few hours when I stopped to get gas. Much to my surprise, after I was all fuelled up, my car wouldn’t start! It tried really hard, turning over and over, coughing and making sounds I’d never heard it make before (of a sputtering sort). But, try as it might, it just wouldn’t start. So, a lady who had come to fill up her truck drove over to the cardlock owner to get some help. I had to wait a while, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t want to be a pest and go bug the guy who was going to help me, so I just putzed around, checking my oil, picking dead bugs out of the front and whatnot.

After about 15 minutes, Mike (not a mechanic, just a regular guy) drove up and we discussed the problem. He suggested that my fuel injectors might be clogged, and that’s why it wouldn’t start. I decided to turn it over so he could have a listen and see if that sounded like the problem. Right before turning the key, I joked, “maybe it will start, just because you’re here!”

Mechanics across the nation know what’s going to happen next — my car started. It wasn’t pretty, but it coughed to life. And the fuel injectors weren’t to blame. A mechanically-minded friend explained it to me later that night — on a hot day, the gasoline in your engine and fuel line becomes vapour and then when you stop, the liquid gas can’t get to the engine. The fuel pump tries to move it, but it can’t, so it just coughs. It is vapour locked. The only solution is to let the engine cool down a bit (which happened as I waited for Mike) so the vapour condenses, and then it will start.

The rest of the story? After my car started, I went to the local mechanic shop, explained things to the mechanic, and got some fuel injector cleaner (I left the car running the whole time, just in case it decided to die again). After driving another 4 hours or so, I stopped to get gas again. I left the car running (which I NEVER do, not even in winter, so it felt very strange), and as I poured the first litre in, the engine coughed and very nearly died again! I was mystified! I added a little more and again, it nearly stopped. So, I said to myself, forget this! I still have half a tank — enough to get home. Once I heard the explanation, it made sense — the cold gas wasn’t mixing well with the hot, vapourous gas, and the car wasn’t able to compensate for the change. Your vehicle has to mix air and gas at a certain ratio for combustion to occur, otherwise, nada. Or should I say “no va?”

2. Don’t brake over bumps.

I helped my friend Michelle move at the beginning of July, and as we were driving out for a second load, I learned something new about brakes. Two of the other people helping Michelle worked at a mechanic shop, and I was yammering on about how I’m getting pretty good at driving on all sorts of gravel roads — loose gravel, packed gravel, washboardy, pot-holey, whatever. I can just tap the brakes and then cruise over most spots easily.

All of a sudden, Karen said “At least you’re doing it right! You’d think people would know that you shouldn’t brake when you’re going over a bump! It wears your brakes unevenly and causes them to wear quicker overall.”

Well, I quietly sat there nodding, but truth be told, I didn’t know that. It was just instinct to me to brake before a bump and then cruise over it, and luckily for me, I had been doing it right. When you brake, it causes your suspension to compress, which makes the brakes wear much worse.

So, now you know: if you are coming up to a bump in the road you need to slow down for — be it a pot-hole, uneven bridge deck, construction, or whatever — slow down first, but when you get to the bump, let off the brakes.

3. Don’t Pass the Pilot Truck.

It happened last year on Hwy 35 near Steen River, and last week on Hwy 1, well, in the middle of nowhere: pilot trucks were put into effect to guide drivers through areas where forest fires were burning near the road. I thought it was just to make sure no one decided to go joy-riding on a quad trail — someone in danger of being charged and convicted under Darwin’s Law — or to make sure people didn’t speed when passing wildland fire fighters. Well, I was wrong.

Last week, driving back to Fort Simpson, I decided to drive through an area where the Department of Transportation had been using pilot trucks the day before. There were no piloting vehicles or road workers around — it was too early in the morning — and as far as I knew, the road was open. As I went by a small fire burning about five feet into the bushes on one side of the road, I noticed a wide, pink stripe across the highway — the mark left by a tanker aircraft who’d dropped his load of fire-retardant on the fire! Now, that made sense — you wouldn’t want to accidentally drive by when that happened! You’d get red, frothy gunk all over your vehicle! But then again, why not just close the road altogether? Why do we need pilot trucks to drive through areas with forest fires burning?

smoky drive
I was telling my story of driving by the fire to a friend, Mickey, who works for the DoT. He “tusk-tusk-tusked” at me, waggled his finger, and explained. The real reason for pilot trucks, he said, is because if your car ingests an ember from a flame into the air filter and catches on fire, you would be stranded with a burning car in an active fire zone! Aaah… now, that would be bad. The pilot truck is there to make sure everyone gets through okay.

So, if you are tempted to pass a pilot truck, or drive through an area with a lot of ash where a pilot truck hasn’t been established yet, just be aware that besides risking a hefty fine, you’re betting that your vehicle won’t catch on fire! Not sure what the odds are on that bet, but I’m not willing to take the chance!

*Ain’t it concise, informative and story-oriented? :)

Finally, Some Photos of Wrigley!

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Okay, it’s been a long time coming, I know, but I am finally able to post some pictures of Wrigley, NWT. :-) (click on pic for larger version)

About to take off in the Cessna 172 from the Fort Simpson Island airstrip
About to take off in the Cessna 172 from the Fort Simpson Island airstrip
Airborne! Check out the houses along the runway...
Airborne! Check out the houses along the runway…
No wonder the ferry was pulled out... quite a bit of ice on the Mackenzie (Nov 1)
No wonder the ferry was pulled out… quite a bit of ice on the Mackenzie (Nov 1)
Weather improving along the way!
Weather improving along the way!
Not sure which river this is... The Mackenzie is much farther to the left.
Not sure which river this is… The Mackenzie is much farther to the left.
The view out my main kitchen window. The river bank is right there!
The view out my main kitchen window. The river bank is right there!
View out the other kitchen window.
View out the other kitchen window.
Sun is settin' like molasses in the sky... over the Mackenzie River
Sun is settin’ like molasses in the sky… over the Mackenzie River
The view back towards my house
The view back towards my house
Steps going down to the river
Steps going down to the river
Sunrise at the airport
Sunrise at the airport
Hodgson Creek. It is unusual because it doesn't freeze all winter long. What a gorgeous day!
Hodgson Creek. It is unusual because it doesn’t freeze all winter long. What a gorgeous day!
Hodgson Creek looking NW. See the mountains?
Hodgson Creek looking NW. See the mountains?
Hodgson Creek as it gets closer to the Mackenzie
Hodgson Creek as it gets closer to the Mackenzie
Such lovely mountains!
Such lovely mountains!
A couple of planes at the airport
A couple of planes at the airport
One of my favourite dogs here, Pickle. Such a cutie!
One of my favourite dogs here, Pickle. Such a cutie!

Sorry the pictures are kinda small, but there are so many, I didn’t want the page to take forever to load. :)

First Impressions of Wrigley, NWT

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I arrived in Wrigley yesterday afternoon and loved it immediately! I don’t think it had anything to do with the last twenty minutes of the flight being turbulent and my boss and I being gently tossed like la salad-du-jour. We chartered at Cessna 172 to fly us from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, a total flight time of about an hour for a plane of that type, depending on the wind. Yesterday, it was a tail wind for us, but it still tossed us around plenty as we came over the ridge, very much as our pilot, Serge, predicted it would. He let me fly for a while in the middle of the flight, and I had a tiny bit of turbulence, which was fun! We had the plane loaded pretty heavily, although not at its capacity, Serge assured us. I told him as we started to taxi, “if you think we are overweight, say so now and we’ll stop!” But no, he assured me, we were alright. My boss and I are both pretty slim, plus I had packed light — heck, I didn’t even really take all that much to Fort Simpson in the first place — but as it was, I had overestimated the size of a Cessna 172. It had room for 2 in the front, 2 behind, and then a “trunk” space about the size of the foot-well in my car. Serge, however, was not new to this game and really knew how to get the most out of the plane’s overall volume. We had to leave a total of 5 items behind, one being my bag of knitting stuff and another being my cooler, filled with frozen meat.

There is no store in Wrigley. Well, that isn’t entirely true. There is a very small store with limited stock, open for limited hours in the middle of the day (while I am at work). It may or may not only take cash — leave your plastic at home. You can leave your cell at home too, because the nearest cell service is about 120 km away, as the crow flies. I had wondered if there might be a tiny pocket of cell service, from perhaps a single tower, but no. That is the case for Fort Simpson, a village of about 1200 people, so a mini-village of 170 or so doesn’t even have a chance. Cell towers aren’t cheap, so no cell company would put one up in a place where they’d never make that money back. But I digress.

Wrigley, NT (NWT) Terminal buildingI absolutely fell in love with the terminal building the moment I saw it. It is so cute, well-maintained, and the CARS station is raised above ground level. It’s like the world’s smallest air traffic control tower, and I love it! The station itself was neat, tidy, sunny and warm. It had a nice, cheerful feeling to it, and I took to the place like a fish to water. My boss and I only had about an hour to spend before our ride came to get us, so we went through some of the paperwork left out, exclaiming how great it was that the keys we had brought worked perfectly and everything was coming together so smoothly. I didn’t tell him that things always go smoothly for me (but I think he is starting to see that)! I started checking out the radio equipment, wind instruments and altimeter. I was so excited!

The main reason I was there, and indeed the reason we had to fly in, was because the ice road had closed due to spring break up. As I mentioned in my last post, this doesn’t mean the ice was dramatically moving, but simply unsafe for crossing. So, Wrigley became a strictly fly-in community, and as such, it was more important than usual to have someone working in the CARS station to provide current weather observations and information for pilots inbound. The next day, just after I sent my second weather observation out on the internet, the phone rang.

“Wrigley Airport Radio,” I answered the phone. Man, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to saying that.
“Awesome!”
“You saw my weather, did you?”
Yeah, it’s awesome!” It was a man at Simpson Air, clearly tickled pink.
“Well, I’m glad you appreciate it”
“Oh, Teresa you have no idea!”

That made me smile, on the inside and the outside. I’m not sure I can describe how happy I feel being here. I will be staffing a one-person station. I have full run of the place, can do my own thing, keep the place exactly as I want, and enjoy its cozy, sunny view. The station faces the Mackenzie River, which is down the bank from the flat the airport is on, only about a quarter of a mile away. The runway is really just along the river! The river itself isn’t visible, due to being down the bank, but one day I plan to walk to the edge and enjoy the view. Across the river there is a lovely mountain range, starting about 4 miles away with Table Mountain and stretching off to the southwest to a distance of about 35 miles. The hills are high enough to be bare rock (and snow) at the top, and their white tops make me smile too! I have always enjoyed topography, perhaps because I grew up on the prairies, so mountains and foothills still hold a romantic attraction for me. They speak to my adventurous spirit, and they are so beautiful, my heart can’t help but smile when I see them. So, I am in a lovely spot, pretty close to the middle of nowhere, at 63 degrees North, and I love it. There is a second mountain range to the east as well, and foothills that are only about a mile away. Around my home and the airport, there is a healthy mixed forest, with two types of spruce (from what I can tell) and poplar. Some of the evergreens are so windblown, they have a swoopy look to them at the top. I haven’t seen any birch, but maybe they are there somewhere.
Camsell Range, the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Wrigley, NT
My living quarters are about 3 km south of the airport, which is itself about 1 km south of the village. We flew over the village as we were on approach to land, and wow, it sure is small. Wrigley doesn’t look like many towns and villages where the early settlers cut down every tree to build their house or burn for firewood — they have lots of trees standing. No roads are paved up here, and Wrigley is actually the end of the all-season road that is the Mackenzie Highway. Farther on from Wrigley, winter roads are built to Tulita and Norman Wells, but these have been closed for several weeks. (From Fort Simpson on, the Mackenzie Highway is all gravel, I believe. From the Highway 3 turnoff (to Yellowknife) the road is mostly paved with gravel sections. I think. When I came up, it was basically compact snow, and from what others told me, I have no right complaining about it (remember 2 posts ago?) because it only got worse once it warmed up.) I know, it doesn’t seem like a gravel road should be called a highway, but it is! It’s wider than a typical country road, but yup, it’s gravel.

I have a house trailer all to myself to live in! It is not particularly new, but it’s in very good repair. The last people to stay here, apparently, were women, so when we walked in, it was spic and span! What a nice sight to see! There were only a few coffee cups left in the sink to wash. The kitchen is quite well-supplied — I was worried there wouldn’t be any frying pans or dishes — and I have everything I need. I bought a Brita to filter the water, which is, like so many northern places, stored in a tank in the porch. There is a pump to keep the line pressure up, and the tub faucet leaks a little, so the pump goes on for about a second about every 3 minutes or so. It’s easy to just turn it off at night, though, and then it’s very peaceful here. This morning, my boss ran out of water twice — once because the breaker for the pump kicked off, and once because the pump overheated. So, I skipped the shower. I had one tonight and had the pump kick off right as I was starting to rinse my hair! Gads! But, before I could get out, all soapy and naked and run to the breaker panel, the pump came back on so I knew it had only overheated. Yay! It cut out once more and I had to wait a minute or so, but I managed to rinse off and finish the shower. I think tomorrow, I will try closing opening the window near the pump to vent it better and hopefully it won’t overheat. The furnace and all appliances work good, and the fridge was even spotless! No sticky gross stuff in the bottom of the crisper drawers! I am so impressed.

I live in what the locals call “the highways camp.” It is a fenced-in area where the NWT government keeps the snowplow, grader, a shop and various other equipment. There are three house trailers in the yard, one of which is empty, and then I have one and Albert has one. He is the highway and airport maintainer — the man who runs the grader to keep the road in good shape. As far as I can tell, he does an excellent job! I met him yesterday and he seems very nice. The yard sort of reminds me of home, as it’s a bit like a farm yard with tractors, tires, piles of wood, etc, scattered about. Apparently, there are quite a few bears around, but when my boss and I went for a walk along the highway last night, we didn’t see any. I have bear spray which I will not go walking without. Albert has a dog, too, so I might ask if I can take it with me. :) It looks quite cute but a bit forlorn, so I think it would love to go on a walk. Not tonight, though. It is almost bed time and although I slept awesomely well — it is a talent to be able to sleep almost anywhere? — I am ready for bed. Maybe it’s the Micheal Logozar album I am listening to, getting me all relaxed! It could also be that I’ve been on day shifts for 5 days now, so I’m used to getting up early and going to bed early. Which brings me to my last point, and one thing that makes working in Wrigley so great. It is strictly day shifts, no nights, and it is a short 8 hours, compared to 12 in Fort Simpson. Can you believe it?!? I feel like I have won the lottery! A cozy, sunny place to work, with a great view, in the North, and I don’t even have to work shift work. Monday to Friday, 8 to 4. Wow, I am in heaven!

Oh geez. I thought it was mildly funny that I was going to be saying “Wrigley Airport Radio.” But man, what is someone from Wrigley called? A Wrigley-ite? A Wriglean? A Wrigler? LOL :)

Fort Simpson

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So, let me tell you more about this lovely village I live in. I drove up from High Level, a distance of 660 km, two days after a big snowstorm had come through. Up until the NWT border, it was all good, and I have a new personal record for price-of-gas purchased — $1.389/L at Indian Cabins — it felt like highway robbery!! After crossing into the NWT, the roads were not the greatest, and it was sketchy going for 40 km or so before Enterprise. I stopped at Alexandra Falls, which was amazing and looked other-worldly with the ice formations all around it. Around Enterprise, it was still snowing and the snowplows weren’t keeping up terribly well. I stopped to ask a trucker his opinion of the roads I was heading onto and it didn’t sound too bad.
After the turnoff to Yellowknife, the road was quite a bit narrower and there was just two tracks down it for the whole way – nothing like driving down the middle of the road!
It was like this for about 400 km, with varying amounts of snow and ice and compacted snow. At long last, I got to the ice bridge across the Liard River!
The river looked quite a bit narrower than the Peace River crossing at Tompkin’s, but looking at maps, I can see that this is a pretty narrow spot in the Liard.
The airport, where I work, is really nice! They have a small-ish terminal building, but it’s quite nice and the CARS station is very spacious. Our equipment is similar to what I used at the Flight Service Station in High Level. So far, I only have a picture of the terminal:

The airport has a 6000′ runway, which is longer than High Level’s, and the Mandatory Frequency (MF) area (the zone in which pilots have to talk to me on the radio) is a radius of 15 nautical miles. Most airports of this size have only a 5 mile MF, but because we have helipads, float planes in summer, and a second airport nearby, we talk to everybody. The second airport is an unpaved strip just on the edge of town, and the town itself is on an island in the Mackenzie River! I love it. It’s so picturesque! And I love being here in spring, so I can see the transition into summer. Plus, the days are getting longer every day by about 5-6 minutes. I live in a spot with a beautiful view of the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie, overlooking a snye (dried up channel between the island and the main bank).

The sun rising over the Mackenzie (view out my living room window)

When I had a day off, I took a walk around town. Fort Simpson has a population of about 1200 people, so it’s pretty small. There is a low-lying flat near the Liard River where there is a ceremonial circle and a large tee pee. I gather this area is used for Canada Day celebrations and the like. Locals call it the papal ground, because the Pope John Paul II visited Fort Simpson here in 1987.

Doesn’t this sign just remind you of being a kid again!? Tobogganning! Beyond the sign, you can see the river bank on the other side of the Liard in the distance.

I love this sign (below)! Click for a larger version to see the little embers running away from the campfire. Too funny! This one is near the campground, which is near the papal flat.

Wow. This sign really hit it home….

More to come!

Fort Simpson Adventure

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Well I didn’t mean to keep you, my blog followers, in the dark, but I have been so busy, I just haven’t had a chance to blog until now. And what have I been busy doing? I have been getting ready to start my new job!

It was a big decision to take this job. I love being self-employed. I have the ultimate time freedom, and it’s allowed me to finish my book, write a paddling guide, edit a friend’s book, and spend an amazing amount of time on the water, (canoeing, kayaking and york boating)! The only drawback is the tradeoff — time freedom for money freedom. Ultimately, I decided I wanted some more money freedom, and that meant looking for work.

I only want to do what I love. So I had to ask myself “what else, besides paddling and writing, do I love?” Knitting came up quickly, but I wouldn’t want to try to make it into a job. Then, one day in December, I woke up with an idea “out of the blue” (the best kind) — I could work at the airport of the Diavik diamond mine! I used to love my job as a Flight Service Specialist, but had no interest in going back to my actual old job, but doing the same thing up north absolutely lit me up inside! So, I applied to Diavik, and then a couple of weeks later, I decided to also apply to ATS Services, the company that takes care of the Community Aerodrome Radio Stations (CARS) in the NWT, Yukon and Nunavut.

I got a call in January that they were very interested in hiring me. Diavik was interested too, and were looking to fill in for someone on sick leave, but ultimately, it didn’t work out. As I waited to hear more from ATS, I waffled back and forth on whether or not to go. Due to my tentativeness, the process went very slowly (the law of attraction at work, as always)! When I finally got clear that yes, I would go, I heard back from the manager. It was official, they wanted to hire me. Then, I waffled again — it was a very big life change! Was going back to a job like failing as an entrepreneur? Or could I keep running my business? What about things I had committed to do? What about living away from Darren — would he and I be okay with it?

On the plus side, I loved the work, the location sounded interesting, and I would, essentially, be paid to write (when it’s not busy, I can work on hobbies). And I love the North!

I couldn’t stand my wavering, so I decided to wait until the final details came in and go with whatever my feelings said at that moment when I got the phone call. When Darren told me that my new boss had called, I was thrilled! My heart thumped with excitement and I was doing a little dance of joy. How could I NOT go? I was so excited! I was moving to Fort Simpson and going back to an old job I loved!!

So, that’s how it all went down. Tomorrow, I will blog more about what the station, the town and airport here at Fort Simpson is like. I leave you with a map to ponder and marvel at! Zoom in to see more.

More Adventures

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Since the York boat expedition ended, I’ve been having lots of adventures, although none as publicized as that one was! My honey and I went on a 4-day trip on the Hay River, which was awesome! Later, I went on a 2-day trip on the Chinchaga with a good friend of mine, and last week, I guided a 3-day trip on the Peace River. I taught my first introductory session for kayaks today too! So, I’ve been canoeing on overnight trips a total of 9 days, and sometimes, frankly, I just have to pinch myself. This is my job?!?! Man, I am the luckiest son-of-a- !

Today, we tried out our sailing canoe! Darren did all the rigging and took it out first, while I was kayaking, and figured out how to steer and turn and all that! When I was done, he took me across the lake, which was awesome! We actually had the boat tilting enough that I had to lean, which was exciting and a little scary, but in a good way. It was very cool. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of it, but I’ll leave you with a pic of the boat on land. Extra-special thanks to Uncle Keith for giving it to us! We love it!

And here’s a few from the Hay River and Chinchaga River trips!

A neat spot on the Hay River where a loop of the river has been closed off, creating an oxbow lake.
Lovely scenery along the Hay River
One of many Canada geese we saw.
Looking towards the Chinchaga River from our campsite
The bank is eroding out from under an old cabin along the Chinchaga River.

Now Doing Inspirational Presentations!

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Hi everyone! You are my best supporters, my blog readers! So, I wanted to let you know that I am unveiling two presentations about my paddling experiences this summer. If you know of an event looking for a speaker, please have the organizer contact me using the comments form below. Comments are not published until I approve them, so I will not publish any requests. As for everyone else… What do you think of my idea? Would you like to hear about my trips? Would you find it interesting? Leave comments!


800 Kilometers on the River — Insights from my Summer of Wilderness Paddling

30-minute presentation
Join outdoor enthusiast and owner of Flow North Paddling Company, Teresa Griffith as she shares the challenges and triumphs of canoeing and kayaking over 800 km on the beautiful Peace River. In total, she paddled for nineteen days — ten days solo, nine days with a canoe partner — steeped in the beauty of the wilderness river. She overcame shoulder trouble, thunderstorms, shallow water, strong wind and waves throughout her journey. She spent seven continuous days alone on the water, with only herself and her kayak, and she wasn’t the same when she finished. She shares inspiration which came to her on that portion of the trip, when time stood still and every paddle stroke was a meditation.


800 Kilometers on the River — Lessons in Independence

50-minute presentation
Join outdoor enthusiast and owner of Flow North Paddling Company, Teresa Griffith as she shares the challenges and triumphs of canoeing and kayaking over 800 km on the beautiful Peace River. In total, she paddled for nineteen days — ten days solo, nine days with a canoe partner — steeped in the beauty of the wilderness river. She overcame shoulder trouble, thunderstorms, shallow water, strong wind and waves throughout her journey. She spent seven continuous days alone on the water, with only herself and her kayak, and she wasn’t the same when she finished.

A dynamic speaker, Teresa gives an outline of her past experiences which led her to make this journey. She reviews her trip preparation and practical aspects of the journey. She also shares inspiration and insight which came to her on the solo portion of the trip, when time stood still and every paddle stroke was a meditation. Sitting out a severe thunderstorm on the river’s muddy bank, nowhere to hide, wisdom and poetry surfaced from somewhere deep within. You’ll be encouraged, uplifted, and inspired to stretch yourself beyond what you thought possible.


Arriving in Fort Vermilion