Much like the rest of Canada, the July long weekend finds many people in Arctic Bay hitting the road. But of course this being the Arctic the road is quite different. This weekend, for a lot of people here, is spent out on the land, many young men heading out to the Floe Edge where there are numerous Narwhal and many families spread out on Admiralty Inlet, hunting seal the old fashion way, much the same as people up here have been doing for almost 5,000 years.
As usual though, I'm kind of like the kid stuck at home practicing the violin, his face pressed against the window watching all the other kids play outside. Once again the demands of the House have kept me here. Leah had considered going out with her parents but in the end changed her mind, and Travis has come down with a sore throat this weekend and will barely see the outside of the house, never mind a tent.
But once again the weather is incredible and we spent a couple of hours at Victor Bay, first waiting on, and then helping Leah's folks get ready to head out. Not a breath of wind was blowing and even wandering out on the ice looking for amphipods in the tidal cracks we were warm and in shirt sleeves.
When Leah's parents arrived I helped them load the komatik (after helping a young man who thought that the best way to drive on a shingle beach is to step heavily on the accelerator, spraying rock everywhere until the wheels dug down to the level of the axels. No, a gentle hand (foot) is needed).
The komatik is an amazing tool for Arctic travel. Amazing both in its apparent simplicity and its functionality, it is essentially two plank runners, with a series of slats for cross pieces. It is tied together so it is able to flex and absorb the rough ice and the pounding it takes travelling behind a snowmobile. The slat system also extends past the runners, allowing for anything to be lashed securely to the komatik. It often has a small shelter, called an iglutaq, that keeps passengers out of the weather, helps store items, and doubles as sleeping accommodations at times (although most people use tents out on the land).
The komatik is loaded up so it distributes the weight across the sled, and a seasoned people like my in-laws do this without even having to think about what goes where. In this case four jerry cans of gas were placed near the front (along with a small "table" for scraping seal skins), followed by the iglutak (which holds skins, bedding, a cooler for food and the family), a tarp with the rest of the items being taken along (a tarp as it is wet travelling over ice in the spring as there is a lot of water pooled on top of the ice), and finally a grub box containing food, the stove, tools, radio and other sundry items). Everything is lashed down securely and two people working on either side of the komatik can quickly tie everything down very tightly so that nothing comes loose on the pounding, bouncing sled.
The komatik is attached to the snowmobile by a rope and rope extensions are some times added as needed (for crossing cracks and the like). It is a skill to pull a komatik behind a snowmobile as you have to be aware of where it is all the time. If you say stop the snowmobile suddenly rather than coming to a gentle halt, the komatik will continue along on its path potentially slamming into you, or someone/something else. A loaded komatik weighs several hundred pounds (family komatiks are from 20 to 24 feet long or more) and at speed can do quite a bit of damage.
A story to illustrate this. A few springs back we were headed out on the land, Leah and Travis were in the komatik and I was on our brand new snowmobile. Travelling near shore I crossed a small stream of run off, that had dug a channel in the ice. I hadn't been traveling very fast, and the snowmobile got stuck on the edge of this channel. I accelerated and literally shot out of this little channel and I stopped on the other side. When I stopped I realized I could hear Leah screaming and turned back to see what the problem was. Turning back I found that the runners of the komatik were on either side of me, having narrowly missed me. I had thought I'd driven out of the stream but what had in fact happened was that when the machine stopped in the stream the komatik kept going. The two runners went on either side of me and the first cross piece struck the back rest of snowmobile, the force easily bending the (brand new) back rest beyond repair. The komatik easily pushed the snow machine out of the crack to where we came to a stop. I narrowly avoided injury as a few inches either way and I would have been struck by one of the runners, hence Leah's screaming.
Leah's parent's komatik now being loaded, her dad and I man handled the sled farther out onto the ice, past the jumble of tidal cracks, the snowmobile was hooked up and they headed out into Victor Bay, and they'll not be returning to late Monday night. Sure wished we were heading out with them.