Monday, April 17, 2017

The Second Breakdown

I wanted to explore one more area around Arctic Bay before the end of Spring Break.  Looking at a large map of the Greater Arctic Bay area, I looked to the north and settled on Baillarge Bay.  Last year, I had only gone as far north as Ship Point, the corner where you turn right to enter Baillarge Bay.  John & I also tried to drive to the floe edge but my skidoo ran into trouble.  No, not this time.  I would explore another bay and come back without any problems.  I decided not to drive to the floe edge because I would be travelling alone.
My second day excursion began on the morning of Friday, April 14.  Following the same preparation procedures, I was ready to go after an hour.  I let my coworkers know where I was going and made sure my GPS & SPOT devices were with me.  The weather around Arctic Bay was somewhat sunny; hopefully it would be better beyond Victor Bay.  I used six bungee cords to attach two five-gallon red cans to the back of my skidoo.  The cans looked & felt securely attached but after my recent predicament in Strathcona Sound, I promised myself to look back every so often to make sure they weren’t missing.
I drove north, following the road to Victor Bay.  I didn’t see anyone when I arrived at the cabins, but what I did see was a newly plowed ice road.  The road followed the western side of Victor Bay and most likely stopped at a co-worker’s cabin at the very northern tip of the peninsula.  I drove onto the ice road and followed it to the end.  The ride was smooth & fast.  Sure enough, the road ended at the co-worker’s cabin.  I marked the location on my GPS and drove off the road.  Now back on rough ice & snow, I rode halfway across Victor Bay before turning north towards Cape Cunningham.  I pointed my skidoo towards the cape because last year the ice was smoother along the coast.  I would learn that relying on last year’s ice conditions are a mistake.
Cape Cunningham
The ice did not smooth out when I neared Cape Cunningham.  Instead, I entered a “minefield” of tall lumps of ice and snow.  I do not know the correct terminology that describes this kind of collection, but it’s like trying to navigate around a field littered with tree stumps.  On top of that, there was wind, and overcast clouds.  Hoping to eventually clear the minefield, I cautiously drove onward.  In my mind I was following an old saying by Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  What I should have done was turn around and return the way I came. 
The overcast clouds made it difficult for me to see the upcoming ice formations.  Suddenly, I drove up onto an ice drift I didn’t see, causing my skidoo to tilt to the right.  I should have squeezed the throttle and driven off the drift but, instead, I stopped.  The short pause proved to be the biggest mistake.  I squeezed the throttle to move but I knew what was coming.  My skidoo moved a few centimetres before tipping over.  Here we go again.
I pushed myself off the skidoo just before it settled on its right side and pressed the kill-switch button.  The engine turned off and I rolled away, cursing under my breath.  Sorry Mom.  I immediately began recovery procedures.  I took off my backpack and unslung my shotgun.  I removed the two gas cans from the back of the skidoo, making the machine lighter.  Using all my strength, I tried lifting the machine, but no luck.  I was successful the second time.  I stood back to see if anything was damaged.  Sure enough, the plastic right hand air deflector next to the windshield had broken off.  Thankfully, the rear-view mirror attached to it was still in one piece.  What was also good was that everything else appeared fine.  I turned the ignition key, hoping to the engine would restart.  It didn’t.  I tried again.  No luck.  I decided to wait.
The wind was picking up, making me think a whiteout was on the way.  I could already see one brewing in the direction of Baillarge Bay.  I removed my shotgun from its case and fired two slugs into the air: one towards the north & one towards the south.  If there were any polar bears eyeing me from a distance, hopefully the loud bangs had scared them away.  I wasn’t panicking at this point; I was just concerned.  I checked my GPS and noted that the co-worker’s cabin was just 10km behind me.  If I had to abandon the skidoo, I could walk to the cabin and hope someone was there to help me recover the machine.  I had packed a towing cable.  I could also activate my SPOT and hope someone in town would respond.  I stood around and ate some snacks, pondering on what I should do.
A good fifteen minutes passed before I decided to start the skidoo again.  I wasn’t going to give up.  I turned the ignition key but the engine wouldn’t start.  I turned & held the key for a little longer but the engine still didn’t cooperate.  Now I was getting really concerned because the engine may be flooded with gasoline.  Taking a big risk, I turned the key and held it for 10 seconds.  The engine coughed to life for a second before dying.  “Come on!” I shouted.  I turned the key and held it for another 10 seconds.  When the engine showed “signs of life” I gently squeezed the throttle.  The engine roared to life.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  “I’m not turning you off until I get back to town.”
I reattached the gas cans, packed up the broken deflector, and collected my backpack & shotgun.  I slowly drove towards the centre of Admiralty Inlet, avoiding blocks of ice and snow drifts.  I left my goggles on my head and braved the wind hitting my eyes.  Maybe my goggles were to blame for the tip over?  I successfully made it out of the minefield and found the main skidoo trail to Baillarge Bay & the floe edge.  I could see a whiteout happening in that direction but a part of me wanted to continue the journey.  The other wanted me to return to Arctic Bay.  After thinking it over in my mind, I sighed and decided to play it safe. 
I wiped my eyes and drove towards Victor Bay with a look of defeat.  Thankfully, nobody saw it because my face was covered with a facemask & goggles.  I returned to the plowed ice road by the cabin and covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.  I was home by 2:30pm.  When I told my coworkers what happened, JF came by to see the skidoo.  He was glad I brought back the broken deflector because we used the serial number to order a replacement off the skidoo website.  The part would arrive in two weeks.  I took my skidoo to a local Inuk mechanic who would clean the engine.  My machine would be out of commission for the next little while.
The key lesson I learned from this trip is to never rely on the ice conditions of the previous year.  Once again, the areas north of Ship Point continue to elude me.  But they’ll see me.  It’s inevitable.  There’s always a next time.   


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