Now that Jim Baird is back from his two-week-long Arctic adventure, we thought we’d catch up with him to talk about the highs and lows of his trip and hear about how it feels to be back home.
F&S: What’s been the toughest part as far as readjusting back to “normal” life?
Jim Baird: Seeing so many people around me. I felt a little claustrophobic at first. Also, it’s a different mindset when you only have to focus on regular daily activities–and not on your survival. This makes you feel complacent to things that may have seemed stressful before. That’s a good thing.
F&S: __Ten years from now, what memory of the trip do you think will stand out as the best?
JB: When I was driving on the smooth ice of the Amundsen Gulf in awe of the scenery and I first got the feeling that we were going to make it. Sometimes it’s the scary memories that stick with us. This way we learn from them and are safer next time. It’s a survival instinct. In the future a dangerous moment from the trip may end up being the “best” memory because it could end up saving my life. It is also often an exhilarating feeling to have survived something dangerous. I learned from being chilled to the bone as the sun rose over Prince Albert Sound. I learned from realizing there was only an inch of ice under my feet at a pressure ridge on Great Bear Lake. I definitely learned from coming close to driving off a canyon wall as we traveled in the dark. I will remember these things as part of the adventure and cherish them–but at the same time remember not to let them happen again.
F&S: What memory will stand out as the worst?
JB: The cold night we spent sleeping in the warehouse at the D.E.W. Line site is a bad memory. The moment when we learned that our auger hadn’t shown up in Tulia was a bad memory too. Realizing that the runners on our toboggans had worn out and almost fell off was not a cheery moment either. These were pretty bad, but stuff like that happens and you just have to deal with it. That’s part of completing an expedition. The worst thing for me was the fact that I did not catch as many fish as I had expected. The fishing was not as good as I thought, and I did not leave as much time to fish as I’d hoped. But when you have to dig out an auger and tackle from you’re meticulously lashed down toboggan and then drill through 5-plus feet of ice just to wet a line, it takes a lot longer to hook up. It also takes a lot more time out of your schedule. Looking back, next time I will give myself more time and then alternate by taking a day to travel extra distance and the next to just fish. Live and learn, I guess.
F&S:** Give me the three items of gear that were absolutely indispensable during the adventure?
JB: I’m thinking out loud here: The snowmobiles are obvious. Toboggans are second. Our GPS was huge but we could have used a compass if necessary. I guess that bumps the compass up. I don’t know if I can put the GPS over our warm parkas or heavy snowmobile pants, though. Our tent could have saved our lives if we ran in to a blizzard, but we didn’t. I’m seeing some serious tradeoffs. To answer I will count the machines as a given. For completion of the adventure I’ll say these three: toboggans, GPS, and jerry cans. If it came to survival the list would change.
F&S: While you were away, what comforts of everyday life did you miss most?
JB: Honestly, nothing. I could have stayed out there for another month. What I did miss that I have never missed on a long trip before is the comfort of my home woods. I thought of the shelter the woods provide, the smell of the trees, and the pattern of deciduous leaves on the forest floor. It made me respect the southern Ontario Bush more. I had previously written it off as “not wild enough country” for me.
F&S: Would you go back?
JB: Yes, for many reasons. I want to learn how the last true landsmen of the far north travel huge distances without compass or GPS in a white out. I want to learn how they can recognize animals far away by subtle shapes. I want to learn to be a better tracker. I want to visit Pat again. I want to see a polar bear. I want to run dogs. I want to catch a 40-pound lake trout out of Great Bear.