Clark and I are safe and sound, back home at last in sunny Australia. From where I sit I can see the sparkling blue ocean waves furling onto the golden sands of Palm Beach, and feel the sun literally burning warmth into my skin, soothed by a gently cooling sea-breeze. The sound of my watch alarm didn't strike dread into me this morning, and I had no need to try and pretend I didn't hear it and lay still to avoid hauling. Im not saying I leapt out of bed on the contrary - I simply rolled over, spread right out across the expansive bed, and drift back off to sleep, blissfully unburdened by guilt. It is good to be home.
It seems a lot of you are experiencing withdrawals from a lack of expedition updates each day, and so here is one last one covering our journey home, and announcing who won the coveted 'Guess how many days it'll take' competition and others. I must warn you though, this is the last update for a while, so some of you might want to print it out and stick it to your upper arm like a nicotine patch or something, because after this, you're going to have to go cold-turkey.
The last update was cut off prematurely by the scent of freshly baked chocolate brownies wafting into our cabin aboard the Jock McNiven tugboat that had just plucked us from the most westerly tip of Victoria Island. The gross overindulgence of food and sleep continued until we docked 48 hours later at Tuktuyuktuk. "So how are you getting out of here?" Steve, the skipper, asked. We had no idea this whole tugboat trip was not in our script at all. "Umm.. fly, I guess?" We looked around hopefully. We soon learnt that it wasn't uncommon to have to wait several days for a flight out, especially if we had luggage, and we'd likely need to book well ahead as it was only a small twin-otter plane. Steve dialled the number for Aklak Air and passed me the phone. In classic 'She'll be right mate' style that had got us this far, we could only hope for the best."Yes, today... Thanks", "Luggage?" I braced myself, "Arrrh, yes, quite a lot actually..." Providing we got in an hour or so early, apparently it would be ok.
We gave the dismantled PAC frame to the tug, as they said aluminium hollow-section like that was always useful, and chucked out the decaying Kevlar covers except for one that we'll put on display at our welcome home party in Sydney next weekend. The left over flares, bullets and bear spray found a home with a local Inuit hunter fisherman, and we fitted the remaining gear into 10 of our big yellow Ortlieb drybags instead of the original 16. We bid goodbye to our hosts and waited at the 'airport' a small shed-like building which was completely abandoned up until check-in time when a chap drove up and ambled over to a desk. So much for getting there early! The check-in for our 'excess baggage' was quite amusing. We had to place four bags at a time on a prehistoric weigh scale where he actually balanced it out using led weights to get a reading. "Oh that's a lot of gear you got.." he mumbled to himself as he wrote down the weight. "This is going to cost something...". We winced at each other as he started attaching a fist full of baggage stickers onto the weighed bags. After tagging each one, he carried it out the back, and as he carried the fourth one out, we stacked another four onto the scales ready. As he returned, he launched into conversation about the exorbitant price of transporting goods by air, and, so involved was he with this monologue, that he just carried on attaching baggage tags to our new, unweighed bags, and carrying them out the back in turn. We pretended to listen intently, all the while fighting back the explosive urge to burst out laughing at the irony of it all, as we shot each other looks of incredulity. How could he not realize that these were four new bags? As he heaved #8 out the back, we shrugged our shoulders and slipped the last two bags onto the scales with an exaggeratedly innocent whistle and waited. These two had our trigger-locked shotguns wedged under the straps on the outside. Surely these bags looked sufficiently different from the others to pull him out of his trance. He reappeared. "Road transport from the islands is not too bad, over the ice road in winter..." We raised our eyebrows in disbelief as he affixed tags to these bags also and they too, joined the others out the back. "Right, so now.. where were we? Do you have any other bags?" We looked around where our enormous pile of bags had conveniently vanished, and shook our heads. "Nope". "Where's that weight I wrote down...Here we are, well that comes to $223 that's not that bad actually is it? There was a lot of gear there." We could hold it in no longer, and cracked a large grin. "Yeah, we have to learn to pack better hey!"
It wasn't until we were crammed on the little Twin Otter plane with the other passengers roaring down the airstrip that it suddenly occurred to us... "Hey Clark, I hope the argh... I hope the plane can take off with the extra weight he didn't realize he was loading on hey!" "Oh yeah!" Clark's eyes widened, "That's a thought hey." Mercifully, it did, and we let out a quiet sigh of relief as we gained cruising altitude to Inuvik.
We spent two days in Inuvik, absorbing some culture and beer at various taverns including the apparently infamous "The Mad Trapper", while Nunavut Tourism kindly organized us some sponsored flights back up to Cambridge Bay and beyond, with free excess baggage.
Our good mate Wilf was again waiting for us at Cambridge Bay airport when we touched down, and after a hearty congratulation, drove us back to his place, put us up in a spare room and said "Well ok boys, Dinner at 7:00. It's good to have you guys home hey." With that he cracked open a bottle of vodka he'd been saving, and invited Colin over, and we celebrated. It was like being home. Our home away from home. Thanks Wilf.
We only spent a few rushed days back on Victoria Island, catching up with friends, visiting Brent Boddy's lovely cabin out of town, and finally collecting our 'civilian-wear' clothing and shoes we'd stashed at the hangar. Phew. The previous week we'd both felt like knobs having to walk around town and hotels in matching expedition gear with epic boots and badged up jackets.
We bid Victoria Island farewell, for now anyway we both have a sneaking suspicion we won't be able to stay away for long. Build a little summer cabin perhaps? Visit friends? We spent four days in Vancouver ticking off all the things on our cravings list like seeing a movie, ordering pizza, sitting at a café and so on. It was heaven. We met up with heaps of god friends, including good ol' Craig Patterson the lawyer who saved us from the trucking strike in 2005, and also Karen, a bubbly old school friend of Clark's who took us for lunch, and then to the Global TV studios where we went on live TV 'News at Noon' which was a laugh.
Walking back into our hotel room - which had just been nicely made-up for us by room service - we suddenly realised what a suspicious scene the cleaner would have been presented with. There, just inside the door, was a large neat pile of ten identical, easy-to-carry, unmarked duffle bags, resting ontop of these were two black shotguns that looked like they'd been shortened (we'd removed the barrel for transport), and on the sink next to all this - clip lock bags of our various left over multivitamin, calcium, zink, and other assorted pills. We half expected some kind of SWAT or SAS team to be waiting for us in the bathroom.
Just as we were about to board our long-haul flight direct to Sydney non-stop with Air Canada, Clark was called to the check-in desk and came back moments later, grinning. "I just got upgraded to Executive First Class! Yeah!! Bummer though, he said there was only one spot left." We were so used to sharing everything for the past three months that the obvious thing to do was a shift system. "Seven hours on, seven hours off?" I nodded, grinning. The bed-seats extended totally flat, and we were waited on hand and foot. Luxury.
As we walked down the ramp into the Arrivals Hall at Sydney Airport, to our surprise we were mobbed by TV cameras, microphones and reporters. Chanel 7, 10 and ABC national news it was amazing. It took us a good 10 minutes to field all their questions before we could make our way to our families, who were hiding (not well enough as it turned out) from the camera crews in the background. Hugs all 'round and then we made our way back to our cars, and back to our respective home sweet homes.
The weeks since then have been a mixture of hectic interviews, making sponsor care packages, writing articles and speeches, and - most importantly - spending long overdue, blissfully relaxing time with friends, family and loved ones.
GORE-TEX®, Australian Geographic, Paddy Pallin and Icebreaker have all teamed up to organize a lecture tour for us in Sydney (22nd), Brisbane (28th) & Melbourne (29th) of this month (October). Details (including the venue & times SYDNEY NOTE Aust Geo lectures are no longer at Terrey Hills! It's at an awesome new auditorium at Surry Hills can't wait!) can be found at www.PaddyPallin.com and I'll send out a separate news item alert about these soon for those of you who stopped reading ages ago! Hope to see as many of you as possible there! Clark and I just wrote the speech yesterday - should be fun.
We're both very much looking forward to our welcome home drinks on Sat 11th, and hope to see you there! (Details in the previous news item)
Now for the COMPETITION RESULTS!
The 'Guess the number of days it'll take' competition was won by... *drum roll*... Ashley Dyke from Tasmania who guessed 69 days the closest entrant to the actual 70 days! Congrats Ashley his video iPod from iiNet is already on its way! Clark and I had a good chuckle looking at the duration that some of you pessimists out there entered! 170 days? What's with that? =P
The 'Short film clip' competition was won by young Jim Colley in Sydney, who although only 10, edited together his own sequence of shots taken on his various kite-buggy adventurers! It's awesome! Take a peak at Jim's video HERE. He's already tuning out with his video ipod from iiNet! Well done Jim!
Our live expedition updates are written on our tiny ASUS Eee PC 900 laptops, and sent via Iridium 9505A satellite phones from Landwide Satellite Solutions, using email compression software xGate from Global mareine Networks! Thanks guys - it's the perfect set up!