I’ve just returned to Winnipeg from my first trip to Churchill, MB. While it was only a training trip to learn how Frontiers North runs their trips, it was extremely powerful and educational for me on so many levels.
When I stepped foot on the tarmac in Churchill, it was almost a surreal feeling. For a number of years I’ve heard about what this place is like and people you would meet and of course, the Polar Bears. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I thought was in store for me. Day one consisted of a Town tour, hosted by Paul a local guide who runs Nature First Tours. His mustache/beard combo was off the charts and it was hard to tell if he had a mouth…when he wasn’t talking or telling a tale of years gone by. We visited the Polar Bear Holding Facility, locally knows as the Polar Bear Jail, where delinquent town bears are held for 30 days and then re-released into the wild, far from town. Then it was off to Paul’s house…yeah, that’s right, he took us to his house, but not for tea. Paul and his wife have been collecting fossils and artifacts for years. Things that was up on the shore of the Hudson Bay, things he found while trapping or during his time hitching rides on planes all over the arctic. The rest of the day was spent touring the area around town, sights like the Miss Piggy plane crash of 1979, the Inuksuk on the bay, the currently closed Port of Churchill and then Cape Merry. While day one was amazing and eye opening to the realities of living in the North, day 2 was when the real excitement would commence.
We had dinner at a local restaurant, the Seaport, seated with guests from all over the world. We then went back to our hotel and I tried to get as much sleep as I could, while knowing that tomorrow could be the day I saw my first ever Polar Bear.
When I arrived in Winnipeg on my first day, I was lucky to meet a number of the other guides from FNA and after a few moments, I think they were taking bets on whether or not I would cry when I saw my first bear. Well, I have bad news for them, when I spotted the first bear, it was so far away that I was mostly just excited to see a cream colour ball move around in the distance. Bear 1 down, no tears. We then spotted a couple of other bears, while a little closer and clearly visible that you were looking at Polar Bear, I was again excited, but no tears. Almost an hour later we came upon a bear only meters away from us, laying in the snow, out of the wind, barely making a move. We were close, so close you could look into her eyes if she was to open them. Once a few more Tundra Buggies came over, she became shy and then it happened…she got up, scratched her back leg with her massive front paws and stood onto all four legs. She slowly sauntered toward our buggy, giving me a “side eye” like I’ve only gotten from a few females in my life, as if to say “I was fine where I was guys, let me catch some sleep would ya!”
I snapped a few photos along with my guests and then she was gone into the distance. We would catch up with this gal later on, but still no tears from this guy.
As the day went on, we drove our buggy out toward the bay, a place called Gordon Point and while stopped and our guests had a “Tundraccino”, made by our buggy drive Jim Baldwin (another Jasper native), I decided to take a moment to step out on the back viewing deck of the buggy to take in the views. Then it hit me…overwhelmed with the emotion, I shed a tear, or two, which quickly froze to my face.
For the past few years I’ve been working so hard to make a living doing something I love, doubting I would ever be able to make it work. Every 4-6 months I have a small nervous breakdown, where I wonder if I’ll ever be able to “make this work”, if I’ll ever make enough money to be able to contribute to the things my wife and I like to do. I ask myself if I’ll ever be as good as those that I look up to and if I’ll ever make a name for myself in this world that I’ve chosen to participate in. But here is the reality, when I stood on the back deck of that buggy, staring out at the Hudson Bay, knowing I’ve just seen 4 Polar Bears on my first day out on the Tundra, I realized that all of the things I’m worried about, do not matter. If I didn’t work hard, I wouldn’t have been there at that moment. If I had not made an impression on the people who interviewed me, I wouldn’t have been there. If I had not been know as the person I am with the Jasper folks that vouched for me, I would not have been there. I’ll never be as good as the people I look up to, but there is one reason for that. I am not those people and I never will be. I’m so fortunate to have the people in my life that have encouraged me to be myself, if it were not for all of you, those tears would not have froze to my face while I stared out at the bay and waited for my next Polar Bear encounter (which was only a short time later).
Don’t give up on your dreams, don’t settle for comfort when you know you want to be somewhere else. Not everyone can do what I’ve done and I accept that, but for me, this is my path and however rough it becomes, I will cherish each experience I am granted for the rest of my life. Tomorrow I meet my next group that I will take to Churchill and with any luck they’ll be as inspired as I am and will go home with an experience of a lifetime that they can share with their loved ones.