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Hay River, Northwest Territories   08/17/06 (Day 114)
Who's Counting?

We’re not sure if this is cool or just sad, but every year both of us manage to forget our wedding anniversary. This is why we are momentarily confused when Eric’s mom calls with congratulations. Luckily, before we can blurt out “for what?” it dawns on us that we got married four years ago today. Or is it five? Whatever.

The further north we travel on the lone road that cuts up through northern Alberta and into the Northwest Territories, the more alone we feel. The way ahead is long and straight and, honestly, a bit boring. Or monotonous, anyway. But there is something exciting about not seeing a town or a human (or any evidence of either) for hundreds of miles. No power lines. No signs. Not even a turnout. The only reminder of civilization is the road we’re on.

We’re pretty sure this feeling could go from “alone” to “lonely” pretty quickly. But we’re just passing through and, for now, the aloneness makes us feel liberated, like we can do anything we want out here—drive 100 mps, camp wherever we feel like it, whatever—and there’s no one to tell us otherwise. It’s like being one of the pioneers, only our covered wagon has been upgraded to Chevy Silverado.

All this nothingness does bring on an urge to hoard things as if we’re never going to see water or chocolate chip cookies or toilet paper again. What we’re seeing plenty of are birds—and not just the disturbingly oversized ravens that seem to be everywhere around here. Nope. We’re seeing exciting birds like bald eagles, osprey, goshawks and something fast and darty like a peregrine falcon crossed with a pheasant. Hey, we’re not ornithologists.

It must be said that the boreal forest here is not particularly beautiful, made up, as it is, of Aspens and some stick straight pines with a lot of standing water punctuated by stunted, bent, sad-looking spruce trees. The effect (picture a Tim Burton set) is not helped by the fact that at this time of year the sun never rises in the sky any higher than shoulder level which casts a gloomy kind of tepidness on everything in its languid path. The warmest part of the day is around 4pm which, if you think about it, is really noon when the sun doesn’t set until 11 pm.

Suddenly, we cross the 60th parallel and enter Canada’s Northwest Territories and we are immediately greeted by an adorable visitor center (all blue and white and dotted with flower-filled planters). Unfortunately, the best information they have is a map of Wood Buffalo National Park (more on that later) in French and a brochure for a lodge we’re interested in which contains rates from 1997.

One other tip when traveling through the NWT: It’s not only illegal to use a radar detector in the province, it’s illegal to even possess one. In the parking lot of the visitor center we take a moment to bury ours in the back of the Silverado, then head back out on the road where a wolf promptly steps onto the pavement a few hundred yards in front of us. The startlingly tall, lanky thing slowly saunters across to the other side of the road, shooting us a disdainful sidelong glance as if to say “you WILL be hitting those brakes.” We do.

We make it all the way to Enterprise before their tourist information center closes for the day and there we take advantage of their abundant information and free internet access. There’s even a free book swap and we are tempted to grab a worn paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code, then we remember that we’ve had time to read exactly zero books so far on the journey.

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