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1999: Travelers Take Adventure to the Limit

Travelers Take Adventure to the Limit

Central Oregon couple throws caution to the wind - and sometimes into the water

By Keith Ridler

The Bulletin

Bend Oregon October 21, 1999

Walking along the edge of the whitewater and using ropes, Ray and Jenny Jardine carefully guided and pulled their gear-filled canoe upstream through rapids on a remote river in Canada's Northwest Territories.

Suddenly the river reached out and flipped the canoe, filling it with water so quickly that it acted like a parachute in the current.

"All the time you're on the water you've got to be vigilant for what's ahead. - Jenny Jardine"

Ray instantly found himself being dragged downstream across river stones by the two ropes he held. Then the ropes came free and he was up and running with Jenny, sprinting past the rapids in pursuit of the canoe - their lifeline out of a swath of tundra tens of thousands of square miles in size called the Barrenlands.

"We had to get the boat, just absolutely had to get it. Our lives were in that boat," said 54-year old Ray Jardine, noting that a hike of several hundred miles without gear or food would have been very difficult.

The Jardines have made a career out of adventure travel, continually proving that the quiet little road that runs by their La Pine home leads to some of the most exotic locations imaginable.

They have sea kayaked the Arctic, sailed around the world, and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from one end to the other three times.

Their PCT hikes provided background for two editions of a book called "The PCT Hiker's Handbook," which has helped finance some of their travels. That book grew into "Beyond Backpacking," which was published while the Jardines were in Canada last summer.

The book explains the Jardines' theories on traveling light but comfortably on long backpacking journeys.

Those theories have drawn national and even international attention. Backpacking magazine did a feature on the "Ray Way" in 1998, and Outside magazine is planning a story on the Jardines' theories in its December issue.

The British Broadcasting Corporation did a half-hour feature on the Jardines, following them on a lightweight backpacking trip through the Three Sisters Wilderness. That feature was aired in the United Kingdom.

The Jardines put their theories to practice when they canoed down the Thelon River in the Northwest Territories in the summer of 1997, and they decided to return trip through Canada's interior last summer was in order.

"We loved the area so much we were yearning to go back," said 41-year-old Jenny.

This trip had them floating 536 miles down the Back River, paddling and portaging 137 miles up the Meadowbank, then floating 23 more miles down the Thelon, with a final paddle of 40 miles on Baker Lake to the village of Baker Lakee - a trip of 736 miles accomplished in 40 days and 40 nights.

The Jardines flew on July 12 into Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, where they stopped at a WalMart store and purchased a Coleman canoe for $350 - not the everyday choice of most adventurers but one that saved the Jardines the expense of flying a canoe to Canada.

They then took a float-plane ride of nearly four hours to Sussex Lake, the headwaters of the Back River. The area looked so inhospitable to the pilot that he said he could fly them farther down the river, an offer the Jardines politely refused, wanting to begin at the beginning.

The Back River, named after 19th-century explorer George Back, was so small that at first the Jardines spent most of their time portaging. When the river became large enough to float, they had to be on the alert for rapids.

"All the time you're on the water you've got to be vigilant for what's ahead," Jenny said.

"Not only is this a very dangerous river, it has a notorious reputation," Ray noted.

The Back skirts the northern boundary of the Thelon Game Sanctuary, and the Jardines saw thousands of caribou and dozens of wolves tracking those herds. One morning they awoke to a musk ox snorting outside the door of their tent. They encountered no bears.

For food, the Jardines at first ate what they brought along in order to lighten the canoe, then they started fishing for lake trout. The very first cast of the trip resulted in a violent strike from a monster fish - Jenny estimated it was five feet long - that promptly made off with the lure.

Usually the Jardines caught lake trout around 24 inches long, and usually on the first cast and on never more than two casts. Some of the fish, like the enormous first fish they had encountered, had managed to grow large enough to make meals of the 24-inch fish. On three occasions, these gigantic fish tried to steal one of the smaller 24-inch trout the Jardines were trying to land for dinner.

After 536 miles on the Back, the Jardines turned south at the confluence of the Meadowbank River to begin paddling upstream.

"We didn't know if anyone had gone up or down the Meadowbank," Ray said. "We were pioneering that one."

They usually camped near the river, but they found plenty of other sites farther from the river that generations of Inuit people had used hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier. Piles of rocks, called inukshuks, marked many areas. Some of those piles contained human bones, Ray said. The Jardines never camped at or disturbed those ancient sites.

"There's medicine at those places and we respect that," said Ray.

Added Jenny, "You stop at one of those places and you can just visualize what was going on. You can see the skin tents."

It was on the Meadowbank where the Jardines had the kind of experience that puts adventure travelers on the road to begin with. A successful trip has certain characteristics. Chief among them is finding the inner strength to meet the challenge of unforeseen events and being able to overcome them.

Lesser travelers most often refer to these types of unforeseen events as major mishaps - if not catastrophes.

"You've got to put some challenge in your life to enrich it," Ray noted.

They had an enriching experience then as they sprinted down the bank of the Meadowbank in pursuit of their unmanned and overturned canoe. They do allow, though, that coming close enough to drowning so that it actually had to be considered a possibility was, even by adventure travel standards, approaching catastrophic proportions.

Jenny, wearing a life jacket, made the first attempt at recovering the canoe, lunging into a quieter part of the river only to turn around and struggle back to shore, scared and exhausted and calling for help.

"I started to feel the coldness of the river," Jenny said. "That was part of the panicking."

Ray, whose life jacket had been in the boat, tried next. He reached the canoe breathing hard after the run and swim.

"I was exhausted when I got to the boat, but a least I had something to hang on to," he said.

While he took a few moments to rest, though, he noticed he was drifting down toward another set of rapids.

"I thought, 'I don't have any time to be a wimp out here,'" Ray recalled.

As he was now nearer the other side of the river, he swam to that shore with the canoe and, after resting, paddled back across the river to Jenny.

They had tied their gear into the canoe, so the only losses were some sponges and Ray's rain parka. Fortunately, they had a sunny day and time to dry their clothing. They fashioned a new rain parka for Ray from a tent ground sheet.

"It was a lesson we had to learn," Ray said, blaming their own inexperience for nearly losing the canoe. "You pay your dues and have your adventures."

After leaving the Meadowbank, the Jardines made a short portage to the Thelon River and floated down to Baker Lake, where they paddled another 40 miles to the village of Baker Lake, ending more than a month of survival living on August 24.

"We made it," Ray said. "It was a huge relief. The uncertainty was gone."

Despite their close encounter on the Meadowbank, the Jardines still had their adventure traveler mindsets intact, and on the plane ride home they started making plans for a return trip to the Barrenlands.

"This is not an experience many people are blessed with," Ray said. "It's a part of the Earth that is untouched, and there's just not that much left anymore."

The story has 26 pages. This is page 23.
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