Checkpoint Four

Part 5 of 6

Yukon society is a peculiar blend of the arts and the outdoors – with a healthy dose of practical knowledge thrown into the mix. Nowhere else in the world can one find so many artists in the middle of such wilderness; nowhere else in the world can one find so many artists who know how to re-wire a plug. In fact, a Yukon artist could probably re-wire a house, dry wall it and enjoy a rugged outdoor pursuit before lunch time.

It was the third year of the Yukon Adventure Challenge race and we were late. Lisanna and I headed for Chooutla Lake, hoping we hadn’t missed the action. We were meant to be manning Check Point 4 with Denis and Marshall, two keen adventure racers who had decided to watch rather than feel the suffering this year.

“Where are you?” I shouted into a failing mobile phone as we drove above Chooutla Lake.

“We’re over here!”

“You need to give me more than that!” I replied.

I was answered by a hail of bear banger explosions on the other side of the lake. Within 30 minutes, Denis had picked us up and the three of us were paddling across the chilly, choppy waters in a two-man, fold-up canoe. I’m not sure what distracted me more: the sight of the lake bed between the cracks in the canoe, the cooling sensation of the waves lashing over my legs or the fact that Denis could paddle with a bottle of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Nevertheless, we aimed into the driving headwind and somehow hit the bank next to CP4.

I had never seen a check point like it. The fact that it was located on the edge of a swamp had done nothing to dampen its homeliness. Next to a large, warm camp fire were a couple of comfortable sofas and a rather fetching dinner table. On the table was a freshly cooked roast chicken dinner, a couple of cakes and a selection of whiskies and ports. A small generator was chugging away in the background, but this was drowned out by the sound of MTV from a widescreen television in a small but luxurious Bedouin tent which stood a little further into the forest.

We settled down next to the fire and I remembered studying the theme of temptation in The Odyssey at University. And I wondered whether I’d drowned on the crossing and ended up in a purgatory comprised of a classical motif.

As dusk began to fall, Marshall lifted a large lobster from a pot of boiling water and passed us each a silver crab opener and a seafood fork. He looked thoughtfully into the dark, tangled forest undergrowth. “They’ve been going 12 hours so far,” he said, switching his attention back to the monster crustacean before him. “By the time they get here they’ve walked five kilometres through that mess. Before that, they’ve cycled 13 clicks uphill and kayaked 14 clicks through rough water.” He pointed a huge pink claw at an imposing mountain on the other side of the lake, “And they still have to ascend that!”

My last sight of the camp, as Lisanna and I boarded the sinking kayak for our return trip, was of the boys preparing four whisky Manhattan cocktails for a team that was breaking through the undergrowth before them. I wonder whether they took up the offer.

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