Monday, April 25, 2016

The First Breakdown

Saturday, April 23 was a great day to go exploring.  One of my coworkers, John, wanted to see the floe edge and asked if I could be his guide.  I agreed.  (John teaches Grade 8).  I confessed that I only travelled half the distance but was confident that we could both figure out the rest of the way.  We would follow the main skidoo tracks as far as we could and then rely on my Garmin GPS.  We were only going to spend an hour or two taking pictures then head back.  Since the weather was great, it was very likely there would be Inuit out hunting and/or travelling along the main route to the floe edge. 
I would drive my own skidoo and John would drive a borrowed skidoo.  For the skidoo enthusiast reading this post, both machines are Expedition types, but the models & years are different.  Mine is a 2015 Expedition 550F Rev-XP and the other is a 2016 Expedition 600 ACE Rev-XU.
We left at 10am, packed and ready for adventure.  I was bringing 10 gallons of extra gas, extra oil, spark plugs, and a drive belt.  I also brought snacks, toilet paper (you never know), camera, and SPOT Device.  For lethal protection, I had my shotgun and machete.  John brought similar supplies, minus a firearm.  We drove north, following the road to Victor Bay.  When we neared the bay, we could see three long skidoo trails stretching into distance towards the floe edge.  We drove down to the frozen bay and followed one of the skidoo trails.
The skidoo trail we were following disappeared when we left Victor Bay.  We had to carve our own path through the snow, leading to a bumpy ride.  Suddenly, we came across two parallel lines of tracks that were made by a truck.  Obviously, we didn't expect to see such tracks this far out of town, but since the ice is really thick, it would be possible to drive all the way to the floe edge.  The tracks eventually disappeared as well, forcing us to create our own paths again.             
Our speed of travel increased substantially when we found the main skidoo trail at the foot of the peninsula across Victor Bay.  John took the lead and we drove for quite some time at 50mph.  We followed the coastline north; I wanted John to see the awesome, jagged looking mountains.  We stopped nearly halfway up the peninsula to take a break and let our snow machines cool down.  Our location was about 37km to the north of Arctic Bay.
My skidoo wouldn't start.  I turned the key several times and used the pull cord, but nothing happened.  John gave it a go but he was also unsuccessful.  In the distance we heard the sound of an approaching skidoo.  An Inuk, who is also a Ranger, stopped and asked us how we were doing.  I explained my predicament and he examined the skidoo.  After several starter attempts, he deduced that the engine was flooded.  We removed the spark plugs and waited.  I put in new spark plugs and we managed to get the engine to start.  Just as we were beginning to think the trip was saved, the engine stopped working after five minutes.  I shook my head in disbelief. 
We could no longer risk continuing on with our trip.  My skidoo needed to be towed back to town and repaired.  We hadn't brought a tow cable on the trip.  John would have to drive me to the Northern Store where I would buy a cable, drive back out to help me hook up my skidoo, and then tow it all the way back.  I apologized for the huge inconvenience and for not being able to visit the floe edge.  He said it was alright and that breakdowns happen.
We "abandoned" my skidoo for the next two hours.  When I was shopping at the Northern Store, I told several people about the recovery operation.  (They asked me if I was going hunting but instead I told them I was saving my skidoo).  We headed back out after resting for a bit.  I was able to spot my skidoo from a very far distance - it was just a black speck sitting on a white plain (snow/ice).  My skidoo hadn't been tampered.  A part of me was hoping to see a seal sleeping on it but no such luck.  We used the tow cable to connect both skidoos, tying strong knots around the front & rear bumpers.  We also removed the spark plugs and the drive belt.  I was told that removing the drive belt is very important.       
John towed my skidoo; I sat on it controlling the handlebars.  It was a slow drive to Arctic Bay.  John kept the speed between 25 - 30mph.  We stopped before Victor Bay to let the borrowed skidoo cool down.  Two Inuk men coming back from the floe edge stopped next to us for a chat.  They told me that I was lucky that my skidoo broke down only 37km from town.  Many skidoos have broken down much further out on the land, requiring days to recover.  We asked them how were things at the floe edge and they said it was nice.  They saw several seals and narwhals.  While we were talking, a student of mine & his friend drove by on their skidoo towards the floe edge.  We assumed they were going seal hunting.
John continued towing my skidoo.  We drove off the ice, and up a small hill before merging with the main road leading to Arctic Bay.  There was a moment when my skidoo began to turn sideways, forcing me to wave to John to stop.  He drove slower, descending down the winding gravel road into the community.  He towed my skidoo to a local mechanic who would look at the engine and clean if it was just flooded.
In the end, our trip to the floe edge turned into a skidoo recovery operation/training lesson.  We learned to always bring a tow cable and to make sure the drive belt is removed first.  I should consider myself lucky because if I had been driving alone, I would have had to walk for some time before flagging down someone.  I could have also activated my SPOT Device for assistance.

This was my skidoo's first breakdown and the machine has been in my possession for a year and a half.  I've heard of skidoos experiencing problems after several months so I think I'm taking good care of my machine.  Unfortunately, no matter how good you take care of  a vehicle, it will always experience problems of some kind.     
The floe edge continues to elude me.  Maybe it's sentient and doesn't want me to visit?  Regardless, I will make the trek to the floe edge, with or without my skidoo.  (I'll borrow someone else's).


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