Text: Mario Bastady
Photos: Joshua Grom, Mario Bastady, Sebastian Uhrig
At reacha, we're always on the prowl for real adventures. The journey to Victoria Island? A real highlight! Here we tell you the story of Mario, Josh, and Sebi, who mastered the Canadian wilderness with our reacha pro. Bundle up, we're taking you on a wild ride!
DISCOVERING THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
An island in a lake, on an island in a lake, out of an island (in the ocean). In 2016, my childhood friend Josh first came across the mysterious island on Victoria Island on the internet, which turns out to be the eighth largest island in the world located in the Arctic region north of Canada. Since then, Josh, now 31 years old, couldn't shake the idea of reaching this curiosity on his own and it became a small dream. But the implementation required some planning time: digital maps of Victoria Island were scoured, considerations of what equipment was needed and how it could be obtained were made. Also, teammates needed to be found, which Josh eventually found in Sebi (28) and me (Mario, 33).
The final preparations for the expedition are underway.
PREPARATION AND PLANNING OF THE EXPEDITION
After getting to know each other digitally, we started regular meetings. One of the biggest challenges was finding sponsors, but also deciding how we wanted to travel on-site and especially how the 80 kg of equipment per person should be transported. Both questions should be answered by reacha. The small craft company was enthusiastic about our idea and offered us a great solution with the reacha pro.
The mutual sympathy enabled a great collaboration, and reacha quickly supplied us with the necessary equipment for testing purposes. So, the three of us practiced in various ways with our means of transportation: Josh loaded it with various water bottles as weight and tested it in the (swampy) forest; Sebi also opted for the forest but used rocks as cargo; I refrained from both forest and material loading and pulled some of my friends through Hamburg and the surrounding area. During the ride, the transported enjoyed the best weather, so everyone demanded repetitions.
ADJUSTMENT AND TESTING OF REACHA
In order for us to cope with the very uneven terrain on Victoria Island, we adapted the reacha to our needs; because what we had in mind with it resembled a very strong misuse. It began a small race against the running time in the following weeks and the necessary adjustments to the reacha were only successful - how could it be otherwise?! - in the last days before the flight. Thus, we were able to gain stability by installing an axle between the two tires. Unfortunately, this necessitated switching to smaller tires, which should become a larger concession. With a harness for pulkas, we wanted to pull the reacha behind us without having to use our hands.
For the water passages, we planned to use a packraft per person. This should provide us with enough flexibility, as we had to cross several bodies of water at the end of the expedition to reach Third Order Island. We also thought about our safety, especially the possibility of encountering polar bears. So we discussed various measures and decided, among other things, for a tripwire, a provisional bear fence with analog alarms that should announce potential visitors. We also had a comprehensive travel pharmacy and, on the repeated advice of the inhabitants of Victoria Island, a rifle for emergencies.
Shortly before the flight, I was more nervous and excited than ever before in view of the upcoming challenges! Unfortunately, there were further complications at the airport: An employee of the airline was able to luckily organize the missing entry permit of one of our team members at the last minute, and the security staff at the airport surprisingly prevented us from carrying a Leatherman in our hand luggage, so we only had one left. But then we finally set off!
Joshua explains their plan and the modified reacha PRO
First Impressions: Arrival on Victoria Island
After several stopovers and shortly before our last landing, we were able to catch the first glimpses of Victoria Island. Out of the airplane window, we saw endless landscapes that appeared even smoother than we had imagined. Green and brown areas alternated with numerous bodies of water. No matter where we looked, there were plenty of lakes and rivers crisscrossing the island. Suddenly we were right in the middle of it. Months of planning lay behind us, and our greatest adventure lay ahead of us.
Not quite grasping what awaited us, we began sorting, packing our luggage in front of the tiny airport, and preparing our reacha. The mosquitoes welcomed us with the first stings, and the sun surprised us. We spent the next hours with the last preparations and buying liquid gas for our stoves.
The first breather on Third Order Island
The Rhythm of Adventure: Daily Routines and Challenges
The first few days did not go smoothly. We had to develop and refine daily routines. This required more communication and coordination among us, especially when setting up and dismantling camp and safely loading our reacha. We also experienced the loss of various pieces of equipment, including my two water bottles, a headband, and later an important part of the pump for the packrafts. Josh was (reluctantly) convinced that we would find our way even without printed maps, and Sebi parted ways with items more often, which we fortunately could pick up later.
In general, it can be said that the days were quite similar and always followed a certain rhythm. This was mainly influenced by the weather, which was initially favorable to us. Although it should also be noted that there was no pleasant combination of weather and mosquitoes: when the sun – as in the first few days – showed its radiant side, the buzzing monsters were always not far away, so despite warm temperatures, long-sleeved clothing had to protect against them. On a typical day, we got up around 8 a.m. and needed about two hours to prepare breakfast, pack, and brush our teeth. Then we covered an average of 5 km on foot with our reacha or on the water and took a lunch break. In the afternoon, we continued our journey until we set up camp between 5 and 7 p.m.
The camp of the three adventurers, always with them, the reacha.
Crucial Adjustments and Unforgettable Experiences
On the third day, we turned inland and left behind the last signs of civilization for good. With the utmost effort, we dragged our reacha 2km up a long and not very steep incline. I could hardly walk 30 seconds without resting and catching my breath afterward. Finally, we pushed the reacha up the last meters together. The next day, we reacted to the luggage-induced overload, and each necessarily reduced his weight by almost 30 kg. Spare tires, clothing, lamps, power banks, and extra food were unloaded and deposited on the shore of the lake. Now we had 18 more days to reach our goal. We didn't have food for any more days. With this decision, we also changed our original route and deviated from the idea of crossing Victoria Island entirely. Now we only had Inception Island in our sights.
The next day, we were greeted by rain. The view of the lake, which we had to cross with our packrafts, showed storm, headwind, and high waves. We had prepared the boats and could now load them and make them seaworthy. We had almost no practical experience using packrafts and underestimated the upcoming challenge. Although we had agreed to drive close together, it was difficult to keep an eye on each other. The waves constantly broke over us and found their way into the boat. After about 20 minutes, halfway there, Sebi could have used his packraft as a swimming pool, so high was the water. In the midst of this natural spectacle, we felt small and helpless. Probably a little panic had also spread in me by then. Later we switched from the boat back to our reacha and continued our journey on foot. In the coming weeks, we would almost perfect this switch routine due to many similar situations.
The landscape on Victoria Island was flat and expansive. There are no trees or plants taller than knee height. The ground was pockmarked, uneven, and always tempted the reacha to linger between the pot-hole-like depressions, not unlike a potato field. We affectionately dubbed this sometimes dry, sometimes wet ground condition "bumpy track." This made up a large part of the ground and did not harmonize with the reacha at every moment. Occasionally, we could switch to rocky ground, which often marked the end of a long climb. Here, on the other hand, the reacha could play to its strength and actually roll. We tried to take these sections into account in our route planning and accepted deviations from the direct line as necessary.
In the middle of the expedition, one day stood out in particular. While the previous day had spoiled us with the best weather, the current one was gloomy and rainy. We lay in the tent and waited in vain for it to pass. Finally, we decided to prepare the packrafts, as the rain apparently would not stop. For several days, Sebi and Josh had been planning to equip our boats with a DIY sail. While I smiled at them, they began to implement their project. And they succeeded! The rain stopped, but the storm remained, so the wind attacked the improvised sail made from a poncho and blew our packrafts effortlessly in the desired direction. We grinned at each other in amazement and enjoyed this adventure like little children.
That day we covered almost 17 km, and all we had to do was dip the paddle in the water to hold the direction. So we steered towards prominent targets two or three kilometers away, navigated by Josh with the GPS device. In the evening, we reached a small, beautiful island where we set up camp in the midst of a windy storm. A caribou joined us, having noticed us from the other side of the lake and swum over. It wasn't the first time we had been able to see such majestic and curious caribous up close. A few days earlier, we had also had another animal encounter: while we paddled along the coast on the sea, we saw a wolf running along the shore. It was a distant encounter, but still fascinating.
Seemingly endless expanses on Victoria Island
The Grand Finale: The Successful End of the Expedition
In the last days, we no longer had problems with mosquitoes, but instead, the bad weather plagued us. It rained continuously, and we had to cope with strong wind and falling temperatures. As a team, we weren't exclusively unhappy about the weather conditions. Of course, we would have been happy with sunshine, but we knew that Victoria Island lies in the Arctic regions for a reason, so it would have seemed absurd to us if we hadn't experienced this firsthand.
In the final stages of our expedition, we had to switch between the Packraft and reacha so often that we eventually stopped inflating the boats constantly. Instead, we simply turned them over, placed them on the reacha, and secured them there. Our caravan now looked like a series of trucks lined up. But it worked! Finally, we approached Third Order Island with every step and every paddle stroke. We felt buoyed by the prospect of the end of our journey and became faster. The goal seemed tangible, and for the first time, we could imagine reaping the fruits of our efforts. Only a few kilometers of bumpy terrain and two water crossings separated us from our goal. Victoria Island continued to throw obstacles in our way and challenged us with Arctic weather. But we did not let that disturb us and persevered. After 18 days, we reached our long-awaited destination; the world's largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island! It still feels surreal today that we took on all these efforts and were probably the first people on the island (We found nothing to suggest otherwise, and it seemed anyway that no one on Victoria Island knew about this Inception Island). We will be able to draw on this adventure for many years to come. And rightly so!
The successful end of the expedition.
Reflection and Gratitude: The End of an Epic Journey
Personally, I championed writing the blog for reacha within the team, as I am probably the biggest fan: From the beginning, I really liked our mode of transportation and it was always a great concern of mine to see my reacha on Third Order Island. That this worked out for all of us and that we also had to transport it across countless bodies of water (lakes, rivers, and even the sea) using Packrafts was impressive, exhausting, and a lot of fun. Now I am curious to see where reacha will go next! The challenges of the expedition (and the flights!) were definitely mastered by it.
Since we did not intend to make the return journey to Cambridge Bay on our own, after two days of rain and some research, we were picked up by a small seaplane. On the way back, we made a stop to collect our left-behind luggage. With that, this adventure ended, and a new one began: Due to wildfires near Yellowknife in Canada, we would face two more weeks of new experiences and adventures in Cambridge Bay. The return to Germany was initially thwarted by the fires in northern Canada, so we led the reacha through Cambridge Bay. In conclusion, I would like to thank reacha for the great collaboration! Despite one or two necessary changes to our plans, reacha was always flexible and patient with our ideas and made the expedition possible! It should be mentioned that the modification of the reacha was done by us on our own.
Heading home with the seaplane.