On our way back to Inuvik, we spear right off the ice road for half an hour to hook up with Isaac Lennie. The 20-year-old is a trapper in training, and he's just returned from a hunt where he caught the biggest wolf I have ever seen- at least eight feet from toe to tail. "It was a hell of a trip. I was out for four days hunting it. Because the land is ours, we can go out and hunt anything and everything, being aboriginal and all that. Just like my ancestors used to do. But we take only what we need. We have respect for nature."
Lennie could probably break even just hunting-that wolf skin hanging on his wall would be worth around $770 alone - but as one of the top snowmobile drivers in the region, he prefers to make his money racing. Talk about new and old cultures colliding. I mention John Steen's daughter. "Oh, yeah, she's really good. And she's my girlfriend." I'm envious of Lennie's life style. He exudes an unshakable sense of placement: He KNOWS he belongs here and, like Steen and Big Gerry, he's hugely proud of his ancestors' traditions.
As we arrive back in Inuvik, the sun has disappeared behind a blanket of milky gray clouds and within minutes the horizon blurs, the sky and land meet, and everywhere I look is a uniform dull pewter color. It's unnerving-there are no reference points, no way to judge distances.
"Worst thing that can happen in a whiteout is to spin," says Big Gerry. "Because once you're finally back on the road, unless you have a compass you'll have no idea which direction you need to drive to continue your journey. That's if you can get back on the road..."
Later that night it starts to snow heavily, the temperature drops to -36 degrees F and a northeasterly wind knifes through the town.
As we drive to Inuvik airport early the next morning, the weather worsens. I think back to my jaunty this-is-not-difficult attitude the day before and feel more than a little foolish. Those truckers deserve the seven thousand bucks they earn each month. Every damn dollar.