We’ve been planning this trip for months now and everything is finally in place. It’s time to pick up my brother Brett and his two friends who are flying in to Edmonton this morning. I arrive at the airport in a rented recreational vehicle (RV), fully provisioned for our trip north and we make our escape into the wild blue yonder.
We travelled north on Hwy 2 past wheat fields and blazing yellow seas of canola. Along the way, the land changes quickly. Open farmland yields to the forest. Wetlands and swamp spruce are frequent at the roadside. Two hours later we arrived in the town of Athabasca at the start of the River Rats Festival. The guys are jet lagged but still eager to take in a rural music festival. We spend the afternoon watching Canadian performers take the stage. The wide lazy flow of the Athabasca River and a steep forested bank serve as the perfect Alberta backdrop.
Camping Under the Northern Lights
The other three fall asleep as I drive over an old riveted steel bridge that spans the river. We have an RV site booked for the next three days at a provincial campground at Calling Lake so I pushed further north for another half hour. It’s after 8 p.m. when we set camp. The brightly shining sun seems strange to our friends, who’ve seldom travelled so far north. After dinner, we lounge around the campfire. Glowing pastels streak across the treetops as the sun finally sinks below the horizon. With nightfall comes the shimmering banner of the northern lights fluttering silently over the forest – another first for our guests.
In the morning, we meet our guide at Poacher’s Landing, a boat launch on the Athabasca River. My brother is shooting photos through the curling morning mist. We fish for pike and walleye on a remote stretch of river travelled long ago by traders and explorers. Their abandoned settlements and homesteads remain along these shores, withered and encroached upon by the relentless forest. Feasting on freshly caught fish was yet another new experience for our friends.
The Journey Continues
On the drive north to our next destination Wabasca, I pointed out a forestry road that leads to Orloff Lake, a peaceful backcountry spot I’ve camped at before. We pass a night on the shore of North Wabasca before travelling southwest on Hwy 754 to the bustling town of Slave Lake, perched on the shores of the vast Lesser Slave Lake. Under a vault of blue sky and woolly clouds, along a boreal forest byway we pondered our next adventure.