The McPhayden Challenge

I woke up to the sound of black flies and mosquitoes buzzing outside of the tent. As usual, the bugs were extremely bothersome. Usually, the black flies, which are tiny black insects that swarm in large numbers, last only until the end of July. But since it never really gets above 70 degrees in Labrador, it seems like they never leave. The bug situation this year was so bad that we had to bring bug-nets. Iíve had some pretty rotten bug weather, but never so bad as to need a bug-net. Let me give you an idea of how many bugs there were: in Labrador, the government officials measure them in metric tons per hectometer, which is similar to an acre. Bug dope works only briefly. Once I put it on, it keeps the first couple batches of flies, but after ten minutes, the 100% DEET loses its potency and they swarm.

There are only two good things about bugs; one is that they feed the fish. Since there are many bugs, the fish eat lots of them. Consequently, the fish get huge. Labrador is the only place in North America where five-pound brook trout can be found. Another good thing is that the black flies, during the evening, have a down time, a siesta for about an hour, just long enough to cook dinner. Lastly, black flies, when they get in a tent, do not bother you. They fly to the top of the tent and are easily killed. Mosquitoes on the other hand, buzz around constantly and in the morning are gushing with the blood of you and your tent partner, you can never tell which. By the end of the season, our tolerance towards these pests was great and when it came down to business, we could function without being bothered.
2,300 feet above Caniapiscau River in Quebec. 

Photos: Reed Ryan (above), Stephen Penske (below)

I looked at my watch. It read 3:00. The sun was already half risen, the oranges and grays of the early morning seeping through the thick clouds filled with rain. At 54 degrees north latitude, there are only five or six hours without sunlight during the summer.

We were camped at the top of a rapid, expecting a day filled with rapids. At 8:00, the section emerged from the bush lined with the brittle caribou moss that crunches underfoot. It was a regular day for Labrador. The sky spelled rain and it was 45 degrees F. I was wearing wool pants and a sweater over polypropylene long underwear. After a hearty breakfast of cream of wheat, bacon, and coffee, we tumped and upturned the canoes. We loaded them with our wannigans, double packs, and caribou racks we found, and were on our way downriver. 

                                                                             The McPhayden Challenge Cont'd ...

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