My View, Ben Parkinson: “I have never been anywhere so isolated”

Ben Parkinson in his canoe on the Yukon
Ben Parkinson in his canoe on the Yukon

After months of planning, the Yukon adventure has been smashed. We got off to a less-than-brilliant start when our flight was delayed from Heathrow because of a damaged wing, which meant we missed a connecting flight to Whitehorse completely.

We arrived over a day late which meant no time at all for practice and very little time to get the food that we needed from the local shop.

Because you’re not allowed to take foodstuffs into Canada, everything we needed had to be bought locally. The shops cater for people on expeditions and sell dried ration packs, but we had less than 20 minutes to buy food for eight days on the water at no less than 6,000 calories a day. Chocolate, hot chocolate and more chocolate. Lots of porridge, dried milk and fruit and nuts. For the evening we bought freeze-dried meals, which were quite tasty.

When we got to the water I was introduced to my Canadian canoe. The scenery was indescribable but you are in the outback. I have never been anywhere so isolated.

Bear safety procedures were no longer a joke. We had to be fanatical about cleaning up and bagging everything and never letting any food get onto our clothing.

Apparently, bears go mad for toothpaste so you can’t clean your teeth using the river water as they can scent it for miles.

We were travelling unbelievably light as everything has to go into your canoe. No changes of clothing – just a dry suit to keep you warm in the evening.

And the weather was particularly cold as we arrived. Fortunately very little rain though. This did mean we saw some incredible skies and even got a show from the Northern Lights. It is impossible to describe this and impossible to believe that it’s completely natural.

The water on the river is very fast-running and we had to navigate a couple of rapids. Although this looks very impressive, it actually makes for very easy going and the journey down the river went without a hitch.

Camping was a bit more of a problem! As the ground is very rough I found it hard going on my legs sometimes, but once we had set up tent the lads would carry me down to the fire and we would have a brilliant night. No TV, no radio, no mobile phones – just great friends from Pilgrim Bandits and Ernst & Young.

We used the campfire to cook, keep warm, and occasionally dry essential items of clothing. I shouldn’t imagine you will find the director of one of the biggest firms of accountants in the world drying a squaddie’s underpants over a fire with a stick anywhere else in the world.

We were on our way, we were alone and anything that we needed had to be made or done without. There was no turning back and all we wanted now was to find the bears!