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Great White North, or Yellowknife

Now hopefully our Canadian neighbors will appreciate that title(for those who don’t it is the name of the Canadian SNL). To this California girl, Canada truly was the “Great White North” with snow as far as the eye could see! And cold, lots and lots of cold. After two days of driving through snow, ice roads, and the Canadian bush, we reached the capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife.

So going up to Yellowknife I had no clue what kind of place it would be. Yes, Bryan did explain a little, but in my imagination, I pictured Yellowknife as this small town with not many houses or people. All I can say is that I was so wrong.

Yes, to some Yellowknife may seem small, especially to Americans who have lived around any of the big cities. But Yellowknife is thriving with hotels, shops, stores and schools. One interesting fact that was pointed out to me our first night there was how many more women there are to each man in Yellowknife. This was explained to me that it was because Yellowknife being the capital, there were a great deal of administrator jobs, which were mostly filled by women (from my understanding as much as 5 women to 1 man).

But back to my experience in Yellowknife. We rolled into town around 9 in the evening at -30C, hungry and ready to check into our hotel. Of the trip, this was the nicest hotel we stayed at, with some of the rooms having a large living room section as well. But the most important aspect was the guaranteed plugs for our vehicles’ block heaters in the engine. Never in my life had I heard or seen one of these before, but I was certainly thankful for it because it helps the car start in the morning. We then carpooled to the Black Knight Pub that was close by and serving food that evening. An hour or so later, full and content with bison burgers, we drove back to the hotel. Our first full day in Yellowknife was approaching and we had a busy day ahead of us.

Our morning began around -30 again and we hopped in the car to go hit the town. The first stop was Weaver and Devore, a general store in Yellowknife that has some of the best winter gear you could buy. Even the Canadians I was traveling with were stocking up on winter gear and thermals because the ones sold here were just that good. I also learned that the thermals I was borrowing had been bought there two years ago and were still super warm.

We then decided to take a drive on the lake. Like, why not, right (I am being sarcastic)? Let’s drive on a lake (it was frozen). So we headed on out. Driving along, we came up to some ice sculptures being built with a large ice structure being built in the background. We got out of the cars to go take some photos of the statues, when one of the men, who introduced himself as “Ice King”, working on the building structure came and approached us. He told us how the ice sculptures and building were all part of a large ice festival in March and then invited us on a tour. We walked into the makings of an ice castle, being worked on by men in the coveralls with frozen beards (and one girl with a frozen mask). The castle would be turning into a dance club with a stage, DJ and more! It was incredible seeing what they could do. Ice King explained to us that the process for carving and getting the frozen ice out of the lake has not changed much over the years. They used special saws to saw the ice and then use a gripper to pull the ice out (literally what is seen in the intro to Frozen, the process hasn’t really changed). Also, standing on the lake we got extra wind chill and I FROZE.

Now if you are a reality TV fan, perhaps you have heard of the show Ice Pilots staring Buffalo Airways on various channels. The airline is based in Yellowknife and flies World War II-era propeller airplanes year-round in the Canadian Northwest Territories. We received a tour of

their hangar and we even got to get in and tour one of the WWII planes! What was crazy to imagine was how these planes fly in -40 temperatures on the ground (even colder up in the sky) and don’t have any heating system. So apparently what they do is they heat the plane before they take off as well as have the few people in it bundle up as warm as they can. After that, there isn’t much they can do. The planes were absolutely stunning in their green paint, standing tall in the hangar and on the runway. If you ever get the chance to go and take a look, I recommend it. It was like walking with history.

And before we knew it, it was time for dinner! Let me tell you, it was a real treat and a trip to Yellowknife would not be complete without a stop at Bullocks Bistro. When you walk in, it may seem overwhelming with the walls and ceilings covered in sharpie, stickers and papers from visitors from all over the world. The menu is all locally fished and they cook it to order. It may have been some of the best fish I have ever had. The first night I had pan grilled artic cod that gave different levels of taste in ever bite. The second night (you better believe we went back) I had pickerel, pan grilled, that melted in my mouth (my mouth is watering just thinking about it). The staff was incredibly friendly and even let me behind the bar

to put a San Marino sticker I brought above the grill. Everyone in our group wrote on the wall (or in Bryan’s and my case, ceiling) to leave our mark for future visitors.

Later that evening, we bundled up and drove onto the massive lake turned ice road to take some

cool photos. We pulled the cars to the side with the hazards on, set up the tripod and played around with the lighting to get some pictures. I’m not sure how cold it was that night, but on various occasions I found myself hopping in the car to dethaw.

But that wasn’t even the end of the trip! We still had dog sledding! The next morning, we hopped in the cars and geared up in our warmest layers and gear to go dog sledding along a frozen lake. These dogs were born to run and that’s all they wanted to do. While the guides still gave us instructions, we hardly had to do anything besides hit the breaks when it was time to stop. The dogs knew what to do and enjoyed every single second of it and we all did too. My favorite part was getting to sit down in the dog sled and be pulled along, it proved an amazing opportunity for pictures and for me to lose my lens cap.

After that last day of dog sledding and meeting some of Bryan’s friends in Yellowknife, we packed up the vehicles and headed home. Throughout the trip we hit temperatures as low as -40, but what was hilarious to me is that my body acclimatized to seeing -20 as warm. Everybody on the trip was an absolute joy to be around and I couldn’t be more thankful for an such a fun trip and opportunity to experience a “real winter.” Follow along for a later post of the California girl’s recommendations for how to handle extreme cold!

Sounds like it was a fun trip, eh?

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