A Dot In The Knife: Packing, Airports, and My First 24 hours in Yellowknife

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People look at you funny when you have all your possessions splayed out next to your car.

Six hours before my flight, I was still packing. And I had to do it on the floor of a parking garage.

After my sister and mother helped me scramble to vacate my Parkdale apartment, I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish packing unless I did everything next to my car. Both it and my sister’s red Veloster were both full of things I had kept or planned to put in storage from my apartment. Earlier in the week my cousin had already taken another SUV full of stuff away. And just before 6 p.m. I had shipped three boxes by Canada Post. After a week of sorting, culling, giveaways to friends, packing and more discarding, it still felt like I could never get through enough of my possessions.

On top of everything, one of the zippers in a new suitcase had broken and I had to transfer everything to a new piece of luggage that night.

For the next four hours, I didn’t sleep, I just focused on the five suitcases laid out on the floor next to my car. I rolled and packed two grocery bags filled with clean laundry; took out out four other bags worth of clothing from my suitcases I figured I didn’t really need or could put in storage; and carefully filled my carry-on around a rice cooker my parents had insisted I take with me.

When my sister and Mom came down at 4:45 am to drive me to the airport, we scrambled to dump my luggage into my car and everything else into my sister’s Veloster. We headed out of the garage just before 5 a.m., my flight scheduled for departure less than two hours later. With my sister at the wheel, we made it to Pearson International in 17 minutes.

Soon after we arrived, my dad met up with us. My parents helped wheel the two full luggage carts to the Westjet check-in queue. The staff had to wave me down to get my attention. “I’m sorry, I haven’t slept, it’s really early,” I said. “It’s too early,” a woman replied with a grin.

“I’m really sorry, I paid for three luggages but I have four,” I said at the counter.
“That’s no problem,” the woman replied.
“I have a lot because I’m moving to Yellowknife,” I said.
“Are they full of food? A lot of people bring food up.”

Two of the luggages were overweight – 66 and 63 pounds, respectively. Only the 30-inch duffle I bought last-minute at Canadian Tire didn’t exceed the limit. While I was very grateful the airline didn’t charge for the extra weight or the extra piece, I regretted not cramming more stuff in.

After my dad helped load them onto the belt, the Westjet staffer gave a worry look to my four other bags – a medium-sized Paul Frank duffle, a MEC reuseable tote filled with extra warm clothes or the plane, and two large backpacks, one entirely crammed with tech gear. “I’m going to consolidate,” I told her quickly. I ended up giving up a small backpack to my sister, who promised to ship it to me later.

Saying goodbye to everyone was hard. I couldn’t help the two lines of tears on my face, so I hugged and kissed each person in my family twice. “I love you,” I told them. “I’ll call and Skype.” “Don’t cry or you’ll make me cry,” my mother said, smiling and tearing up at the same time.

On the flight to Edmonton, I ended up sitting next to a couple visiting their daughter, based in Fort McMurray. Maureen and Ijaz Ahmad were kind, wonderful people, reassuring me I was going to be okay, offering their own stories about living in a small town and what it was like getting questions about their mixed-race kids. They seemed so proud and happy of their how hard each of their three children had worked to build each of their careers and how many grandchildren they had. I passed out for 45 minutes out of sheer exhaustion, but having their company made the four-hour flight pass quickly and reminded me about how travel introduces you to some of the best people. After walking off the plane, we hugged, exchanged details and promised to keep in touch. “Come see us in Mississauga when you visit,” they said with big smiles.

In Edmonton, I boarded another sold-out flight with many tourists from Asia. A guy from mainland China sitting next to me manspreading the entire time, so I tried to sleep the entire two hour journey.

The airplane’s descent towards Yellowknife itself was odd. Vast amounts of flat, snow-covered land and then all of a sudden the town appears. I walked out of the plane directly onto a ramp and then into a small airport, where Walter, the photo editor from my paper, was waiting. All the tourists took photos of the taxidermied polar bear and seals at the middle of the luggage carousel, so I did too.

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When in Yellowknife…

I soon learned that after the creation of Nunavut, none of the great white beasts are actually in the territory anymore, save for the area’s distinct license plates.

After dropping off my luggage at my hotel, Walter and I bought groceries. I felt stupid for giving my sister all my PC gift cards before leaving, since the store was part of the Loblaws grocery chain. Only a few products were more expensive than Toronto, with most of the other prices pretty much the same. However, milk is sold in jugs here, and for a moment I felt a little silly for missing Ontario’s plastic bags.

Since we had a car, I also received a quick tour of town. I saw Yellowknife’s bars, house boats, the infamous Snow King castle, “the suburbs” and Old Town. Driving on one of the city’s ice roads definitely felt a little surreal.

After dinner, I received word the Northern Lights were out. After putting on some extra layers and heading out to a lookout spot, I could see various waves of green light in the distance swirling around in the sky. It was cloudy and the moment was over in about ten minutes, but I couldn’t believe I had seen them on my first day.

The next morning, thanks to the great Iqaluit blogger Anubha Momin (who was in town for a press trip for Finding True North), I learned there is a wonderful all-you-can eat breakfast in Yellowknife at Thornton’s. It’s hard not to have fun meeting new people over great eggs benedict and fruit-stuffed french toast.

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Anubha also helped me pick a name for the section of my blog that will chronicle my Yellowknife adventures: “A Dot in the Knife”. It references my hometown of Toronto (aka the “T-Dot“), the new city I’m in and how I feel so small in such a distinct, northern location of Canada.

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