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Lange; Out Of Touch

07/26/11 5:55PM By Willem Lange
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(HOST) The Deficit Debate in Washington has driven commentator Willem Lange to take some serious action... he's going camping.

(LANGE) A few days from now at one o'clock in the morning, a commuter bus from Middlebury will show up in my back yard, load five friends, our gear, and me, and head for Montreal. If all goes well the rest of the day - if we make all our fairly short connections in Toronto and Edmonton, and our baggage stays with us, and the weather in Yellowknife is good - we'll be sleeping that night on inflatable mats inside three tents beside a lovely little river north of the Arctic Circle.

This will be the thirteenth northern trip of the Arctic Division of the Geriatric Adventure Society. It may well be the last - almost all of us are in our seventies now - but we've been saying that for the last two or three trips, at least. The physical part of the trips - paddling, portaging, hiking - hasn't gotten any easier with time. But the fish, the migratory birds, and the wildlife seem to grow more marvelous with age.

One of the great joys of my life has been that I've been able to experience wildlife that's been long absent from this neck of the woods: herds of caribou and musk oxen, Arctic wolves and foxes and hares, sandhill cranes, snowy owls, and even a few Peary Caribou, which they say are disappearing. When you see a line of muskoxen clomping across the tundra far off, with their long, flowing hair hanging down to the ground, you can, by squinting, almost imagine you're watching a line of woolly mammoths. The valley we'll be traveling has wolverines: I'm hoping to see one finally. I'm sure a few inquisitive grizzly bears will give us a look. We'll give them one, too. They have a way of commanding attention.

Over time, the men in our group have gotten pretty used to each other. Each of us has a specialty: filleting fish, making cheese-and-mushroom omelets from freeze-dried ingredients, scouting routes through rapids, or repairing broken fishing rods or tent poles. Even with all the wonders of the tundra, the trip would be nothing without friends.

Northern travel is also about getting away from everyday concerns, which seems especially important this year. We'll have no idea, for example, whether the champions of the battling budget news conferences in Washington will settle their differences - or not. It'll happen - or it won't - while we're far away and almost completely out of touch with matters that have captivated the popular imagination.

We'll emerge from our isolation (again, if all goes well and the weather in Coronation Gulf allows us to paddle along the coast) - we'll emerge to find the rest of the world either trembling in fear or cheering in relief. Whichever it is, I can imagine our reaction after weeks of another life - "Huh!"

This is Willem Lange, turning it over to you; I've gotta get back to packing.
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