Johnny’s over by the wall, sleeping inside his canvas duffle bag. I managed to borrow a Thermarest from Tom at Kenn Borek Air, and my big down jacket will suffice as a blanket in this chilly baggage room.

A few hours earlier, we were standing in front of the luggage carousel in the hamlet of Resolute Bay, Nunavut. No more bags were cycling through, the carousel had stopped, and everyone but us had left with their stuff. Even a group of seven people bound for a guided ski trip on Ellesmere Island, laden with mounds of luggage, had gotten every piece of their precious cargo. Their trip was organized by Arctic Watch, a guiding service operated by the esteemed polar explorer Richard Webber. Their guide—Webber’s son Nansen—hurriedly got all his clients’ bags into a waiting van to be whisked to their hotel. They bet red, we bet black. The Resolute roulette wheel came to a halt and red it was… red. Plus, the Webber’s are part of the financial and social fabric of the North, while we were mere strangers in a strange land, with no sway over the goings-on up here.

Resolute wasn’t our final destination. It was merely our last connection on the way up to Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island, where Johnny, Dave and I were headed for a 300-kilometre spring ski trip. At a Ritz-like cost of $450 per bed per night for Resolute lodging, we’d planned to camp outside the airport until our flight came in. As a dedicated Dirt Bag, I could plan and execute a month-long expedition for the price of a few days stay in the ‘Plywood Palace’—a hotel across from the airport with a perpetually unfinished look that befits its nickname.

airplanesCredit: Frank Wolf

We’d circumvented the $5,000 tickets folks usually paid to get up here by cashing in a bunch of Johnny’s Aeroplan points, but that put us at the mercy of routing that took us a couple of days. After several flight changes by Air Canada, Johnny and I had to wait four days in Resolute before our Twin Otter hop to ‘Grise.’ Dave, lucky guy, wasn’t set to join us for a couple of days. Alas, as we stood there, it was bluntly evident our bags were indeed not coming in—they’d been pulled off somewhere along the milk-run of towns we’d stopped at en route from Vancouver. Unfortunately, they contained our tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment… essentially everything we needed to camp in the -25 C weather outside.

Baggage not arriving in these remote outposts of the High Arctic is part of the game. Every flight coming in brings essential supplies that are needed in these communities. When it comes to a choice between a palette of bread, luggage for a guided group like Arctic Watch, or bags for a couple of nameless skids like us, we naturally get the short end of the stick.

polar bears in the northCredit: Frank Wolf

On the flight in, I struck up a conversation with Tom, the manager of Kenn Borek Air in Resolute. This small airline specializes in charters for the High Arctic as well as running a twice per week scheduled flight to Grise. He was a lovely fellow, originally from Newfoundland and had been working at KB for 12 years. By the time we landed, I felt like Id known Tom all my life. A couple of valuable tidbits he gave me during our chat was that the airport in Resolute was open 24 hours, with a heated bathroom inside. There was officially ‘no camping’ inside the airport—as a sign by the exit loudly proclaimed—but our somewhat dire situation required a unique solution.

I took a beat to observe the frozen, windswept tundra outside the doors of the airport—a sobering sight indeed considering our bag situation. Looking for options, I moseyed over to Tom’s office and said, “Well, Tom… our bags never showed. We have no camping gear. Any ideas?”

cold winter weatherCredit: Frank Wolf

“Hmmm, there’s no one at the hotel desk at this time of day”—it was 10 pm—“so you can’t go there…” Tom glanced side to side, scanning the tiny 1,200-square-foot airport. He then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Follow me.”

Leading me past the check-in counter and through some swinging doors that had a ‘Restricted Access’ sign on it, we arrived in an empty space dimly lit by the springtime 24-hours of light emitting from a porous back entrance. “I think you should be able to stay here tonight… no one’s going to come in. Just make sure you’re cleared out and sitting in the waiting room by 6 am as that’s when the staff will get here for tomorrow’s flight.”

I thanked him profusely and, on the way out, he pointed to the room beside his office. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said, “I’ll leave this room open, and you can help yourself to the coffee, hot water, popcorn, oatmeal—whatever you want in there… the only thing I ask is that a pot of coffee is ready for me when I come in at 7 am every morning.” He winked, grinned, shook my hand and swept out of the airport leaving Johnny and I to our unexpected accommodation. We made do with what we had for sleeping—essentially the clothes on our bodies and duffle bags as blankets—and nodded off to sleep in the baggage room.

luggage in airport missingCredit: Frank Wolf

And so began our four-day stay in the Resolute Airport. The longer we stayed, the more we became a fixture in the airport. Johnny and I dutifully vacated the baggage area in the early morning. We said hi and chatted with the regular crew from Canadian North Airlines and made endless pots of coffee for Tom, his pilots and everyone else who worked there. Shuffling across the airport floor to brush our teeth and say “good morning” in passing to the airport manager (who also lived in a room there with his family) became routine. There was even Wi-Fi for us to veg out on our phones if we wanted. One day, we walked the six-kilometre gravel road into town just for something to do, got picked up on the way in by the local town fixer known simply as ‘Ozzie,’ and then bumped into Tom at the grocery store and got a ride back with him.

making friendsCredit: Frank Wolf

On night two, we moved out of the luggage room and into the warmer confines of the Kenn Borek offices. We phoned around various airports we’d passed through trying to locate our bags, eventually finding them stored in Iqaluit where a friendly baggage person went and pulled them out and placed them on the plane for us so that on day three of our stay, our stuff finally arrived on the same plane that Dave came in on. Who knows if we’d have ever gotten them otherwise. Despite getting our camping gear and uniting with Dave, we stayed on in the airport. Everyone was used to us by now and we’d become quite comfortable there.

Sleeping in an airportCredit: Frank Wolf

The long and the short of it is, had we not lost our bags, we would never have gotten to know the community that exists around the Resolute Airport. The building manager, the flight crew, the pilots and especially Tom became our friends and acquaintances as we merged into the daily fabric of life in an Arctic terminal. Sometimes a loss is a gain—by losing at Resolute roulette, we won big in terms of experiencing and getting to know a unique group of people that would otherwise have been mere faces in the crowd on the way to our destination. In this fortuitous twist of fate, one of the most memorable parts of our journey happened before we even got to the start.


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