Something unexpected has happened to me -- it's called Churchill.
I write a blog for Travel Manitoba called Unexpected Manitoba. Two weeks ago, I was at a meeting with Travel Manitoba's vice-president of advertising and communications, Linda Whitfield. Linda casually inquired if I could clear my calendar to participate in a Northern Lights & Winter Nights media trip to Churchill.
I still wonder if it would have been more dignified to wait a millisecond before shouting -- YES!
The media trip was a joint effort staged and presented by Frontiers North Adventures, Travel Manitoba and Destination Winnipeg to promote a relatively new tourism product that focuses on Churchill's northern lights.
Selected journalists, photographers and reporters, along with a few tourists from around the world, were invited to travel to Churchill and live the experience. Then, if all went well, these illustrious photojournalists would submit fabulous stories and astounding photographs to their newspapers and magazines -- and yes, even to the Unexpected Manitoba blog site.
Our hosts for the six-day excursion had us rally in Winnipeg for our initial icebreaker (there's bound to be plenty of bad jokes about snow and ice in this story, so I'll apologize only this once). Our out-of-town guests were staying at the Inn at The Forks, so cocktails at the hotel lounge, The Current, made sense.
Over the next few hours I met my travelling companions, 13 in total.
By the end of that first night, I was floating around up in the stratosphere. (Which would be a definite advantage during the aurora borealis-gazing part of the program.) I couldn't wait to leave in the morning.
There's no road leading to Churchill, which sits resolutely on the shores of Hudson Bay, 1,050 kilometres north of Winnipeg -- but there are flights leaving daily that take about two hours flying time. Alternatively, the Via Rail train, affectionately called the Muskeg Special, leaves from Winnipeg and takes 48 hours to get there (give or take). Your choice. We were travelling by plane.
Even though it's still serious winter up there, this trip was definitely an Unexpected Manitoba event. My new friends and I travelled well together. That's no small feat when you're talking about 13 diverse personalities, cultures, accents, talents and so on. If anyone had an ego, they checked it at the door. Everyone felt welcome and included, and all were vital components in the adventure.
Over the next five days and nights, we played hard. At the end of the day, just when I was looking forward to my bed, I was gearing up and heading out onto the frozen Churchill River to look for the elusive northern lights. I'm proud to say I stayed awake until 3:00 a.m., three nights in a row. Sure, it just about killed me, but I did it. And I have the photos to prove it.
I'm planning to share the highlights with you and I'll be posting my adventures on the Travel Manitoba blog site. Together we can watch the aurora borealis tumbling in the night sky while lying on our backs on the frozen Churchill River. We'll cheer on the mushers competing in the Hudson Bay Quest, a 400-kilometre dogsled race, and we'll try our luck at mushing a team ourselves. There'll be snowshoeing across the tundra while watching each other's backs for polar bears -- and we'll eat muktuk.
However, like muktuk, these stories are best served in small, tempting, bite-size pieces -- otherwise they're hard to swallow. To get started, and to find out about muktuk, tap into Travel Manitoba's blog: www.unexpectedmanitoba.com/author/jcrone