Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yukon: Adrian or How to ruin a great trip

It has been over a week now since Adrian has forced me to abandon the Yukon River trip and after having hiked again I feel in much better shape to write about the events that led to this sad end of an otherwise fantastic paddling trip. Unfortunately, Adrian never elaborated on why he bailed and therefore I can just write about my perspective of the events.

In the divorce boat
The trouble already started at Frankfurt airport where we met for our flight to Whitehorse. I had especially come to Switzerland for a planning meeting a month before our departure date to discuss our equipment for the paddling trip. Well, I could have saved myself the time and money..... Adrian showed up at the airport with all the equipment we had agreed on - but brought at least the same amount of extra stuff we had NOT agreed on on top! True, weight is not so much an issue on a paddling trip but you still have to handle and carry all that stuff at least twice daily. And being in a boat together with all his stuff would become my problem as well... Things got even worse once in Whitehorse when I had to discover that he had not only brought tons of useless stuff but that he had no clue how to pack it either. Everything was still in bulky packages taking up way too much space and Adrian stubbornly refused to reduce the bulk. Adrian was carrying more vitamin pills than I carried snacks. He had several complete sets of outdoor clothes. He had brought a ridiculously huge amount of cooking stuff we had not agreed on despite the fact that I was to do the cooking. He had brought everything from Balsamic Vinegar to organic broth! I was seriously getting worried whether we would even be able to fit everything into one boat! Well, we did at the end, but we ended up with way too little waterproof space in our dry bags.

Right from the start Adrian showed the most negative attitude I have seen in long time. Finding a campsite was very difficult with him. No matter what I suggested - Adrian found an argument against it: The place was either too wet, too low or too high or too whatever. But he never made any constructive suggestions himself - he was just bashing mine.... He would never say: "This is a good place to camp." The closest he would come to saying something positive was: "Camping is not entirely impossible here...." By the way: His most favourite word on the whole trip was "impossible"...

The next serious blow came after a week on the water in a place called Carmacks. We had discussed at great length that we would stop at the camp ground, have a look around and then decide together whether we would stay or not. But when I was still looking around checking out the place Adrian went straight to the office and paid for our stay - forcing me to stay as well. I was furious! This was already the second serious breach of trust in one week. On such a trip you rely on each other with your life and he was just doing whatever HE liked not caring at all about what I wanted to do. Despite his promises to be more considerate it would happen again and again later during our trip: As soon as Adrian saw an opportunity to get back to civilisation and spend some money, he would just do it - no matter on what we had agreed on before. I had to realise that I could not trust or rely on Adrian.

I soon had to admit that I myself had committed a big mistake. Due to the fact that Adrian had thruhiked the Appalachian Trail I had assumed that we would have the same outdoor background, experience and mentality, something that I would call thruhiker mentality. But I should have been more careful and asked more about his AT experiences. Adrian had indeed hiked the AT 10 years before, but his and my thruhike could not have been more different. Adrian had stayed in about every B&B along the AT instead of camping out - and expected this on the Yukon as well. He had received resupply packages with gourmet food every 4 days by mail and admitted that he had never eaten a Lipton side dish in his entire life!!!! And he had slackpacked whenever possible - but unfortunately he had to realise that you cannot slackpack on a paddling trip.... .Had I know about his AT experience I would have never agreed on a joint Yukon trip. When Adrian realised that the Yukon is much tougher than the relatively comfortable AT, he acted more like a spoilt 6 year old child than like an experienced 60 year old thruhiker. He was constantly whining about something: The weather, the mosquitoes, the paddling, the quality of the accommodation...

By the time we reached Dawson City I was ready for a break. Luckily we could get a bit of distance between each other during our stay there - I would only see Adrian coincidentally during the day sitting in a cafe drinking expensive cappuccino. But the break had done us good and leaving Dawson City I felt that things had improved. It was apparent that we would never be best friends, but we had found a way to get along. Adrian would get up half an hour before me to deal with all his gear. He was lowering his expectations on a camp site. We had settled into a routine.

We were just about halfway through when Adrian started to say that he did not like the trip.It was not what he expected it to be and he said he was not enjoying it because it was too tough for him. I must admit that I did not take that very serious and assumed this was just a little depression. I tried to be very positive and cheer him up - but unfortunately it did not help. These little depressions turned into almost daily bail out threats and it quickly became apparent that Adrian was more of a burden than a supportive partner. When there was a problem my first thought was to hide it from Adrian because it would just create another one of his bail out threats. It cost me a lot of energy to motivate not only myself, but Adrian as well! It was very obvious by now that Adrian was the weaker part of our "team" - but I still tried to keep him happy. Adrian on the other hand did everything to make my life miserable: He not only came up with his bail out threats every other day, he was also constantly criticising my abilities. True, I do not have the greatest sense of equilibrium and getting in and out of the boat would not win me a prize for grace and elegance - but I coped and got better all the time. Still, Adrian was not missing any opportunity to tell me that my J strokes are a disaster, that I would not be able to climb up a steep bank or that I would break the boat. I just closed my ears and let him rattle on - anything to make Adrian happy.

Adrian finally threw in the towel just before the tiny settlement of Kaltag. We had had a rather rainy and windy day and were camped at the local cemetery... I have had a lot of time to reflect about his bail out decision, but I still cannot forgive him - neither the decision itself nor the way he communicated it.

I was not a happy hiker then...
The decision itself was bad enough: We were 3/4 or 2,200 km through with our trip and had only 1/4 or 700 km left, which meant about 10 to 14 more days on the water. I had already suggested a compromise in just paddling to St. Mary's and thus skipping the last 150 km in the real windy Yukon delta. I do understand that there are situations when it is ok to bail out of a joint trip like a medical or family emergency or when the situation gets life threatening due to bad weather or the like. But on our trip nothing even remotely close had happened. The only person with a medical problem (ear pain) had been me. There was no family emergency. We were way ahead of schedule. The paddling and the conditions had been even better than described in the various guide books and trip reports. Everything had gone as or better as expected. Still, Adrian single-handedly decided to bail out and thus forced me to do the same. I can still find no excuse for that decision. I in his shoes would have just gritted my teeth and finished the last 2 weeks. Hey, we were not talking about a yearlong expedition, there were less than 2 weeks left! I still feel that Adrian had an even stronger moral obligation to continue: HE had talked me into paddling in a two person canoe, whereas I had always wanted to paddle in 2 single kayaks. In a single kayak I would have been able to continue on my own, but I could not handle a 2 person canoe alone in these windy conditions. In hindsight his motivation became very obvious: Adrian would never have been able to get all his luxury equipment into a kayak - he needed a canoe!

The way he communicated his decision was even worse than the decision itself. A decent person would have tried to talk about the problem, see the other person's view, find alternatives or compromises - but at least have a face to face talk. Not so Adrian: At 7 am in the morning he came up to my tent where I was still sleeping and told me through the tent wall that he was leaving. He did not even have the guts to tell me face to face. I struggled to awake and tried to stick out my head of the tent (where hundreds of mosquitoes were immediately attacking me) to at least see him - well, Adrian always tried to stay out of my view range... I think that tells a lot about his character. He did not offer any apology, any compromise, or even the chance to talk his decision over. He had made up his mind - and did not care about anybody else.

This trip could have been fantastic - but it turned out to be a disaster. I still cannot help but feeling abused by Adrian.

But I learnt one thing: They don't call a 2 person canoe divorce boat for nothing.....

3 comments:

Jana und Gerald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hendrik Morkel said...

Sorry to hear that.

Personally, from my limited experience of canoeing (well, three weeks in a BCU 2 Star course) I can say I only would go on a trip in a double canoe with someone whom I really can trust - both on the water and also otherwise.

I have paddled with about ten different persons in both bow & stern, and only had a perfect match with two (one being the instructor!) - the other eight went from disaster to good, but nothing that would have me go on a trip with them.

Anyway. It is a pretty crappy decision, and I can understand your disappointment. I hope that in the future you will be able to finish the Yukon, and that you'll be able to enjoy the time you have left over there!

Anonymous said...

Your story shows how carefully you have to check people out.
D