Monday, September 16, 2019 -
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95 days straight in remotest parts of Canadian Arctic

Sam Orkin, left, and Ben Orkin


“OUR 95-DAY trip to the Canadian Arctic showed me there’s more than one way down the river. In life, we set goals, make plans and strive for those goals, yet obstacles get in the way and we have to figure out a way through or around them,” reflects Sam Orkin.

Sam, 23, and his brother Ben, 25, returned recently to Colorado from a 1,300 mile journey from Great Slave Lake to the coastal hamlet of Palautuk in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. They planned the trip on their own.

To their knowledge, no one has ever traveled this specific route by canoeing across lakes, portaging canoes and hiking across difficult areas of the tundra.

The Canadian Arctic encompasses the largest swath of uninhabited, undeveloped land in Canada’s Nunavut and Northwest Territories. It is considered the largest area of wilderness remaining on the North American continent.

The highest year-round temperatures occur June through August, thus Ben and Sam left Denver in June with their 17-foot canoe plus equipment.

During their months of planning, Sam and Ben tried to imagine what to expect. “We wouldn’t pass through any cities or have any resupply points. We knew the chances of seeing another human being were slim.

“From our prior experience in the Arctic, we expected unrelenting bugs, wind, sun and rain for days on end, as well as some of the most spectacular scenery, close wildlife encounters and an overwhelming sense of adventure and ‘wild,’” Sam says.

They could also expect 24 hours of sunlight.

“Some people might have called us insane or reckless, but we believed that our prior experience on the water and our route would give us ample opportunity to perfect our canoeing skills.

“We were looking for the purest form of adventure and challenge and this fit the bill just fine,” Sam says.

Placing maps together and researching historic routes and distances, they enlisted the expertise of their parents, Mari and Arthur Orkin of Aurora. They researched and planned 95 days of meals, assembled and reassembled their canoe, and made endless lists of what they thought they would need to survive the journey alone.

“Our parents and grandmother, Betty [Orkin], helped us in the planning. Dad thought we were a little crazy, but he was excited. Mom was really supportive, but like every parent, she had her worries.”

Mari Orkin prepared and dehydrated all of the meals. She counted the calories, portions and weight of every item. In the end, their supplies weighed 700 pounds.

Says Sam: “On the trip, Ben and I agreed that we wouldn’t say that we were hungry, because that was a given and would have made it more difficult.

“Every day, we had one granola bar, high density, high calorie, to provide high protein and good taste, plus one Snickers or Milky Way bar.

“We ate the same dinner every night depending on whether we caught fish such as Arctic char or lake trout. We wanted approximately 30-40% of our calories to come from fresh fish. Everything was rationed.”

The Orkins’ planning also involved choosing the minimum amount of clothing, tools, shelter and other items needed for survival.

“We decided not to bring plates. We used the back side of the skillet for our meals. We packed one pot and one frying pan and three sporks. After cooking dinner, we turned the skillet over, sat across from one another and ate dinner.

“Over the 1,300-mile trip, I think we each wore out four pairs of shoes. On the whole trip, we spent over 95% of the time within 10 feet of each other,” recalls Sam.

The Canadian Arctic wilderness is home to thousands of caribou, foxes, wolves, bears and other wildlife. Conditions are extreme and change quickly.

“We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do this. We knew ahead of time that it would be difficult.

“When you face challenging moments, just like in life, there’s no choice but to go forward. These were survival-type conditions and very fluid,” says Sam.

SAM AND Ben’s parents raised them with adventure and physical activities. Instead of buying Chanukah and birthday presents, money was saved for family trips.

“Our family was very non-materialistic and we learned to kayak and raft when we were 13. When our parents traveled, our grandparents would stay with us. We didn’t have a TV or an Xbox or things like that, so we were expected to spend our time doing other things.”

Both parents are experienced with canoes and kayaks and this was Sam and Ben’s fourth trip to the Arctic.

To maintain contact with their parents during the journey, they used a Delorome inReach Device. It includes two-way texting plus the ability to post updates to social media.

Friends and family could track their progress across the Canadian wilderness. Their parents could remain updated to their whereabouts and their safety.

Their Facebook page, “Into the Arctic: 95 Days,” showed their encounter with a bear, seeing Musk Ox on the tundra, and their methods for staying warm when weather turned extremely cold.

Videos showed the brothers canoeing on a lake using the Wind Paddle sail, setting up tents on granite ledges and watching the sunrise over the Arctic Ocean.

When conditions were too cold and windy, they played cards and backgammon in their tent.

PERHAPS THE most difficult aspect of the journey was portaging approximately 400 pounds of gear over the height of the land as they hiked. (Portaging is the practice of carrying water crafts over land.)

Each brother carried three loads of 70 pounds each for each portage, hiking back and forth approximately one-and-a-half miles totaling seven-and-a-half miles of walking over uneven terrain.

“The last morning, we knew we were close to the end of our journey, but we still had to paddle four miles on the ocean. We could see the small town of Palautuk.

“Since using our sail didn’t work, we paddled. When we finally got to the beach, we gave each other a hug. It felt surreal. We had been chasing and chasing this goal and we realized the adventures were over so it was bittersweet.”

Once on dry land, Sam and Ben walked into the town of Paulatuk, which has a population of approximately 300. Paulatuk people identify as First Nation (Native Americans). Spoken languages are English and Inuvialuktun.

Stopping at a store to buy food, two policeman approached them.

“We could tell the police officers were friendly, but since Paulatuk is extremely isolated, it was startling for them to see strangers walking into their community. The policeman asked us: ‘How in the world did you get here and who are you?’” recalls Sam.

The brothers explained their route to Paulatuk but the police startled since the community is not accessible by road.

“We didn’t want to portage our heavy equipment to the airport. The policeman asked if we could drive an ATV, then he handed us the keys to the police department’s ATV, so we could take our gear to the airport.

“A stranger invited us to their home and we had our first meal with wonderful people in their home.”

AFTER FLYING from the town of Inuivik to Yellowknife, where their car was parked, their journey was ending.

“It was overwhelming and strange to adjust back to ‘city life’ and social things since for 95 days, I was alone with my brother’s companionship.”

Sam returned to Colorado Springs where he is the business development manager for Elevated Insights, a fast-growing market research firm. Ben works with his father at the family-owned CPA firm.

The brothers’ achievements include canoeing sections of more 100 rivers and they have canoed more than 8,000 river miles. They have led whitewater expeditions from the southwest US to the Arctic of both Canada and Alaska.

They have attempted first descents and broken world records, including in January, 2015, when Ben set the world record for the fastest kayak to run the 277 mile Grand Canyon in 37 hours and 48 minutes.

Ben’s time beat the previous record by more than 11 hours. He has been nominated by Canoe & Kayak magazine for the annual Spirit of Adventure Award.

Part of the purpose of Ben’s trip was to bring awareness to the threats of commercialization to the Grand Canyon.

Sam reflects: “During one’s Bar Mitzvah, you’re becoming a man. During this trip, I matured from a child relying on the world to becoming an adult. I’ve learned to be more caring and more empathetic. I can overcome any obstacle in my life and I know that we are all more capable than we let ourselves believe.”

Their mother Mari says, “The toughest thing was not hearing their voices and hearing about the experience each day. Although I was confident in their abilities, I insisted on a nightly check-in by text, knowing they were off-the-grid.”

Ben Orkin attended the Denver Jewish Day School, is a graduate of Portland State University, and is a CPA. He worked as a consultant for Deloitte prior to the trip.

Sam attended Denver Academy and graduated from CU-Colorado Springs with a degree in marketing and economics.

Tahlia, their sister, also attended DJDS. She resides in Denver and is a neonatal nurse at St. Joseph Hospital.

Back in Denver, Ben says, “You know how much you take for granted knowing there’s unlimited food in the US. We had the chance to explore an amazing part of Canada and went 47 days without seeing any people. Now we’re putting down roots again in beautiful Colorado.”

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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