Expedition Q: Q&A with Kate Breen and Eric McNair-Landry

Photo: Erik Boomer
Photo: Erik Boomer

The Expedition Q team is made up of a group of friends who are connected in more ways than one; there are two couples and a pair of siblings in the crew. We sat down with Kate Breen and Eric McNair-Landry to find out a bit more about the expedition, and here’s what they had to say.

NRS: You skied, whitewater kayaked and sea kayaked across Southern Baffin Island. Logistically, how do you prepare and accomplish this kind of expedition?

Kate Breen: The preparation and planning for the expedition started about a year prior to our actual start date, but a lot of time and thought went into planning each leg of the journey. We started by mapping out our route and figuring out the length of time that each section would take. From there, we calculated our food and fuel needs and came up with a gear list. Luckily we were able to resupply just before setting out on the 56-day sea-kayaking portion of the trip. About four months before we set out, Boomer and Sarah traveled by snowmobile to a location near the halfway point of the trip and placed a resupply cache. We were happy to find it exactly just where they had left it, and relieved that it hadn’t been eaten by wolves!

Eric McNair-Landry: Adding to that, we did a lot of research to make sure that the route could be traveled, and strategized so that transitioning from one sport to another would be easy. Versatile and lightweight equipment was key; specifically our dry bag systems, clothing that weathered every element, and lightweight pack rafts.

NRS: Has anyone else attempted this route/expedition before?

EM: Large sections of our route were composed of old Inuit hunting routes; often in the spring, families would travel inland to the Amadjuak and Nettilling lake where they would hunt for caribou and geese and fish arctic char. But Inuit people generally did not travel on icecaps, and rarely traveled through whitewater.

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Photo: Erik Boomer


NRS: What was the goal of the Inuit people who traveled this route?

KB: This route was a great way for Inuit to gather at the center of Baffin Island to travel from one community to another. These gatherings provided an opportunity for people to meet up and exchange stories, and people would often even end up meeting their future husband or wife on these occasions. During the summer months, they were excellent caribou hunting grounds. Recently though, the caribou in Southern Baffin Island have been in serious decline. In fact, on January 1, 2015 the government put a complete ban on the hunting of caribou on Baffin Island. So, there are fewer reasons to travel this route now. The vast majority of travel between the communities now takes place by plane.

NRS: What is the biggest challenge on an expedition like this?

EM: Capsizing in a freezing ocean, especially on the longer crossings could have been very dangerous, and losing control of the boat in the rapids could have ended the expedition. I can’t imagine that the wooden frame would have taken wrapping around a rock particularly well. Otherwise, on an expedition of this magnitude, the everyday physical grind compounded with the freezing temperatures made for a large challenge.

NRS: Kate, how did you get connected with this wild bunch?

KB: Eric likes to tell people that the expedition was our second date. The truth is, we’d been dating for about a year before we left on the expedition. On our first date we went skijoring, fell through some overflow ice and got soaked up to our thighs. Luckily, we made our way to his cabin and got warmed up with a hot chocolate next to the woodstove.

Photo: Erik Boomer
Photo: Erik Boomer

NRS: What did you hope to inspire with this expedition for people outside of the Baffin community?

KB: In part, people found the expedition inspiring because they were able to follow along with updates through the Internet and local radio. Every week we phoned in on our satellite phone and gave a little interview. I think people were impressed that we built our own kayaks and that they served us so well on such a long trip. We just wanted to remind people of what an amazing boat the traditional kayak is and how fun they are to build and paddle.

EM: We wanted to give people down south (as we like to say) a taste of what life on the land would have been like only 100 years ago. Specifically highlighting how amazing these kayaks were, and how they inspired the modern sport of kayaking as we know it today.