Taking a trip down Ragged Ass Road

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

Where the sun shines at night, I can take you there

To the land of the midnight sun,

Ragged Ass Road

– Tom Cochrane

Have you ever listened to a certain song and been transported to a different place or time? Perhaps when you hear it, you’re reminded of some place or someone? Listening to the melody, or a few lines of song, evokes feelings of possibly a pleasant event or maybe a sad one. Conceivably, it may remind you of someone you love, have loved or even have lost. Music is a powerful memory maker!

From 2001 to 2011, Randy travelled to the Canadian Arctic each summer, to work as a medic, during the clean-up of the old DEW (Distant Early Warning) line sites were set up in the late 1950s, across the Arctic, to detect possible Soviet invasions during the Cold war. They were operational into the 1980s.

During the clean-up and restorations, a paramedic was required on site as many of these places were quite remote. Due to distance, inaccessibility and frequently poor weather conditions, these trips were usually three or four weeks at a time.

I found his absences from our children and myself long, as our only means of communication with him were rare calls from a satellite phone that would often cut out if the wind happened to be blowing the wrong way. I’d often find myself staring up at the night skies during those summers imaging that we were both still gazing up at the same stars.

In fact, though, he probably wasn’t seeing too many stars at all, since it was daylight for over 20 hours a day where he was. When I’d find myself especially pining for one of his static, punctuated calls, I’d listen to one of our favourite songs, ‘Ragged Ass Road’ by Canadian artist Tom Cochrane.

I felt somehow humming along to this tune, about a little old road in Yellowknife, somehow connected us, shortening the thousands of kilometers, presently between us. It described an enchanting, alluring place where the sun shines at night, a place I wanted to see for myself.

Ragged Ass Road, is one of the most famous roads in Canada. It was named by Lou Rocher, a prospector who lived there. After a night of heavy drinking with friends, that found them lamenting about a poor return for their efforts that year, they declared themselves to be ragged- ass poor and aptly renamed the street. Thanks to Tom Cochrane, it’s now a major tourist draw for the city.

When Randy would return from his adventures the kids and I relished listening to his stories of barren, landscapes that went on for miles, musk oxen, caribou, arctic hares and bears, both polar and grizzlies. We loved hearing his many tales about the marvelous Inuit people he encountered and was blessed to work with and learn from. It was difficult not to feel envious of such a magical place, that an exceptional few are able to travel to.

When people speak of bucket lists, frequently they include exotic places they’d like to visit. Perhaps they wish to travel to see the Pyramids, Great Wall of China, New Zealand or Tahiti? Not me. The sojourn near the top of my list, was to Ragged Ass Road.

One summer a few years back, all the right cards fell into place and I was able to make the trip. I spent five fine days, exploring this fascinating frontier with Randy, before he travelled onto Inuvik and I returned home.

We stayed in a charming bed-and-breakfast, in the city of Yellowknife, operated by a very amiable and hospitable couple. Ironically, she was originally from Deseronto! How’s that for a small world? They steered us towards all of the local highlights. One of the many amenities in our room was a ceiling window, perfect for enjoying the northern lights, from the comfort of our bed. They were indeed spectacular!

We met a Canadian champion musher, stopped on a road to give way to a herd of Bison, toured the legislature and dipped our toes into Great Slave Lake. At the famous Wildcat Café, we enjoyed lunch and took in panoramic views of the city, looking down on some of the floating homes on the lake below.

And yes, we did make a trek down to Ragged Ass Road. In all honesty it wasn’t much. It’s a rough, unpaved road with a few modest houses and a couple of rather “ragged” looking ones. What really counted though, was the connection Randy and I now shared, to a place where the sun shines at night, in the land of the midnight sun.

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