Pain. Blinding, blissful pain. Memory is a harsh thing. We forget the way blood tastes in our mouths. The way electricity shoots through our veins. The sweet taste of air when waking up from a concussion. Our memory decides to forget these details so that we can live without fear, driving towards our own oblivion with a shit eating grin on our face. I was thrown from the snowmobile, landing on pavement. My side instantly gave way to the thermos in my jacket, fracturing the point connecting rib to sternum and knocking the wind clear out of me. I felt like I’d been kicked by a mule, and instantly remembered what it felt like to take a hit from a linebacker. How could I have forgotten this feeling? Let me back up a bit.
Canada’s great white north. Long have I dreamt of tackling Mt. Thor in the Baffin Islands, reaching the North Pole on foot, or just living like Wolverine for a few months and braving the harsh elements. This latest trip offered none of those things, but was still an amazing experience that tested my resolve, pain tolerance and willpower to do great things. I was given the opportunity by my command to tag along with a local Army unit making the trip north, participating in one of the Canadian Military’s annual exercises (Details and names will be left out for obvious reasons, so don’t get all in a huff about it).
With any massive military exercise, training is needed and safety is paramount, so a training we did go. The Canadian Infantry outfitted us all in their kit, from Muckluck boots and snowshoes to their issued sleep system and weapons, we were treated like Canadian soldiers thorout the entirety of the exercise. We were taught the basics of Arctic survival, how to live and do business in the blistering cold. As an Air Force Security Forces troop, I train with the Army here and there but its a rarity I get to play in this kind of arena. As the only two Air Force personnel in the exercise (Young Gingerton tagged along) we did get some shade thrown at us from our Army colleages, but nothing we’re not used to. One of the drawbacks of being Gun Slingers in a service known for Room Service and Bureaucracy, but I digress. The Army folks we trained with, both Canadian and American, were neat, tight and wrinkle free, each experts in their respective feilds and excellent resources for making the grass grow. The training went smoothly, each day spent learning something new, with a bit of refresher from the day before, culmating in a night in the wilderness testing how low we can bring our body temps without dying. So cold. So, so cold. But in a good way.
With training complete, we were off to play in the big game. Each member seperated into different Infantry squads within the Canadain ranks. For my small section, the plan was to move north, covering 177 miles over the arctic, and playing different fuck-fuck games once on the X. We left the starting line dressed for subzero temps and had high hopes for the exercise. My Canadian handler, lets call him Master Corporal Irish, piloted our LOSV (Snowmobile), while I sat on the back, chronicaling our epic journey. With only an hour in, a snag unraveled what would be a defining moment for my little jaunt. While transitioning from the last bastion of Road onto the snowy trail, our LOSV tipped, throwing me onto pavement, fracturing my ribs. 60 Seconds later, I’m able to catch my breath, and tell my handler “I think I’m a little fucked up”. MCpl Irish, a little fucked up himself, explained that we needed to get a new LOSV, and press on or we’d risk putting a kink in the entire operation. I agreed, and we trudged onward.
To keep things in persective for everyone following along, this happened at point A. on the map. We were given a new LOSV very promptly, and got on our merry way. The pain I was dealing with at this point was mind numbing, but like anything else, eventually you get used to it. However, once we reached B. on the map, I felt like Rhianna after a casual weeknight with Chris Brown. My side was messier than a Raccoon in a blender and felt twice as bad. At this point, while setting up our tent for the night, MCpl Irish noticed the extent of my piss poor performance and called for a medic. Around midnight that night, one showed up and gave me the once over.
Medic: Its probably broken. You need to be airlifted out so we can get X-Rays done.
Me: That really isn’t in the cards pal. The ball busting I’m gonna hear is bad enou….
Medic: Its not up for debate, I’m just outlining the steps moving forward.
Me: And I’m also outlining the steps moving forward, as what you dictate means diddly friggin…
Irish: Wait now. Can you just fix him up now and we can re-asses his health in the morning? A chopper won’t be available till the morning in any case.
Medic: I intend on administering 3ml of Toradol for pain management, with another 3ml in the morning. Once my sat phone receives a signal, I’m going to take whatever instruction Major Stone (his boss, afterward, my good buddy) gives.
Irish: That will work, thanks doc.
Me. Sure, whatever.
And so, I was on the T-Train, Toradol, the infamous pain meds given to NFL players was rushing through my system, doing nothing short of fucking magic. And with the SatPhone unable to get a signal in time, I was on course to our predetermined location without FRAGOing the operation a single minuete, while simultaniously giving the suckbag medic a big GFYS. That next morning I jumped on the back of the LOSV ready for max speed. Feeling like a new man, we left point B. on our way to point C. After a good 4 hour trek, MCpl Irish had a fall of his own. His wrist, still banged up from our first big fall, gave out on him during a particularly shitty bit of trail. His grip let go as he slipped off the LOSV, getting hit with the Komatik(Sled) we were trailing behind us, leaving me on the back to hop forward and grab the reigns before we crashed into anything. I looked back and saw MCpl Irish’s body limp and lifeless in the snow, his body not moving for the longest six seconds in recorded memory. I ran back to him after hitting the emergency stop, waving for the other riders not to run him down. He slowly came back to life, not speaking much, and eventually got to his feet. MCpl Irish responded “I’m proper fucked”, while I nodded my head in agreement. Now the medic had a real reason for a MEDEVAC. Close to the town of NoVille, they had an airport that could easily get a small plane in to ferry the two of us away. My arguments against leaving were now thrown away as our absence at this stage wouldn’t screw up the mission at all, and my driver was in worst shape than I was. And so we left. The plane ride out was scenic and gave us nice views of the area we just traversed.
Once back into town we both went in for X-Rays and all kinds of tests. My ribs were in fact fractured, cartilage all screwed up and my insides a little jumbled. Nothing I havent handled before , read On Weakness. MCpl Irish was just as screwed up. His back hit the sled in just the right way to cause the maximum amount of pain, and when I last spoke to him the pain meds made his days just bearable enough. The remaining days of the exercise I spent helping out behind the scenes, helping where I could, but otherwise laying low. In the end, I had one hell of a time in the north. It’s rare that I can combine Military duty with my personal vacation and roll them both into an Adventure I can tell my kids about. I’m better prepared now to tackle cold mountain peaks, blistering winter temps and mother nature’s bitchfests.