It’d been raining for days. We looped around the ramparts before Tsiighetchic, NWT, at the Mackenzie River’s pace, paddling into town just before noon. The next thing I knew we were barrelling down the bouncy, gravelled Dempster Highway toward Fort McPherson in a hitchhiked pickup truck going 160 kilometres per hour steady driven by a 16-year-old with a death wish.
Karen, my paddling partner, and I were told about the Midway Music Festival when we landed. Now we were hitchhiking to McPherson hoping to hitch another ride down to the festival, 30 kilometres outside of the hamlet. Our gracious driver dropped us off at the gas station on the edge of town.
A couple of young Dutch tourists who were tripping up and down the Dempster Highway pulled up to fill their overloaded Subaru shortly after. We wandered over with our big river packs, and asked if we could ride along. ‘Sure,’ they said, and we squeezed in. Down the highway once again, this time a little slower, the back bumper nearly scraping the gravel.
Midway was like no festival I’d ever seen before.
Stove-pipe shacks, wall tents, campers and big Canadian Tire nylon tents covered in blue tarps made this little festival by the lake look more like a village than a music gathering. We set up our tent on a soggy patch of ground next to a small cabin puffing white smoke from its chimney. The rest of the night was a blur of activity soundtracked by country music. Mud-splattered kids on bikes. Sugar. Garbage. Food, fiddling and scratch cards. At night they held a jigging contest on a raised wooden stage, dry by a roof, surrounded by bleachers. An old man flung cornmeal across the floor and kids as young as four got out of their muddy clothes and into crisp shirts and beaded moosehide vests, slipped into moccasins and bounced across the stage to eruptions of applause and laughter. They went on all night.
At 8 a.m. the next morning most of the village was still sleeping, but we could smell breakfast cooking somewhere. We wandered over to a log cabin diner, and I filled my belly with a greasy all-you-can eat breakfast spread, before slipping out to the highway and thumbing a ride in the rain back to Fort McPherson.