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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Left Hand of Kelly Hardwick

By Bruce Owen
Italic The 1976 six week, from left: McGregor, Jacques, Maclean, Snyder, Hardwick with Robinson in orange rain suit.
Hardwick checks his hand during a paddle break.
In a tent along a river that drains into Hudson Bay, Kelly Hardwick rocked and forth in unbearable pain. Unable to sleep, the throbbing in his swollen hand defying the painkillers he was taking.
The 16-year-old
Hardwick, in the darkness of the six-man tent, looked at his trip leader Neil Robinson in pure agony.
“Neil, what am I going to do?” he asked
“Kelly, I can’t sit up with you all night,” a worried
Robinson replied. “I need some sleep to paddle so we can get you help.”

It’s a moment both men remember clearly today, 32 years later almost to the day. It was also a moment that, although they didn’t know it at the time, would define them and who they would become.
“The whole trip changed me,”
Hardwick, now 48, said in a recent interview. “It really challenges who you are and how you feel about other people and the world and the wilderness.”
“I’ll never forget it,” added
Robinson, now 55. “It was pretty traumatic. The situation could’ve been a lot worse.”
“It was a brutal end to a long trip,” said
Dave McGregor, also 48, summing up what was the men’s six-week trip of 1976. “I remember falling asleep paddling the canoe.”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,”
Tom Snyder, 48, said. “It brought six young guys together and made them into young men.”
Also along were
John Maclean and Mike Jacques. Their trip would cover about 700 miles, starting July 22 at Savant Lake going north to the Winisk River, and down the Winisk to its end at Hudson Bay.

The 1976 six week, (photo above) from left:
McGregor, Jacques, Maclean, Snyder, Hardwick with Robinson in orange rain suit.
The trip was supposed to end Sept. 5, but it finished five days earlier because of
Hardwick’s hand.

Robinson added, “I wish we had a phone along so we could have had the possibility of getting Kelly off the river sooner or had a plane waiting at Winisk to get him to hospital sooner.” Nowadays each trip has a phone and two leaders.
Hardwick said about four weeks into the trip he injured the index finger of his left hand.
“I felt something weird with the finger, but I didn’t say anything to anybody. I didn’t think it was anything to worry about.”

Days later he was horsing around in some rapids when he jammed the finger on some rocks. The pain was incredible.
“I thought that I had broken it.”
Still he didn’t tell anyone. He slid into the tent with everyone else thinking it would just go away.
“In the morning it had puffed up twice as big as it should be,” he said. “You could tell it was infected. It was bad.”

What had happened days earlier was that a sliver, perhaps an aluminum sliver from a canoe, had pierced his finger. Untreated, and with the dirt of the trail mixed in, the infection spread at an alarming speed.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Neil, my finger is hurting,’
Robinson recalled. “We were on the Winisk by then. The current was strong and there was no going back.”Hardwick’s injury wasn’t the only mishap of the trip. Robinson had pulled his stomach muscles – he had his appendix out three weeks before the trip’s start. And Maclean had pulled his back trying to shove a canoe through a portage – he was carrying the Alumacraft canoe by himself. Both were unable to paddle for several days.

Hardwick’s was soon becoming the most serious.
“At first we all just though it would heal up,”
Maclean said. “We just thought he banged his finger between two canoes. We didn’t think it was a big deal.”
But it was a big deal.
In a stroke of forethought,
Robinson had packed antibiotics in the medical kit. The Penicillin would later not only save Hardwick’s finger, but his entire arm.
“I was told that gangrene had set in. If it wasn’t for the Penicillin it would’ve been a lot worse. Another couple of days and I would have lost the arm.”

To get
Hardwick to hospital – again, there was no radio phone – Robinson and the others made a decision to paddle full tilt every day until they hit Winisk on the Hudson Bay coast. That meant 40 miles or more each day.
“You just pull up your bootstraps and go for it,”
Robinson said. “The group worked really hard to get Kelly out.”
“If we didn’t do it we weren’t sure Kelly would make it,”
Maclean said, explaining the seriousness of the situation.
said that involved eating cold bannock at first light, breaking camp and paddling several miles where they would stop and cook a warm breakfast, such as it is on trial. Later they’d stop for trail lunch and then continue until darkness made it unsafe to paddle.
“They became really focused to get me there as fast as they could,”
Hardwick said. “There was nothing else Neil could’ve done. He did as much as he could.”
“Neil should get the credit,”
McGregor added. “He kept us together.”

“It’s sad that it worked out the way our trip did,”
Snyder said. “But we all made it and the special person to thank is Neil. He held it all together and made sure we were safe. In the end we were all taking risks with all we did. We had one job to do and that was to get Kelly to the hospital.”

In the last few miles, the high water from the bay created waves on the Winisk that prevented the group from continuing by canoe.
Robinson made a decision he and Hardwick would walk the rest of the way to Winisk, following the shore as best they could.McGregor said the rest followed behind, walking the canoes along the shoreline. They eventually caught up to Hardwick and Robinson. Hours later they came up to a fog-enshrouded Winisk.
Robinson soon found someone to help him hire a plane to fly Hardwick out. Once it was able to take off Hardwick ended up in hospital in Timmins. He was then transferred to the St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg where he would spend the next eight weeks. He got out briefly for Thanksgiving, but went back in until after Christmas.

The rest of the crew were stuck in Winisk until they could be picked up to head back to Camp Stephens for the return ceremony.
While there it snowed.
“I swam in Hudson Bay that day just to say I did it,”
McGregor said. “Boy, it was cold.”
But before they got to Stephens they made a quick detour. Still in their trail clothes they visited
Hardwick in hospital. They also showed him the moose antlers they had picked up for their plaque, which now hangs in the trail depot at Camp Stephens.
Hardwick’s hand was still a mess. Doctors had grafted it to his hip to heal. The scars are still visible.
In those six weeks he and the others faced things they never thought possible, or would ever come close experiencing again.
“I couldn’t imagine it wouldn’t change anybody,”
Hardwick said.
“The bottom line is that Neil kept it all together with all that was going on,”
Snyder said. “I just hope that one day all of us will be able to get together and sit around a campfire and tell our new stories to each other.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by where the trip and camp doesn’t influence me morally, physically and spiritually,”
Maclean said. “What we learned and how we all got along together is with me each day in what I do now. It makes my world a better place.”
Where they’re now
Kelly Hardwick lives in Edmonton with his family. Hardwick received his Ph.D. in sociology with a specialization in criminology from the University of Calgary in 2002. He was an assistant professor of sociology at Utah State University from 2004 before returning to Canada this summer. He works at a private research firm.
Neil Robinson lives in Canmore with his family and wife Cathy (Suffron), a former CIT director at Camp Stephens. Neil was involved at Camp Stephens from the ages of 10to 28. He still goes on canoe trips. He is a commercial property manager.

Dave McGregor lives in Souris with his family. His son Andrew was on the six-week trip three years ago. Dave is CEO of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba.
Tom Snyder is a property manager for exclusive cottage properties around Kenora, where he lives with his busy family. His wife Colleen Sullivan (a six-weeker in 1980) works as an RN / Program Coordinator for the Family Health Team. They have four kids.
John Maclean works in Canada’s north for mining companies doing exploration. He sets up remote camps, arrange permits and then tears camps down at the end of the season. He may go to Finland for his next job.
Mike Jacques, we don’t know. If you do, please tell us.

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