"Done!" declared Phil Meagher, after completing the leg of his Ski For Hope that he was unable to do on February 24th when he had to be airlifted to hospital for what turned out to be a case of pneumonia.
He pushed off from Shell Landing, roughly 60 kilometres from town, early in the morning on March 8th, determined to bring to a close a feat of physical endurance that began in Fort Chipewyan on February 23rd.
While not fully recovered from the first 230 kilometres of the Fort to Fort adventure, Meagher was determined to take advantage of weather conditions that were favourable. All things considered, he was in pretty good shape.
"I lost the feeling in three toes," he said. "They haven't completely come back yet. But, it's manageable. It got cold and 26-below on Wednesday night. And I knew that if it warmed up just a little bit, it would be perfect conditions."
What he couldn't possibly have known before setting out, was that despite the perfect air temperature, the condition of the river surface tacked on a number of hours to the trip and caused more than several spills.
"I didn't realize about the ice though," he said. "The ice is bad. That slowed me down probably three hours. It was bad. I actually had to take the skis off, walk around some of it, because I would've broke my skis."
The entire ski ended up taking 9 hours, 40 minutes.
For Meagher, finishing what he set out to do holds a lot of meaning.
"I think the message is here that if I can ski from one Fort to the other, then we can end homelessness," said Meagher.
"It sounded impossible, as Blake Crossley said - from impossible to possible - and I think that's what homelessness is. Everybody feels it's impossible, but I think it's possible, if we do it right."
Stompin' Tom Connors was on Phil's mind during the solitary journey, as the Canadian music icon had died just the day before.
"I sang a lot of Stompin' Tom songs today," he said. "Because he passed away this week, and was one of my boyhood idols I guess when I was growing up I guess for country music."
Family, education, issues at the office, ways to improve things also filled his thoughts - he chooses not to listen to music, rather enjoying his thoughts and the sounds of the birds and the great outdoors.
"There was a wolf that followed me for a bit," said Meagher. "But he got disinterested and went in the woods. And there was not much other than that for wildlife. I saw lots of tracks, but nothing big."
The beauty of the mighty frozen Athabasca River was not lost on him as he made his way toward home.
"It was such a beautiful day out there," he said. "We should have one of those buses, you know like they have in the Columbia Ice Fields, and have a bus tour coming down the river. You see Suncor, trappers cabins, waterfalls that are seeping through the shale, the little hamlet of Fort McKay, and you see three sets of bridges. It's just a beautiful ride. Most people will live here their whole life and never see that, especially in the winter."
The final fundraising total for the Ski For Hope is still being tabulated by the Centre of Hope, but thanks in part to a group of five home builders who pitched in one thousand dollars each, over $11,000 has been raised.
"Continue to support this Centre of Hope," he said. "When there's hope in the future, there's power in the present. So, the Centre of Hope to me is a power centre for the homeless. It gives them the hope they need that something better is going to come their way."
Listen to the entire post-ski interview by clicking here.
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