Sunday, 28 April 2013

Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence

Last Thursday was quite the day. We received 2 Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence: Rookie of the Year and also the Online Marketing Award. Woohoo!! It all started with a phone call over a year ago.

Shortly after we bought the lodge, we received some emails from Tourism Saskatchewan. They were highlighting their excellence award winners for 2011. Deep inside the planning phase of our first year as lodge owners, and with heads spinning from all that had to be organized, we still couldn’t help but notice the “Rookie of the Year” award. I picked up the phone and called Derrick, “Hey bro, we’re only going to be a rookie once, and I think we should win this award.” Derrick’s answer, “Sounds good!!”

Flash forward one year...
We’re all boarding a Regina-bound plane. It feels surreal, but we’re dressed to the nines just in case, because you only get to do this once. We’re finalists in not 1, but 2 categories at the awards we dreamed about a year ago. 

The 1 hour 40 minute flight is filled with laughter and recent memories of just how far we’ve come in a year. There’s an unspoken agreement: no one asks what are we going to do if we actually win. Maybe it’s because it all still feels unreal.

As the wheels touch the tarmac in Regina, the sun shines on us and there’s a certain electricity in the air. All 6 of us attending are trying not to think too hard about what it will feel like to be recognized. Our hearts are in Lloyd Lake Lodge. We schmooze our way through the cocktail hour, meeting other finalists, judges, and the who’s who of Saskatchewan’s tourism industry. Being just one part of such an amazingly talented puzzle is humbling. I can’t help but think, “How cool to be nominated and in the presence of our peers who are also doing great things.” I listen to stories from other finalists. They’re all giddy with that same electric anticipation we’re feeling.

Before we know it, we’re being welcomed by the Honourable Tim McMillan, minister responsible for Tourism, Government of Saskatchewan. I flip through the program, and realize that the 3-course dinner we’re about to eat is kind of like the last supper, because Rookie of the Year is up first.

My heart is pounding. Derrick’s palms are sweaty, and while everyone around the table is making small talk with our Saskatchewan Tourism companions, we’re all hyper aware that each course served brings us one dish closer to judgment day. Finally, it’s coffee time. I ask for tea, but can’t concentrate enough to take a sip. The MC cracks a joke or 2, and things get serious. Government representatives are thanking tourism operators who go “above and beyond.”

“We’re part of this group,” I think, “Wow.” Brief warm and fuzzy feelings register between the panic slowly building. 6 heartbeats are thumping around our table. It’s a weird time of wishing the presenters would hurry up and get the formalities over with and hoping they’ll keep talking for just one more minute so we can keep the excitement alive, but the big moment inevitably arrives.

The Rookie of the Year presenter announces each of the 3 finalists: Lloyd Lake Lodge, Southern Prairie Railway, and Wounded Warriors Weekend. He has an envelope. It’s like the Oscars. You can cut the tension in the room with a knife. Time stops. I’m overwhelmed by thoughts of all we’ve done in the last year. Here we are: I’m sitting at a table surrounded by the people I love the most, and in that moment, winning no longer matters. Then, “Rookie of the Year goes to...LLOYD LAKE LODGE.” Our name snaps me out of the time warp I’m in. “Really? Wow!!!” I get up and high five my brother. He’s so proud. I register cheers and clapping. My mom is crying, and I’m pretty sure dad’s blinking too fast. Everyone’s overwhelmed.
We have to make a speech and I’m completely overwhelmed. I’m pretty sure Derrick is too. That’s pretty much the word for the next 2 minutes. We get to the stage. I’m thinking, “Remember to thank everybody who is responsible for us getting to this point. And congratulate the other 2 finalists, because we’re not the only ones who worked hard. The first year of any business is blood sweat and tears.” And then, “Enjoy this moment.”

And so we did. Our speech went great. The post-award interview and photo op was stellar. Not sure what we said, but 20 minutes later, we were doing it all over again with the Online Marketing Award. Who would have thought lightning would strike twice in one unforgettable night? This time, when they announced our name, I hugged Derrick tight. The awards mean the world, but none of it would have been possible without him and the incredible team around us.
In the plane on the way home, we shared laughter and good memories of my grandfather. He and my granny have been the inspiration behind this lodge all along. Their faith in us has never wavered, and it brings us great pleasure to make them proud.

We want to recognize Tourism Saskatchewan for giving us the opportunity to receive these awards, the sponsors who make the awards gala possible, and all of the nominees for their hard work and dedication to sharing Saskatchewan with the world. Many thanks also go to our Lloyd Lake Lodge family: our guests, our guides for their enthusiasm on the water, our housekeeping staff, our web designer, and each member of our family, who gives their all to help us continue our dream.

2012’s a wrap. See you on the water in 2013!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ice Road 2013

Derrick digs out the Argo. Let the journey begin.
Just over 2 weeks ago, we returned from what is becoming our annual ice road adventure. The water level will be nice and high this year at Lloyd Lake—there has been record snowfalls. Around the lodge, the snow is 4 feet deep in many places. Thanks to the enormous amount of snow, getting into the lodge also meant getting stuck at least 30 times. No exaggeration. And we’re not talking a little bit stuck, folks. We’re talking standing-in-waist-deep-snow-shovelling-out-a-buried-Argo-and-snowmobile stuck. It was fun!
The shallow snow, as modelled by Dez.
"Which way is the road supposed to go? I'm standing on 6 feet of snow!"
Stuck for the second time in 2 minutes.
Making our own path to the middle of nowhere.
Yes, we have to cross that. It's called the beginnings of an ice road, people.
We made it to the lake!
Hello cabin 3. Glad you're still standing under all that snow!
Hard to believe, but this is the dock and beach. Fear not, guests of 2013. It will melt.
Over a week, we resupplied the lodge with essentials, like 1,200 pounds of quarts counter tops for the kitchen, new heaters for all the cabins, and a solid mahogany poker table…you know, the essentials. These will all be installed and ready to go when our first guests arrive on May 26.
Say hello to the Ranger, a.k.a. the shiny new transport from the airstrip to the lodge and between lakes. Oh yeah! Who can say they've driven a Polaris Ranger over an ice road to a fishing lodge? Derrick's got one fewer item on his bucket list.
We hauled everything in as fast as possible so that we could maximize our ice fishing time. Even at that pace, it took 6.5 days. Hauling in each load took 4.5 hours, meaning we could do 3 trips a day if we were out the door at 6 a.m. It was hard work. We slept like babies every night.
Last load!

Derrick is dreaming about the fishing...after we unpack and organize everything we've hauled in.
And after all that, we had a blast exploring Lloyd Lake and Big Fish Lake in winter. After long days of work, it was so rewarding to drop a line and hook into some trophy fish. There was one incredible evening where the fish gods smiled down on us and we hooked into a couple of gorgeous pike, mere minutes apart.
"Um...Dez? Do we have a bigger auger?"
All is right in the world.
Little brother.
BIG brother. (Real story: Derrick hooked this one and passed Dez the rod. Thanks bro.)
As much as we would like to paint a glamorous picture that everything ran smoothly, it didn't. While the wild beauty of northern Saskatchewan is breathtaking, it becomes downright treacherous in a second when your machine breaks down. We all agree that buying and properly maintaining the Argo is the best money we have spent at the lodge yet. We definitely had to rely on each other and on the trustworthiness of our equipment. On the final day, with everything having gone way too good to be true, we found ourselves hiking 4 miles in pretty deep snow. Mr. Argo had (temporarily) had enough. 
Gorgeous. And scary.
It’s moments like this when you truly feel alive. What made the walk so much better was when I reached into my pocket and found 2 chocolate bars. We laughed over it after. Here’s the thing: initially the feeling of isolation and even desperation is overwhelming and makes you panicked. Lucky for us, by talking things out and using our heads, we were able to troubleshoot the problem and repair it so we could get back on the way. Nevertheless, for those moments, if you can’t rely on the people around you and don't have a positive attitude, you could find yourself in great danger.

But enough about the serious stuff. We look forward to seeing everyone in 2013. Tight lines until then!
The man who "can't catch walleye." Good one, dad!
"Whoa! It's bright out here. Where's my shades, man?!"