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I travel 10 hours to buy groceries – That’s how it is + photos

Almost four years ago, I moved from Vancouver, one of Canada’s largest cities, to a remote community of about 90 people in northern Yukon Territory.

One of the biggest things I had to get used to was a 10 hour round trip drive from the nearest grocery store in Whitehorse. Believe it or not, I’ve learned to love this unique part of my life.

I now feel more confident in the kitchen and have mastered the art of grocery shopping for up to two months at a time. That’s the way it is.

Preparing for grocery shopping requires a lot of organization

Before we moved to the remote Yukon, my husband and I subsisted mostly on Whole Foods prepackaged meals, and I found making a salad from scratch to be a culinary feat.

That changed when I moved north.

Suddenly, I was faced with the daunting task of planning meals, cooking all our food, and organizing epic grocery shipments for six to eight weeks at a time.

For starters, I update a spreadsheet to keep an inventory of what we have before each trip.

I write down the items we need and list the quantities that become our shopping list. When I see that an item is on sale when I’m in the store, it helps to keep track of what we have in our pantry, fridge or freezer.

Since we’re making a trek into town, we typically cram two months’ worth of errands into one day

Although we tick off most of our shopping list at a supermarket, there are inevitably other stops while we’re in town.

We usually went to the health food store, another grocery store for extra items, the hardware store (the last time we had supplies for our vegetable garden), the veterinary office for

Dog Food

the gas station (of course) and sometimes the dentist or hair salon.

Shopping trips are almost always overnight affairs

our tent in the forest

Sometimes we camp before grocery shopping.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

In winter we experience 20 hours of darkness, making it even more difficult to fit a 10-hour drive and errands into one day, and even more important for us to stay overnight.

In winter, a hotel is our best choice. In summer we are not averse to camping. We love being outdoors and it’s certainly the more cost-effective approach.

Also, we have to carefully pack our vehicle before we leave

Truck driving in Canada against a blue sky next to photo of the road in front of mountains

The drive to and from the supermarket is a total of 10 hours.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

When I lived in the city, all I needed to go shopping was my keys, reusable bag, and wallet.

Here, the trips also require multiple coolers in the bed of our truck to keep room temperature items from freezing in the winter when it can drop to -49 degrees Fahrenheit and to keep frozen items from thawing in the summer.

We must also bring clothing for an overnight stay in Whitehorse and extra warm clothing in case of an emergency or breakdown on the way there or back.

Our truck is also packed with a well stocked emergency kit and we always have our satellite communicator to send any necessary messages as we don’t have cell service for much of the trip.

Our dog Chill is coming with us, so we pack his food, bed and leash as well.

My husband and I usually divide and conquer our lists

The writer in a grocery store with a shopping cart full of products

We usually fill two wagons.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

Determined, my husband and I enter the grocery store and each grab a list and shopping cart.

We really load up our carts as we usually stock up for weeks. It’s also not uncommon for us to pick up additional items for friends and neighbors in the community, as they do the same for us.

Occasionally other buyers will tell us things like, “You’ve gotta feed an army!” Sometimes the weight of our purchases makes the wheels of our carts wobble.

A checkout lined with groceries

We spend a lot of time checking out.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

On some grocery trips, we place online pickup orders to save time, but we prefer to shop in-store to make sure the produce is fresh and we’re getting exactly what we need, with no replacements.

Loading our groceries into the truck is like playing a high stakes game of Tetris

a shopping cart full of groceries while the writer's husband is about to open the trunk of his car

Loading the car can be difficult and requires some patience.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

In winter, we need to be extra careful to pack our vegetables properly. If we don’t, they can freeze and become virtually inedible. In the summer, we keep our milk, meat and frozen products carefully packed in cool boxes to prevent them from spoiling.

Usually our trusty Toyota Tacoma is packed to the brim.

The drive home is long but beautiful

the setting sun on the road in Canada

The ride offers beautiful views.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

Grocery shopping requires a 10-hour round-trip drive, but every single minute of that drive is spectacular.

In winter the snow glistens, sun dogs shine high in the sky and moose are on the move. Sometimes we see lynx or wolves.

In summer, the road is dotted with grizzly bears and willowherbs against the stunning mountain backdrop.

My least favorite part of the trip is unpacking everything

All of our groceries, like produce, are spread across our countertops in our kitchen

The way of life here in the North has required us to learn and adapt.

Hilary Messer-Barrow

As soon as we get home, the groceries in our undersized fridge and huge freezer need careful sorting, stacking and stacking high. The process always takes longer than expected, and after a day of shopping and a five-hour drive, it’s the only part I could do without.

After we get home, we also need to wash our travel gear and sleepwear.

Overall, I’ve embraced this part of long-distance life

Some people in our community have been making this journey for decades and have perfected the art of grocery shopping in a remote location.

When I first moved here I was struck by their attitude towards grocery shopping. They didn’t see it as an inconvenience – they saw it as an opportunity. It was an opportunity to go into town. It was also just something they did.

I admired that perspective and struggled to embody it.

Now grocery shopping is a reminder of what I took for granted living in the city and also what I missed (like the opportunity to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the North).

It has taught me to adapt, especially when I’m missing that one key ingredient. And it got me thinking about the countless different ways people live their lives outside of cities.

Now? There’s no way I would trade my 10-hour drive for the convenience of a down-the-street grocer.