Nearly four years ago, I moved from Vancouver, one of the largest cities in Canada, to a remote northern community in the Yukon Territory with about 90 residents.
One of the biggest things I had to adapt to was living a 10-hour round trip from the nearest grocery store, which is in Whitehorse. Believe it or not, I’ve learned to love this unique part of my life.
These days, I’m more confident in the kitchen and I’ve mastered the art of grocery shopping for up to two months at a time. Here’s what it’s like.
Preparing to the grocery store requires a lot of organization
Before moving to remote Yukon, my husband and I mostly subsisted on premade meals from Whole Foods and I thought making a salad from scratch was a culinary feat.
That all changed when I moved north.
Suddenly, I was faced with the daunting task of meal planning for six to eight weeks at a time, cooking all our food, and organizing epic grocery hauls.
For starters, I update a spreadsheet to keep inventory of what we have before each trip.
I note the items we need and list the quantities, which becomes our grocery list. Having a record of what we have in our pantry, fridge, or chest freezer helps if I see an item on sale once I’m at the store.
Since we’re making a trek into town, we usually cram two months’ worth of errands into one day
Although we cross off most of our grocery list at a supermarket, there are inevitably other stops to make while we’re in town.
We usually hit up the natural food store, another grocery store for additional items, the hardware store (last time we got supplies for our vegetable garden), the veterinarian’s office for
the gas station (of course), and sometimes the dentist or hair salon.
Grocery trips are almost always overnight affairs
In winter we experience 20 hours of darkness, which makes it even harder to fit a 10-hour drive and errands into a day and even more important for us to stay overnight.
During the winter, a hotel is our best bet. In the summer, we’re not averse to camping. We love being outside and it’s certainly the most cost-effective approach.
We also have to pack our vehicle carefully before we leave
When I lived in the city, I only needed my keys, reusable bag, and wallet when shopping for groceries.
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 also need to bring clothes for an overnight stay in Whitehorse and extra warm clothes 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 for sending any necessary messages since we have no cell service for much of the trip.
Our dog, Chill, comes with us so we also pack his food, bed, and leash.
My husband and I usually divide and conquer our lists
My husband and I entered the grocery store with determination and each grabbed a list and a shopping cart.
We really load up our carts since we’re typically stocking up for weeks. It’s also not uncommon for us to pick up extra items for friends and neighbors in the community, as they do the same for us.
Occasionally, other shoppers tell us things like, “You must be feeding an army!” Sometimes the weight of our groceries causes the wheels of our carts to wobble.
On some grocery trips we place online pick-up orders to save time, but we prefer to shop in the store to ensure the produce is fresh and that we get exactly what we need without substitutions.
Loading our groceries into the truck is like a game of high-stakes Tetris
In winter, we need to be extra careful about properly packing our vegetables. If we don’t, they can freeze and become basically inedible. In summer, we keep our dairy, meat, and frozen items carefully packed in coolers so they don’t spoil.
Normally, our trusty Toyota Tacoma is packed to the brim.
The drive home is long but beautiful
Grocery shopping requires a 10-hour round trip, but every single minute of that drive is spectacular.
In the winter, the snow shimmers, sun dogs glow high in the sky, and moose are out and about. Sometimes we see lynx or wolves.
In the summer, the road is dotted with grizzly bears and fireweed against the stunning backdrop of mountains.
My least favorite part of the journey is unpacking everything
Once we get home, the groceries have to be carefully slotted, stacked, and piled high in our too-small fridge and giant freezer. The process always takes longer than expected, and after a day of shopping and a five-hour drive, it’s the one part I could do without.
After we get home we also need to wash our travel gear and overnight clothes.
Overall, I’ve embraced this part of remote living
Some people in our community have been doing this trip for decades and they’ve perfected the art of grocery shopping in a remote place.
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 a chance to go into town. It was also just something they did.
I admired this perspective and tried to embody it.
Now, grocery shopping is a reminder of what I took for granted when I lived in the city, and also what I missed out on (a chance to enjoy the unmatched beauty of the north, for example).
It’s taught me to adapt, especially when I’m missing that one key ingredient. And, it’s led me to reflect on the myriad of different ways people outside of cities live their lives.
Now? There’s no way I’d trade my 10-hour journey for the convenience of a grocer down the street.