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•  Week 0: Preparation


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 WEEK 17: POLAR BEAR ALERT! NORTH POLE? HEAT WAVE...

Date: 05.03.04
Position: 67º40'N 86º42'W, Nunavut, Canada
Weather Conditions: Sunny, breeze from north, 28 F/ -2 C

The King of the Arctic.

"IT IS A BEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!"...Mille yelled out. "Are you serious?" asked Aaron, with a grin on his face. "YYYYES - Polar Bear - POLAR BEAR," Mille hollered frantically as she realized just how close it was. At that same moment Paul literally had his hand on the zipper of his tent's vestibule door. Recognizing true fear in Mille's voice, he unzipped and saw it - yes, right there, seemingly right next to Mille and Aaron's tent. Will basically pushed him out the door as he rushed while yelling, "Get out, get out; get out!"

The bear's perspective of our camp - following his prints coming into camp!

A few minutes earlier we were jerked by very sudden, surprised, and angry warning barks from Timber, quickly joined by nervous barks from Disko. Mille lurched to the tent door, ripping it open to look out. "Our tent was behind the sled, so all I could really see were the heads of our dogs on the stake-out, each facing straight ahead with pointed ears. I rose up to look out ahead for whatever was causing the stir. It was not out ahead though, it was right there. About twelve-feet from Timber and walking slowly towards him was a huge white, prime example of a polar bear. He stopped, turned, and looked right at me. I felt a deep fear."

Heading out - slowly...

The bear was thirty-some-feet from Mille and Aaron's tent or maybe the equivalent of three polar bear leaps - and about one length of a swabbing polar bear claw - from the dogs. It was a terrifying realization! "The bear was so close, it seemed unreal. When I tore out of the tent to see it for myself (while loading the gun to shoot a flare into the air in an attempt to scare it away) it almost seemed like a stuffed bear was standing there facing me; staring right into my eyes." said Aaron. Mille continued, "As Aaron had the gun in hand, I desperately looked around for a camera - before I found one that was working Aaron turned around to show me how use the one I had in my hands. I shouted: don't worry about the camera, that bear can kill us!" Aaron had already fired two shells with no effect. Paul, now gun in hand as well, yelled, "Aaron, I am shooting now." He wanted to make sure neither Aaron nor Mille would freak when a shot went off behind them. Both Aaron and Paul took another shot - this time slugs - into the air. The bear hung its head low, took a second look, and slowly, very slowly, turned around to wander away. Never did it break its nonchalant walk. It was without a doubt the 'King of the Arctic' we were dealing with here. About forty meters (~40 yards) out of camp he stopped, turned around, took a long look at us…and decided to leave us alone. We were a bit surprised by the fact that the bear made it all the way into our campsite before Timber saw him. But looking at his tracks it was clear that this guy stalked us, sneaking in between two large mounds of pushed up ice; he was literally not to be seen until he stood right in front of Timber. Good thing it was Timber, with no fear in his voice, he simply saved the day. Timber received a grand bear hug and a piece of bison meat as reward. That was close!

Team Arctic Transect 2004 through ice, rubble, and snow.

Ice, a humbling maze of ice, huge chunks pushed up into piles like sugar cubes: 30-40-50 feet tall rubbles of chaos. Mountains of ice; old ice: rounded, warbled, and slippery. Debris of crushed ice; triangular ice: edged razor knifes sticking up as if looking to cut us in half. Overwhelming boulder fields of ice with deep, devious traps covered by deceitful snow; ice sculptures catching all the colors of light - beautiful turquoise ice. Steep snow drifts and deep, soft, heavy snow making the Polar Huskies into plowing machines as they literally inch their way forward; pans of fast, smooth ice making for top speed Polar Husky cruising.

Stuck!

Watch these heroes in action. Through high and low the Polar Huskies have been happy to go!

We experienced devastation, then laughing, crying, yelling, and ultimately, elation. It turned out that crossing the Gulf of Boothia had it all in store for us - all you can imagine (or not imagine) as far as ice that is. Luckily, we managed to stay away from the edge of the ice pan, the polynya just to our north, and its open water. But the magnitude of the ice wreckage we traversed inch-by-inch this week, the unusual continuously falling snow, and the enormous vapor cloud hanging above us, made us all keenly aware of just how close to its edge we were traveling.

The delicious catch of fish brought to us by our friends from Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay).

Our trek across Committee Bay began on Sunday, when we finally got back on the trail. The high winds we sat through while writing our last report on Friday, continued on Saturday. Stopped in our tracks, we waited for Michael and David from Kugaaruk to snowmobile out another load of dog food and a missing map. They also surprised us with a true treat, a mixture of fresh catch - Arctic Char and Whitefish from their nets.

Polar Husky cruising as we dogsled out onto the Arctic Ocean.

Watch it!

We headed overland, continuing to follow the snowmobile trail all the way to the coast line. "It was almost magical when the ice appeared," recalled Mille. "I had been looking forward to running on hard surfaced ice, instead of on land with its many hills, soft snow, boulders, and rocks for so long. We knew we could encounter some stretches of heavy pack ice, but we were still hopeful that we could cover the mere forty-some miles in a couple of days." Heading out onto Committee Bay, the Gulf of Boothia, and the Arctic Ocean itself, we left the security of the snowmobile trail behind as it continued straight south to another community, Repulse Bay. Instead, we set the compasses for 145 degrees and set our minds on getting to the other side, to the Melville Peninsula. We were all in great moods, the ice was smooth, only dotted by a few large pushed mounds of pressure ice, the sun was shinning, and the Polar Huskies were flying. We covered more than twenty-five miles in just six hours.

Our campsite.

Check out the beautiful campsite on a nice pan of ice surrounded by "old" pack ice.

Though the ice rubbles were no doubt building up around us, we were still hopeful for a smooth journey ahead when we set out Monday morning. It was not long though before our luck began to turn and we had to switch from having Aksel lead the caravan, to Mille going out front on skis to navigate the way through the web of chunky ice. However, we still enjoyed many hours running on large pans of flat ice where Aksel could lead without a lead skier ahead. The relentless power of the ice became clear to those of us who had never dogsledded through pressure ice - and the rest of us were reminded - as we had our first mishap of a sled tipping over. This was just the beginning. That night we ended the day in a maze of old, pushed up ice, but managed to find an excellent pan of ice to camp on. It was an absolutely beautiful night and we could see the clouds forming over the open water just north of us. Now in perfect polar bear country, we all moved our guns into our vestibules and positioned the dogs on the stake-outs outlining the tents, so that we could be alerted if necessary.

Ooops! If you thought you were having a bad day… In this case Aaron was not too happy about Mille's chosen path.

Waking up to light snow and low visibility, Tuesday was the day our luck finally faded away. Moving into serious pack ice, navigating just one-hundred yards felt like an accomplishment. The light was very flat. That means that the refraction of the sun's rays through the clouds leaves you with no depth perception. You can literally not see a drift until you stand on it. At times you cannot even see your own footprints, much less see anything in the distance, making for exceptionally difficult navigation. Thus Mille, being out front on skis, spent a great deal of time and muscle searching for the best route for the sleds to follow.

Paul in "agg-oh-knee!"

Listen to Paul explain about twisting his knee.

The event of a sled toppling over became somewhat routine. Furthermore, because of the continuing snow, the jagged ice and crevices were covered and filled-in, so taking one step could prove treacherous. Most unfortunately, it happened to Paul. Aaron explained, "Paul had just yipped the team and was moving in a forward direction. Mille was the lead skier, I was running the first team, Paul and Will the second, and Eric and Hugh the third. I looked back and saw the second team moving forward with no one near it. Looking further back I saw Will, crouched down next to Paul. I ran back as I could see something was wrong and found Paul with a badly twisted knee. We helped him up and took an early lunch break. We all realized it was pretty bad and applied an ace bandage on Paul's knee to immobilize it. Paul struggled along the rest of the day, stubbornly hobbling his way through the pack ice."

Tipped again...

Watch our team hard at work.

That night we camped in a startling sea of jagged, fierce, and enclosing pack ice. Our tents were surrounded with hovering sheets of ice and the thought of getting out of it was overwhelming to us all. Crawling on top of the highest piece of ice, we could only see more pack ice - not, as we were hoping for, pans of ice that would take us to shore. The pans of ice never appeared so we zig-zagged and crawled our way through. On Wednesday at lunch Will pulled out the GPS to find that we had traveled .6 miles in a straight line. The following days the snow continued to fall, the light was flat with just brief moments of sunlight, and the ice was…well, get the picture!

Hugh and Will climbing up, scouting ahead, hopeful to see a path through the "(t)ruble."

Watch Hugh and Eric chasing down their "lost dog team" after traversing some tough pressure ice. Hard times are best dealt with, with laughter…

As Paul put it, "Anybody who is considering going to the North Pole just needs to come out here for a few days and they will quickly reconsider." Will continued, "The pack ice that we traveled on across Committee Bay this last week has been a good metaphor for life. At times, all we could see was one ridge of ice after another. There seemed no end or no way out, but we persevered and chopped our way forward, taking literally one ridge at a time for most of a day. Then suddenly the ice smoothed out, giving us effortless travel. Our moods often swung from desperation to light heartedness. The next day whiteouts and blowing snow would again find us in the pressure ice, this time our lot was worse than the day before. Moods dropped as it seemed like we were facing the impossible. One thing was always certain when the conditions got bad, to get through it meant a tremendous effort. This forward effort always makes the difference to get to the good times and easy travel."

A dreary lunch.

That day at lunch we were engulfed in a flurry of heavy snow, the winds were blasting from northwest, the flat light was swallowing our surroundings, and we were seemingly going nowhere - all while watching Paul's agony. We debated about making camp, but decided to push on for at least another hour. It was a good thing we did as the sun appeared briefly, allowing Mille to see some pans of ice and although limited, they allowed us to lash on our skis for small periods of time. Though we only made a little more than four miles that day, it seemed like there was reason to hope for easier travel ahead.

Polar Huskies plow their way through deep snow, at times above their shoulders.

It did become slightly easier as far as the pressure ice, but unfortunately four days of continued snowfall and temperatures right around freezing now made for very deep, heavy, and sticky snow; which meant very slow travel as the sleds seemed to barely be dragging behind the dogs though they pulled with all their might. Will commented that it was the most snow he had ever seen traveling in the Arctic!

Climbing another ice chunk, to land deep in...

Listen to Will explain about the polynya.

Yesterday, standing on the bay and looking into the white mist, as we desperately tried to see the ice conditions ahead, we watched the snow come down in large flakes, land on the sled bags, and melt. This reminded Aaron of a condition he once taught his K12 students about, which is typical in Chicago, Illinois, and known as "lake effect snow." We hope that it is not a "new Arctic trend" but a local effect caused by the open water of the polynya.

All hard at work, overcoming the last grand hump before finally reaching smoother conditions.

Shortly after, with the greatest of joy, we realized that we had finally reached smoother ice for good. To top-off the moment, the sun shined through the heavy cloud cover, bathing the land mass of Melville Peninsula, which we could now see ahead, in the most wonderful light. The difference a little sunlight can make is amazing!

Despite factor 30 lip balm and covering her lips as much as possible, Mille's lips become blistered and swollen from the ultra-violet radiation.

That said we now have 24 hours of light a day. Today, sunrise was at 01:50 AM and it set at 07:41 PM. The white, white Arctic light infuses energy into us all but we are also experiencing the mad intensity of its ultra-violet rays. As we love the sun out here, we also battle it. Especially Will and Mille have trouble with the strong radiation and its labedo effect from the ice and snow. The sun's amazing power is a favorite topic of Paul's. Having just read the book, Global Warming: A Complete Briefing by John Houghton, he explained: "The sun is a renewable resource from which much energy could potentially be harvested. For example, the earth receives from the sun, in forty minutes, the equivalent amount of energy that is consumed by the entire population on earth in a whole year. That is eighteen-thousand terawatts! Hot-diggity-dee-dog! That's a lot."

Aaron applying protective sun factor 45 - notice the tan line - we call it "the musher tan."

Paul continued, "We are consuming energy at an unsustainable rate. So, first of all, we need to develop alternative resources to meet the energy requirement for the planet. Secondly, the amount of CO2 that we are releasing into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels at the rate we are, will have an impact on the Earth. As one scientist put it, "We are creating a grand experiment on a global scale and the results are unknown." The bottom-line is that the Inuit culture, as it exists today, will experience huge changes.

Lipton with a sunburned nose. The thinning of the ozone layer over the Arctic region causes increased radiation. Will has traveled with Polar Huskies in the Arctic for more than thirty-five years. The first time he ever saw any Polar Husky sunburns was as recently as 1995!

Think about that for a minute. On that note, add your thoughts about this to Collaboration Zone 10, and join this week's chat on "Global Warming," Tuesday, May 4th with Daniel Dix, Senior Meteorologist from the Weather Channel, Atlanta, GA to share your thoughts about global warming, climate change, and YOUR weather. Speaking of chats, make sure to join the Team Chat once we pull into the community of Igloolik. The final date will be posted online here!

With any luck we will not have too many more of these situations ahead - Eric and Hugh hard at work to raise their tipped sled.

Watch Eric's best and worst moments of the expedition.

This report will be the end of our 2004 online classroom journey. And what a journey it has been, eh'! Mentally it has been a challenging trip. We have had to stay very flexible in our planning, taking it day-by-day; making an effort to stay positive and fired up. It has truly been an adventure: wolves, a close-call polar bear encounter, cracking ice, tremendous storms, blistering cold, deep snow, canyon nightmares, steep, steep hill climbing, tent fires, incredible beauty, camaraderie, mighty Polar Huskies, and on it goes. The best part is that there is even more to come during the balance of Arctic Transect 2004 - perhaps even more encounters with polar bears!

Timber (far left), ears back and ready to lean into his harness as Aaron snaps the line.

Watch Timber's side of the story.

Hopefully Timber will see them first! For more on that and the rest of the adventures awaiting us ahead, make sure to check in on Timber's "first-paw accounts" from the trail - the Timber Tales - to be posted online every Monday and Thursday throughout the remainder of the expedition. Watch daily images from the trail as we beam them up, and continue to listen to the daily audio updates. Make sure to send more of those notes too - they really keep our spirits high!

"Polar Husky Break."

Tomorrow we will hitch the teams again, continuing the adventure as we dogsled across the Melville Peninsula to Igloolik and beyond - ending our journey with the arrival of summer on Baffin Island another thousand-some miles from here. We will then load the dogs, sleds, gear, and ourselves onto airplanes that will take us to Iqaluit and on to Ottowa. There dog trucks will be waiting to take us the last stretch back to Expedition Base Camp in Ely, Minnesota - where the journey began six months earlier. Even when we finally depart from Nunavut, we will always have countless memories and impressions with us.

Arctic Beauty.

Arctic Transect 2004 has taken, and will continue to take, the help and support of many people and organizations. We would like to extend our special thanks to all of the schools who participated in this year's program. Thanks for participating in the Lotus Sametime chats and collaboration forums; you have all made learning an adventure. Our sincere gratitude goes to our generous sponsors, friends, and family for your support. Finally, thank you to the all the Native residents who let us travel on their land. As always, we have learned so much and made many special, new friends along the way. The people of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have been terrific, very helpful, and great hosts to Arctic Transect 2004. We truly appreciate having being warmly welcomed into their communities as well as their wonderful hospitality along the trail.

What adventures will the horizons ahead bring along?

Watch Mille as she thanks you for your participation in Arctic Transect 2004 and invites you to join us for another adventure learning project next year.


Watch Aaron talk about the end of the expedition.

To learn more about Adventure Learning you can attend a CI 5330 course this summer at the University of Minnesota, to be taught by Aaron. On that note, we are proud to announce next year's Online Classroom Dogsled Expedition "Go North! 2005: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" which will take place next spring in Alaska. The mighty Polar Huskies will make their way through ANWR to the coast of Prudhoe Bay. Learning from the Gwiich'n and the Inuit people, we will continue to explore the realities of climate change and traditional ecological knowledge while debating the controversy of oil drilling in this area as well as the realities of looking for sustainable renewable resources.

Team Arctic Transect 2004.

Qujannamiik ("Khoo-yannah-meek") - Thank you! We can't wait to join with you all again next year!!!

*** Arctic Transect 2004 Polar Husky Awards ***

Will, Paul, and the powerful Polar Huskies!

The true stars of Arctic Transect 2004 are of course the mighty Polar Huskies. Once again they are successfully completing a grand adventure, having already set thousands of paw prints in the snow from Yellowknife to the Melville Peninsula. The Polar Huskies on this expedition make the journey possible by performing with great stamina and strong spirits. What makes these dogs so forceful and able to succeed is, without doubt, their ability to work together as a unit. Remember, it is all about TEAM WORK - So, they all deserve to be "Polar Husky Stars of the Year."

However, the following Superstars deserve a little extra attention for jobs well done!

Rookie of the Year: Beacon
This rookie is no nonsense. Ready to go, woofing, and with a jubilant attitude, Beacon loves being a mighty Polar Husky!

Steadiest Puller: Charlie
Charlie is the most loyal puller one can ever imagine - or hope to have in a team. At ten-years-old, he truly showcases that it is "heart" that matters.

Cheerleader Award: Peto
What else can we say? Peto simply NEVER stops; he just loves to pull all day long (and night if we'd let him). Every time the team stops he makes it clear HE just wants to keep going.

Most Improved: Saami
Saami has grown tremendously, physically and mentally, on this expedition, becoming a tough cookie, pulling hard and loving it!

Strongest Puller: Terex
With his good pulling technique, raw power, and mental strength, Terex can dig deep and MOVE that sled when it really takes some muscle.

Most Excitable: Xena
A happy, happy girl, Xena can seem a bit out of control as she constantly jumps around, up and over the other dogs in the team, the lines, your head or whatever, in tireless excitement.

Silver Star of Honor: Timber
Just today, Timber once again earned a Silver Star of Honor as he bravely warned us of Polar Bear danger.

Great Attitude: Gloria
Alert, cheery, and joyful, Gloria's great attitude continues to inspire her teammates to go, go, go…and be HAPPY about it!

*** Arctic Transect 2004 Statistics (so far!) ***

Communities Visited: Yellowknife, Lutsel'Ke, Baker Lake, Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay)

Number of Days on the Trail: 121

Total Mileage: 1496 miles

Longest Mileage: 34 miles

Shortest Mileage: 4 miles

Longest Day of Travel: 11 hours

Shortest Day of Travel: 1 hour, due to illness

Coldest Temperature: -50C / -62F

Warmest Temperature: +1C / +33 F

Storm Days: 10

Strongest Winds: 65-85 kmh / 40-50 mph

Shortest Daylight: 6 hours

Longest Daylight: 24 hours

Amount of Dog Food Carried: 6815 lbs.

Amount of Human Food Carried: 3360 lbs.

Number of Breakfast Sausage eaten: 1452

Number of Pemmican Bars Eaten: 718

Rolls of Toilet Paper Used: 153

Amount of Butter Eaten: 186 lbs.

Number of Reports: 14

*** Polar Husky One-Liners ***

Hershey - My steadiest puller. He has gotten very strong over the course of the expedition.

Saami - One of my most improved dogs. He even pulls back on his neck line to help stop the team when I say "whoa."

Fuji - She can get really excited when we are following another team. She can be a real cheerleader.

Reggie - My biggest dog. I've really gotten to know his playful, cuddly side on this trip.

Nuka - She has been my main lead dog. She has led us through some pretty difficult conditions. She is amazing!

Khan - He has a very flamboyant personality. He too can motivate the team and he is one of Eric's favorites.

Gloria - She has incredible drive. She has had as much fun on this trip as any of the other dogs.

Suzy - She is really playful. Whoever she is running beside always has fun with her during the day.

Aya - She has learned a great deal on this trip. She is becoming an excellent sled dog.

Chuck - He is glad spring is here! His spirit is really coming alive.

Gloria - Great Attitude Award! Gloria has had a lot of fun on this expedition. When the going got tough, she was always happy and ready to start pulling. It could be snowing, windy, and cold, but when it was time to go she would be standing up, leaning into her harness, waiting for the signal to start pulling. Every evening when we let the dogs free she always tears around camp, visiting and playing with the other dogs. She has really helped keep the other dogs' spirits high.

Freja - As my leader she is doing a terrific job. She is always ready to go and is getting more confident with each day.

Choko - He runs in point and when needed helps lead the team in difficult sections, using his experience to help out.

Elf - Elf is a great team dog. He is very playful and willing to work hard. He always talks to me when I'm working with the dogs.

Flicka - She is an incredible worker and also loves to play as she teases Terex who doesn't always agree with her.

Beacon - The youngest Polar Husky. He has proved himself with a steady work ethic. He still has enough "puppy" in him to add fun to the team. He has his little "wuff, wuff."

Peto - He is the second oldest dog, the best motivator of all the dogs, and cannot wait to get the sled moving.

Xena - She is the most excitable dog who has endless energy, which helps to keep the team going as the day moves on.

Domino - He is a very hard worker who is willing to pull at a 100% all day and still be happy to give you a lick on the face at the end of the day.

Terex - The most powerful Polar Husky on the team as he uses his power to get the sled moving when it is stuck.

Misha - She is the most improved dog on the team as she has gained much confidence and has learned how to work very hard.


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