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Date: 02.09.04
Position: 63º04'N 104º15'W Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada
Weather Conditions: Light snow, -5 F/-20C

On our way down into the Thelon Valley!

Saturday night at our team tent meeting as we sat in a storm, being blasted with high winds from south, we all agreed that we truly appreciated the warmer temperatures the southern touch was bringing us. That said, we sure hoped it would quickly calm down and clear up because we were looking to pick-up our re-supply of food for us and the dogs plus fuel no later than the following Friday -- at a location 68 miles away in a straight line. Now that may not sound like much, but since three dogsled teams moving over rugged, barren land do not exactly move as the crow flies, our actual mileage would be a lot more substantial. More importantly, before reaching the re-supply point and loading the sleds up heavy again, we were hoping to cross the deep and wide Thelon River Valley with whatever it might bring from steep mountain sides to trees, deep snow, gardens of rock, and swampy hummocks!

Aaron dog sledding with the team that he and Mille run across barren land.

We had three things going for us this week. Traveling in the Arctic it is not often you will be able to say this…but our saving grace the last week was truly the incredible weather we have been experiencing - clear and warm with only an occasional wind blowing from east, south-east. Aksel and Freja did an incredible job leading; following an endless stream of commands... "Gee (right) Aksel, Chaw (left) Aksel." Finally, we had our Global Positioning System (GPS) which makes traveling on the barren land in search of an exact location a LOT easier. Our travel went something like this: We would take a bearing with our map and compass, travel a couple of miles (usually less), check the terrain and determine if we were on land or lake ice, and then check our position. It can be tedious and stressful work because we are constantly checking our bearings. Each time we checked our route we felt good, as the sleds and dogs were progressing in the right direction, overcoming the varied terrain.

Watch Aaron and Mille working with the dogs to get up the hill as they call out commands!

Listen as the sled travels. Can you hear when we are traveling on ice and when we are traveling on snow?

Aside from following our commands, the lead dogs are actually critical to our navigation. As we travel in our general direction they read the land and the snow. While yelling the commands to follow the general bearing the mushers must not only pay close attention to the land but also to the lead dogs. As they get experience the lead dogs become excellent at reading the ground surface such as soft versus hard-packed snow which is hard for us humans to tell. Once the dogs get their general bearings, the best leaders can run straight as an arrow using the wind, the snow drifts, and landmarks -- much like the traditional tools of navigation!

A slight breeze from southeast!

Though wind direction often changes and it is easy to become confused when navigating, "the wind" is still one of the most closely observed, and frequently discussed, phenomena in everyday Arctic life and for us in our daily life out here on the trail. The Inuit talk of four primary winds: Uangnaq, Kanangnaq, Nigiq, and Akinnaq. We know those winds as WNW (west/northwest) which comes from 296 degrees on a compass, NNE/19 degrees, ESE/119 degrees, and SSW/202 degrees. Throughout this journey we have been, and will continue to most often be, confronted and concerned with the opposing west-northwest and east-southeast winds - Uangnaq and Nigiq.

The Inuit traditionally use all their senses and knowledge when navigating. Besides wind direction they look at every available sign of nature including snow drifts, landmarks, vegetation, sea current, clouds, the behavior of sled dogs and other animals, and various astronomical bodies - the sun, and to a lesser extent, the moon and the stars. Northern lights are also used for navigation since they always are seen in bands running across the sky from east to west. Utilizing all these tools, the Inuit have been able to find their way without compass or GPS across some of the most difficult conditions on earth.

Throughout generations the Inuit have acquired a detailed knowledge about their land. Everything has been noticed - even a little rock. When we ask an elder to draw us a map, it is amazing to watch them draw, not like most of us would from a bird's view, but instead they tell us, for example, to go "right at this rock" or "straight by the bend in the river."

We are traveling along The Thelon Game Sanctuary. An odd "green" island in the middle of all the white is fittingly named "Grassy Island" and a tight narrow in the huge Thelon River is named "The Gap."

This minute attention to topographical detail is reflected in the Inuit practice of "place-naming." The last four days we have been traveling along the border of a huge national park named Thelon Game Sanctuary. In the Inuit language Inuktituk "Thelon" means center, source, homeland. It is considered the center because it is where the Boreal forest of the west meets the barren lands of the Kivalliq region, forming the tree-line. This region was earlier called "Keewatin", which we have to admit very fittingly means "where the wind blows!" It is a source because the Back and the Thelon River, considered the great rivers of the Arctic and Hudson Bay, drainages flow from here. Not only do the rivers provide fish and fresh water; flowing from wooded areas they bring very valuable driftwood (the only source of wood) into the barrens for the Inuit to use. Most importantly this area is, and has always been, a source for musk oxen and caribou that provide people of the area with food, tools, clothing, and shelter - which is why they have made it their homeland for the past couple of thousand years!

We are sure you can find some pretty interesting and descriptive place names in YOUR neighborhood as well. Check them out and make sure to add them to the Your Culture Zone. Oh, Aaron has a challenge for you; he once traveled to the place in the world with the longest name. Can you find its name and location?

The "Happy Re-supply Lake" Inuksiut

Watch a video of the re-supply lake.

On that note, the lake we are camped on today has no name. If you look at the map of the Canadian Arctic you will find many, many lakes and landmarks with no names. That does not mean that people have not been here before. The first people came to this area about 8000 years ago! If we were traveling here in the summertime we would probably see lots of evidence like tent rings and meat caches marked by large stones. They are hard to find in the wintertime when covered by snow, but we can still see inuksuits. An Inuksuit made by the Inuit could have been put there for many reasons, most often to mark a travel route, a place of dwelling or good hunting grounds. We have seen two so far on this expedition - the last one appeared on the horizon ducking out of the blowing snow Thursday afternoon just before lunch. Sitting on a hilltop hundreds of miles from the nearest community, but very close to this lake where we were to have our re-supply flown in, we decided that to us it marks all three of the above. We worked hard the last week to get here and were extremely happy to see this Inuksuit.

Friday was the long awaited re-supply day. Setting up camp Thursday night, we immediately got the satellite phone fired up to call the airline company, Air Tinte, to confirm that we had made it to the location as planned. The plane was scheduled to leave Yellowknife Friday morning at 8 AM, arriving on what we now call "Happy Re-supply Lake" at 10 AM. In just two hours they would cover the same distance that had taken us 37 days!!!

The exciting arrival of our re-supply!

Watch "The Day of the Re-supply"

Thursday night we were all excitingly busy going through our stuff, sorting out things we don't REALLY need to try and bring down weight on the sleds (so we can travel lighter and faster) then packing things up to either be shipped back home, or ahead to Igloolik down the trail. When morning came there was a beautiful clear sky and calm weather. We gathered outside to finish up and be READY for the plane's arrival - but it was delayed. We nervously looked at the sky, noticing how the snow was beginning to drift across the ground and clouds were forming in the distance. All worries were delightfully dismissed when at 1:58 we heard the buzzing sound of the Arctic work horse, a Twin-Otter airplane, in the distance. As it appeared coming in over our camp we waved and hollered with elation, feeling great relief as the pilots circled to find a place to land. They masterfully taxied into our camp site and literally pulled right up to our tent doors! We were very HAPPY campers.

Unloading all the goodies…

The next couple of hours were a flurry of excitement and activity. We unloaded the airplane, opened boxes right and left to see if we got what we needed, emptied fuel jugs, and loaded all the garbage back into the Twin-Otter belly to be brought back to Yellowknife. The remarkable pilots jumped back in their seats, fired her up and before we knew it, they were off into the horizon. It was a strange and somewhat sad feeling. As Mille put it, "I absolutely love being out here in this incredible land, traveling with good friends and the mighty Polar Huskies. However, I have to admit that when the plane took off my thoughts went with it to the reality of the world back home. It is odd how you can love to be here but long to be home at the same time." Have you ever had that feeling? To share your thoughts about traveling, visit this week's discussion board in Collaboration Zone 04. Then, participate in the "Travel" chat on Tuesday, February 10th.

Cookie Party!

Hear Hear Hugh's thoughts on the re-supply

Any sadness did not last too long though. Within minutes Eric's call for a "cookie party" could be heard throughout camp. His mom had sent a loving care package with the most incredible brownies and superlative, delicious chocolate-chip cookies baked by a family friend, Robin, and his little sister, Eliza. The entire team says THANK YOU. They truly hit the spot; filling our longing for goodies, sugar -- and family love!

One of the main staples in our diet is butter.

Besides cookies the plane was loaded with 48 gallons of fuel, 1900 lbs of dog food and almost 900 lbs of human food!!! Yes, that is a lot of food but if you consider our daily efforts, you begin to realize the importance of eating out here. We need to consume between 5,000 and 6,000 calories a day. We tend to crave fatty foods. Instinctively our bodies know that foods high in fat have more calories pound for pound than foods high in carbohydrates. So, a very large part of our diet is butter and cheese. The more we eat - the more energy we will have and the warmer we are. Out here, you truly need to think of your body as a car. We think about fuel - food - from when we wake up until crawling into the sleeping bags at night.

To make it through the day we eat lunch at 12:30 PM and we are hungry!

Check out the lunch scene 360 degrees - Can you find the bottle of nuts?

Besides lots of fat to produce body heat and stay warm, a balanced diet is critical for morale and clear thinking. Our judgment can easily become impaired if our diet does not meet daily nutritional requirements. Muscle refueling carbohydrates are essential to power our heavy exercise, so that we do not deplete our glucose and carbohydrate stores. This is not obvious while out here, because although we do not feel "cold" from eating insufficient carbohydrates, we eventually start feeling kind of "starved." Our bodies send a "starving signal" - the same feeling you feel if you skip a meal or two or are dieting - and it results in fatigue. It is sort of like hitting a wall. Many marathon runners (except of course our marathon-running team member Aaron) hit "it" at the 20-mile mark. "Everyday out here is much like running a marathon - during the second week of the expedition I was not hydrating or taking in enough food during the day. When setting up camp I felt like I was on mile 23. It seemed difficult to take one more step forward!" explained Aaron.

To avoid that energy "bonk" and ward off droopy spirits, we make sure we get lots of carbohydrates with oatmeal, granola, bread and bagels, energy bars; pasta and rice in our diet. We carry 30-45 days worth of food supplies on the sleds, so each food choice must be worth its weight in either calories or carbohydrates. For snacks we have dried fruit, nuts, gorp (trail mix), and chocolate! We also carry spices which make noodles considerably tastier after the 100th day in a row. Oh, ketchup seems to be the preferred spice out here! (Yes, it freezes solid.).

Eric cooking up a feast - with a smile.

We have to admit we eat some pretty funky stuff out here that probably would not seem too delicious at home. A couple of examples: Will and Hugh's special dish is called "Grease Out." You put two sticks of butter in a pan, add a couple of handfuls of cut-up caribou meat, another couple of handfuls of cut-up bison sausage, two big blocks of cheese - about 10 oz - and fry it all for 3-5 minutes. Eat it out of the pan, scooping with pieces of bread and enjoy! Eric has also invented a special treat: bison jerky with a slice of butter! Visit the Culture Zone to add your favorite recipes and yummy trail makings!!!

Listen to the dogs as they get psyched to take off after lunch break!

High spirit is obviously the key to our success. Beyond food, the support we can give each other out here as teammates is essential. And last, but not least, the sheer power of the Polar husky spirit pouring at us everyday from the four-legged gang keeps us going. It is this willingness to get the job done day in and day out that makes the Polar Huskies our heroes every day out here on the trail. If you have a dog hero, a good dog story, a picture of your favorite dog anything else dog related, add YOUR stuff to Collaboaration Zone 4.

The formula for our dog food is advanced and nutritionally planned as well and it takes up the most space and weight on the sleds! The dogs eat about 2 to 2.5 lbs. of food per day throughout the expedition. They get two kinds of food. First, each dog receives a chunk of "Endurance", a special high-fat food mix for long lasting energy. It has been formulated especially for the Polar Huskies over the past fifteen years by Hill's Science Diet. The food comes in the form of a dense brick; each weighing 1.5 lbs. and containing a little more than 4,000 calories. To add fiber, we also feed Science Diet Active Formula, a dry kibble type food (just like what you can buy in the store at home). Both of these have a high nutritional value. On extremely cold days, we feed the dogs pure chicken fat too.

Polar Husky Superstar Lipton.

This week's first Polar Husky Super Star, Lipton, is definitely the best eater in the kennel. When he was a little puppy, he was the smallest in his litter and we actually had to help him eat because all the other pups kept pushing him away. Eventually he grew bigger and bigger and became the biggest pup of them all! He would just lay right in the dog food pan and eat all day. Today Lipton is the biggest dog in the pack! Weighing about 145 lbs it sure makes a difference when grand "Lippy" decides to lean his massive chest into the harness.

Running in wheel with her brother Lipton, this week's other Polar Husky Superstar Misha LOVES food, which has earned her the nick name "Miss Piggy!"

The other Polar Husky Superstar of this week is Lipton's sister, Misha. A very laid-back girl, Misha is an easy-going traveler who is ready to eat anything, anytime, anywhere. This has been important for Misha on Arctic Transect 2004, as it is her first long expedition. Having this attitude is a plus for all of the Polar Huskies when traveling out here -- just like it is for us.

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