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WEEK 3: ACTION - SMILE! THE END...

 

The team on the trail from left: Mille, Amy, Buttra, Nazca, Paul, and Jens

Watch the happy Polar Husky howl, not wanting the trip to end!

Date: 02.28.05
Position: 49°38'N 88°05'W, Lake Nipigon, Ontario, Canada
Weather Conditions: Sunny, clear blue sky 25F/-4C

It has been an adventure filled with glittering snow, dancing northern lights, warm sunny days, and howling Polar Huskies. Lots of howling that is - which means happy Polar Huskies! Now, driving down the road at fifty-five miles an hour seems incredibly fast after the slow, comfortable pace of skiing next to a dogsled, which had become our way of life. The trailer has once again been loaded with our sleds and gear, and the Polar Huskies lay content in their dog boxes on the back of the truck after a spectacular adventure on Lake Nipigon.

Serenity on the trail.

As Amy concluded, “It has been a life changing experience, making me see things in a new perspective.” The slow pace is part of what we really like about being out there with the dogs. It puts your mind and body in a whole different place to be moving so slowly. You become very observant. Trying to describe this experience Amy came up with the following “Haiku” – a Japanese form of poetry that often has to do with nature:

Ice halos the moon
I dream upon down and snow
huskies await dawn

wolf tracks surround camp
howls slice the frozen air
silent eyes pierce me

and on a roll, Jens finished it off…

subtle in the snow
yet solid as runes script
lie tracks of wolves

Jens and Paul having a laugh during lunch break.

We have really had some excellent training out here on Lake Nipigon, leaving us all in high spirits for what is ahead. Just as one would hope for a training expedition, every day has brought new, excellent learning experiences for humans and huskies alike, and best of all we have had loads of fun doing it. High spirit is obviously a key to success on any of our expeditions.

Amy calls her classroom.

Watch as her 5th grade students brings her to tears.

Having fun, learning how to work as a team, and learning to recognize the support we can give each other as teammates are essentials that are very important parts of a training expedition. Amy, never having been on the trail before, found herself surrounded by the rest of a team with whom she did not have much work or living experience. She was in a completely foreign environment with weird noises, sights, and well, lots of unknowns. She admitted the first couple of days were somewhat frightening, making her long for home and her loved ones. However, she learned a great deal and overcame her fears with style. By the end of the journey she was truly having a blast; enjoying every minute of it!

Day 7: Amy, happily, is making snow angels.

Amy reflected, “The world of winter on Lake Nipigon is that of soft silence. Noise is made only from ice, wind, and Team Go North! The calls of the ice are as many as the calls from the flying ravens who seek us. There are low reverberating groans, splintering cracks, and happy little pings from the world below. The wind on the trail is both friend and foe. The friend gently sways the warmth of the lantern in evening hours or beats at the tent as it sends you into sleep. In the morning this friend has hardened your trail for quickened travel. The foe beats upon your face lending it to the element of ice. At times the wind is a thief as it takes your breath, warmth, and energy. Team Go North! has many sounds during both travel and camp. There are the voices of encouragement and direction to the huskies ahead, accompanied by the sounds of the sled cutting the crusted snow with precision.

…and the beautiful result!

When the snow is a powdery pillow the expedition sled floats like a vessel upon gentle waves. We travel beside the sled on skis - and the noises from my skis during those first days were plentiful. Many times both skis were firmly planted as I held onto the sled and was dragged along. Sometimes they were airborne slicing the icy air, down with a thud, and then lifeless only to be reborn without defeat. Joyously, by the end of the expedition my skis had become a powerful tool for transportation. Movements were rhythmic only to be broken by the pace of the unruly terrain. The sled, dog, skis, and teacher became friends - each relying on the other. Camp sounds are of direction, rhythm, and laughter. The ice-screw digging in to hold the tent secure, the dog food bag methodically emptied down the row, and laughter over the jokes. Noises on Nipigon stand alone; each sound being heard from beginning to end followed by the sound of silence that fills the void.”

A seasoned Arctic explorer quickly learns to gauge the outside temperature by the “frost line” inside of the tent at night. The reading here is: cold!

Lake Nipigon proved to be the perfect training ground. Over the course of the week we had all sorts of weather and travel conditions. Setting out we had some crispy nights dipping to –18 F (-26 C) with a breeze from the north hitting our faces as we swiftly traveled across the hard-swept surface of snow and ice. This gave Amy a great opportunity to appreciate the warmth of mittens and the importance of being able to wear them while eating lunch (consisting of soup with a spoon), putting on your ski bindings, and even going to the bathroom! The Polar Huskies, moving at a brisk pace, made this challenge really intimidating as she went from standing on the safe platform on the back of the sled to running next to the sled on skis; keeping up and hanging onto it by the handle of the tow rope.

Several mornings we woke up to a heavy ice fog.

Luckily the pace slowed as we moved to the west side of the lake, where the snow got really deep. The Polar Huskies had to work hard plowing their way through and that gave Amy a chance to get on those skis and figure it all out with a few spills and some great stunts! By then it became cloudy and warm, which combined with the hard work of traveling in deeper snow quickly made Amy shed a couple of layers of clothing and learn all about “ventilating” to not overheat. In addition to all of this, Mother Nature also threw some slush!

Have you ever enjoyed a “slushy” on a warm summer day? If so, you know what slush is. The recipe for slush on a lake starts with a crack somewhere in the ice caused by pressure. This crack allows water to actually come up on top of the ice, creating a pool of water which is then mixed with any snow lying on top of the ice, basically resulting in a heavy, sticky porridge. The tricky thing about slush is that it is hard to see. You can be traveling on a perfectly smooth snow surface when all of a sudden you see the dogs go down, trying to leap and jump their way back out. We then start yelling and yipping to make them go as fast as possible so the sled does not get bogged down – and we do not get led into the slush. The issue with slush, besides the fact that your feet get wet (and wet feet are really not good when it is cold and you are not easily able to dry out your boots with limited heat in the tent), is that this thick porridge of snow and water sticks to everything, soon freezes, and makes for little or no traction on the skis or the runners of the sleds.

Mille’s wet, then frozen mukluks and bindings.

So, when Freja, leading the front sled for Paul and Mille, followed by Elf and Flicka in point, sunk into slush with the entire team of Polar Huskies going right in behind them, Mille’s infamous loud voice starting piercing the air, urging the dogs to just go, go, go. Skiing out in front of the dogs as fast as possible Mille called Freja to encourage her to not turn the team but instead throw herself forward, while Paul was pushing the sled and helping the dogs from behind. From the back sled Jens immediately picked up on what was wrong and brought his team to an abrupt halt while yelling out to Amy, “slush!!!!” Amy instantly thought of a slushy – a thick drink of ice and water with no bottom and watching all of the chaos ahead, she was terrified. Thankfully Freja and company leaned into their harnesses, pulling the front sled through. Paul then took his team out ahead while Mille back-tracked to search for a better path for the second team to travel.

Though we were never actually at risk of falling to it’s bottom, Lake Nipigon is a huge lake with some serious wave action at freeze up – which is what caused this tree to be covered in ice taps!

Thinking she had succeeded, Mille waved Jens, Amy, and their team ahead. “To put it mildly – I was puzzled with fear,” said Amy. “I watched Mille ski back towards us probably a mere 75 feet to the left of where their sled went in. Panicking, I thought, why are we not running somewhere far away from this spot considering we are surrounded by all the space in the world?” But before she knew it, Jens had lifted the snow hook and off they went. Disko in lead was eager to make it out to Mille, waving ahead, so the team ran full blast right up to her. Mille turned to ski full speed along the path she just covered. To her surprise her weight, and that of the dogs coming behind, made the snow go out underneath them all once again. Though not nearly as deep, there was still slush!

Amy gives her new hero, Disko, a well deserved hug.

Unfazed by the slush Disko charged ahead full power followed by Nazca in point and the rest of the gang. When the sled stopped for just a second because heavily bodied Lipton, Aksel, and Peto in wheel position got stuck, Jens yelled for Amy to jump on the sled so she would not risk getting wet mukluks. Well, she did and then… “I was out in front with my team, watching the whole thing like it was in slow motion” shared Paul, “I saw Amy jump on top of the load, and next the entire sled tilted over as her two skis went into the air, then fell tip down into the soup; followed by Amy - face down!” Amy was thinking she was about to fall to the bottom of Lake Nipigon, when Jens caught her mid-air and planted her back on top of the load, while both he and Mille yipped the team to jerk the sled through the last bit of slush, onto nice “dry” snow. Mille skied ahead to her own sled, Jens praised the dogs, and Amy got back on her feet - with a whole new learning experience under her belt and a new appreciation for good lead dogs! As it turned out, Freja had learned a valuable experience too. Though we did encounter a few more slushy spots, most often Freja mastered reading the snow surface ahead, and would stay away from the slush regardless of the fact that Mille and Paul, because they could not see the slush underneath the surface, would be giving her commands that would have lead the team straight into it. So, Mille and Paul learned as well – that Freja now knows how to read slush and that her judgment is to be trusted.

Tucker the lead dog.

Aside from Freja sharpening up her terrific lead dog skills, we had lots of other great lead dog training this week. Disko mastered running the front team on his own - even plowing through deep snow, and Tucker started a new career as a co-lead dog. For one day he led the back team along with his mother, Nazca. Loving the speed and excitement of being on the move, Tucker had a blast chasing the team ahead. But, the question was whether he was also ready to lead the front team, which is a whole different ball game. It turned out that he was ready! He did a magnificent job running with Freja down a nice, hard, and fast snowmobile trail. Paul and Mille decided to really put him to the test by calling Freja off the trail out onto fresh powder snow with no hint of a trail; the direction heading for an island in the distance. Tucker just turned his head once, looking back at Paul and Mille, as if to make sure they knew what they were doing. Then he touched noses with Freja and off we went, straight ahead, full steam. We were all very, very proud.

Polar Husky team work, led by Disko!

The lead dogs are critical to our navigation. Aside from following an endless stream of commands like, "Gee (right) Freja, Chaw (left) Freja,” they also read the land and the snow. So, while yelling commands to follow the general bearing of the land it is also important that the mushers pay close attention to the lead dogs. As they get more experienced 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.

Hershey and Ginger.

But it takes more than a lead dog to make a team! The first three dogs in front of the sled are the wheel dogs. These are often the biggest and strongest dogs that have lots of enthusiasm and are all-around hard workers. Young dogs are also frequently run here so they can learn from the veterans. In the next one or two rows are the team dogs, those in the middle of the team who need to be steady pullers. Then the point dogs run in the position right behind the lead dog. The job of a point dog is to "push" the leader forward and keep the pace. Finally is the lead dog (or dogs). Being that this was a short training expedition and our sleds were not too heavy, weighing about 700 lbs. each at take-off, we had 12 on the front sled breaking the trail and 11 on the team following.

It is the end of the day; Jens and Polar Huskies enjoy the moment while he works on setting up the stake-out chain for the night.

Watch Paul hook his team to the stake-out line and Timber makes his way back “home.”

Watch Jens and Nuka enjoying one another.

We ski next to the sled, to not add weight, making it a bit easier for the dogs that are pulling the load day-in and day-out. On the average the Polar Huskies run at the “brisk” pace of 3-5 miles an hour; running a total of 25 miles in a full eight hour day is excellent. Some days, like when climbing the steep mountain sides as we will be doing next year, we only cover 2 miles; on other days we make 40 or 50 miles! On this training expedition we ran shorter average days of around 4-5 hours and traveled 12-18 miles in a day. It really all depends on the conditions of the trail - just like how fast you can drive in a car or on your bike depends on road quality and weather conditions. The big difference is that we can pretty much make a dog team move forward no matter what!

Paul eating lunch.

Watch Jens explain all about a traditional Danish meal Mille prepared with delicious deer sausage from the “Seldom Rest Acres Farm” given to the team by Aaron’s parents Sharon and Royce Doering.

When traveling we really care more about safety than speed. Although we do not think about it a whole lot, there are many dangers when you travel across the ice by dog team. Out on the trail we try to be prepared for the worst case scenario every minute – even when asleep! We have extensive experience and are good at what we do because every action is based on safety. One of our most important safety measures is to never postpone anything - even the simplest of tasks; always keeping in mind that any situation can become adverse. For example, it may be a beautiful day but the weather can instantly change. And, we always make sure to eat a lot, knowing that we need the energy to stay safe and warm.

What is that on Jens’ head?

Watch Jens prepare for the night and the morning ahead.

The things we do every night before we go to bed in the tent are examples of how we stay ahead of the game. We fill our lantern with fuel then put the matches and our headlights at arm's length. Let's say the ice starts cracking around camp in the middle of the night and we need to get up and out in a hurry - we know that the lantern is ready to be turned on. Likewise for heat, we make sure to fill the stove each morning before we pack-down camp. Imagine that we are traveling, big winds surprise us and the windchill dips below -100ºF as we are setting up camp. We handle the metal stove with "brittle" hands knowing we only have to make a few moves to get the heat started because it is all prepared and ready to go.

Amy shovels snow onto the snowflaps to anchor the tent. Here’s Amy’s lyrical impression of this, her first time sleeping on ice: “Sleeping in the winter, on the ice, with nature, in subzero temperatures is an amazing state. You shelter your body from the world through thin layers of nylon. You tuck yourself into a down cocoon upon snow and with a few thoughts of the day you send your soul into sleep. Your sleep states are only aroused by the anthem howl of the huskies and the chill upon your face. The breath of night lingers in the tent. When the dawn awakens you, the frosted crystals from your slumber cling to the tent ceiling and walls. The last trails of sleep are left behind when the crystals rain down upon you and your bag.”

Mille inside of the tent as she is almost done setting up “home” for the night for tent partner, Jens, and herself.

These, and all the other little details, a lot of which we don't even think about anymore, result in a very set routine of "how we travel." Our routine way of doing things is the same every day and is as fast and efficient as possible. The better we are at this routine, the safer we are. When trouble hits we are well prepared; we know exactly what to do - almost on auto pilot. Obviously one of the purposes of a training expedition is for the “veterans” to stay tuned while the rookies learn the ropes and routines of Arctic travel.

Timber always works hard - and loudly - to bring out the smiles!

Watch him in action…

As is often the case, the Polar Huskies played a large role in learning to “love it” out here. If you have cuddled with a dog, been greeted and licked or been met with a wiggling body and happily wagging tail when a dog realizes you are there, and it has made you smile and feel good – well, then you know the power of “a happy dog.” The unconditional power of the Polar husky spirit pouring at us everyday from the four-legged gang simply 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 here on the trail. For that they all earn the title of this week’s Polar Husky Superstars.

NASA is one of the many important organizations supporting GoNorth! Here Paul and Amy work to collect snow samples.

Watch them in action!

That said, there are many heroes of GoNorth! who are not with us on the trail. GoNorth! is made possible through the invaluable help of our core team at Education Basecamp, as well as many individuals and organizations. Our sincere gratitude goes to our generous sponsors, friends, and family for your support. Finally, we would like to extend a special thanks to all of the students and teachers who followed along online, making adventure learning happen in the classroom.

What adventures will the trail ahead bring along?

Aaron: on the upcoming 2006 full-scale adventure learning program.

This will be the last report from the GoNorth! Training Expedition 2005. By the time you read this the team will once again have rendezvoused with Aaron at Education Basecamp, after which Jens will have flown back home across the Atlantic Ocean to Denmark, Amy will be welcomed back in her classroom in Pennsylvania joined by Polar Husky puppy “Jupiter,” while Paul, Mille and the Polar Husky gang will be on their way south back to Expedition Basecamp. On that note, we hope you will join us again for next year's Online Classroom Dogsled Expedition: "Go North! Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 2006," taking place spring ‘06 in Alaska. Until then – Keep exploring!

Adventure Learning Rules!