Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Monday July 25th, 2013 – in Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island

In my “normal” life, I’m not much for the idea for coincidences or other “higher power”-type beliefs that leave your fate (or mine) to someone other than yourself.

But with Students on Ice, there is something that seems to happen that, well, doesn’t change my thoughts on that… but it does make me shake my head in amazement. We refer to it as SOI Karma.
Simply put, it’s the concept that a series of certain events that fall into place in a certain order that allows certain amazing results to happen. Over my five expeditions with SOI, I’ve experienced many of these events. One of the more recent was last year’s “rescue” of our 2012 expedition by the Canadian Coast Guard, who did a fantastic job of transferring us from our ice-locked position in Iqaluit, to our ship in Frobisher Bay.

This year, it’s happened again, with similar fantastic results.

Back in late June, I met up with two SOI alumni from my 2009 and 2011 expeditions – Jenna and Bridget, respectively. Both of these exceptional and passionate young women were in Winnipeg to participate in a program through the University of Manitoba. They would spend a few weeks in July living in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, learning Inuktitut, and experiencing Inuit culture and ways of life. It was great to catch up with both of them, who had become fast friends even though they had done separate expeditions.

Although Jenna and Bridget would be in the Arctic at the same time that SOI 2013 was happening, our planned itinerary would have taken us nowhere near where they were staying – Pang is along the south eastern coast of Baffin Island, and our course would take us much farther north along the northern coast and towards Resolute along the Northwest Passage.

But, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, thick ice has prevented us from keeping that itinerary to Resolute, and has instead changed our direction towards Iqaluit. As we headed south along the east coast of Baffin Island, our first destination was the town of Pangnirtung. Naturally, I thought of our two SOI friends, and wondered if we would have the chance to meet.

Arriving in Pang was like visiting an old friend. It had been three years since my last visit and it was nice to just wander around town and take in the changes, and the things that were still the same. I stopped by the art studio, where an old SOI friend, Jolly, works. Jolly is an Inuit artist who makes stencil prints, some of which I’ve purchased on previous expeditions. It was great to reconnect with him, and I managed to pick up a beautiful stencil of narwhals that I’m very proud of.

As we gathered in at the community centre for some demonstrations on Inuit games, dancing and celebrations, I was beginning to think we wouldn’t have a chance to connect with Jenna and Bridget. But just as it began, up the road came Bridget, all smiles. She had managed to get into town, but Jenna was still out on the land. We had a great time introducing her to this year’s expeditioners, reuniting with SOI staff and having a great time.

And when we said goodbye, tears and all, we thought that SOI karma was at work again.

Little did we know.

After bed check that night on the ship, as we prepared for hikes the next morning, who should walk in but BOTH Bridget AND Jenna. Without getting too detailed, they had begged a ride from a local fisherman and somehow managed to get on board the ship! After having lived off the land for a few weeks, they were happy to camp out for the night on our ship as official SOI stowaways.

The next day, stowaways and all, we travelled further up Cumberland Sound to the southern tip of Auyittuq National Park to conduct a couple of hikes through this beautiful part of Canada. Half of our group signed up to do the “long hike” to the Arctic Circle, a 25km+ journey. The rest, including myself, Jenna and Bridget, were on the “short hike” to a scenic waterfall a few kilometres away.

The day flew past. Hike in the morning, lunch on the ship, back to the shore for educational workshops, dinner on the ship, and evening briefing. Before long it was time to say goodbye to Auyittuq, and to Bridget and Jenna, who in their short time with us, became a part of our expedition.
Tears were once again shed, emails exchanged, and off they went, back to their adventure, and we to ours.

Today, we visited Kingnait Fjord – again an encore visit for me. Another hike, another waterfall, and another Arctic swim (cold!!!!).

Through it all comes the realization that this is our last couple of days together as a group. Saturday will mark our arrival in Iqaluit where we will begin to say goodbye to our new SOI family. As usual, emotions will be high. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to update on these last couple of days and reflect on the expedition as a whole.

In the meantime, it’s time to say goodnight.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Monday July 22nd, 2013 – crossing the Davis Strait from Greenland to Canada

Well, that didn’t go so well.

All my fears about seasickness as we crossed the large body of water known as the Davis Strait from Greenland to Baffin Island came true. We hit probably the roughest seas that I’ve ever experienced in my five expeditions with Students On Ice. It started out fine yesterday, calm waves that barely caused a hiccup amongst most of the group.

And so we carried on with the day. Sunday was designated as Faith Day. No, it had nothing to do with religion or beliefs, it was named after one of our students, Faith (FeFe) Malton. FeFe is from Houston, Texas, has been on one SOI Antarctic expedition, and is a passionate and engaging young woman. In all respects, she’s equal to all her fellow students on this expedition. Except that FeFe was born with only one arm.

As you might expect from someone with the strength and courage of FeFe, she hasn’t let her challenges define her, or prevent her from accomplishing her goals and dreams. She truly is a remarkable person.

But back to Faith Day. Her challenge to all of us was to try and spend the entire day using only one arm. And what a challenge it was. It’s incredible to discover how many small hurdles one has to overcome. Opening a sugar packet, putting a watch on, and even writing. Not to mention the obvious difficulties like showering, eating, and holding on to things while the ship lists back and forth. It was sometimes exhausting, but really eye-opening for most of the students and staff.

A day at sea also means lots of talks, workshops and other activities happening throughout the ship. There was a lesson on Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit peoples), song-writing, sewing and crafts, making snow goggles, bird-watching (yes, even in the open water!) and much more. Students were allowed to choose what they wanted, and all in all, things were going great.

And then the swells hit.

We started to get a bit of a wind behind us. This, naturally, helps to push us along at a good rate of speed. But it also creates a lot of wave action. Last night, as we began our evening programs, you could tell that some of us were getting seasick. The symptoms are all there. The staring off into the distance, the pale glassy look in the eyes, and the mad rush to a bathroom or the open deck of the ship. As curfew came along, many of the students and staff had already collapsed into their beds.

And I wasn’t far behind. A quick bed-check and off I went to dreamland. The motion sickness patch did its job, but it certainly didn’t remove all of the symptoms for me. But the night went well, and I managed to get a full 7 hours sleep.

This morning, things hadn’t improved. If anything, they got worse. Breakfast seemed to stay down, but as the morning wore on, many of the swells got so bad that items on tables and counters were sliding off. In the lounge, glasses and plates were flying off and crashing to the floor. A water cooler toppled over. Some of the crew told us that they lost over half of their plates and glassware during a couple of the bad swells.

Despite all that, everyone rushed out on to the deck when word came that there were polar bears on the sea ice. Naturally, the sight of the Arctic’s most iconic species causes a great stir of excitement, and these bears didn’t disappoint. Many people got great pictures, despite the fact that the bears turned and walked or swam away as we approached.

This afternoon we headed into Cumberland Sound, as we continued our detour towards Iqaluit. To avoid the still-heavy swells, the captain and crew (who have been fantastic throughout our recent rough seas) swung us around some fairly-heavy ice to get out of the wind. That allowed us to get off of the ship for the first time in 48 hours to cruise in zodiacs amongst the ice looking for wildlife. Sadly, none was found, but it was still a great experience nevertheless.

Well, I’m sitting here writing this while watching a beautiful sunset and wondering who else is watching it. Our resident musician, Ian Tamblyn, is serenading us with some songs as we wrap up our day. Tomorrow, we arrive at Pangnirtung. This will be my third visit to this beautiful community, and they’ve done a lot to prepare for us on really short notice. It will nice to reacquaint myself to Pang, but it will be extra special to see a couple of students from previous expeditions who live there or are spending a few weeks there.

All in all, it should be a great day.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Saturday July 20th, 2013 – Uummannaq, Greenland

I’m fairly certain that in one of my previous blogs from another expedition, I said something along the lines of “I’d cross off of my bucket list… if I even remotely thought of it to be ON my bucket list.”

Well, today was one of those days. But I digress…

The morning broke with our expedition leader Geoff Green announcing the sighting of whales near the ship’s path. OK, I've heard this one before… and it’s usually black dots on the horizon. But there was the ONE time that the whales actually came within a short distance… so I guess I’d better get up and go see.

Well, it was worth it. Many of them were indeed black dots on the horizon. But some did get close enough to see some details – dorsal fins and blow holes. Turns out, they were fin or finback whales – a rare sight for an SOI expedition. Our captain did a fantastic job of gently navigating around to give us our best views of these majestic creatures.

But then, we were back on course for Uummannaq. As I mentioned yesterday, this community on the west coast of Greenland is celebrating its 250th anniversary today, and in typical SOI karma, we would arrive in the midst of their celebrations.

So after breakfast, we hopped onto zodiacs and headed toward Uummannaq. The town is named for a heart-shaped mountain that towers over the community. The houses and buildings are all built along the lower cliffs of the mountain and tower over the coastline. It reminded me a little of some of the small towns in Greece I visited a few years back, where the houses spiraled endlessly up the slopes.

After stepping onto the dock, we were immediately greeted by numerous people welcoming us to the town and celebrations. After settling in for a lunch, we then set off to explore the surrounding community. First up were some kayak races. Uummannaq is actually on an island, so the goal was for the racers to circle the entire island. Kayaks have always interested me, but I've been afraid to try them due to my size and physical ability. Watching these kayakers deftly paddling along at breakneck speeds was a real treat to watch.

After the race ended, off we went for the official celebration. There was lots of speeches (in Greenlandic), singing (in Greenlandic) and awarding of medals (yes, in Greenlandic). Despite the language barrier, it was a nice ceremony and ended with all of us SOIers clamboring on stage and singing an original song written by our resident musician, Ian Tamblyn, and a few students.

After the main celebration, we divided ourselves in two. One group headed off for a “30-40 minute hike” to see the “official” home of Santa Claus, while the other group went to watch a movie filmed in Uummannaq. The latter was being shown in a transformed blubber hut, built around 1860. The movie (called “Inuk”) was a beautifully-done production, and the blubber hut/theatre was a unique experience. It was surprisingly cold in there, colder than even the Arctic air. Many students dressed in seal-skin outfits to keep warm.

By the time it was over, the hikers were back with tired legs and tales of a slightly under-whelming visit to “Santa’s home”. So I decided to not join the second group on their hike to the same spot. Good choice, wouldn't you agree?

Instead, I went and visited the local museum (containing images of the well-known Greenlandic mummies). Then I checked out a children’s concert at the elementary school. And finally, I ate some Greenlandic soft-serve ice cream. Dipped in cocoa powder.

So let’s check the ol’ bucket list. Watch movie in a 150 year-old blubber hut… check. Eat ice cream in Greenland… check. Ride a zodiac with a clown dressed in a cow suit and horn on her nose… check. I won’t even bother explaining that one… I’ll just leave it for you to imagine.

To wrap up, we've received an update to our itinerary. Resolute (our final destination) is completely socked in with ice. There is no imminent way to get in to that harbour, and even the Coast Guard won’t be able to save us.

So that leaves us with one option – the only other place in the Eastern Canadian Arctic that a 737 can land in – Iqaluit. And the only way to get to Iqaluit in time to meet our itinerary is to head south along the eastern edge of Baffin Island immediately. So that means our visit to Pond Inlet is out, along with Resolute – and no trip along the Northwest Passage.

And while the prospects for interesting things to see along the way are still great, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I don’t get to say that I traveled even a little bit of the Northwest Passage. But as the old SOI saying goes – flexibility is the key. And that leaves so many options open…

Tomorrow is a day at sea. Two things will probably come up – seasickness as we hit the open water, and a chance for me (and others) to do educational programs. Hopefully the ship won’t be all horizontal during those programs.

Myself included.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Friday July 19th, 2013 – Ilulissat, Greenland

I last left off heading towards the town of Ilulissat on the west coast of Greenland. My return to this community was not without a bit of trepidation. On my last visit, we were treated with an SOI hike of epic proportions – long, exhausting and well, exhausting. But I digress…

In the morning, we awoke to massive icebergs floating past, indicating that we were nearing the famous Jacobshavn Glacier and its massive iceberg field. So naturally, it meant a chance to go out and play in amongst the ice. This is another one of my favourite SOI activities – hopping into zodiacs and just cruising around with no particular destination.

The cruise was, as always, impressive. Massive (and not-so-massive) slabs of ice serenely slid past us as we cautiously weaved our way along, being careful not to get to close. At any moment, one of these icebergs could calve off and create a huge wave throughout the area, not to mention many tons of loose ice. Every so often, a loud crack would resonate across the water as the incredible stresses on these icebergs became audibly evident.

But despite all our patience, not much action was to be had, and so we headed back to the ship to continue our voyage to Ilulissat.

As I said, the highlight of any visit to Ilulissat is a hike to view the massive Jacobshavn iceberg field. Last year, we did indeed view that iceberg field in all its glory by walking a somewhat strenuous 30 minutes or so to get to it… but then finished the hike with yet another hour-long of even more strenuous walking. In the end, even the students in way better shape than me were dragging themselves in.

So this time around, I made a promise to myself I wouldn't strain the limits of my physical abilities, which was still hurting from the ropes course of a few days earlier. Yet of course, I didn't want to miss out on the chance to see the Jacobshavn ice field. I've become quite intrigued with glaciers, icebergs and the like since joining SOI, and I was definitely torn with the thought of not going.

But SOI is known for its great “karma”, and sure enough, it came into play with this year’s Ilulissat visit. As I was about to disembark the ship, our expedition leader Geoff Green, asked me to head straight to a local Museum to check in with them and ensure all our groups were OK there. Naturally, as a Museum nerd, I was alright with that. So while the rest of the group headed off on the dreaded hike, I sauntered off through a town in Greenland to see the Museum.

However, once I settled everything at the Museum, I realized I had nothing to do and more than three hours to go until we had to be back on board the ship. And while strolling the streets of this beautiful Arctic town sounded like a nice idea, the call of the ice was beckoning me. And then I realized – hey… there’s no one else with me. I can walk at my OWN pace.

And off I went, using my memories of last year to guide me through town towards the site of the United Nations designated World Heritage Site. And when I arrived, I eyed the path we took last year with great trepidation. But hark! What is this path just off to the left? It’s fairly flat! And it’s a boardwalk!!

With a spring in my step, off I went to find me some ice. It was still a long walk, and there was a bit of a climb at the end. But before long, I had joined the majority of the group at the edge of the Jacobshavn ice field. And what a sight. Kilometers and kilometers of shiny white ice. It looked so thick, you could have walked across it.

After a few pictures and videos, off I trekked again, taking my time to get back to the ship. As I did, I passed a large collection of sled dogs (I’m assuming some form of husky) relaxing in the warm Arctic sun. Off in the distance, I could hear a few of them starting howling. Within a few seconds, a few more started. And then a few more. Before I knew it, I realized that the howling was getting closer. Then the dogs laying next me started braying to the sky. As they did, the ones in the distance stopped. I have it all on video, but it doesn't compare to being there. It’s like the dogs were taking roll call and checking on each other’s health and well-being. An impressive moment.

Once we got the family back on board, off we went again. Our next destination is the town of Uummarraq, which by coincidence is celebrating its 250th anniversary on Saturday. I don’t know what we’re doing, but we are spending the whole day there, so it should a “typical” SOI day…

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thursday July 18th, 2013 - Off the west coast of Greenland

The past three days have been a whirlwind of activity! As I last left off, we were entering our last day of introductory activities and events in Ottawa before heading off to start our ship-based portion in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

The two days in Ottawa serve a lot of purposes. They provide a framework for the Arctic and its issues, allow for staff and students to get to know one another and bond, and finally, to allow luggage and other lost items to catch up to the arrived students.

On the itinerary was a visit to the estate of William Lyon Mackenzie King in Gatineau Park, as well as an aerial rope obstacle course and zip-line. The estate was nice; it was a unique look into the individual that was our longest-serving Prime Minister. But what wasn't so nice, was this rope course.

Now don't get me wrong. The course itself appeared to be well built, and the staff were superbly-trained and diligent about safety. But this was most definitely a physical activity, and I was no where near up for it. Put simply, I couldn't complete it. It wasn't the height, dangling 20 feet or so off the ground felt very safe with the many ropes holding us in place. But combined with the extreme heat (+42 degrees Celsius humidex) and my poor physical shape, there was no way I could have come close to finishing. It was so exhausting, I could barely keep standing.

Regular readers of this blog know that I regularly comment on the strenuous hikes and physical activities that take place on the average SOI trip. But this was different. On SOI hikes, when I reached the limit of my endurance, I could stop and turn back. On the ropes course, with people ahead of and behind me, there was no option for that. And to make matters worse, I never even got to do an actual zip-line. Guess I'll keep that on my bucket list!

Wednesday morning meant flight day. As our flight left at 7:30am, wake-up had to happen before 4am. Get the students up, get them on to buses and into the airport, where they had to collect their luggage and go through regular check-ins and security. Somehow, we got everyone and everything on board.

Now having said that, I can finally tell everyone about our special VIP this year. It's nice to have someone come along on expedition who has a bit of "public persona" cachet behind them. In 2010, CBC lead news anchor, Peter Mansbridge, joined us for a few days. This time around we're lucky enough to have Stephane Dion, former leader of the federal Liberal Party and a Minister of the Environment, joining us. He joins 40-some other great and talented staff coming along on expedition. I may not agree politically with his party, but there's no doubt he provides a unique perspective to our students.

We arrived in Greenland with little problem, and before long, we were zipping along the waves toward our floating classroom, the Sea Adventurer. As I recall, I think I mentioned I had travelled with this ship during the Arctic 2011 expedition (although back then it was called the Clipper Adventurer). Climbing back on-board was like visiting an old haunt. It was like I never left. What made me feel even more welcome was recognizing a few of the crew who were onboard two years ago, like Richard and Jane. I've been told that all the crew were looking forward to having SOI, and it definitely made us feel right at home.

And with that, and a seasick patch, we were off. Making our way down the fjord away from Kangerlussuaq, we had a first dinner, briefing and finally collapsed into our beds for a much-needed sleep.

Today was our first landing in Itilleq Fjord, the same spot as our last landing on Arctic 2012. It was a great day for shore activities, with a little mist and a chilly breeze blowing through. As usual, we had a diverse range of sessions for students to choose from; water sampling with dip nets, song-writing, creative writing, traditional sewing, to name just a few. I chose to follow along with glaciologist, Eric Mattson. He had discovered a patch of snow still on the ground here in Greenland, even in the middle of July. Together with a number of students, he conducted experiments on the snow and explored the many facets of this Arctic necessity.

For the afternoon, it was off to the community of Itilleq itself. This small town has only a population of 100 people, so dumping off the entire SOI contingent meant that for just a few short hours, we more than doubled up the population. Students were given an opportunity to explore the community, visit the fish factory (the main resource for many of Greenlandic towns), meet the townspeople and walk around the area. As with all SOI community visits, this will be a memorable stop for the students, as they get to see first-hand what it's like for the peoples who inhabit the Arctic regions to live and work here. There was even an impromptu (and somewhat crowded) soccer game that broke out, along with some Inuit throat-singing and other traditional songs and dances.

It's been five days and as typical for an SOI expedition, the students have bonded very quickly. It's quite amazing how 85 students, who have never met and are from very different backgrounds, mesh so rapidly. It's a testament to the program and philosophy of SOI that this happens.

So tomorrow is a visit to the community of Ilulissat, again, another stop from last year's expedition. It was an interesting visit then, and I anticipate it will be an interesting visit this time around.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday July 15 - SOI Arctic 2013 - Day 3

Well, it’s been a very busy couple of days for me here in Ottawa! Friday, I (obviously) arrived safe and sound in Ottawa. As mentioned in my last post, I was supposed to immediately pick up two students arriving from northern Canadian communities (through Edmonton), but as is very common with flights from some of these communities, there were delays and they wouldn’t be getting in until Saturday. So Friday was spent with some much-needed getting organized and low-key activities to build up energy for the days to come.

Saturday rolled around, and in came some of the students. Throughout the day, we slowly picked up three students here, two here, four here… until we finally ended up with 10 students. Nine of them were from northern towns – and one from Switzerland. Ah, SOI diversity was beginning to shine in all its glory! Our early Swiss student – Lucie – appeared to suffer from little jet lag despite arriving at what I would imagine would be near a normal (teenager) bedtime back home.

For us, the adventure was getting started to the Parliament Buildings, for their amazing evening light show Mosaika. I had seen this show last year, and this year didn’t disappoint as well. A sea of humanity covered the grounds of our nation’s seat of government, and through it all, I managed to meet up with a student from my 2011 trip, Gordon from Iqaluit. Gordon and I had a great talk – he’s preparing to start his career by joining Canada’s armed forces this fall, and I couldn’t be prouder of his decision and for even such a short period of time, having had a chance to get to know this amazing and dedicated young man, and I wish him all the best for his future. He even took a few moments to greet the small group of SOI2013 students and pass on some good advice for them as they begin their big adventure.

Then came Sunday, in all its student arrival glory. My assignment – a simple one. Go to the Ottawa airport and stay there all day, greeting students getting off the planes, finding their luggage, and sweeping them out to an eagerly-waiting shuttle driver outside the terminal for transport to Carleton University. Seems simple. I arrived at 7:30am, and right away our first students of the day trickled in. Luggage. Shuttle. Back inside. Another flight. Luggage. Shuttle. Inside. International arrivals. Students. Shuttle. To domestic. Students. Luggage. Shuttle. Domestic again. Students… oh crap, an international flight is getting in. Students get luggage while I’m off to international. Students. Gather other students. Oh crap, luggage for one student didn’t make it. Shuttle. Back inside, more international – yes Mr. Customs, this student is with me and will be leaving Canada at some point (let’s leave out the part about going to Greenland and then BACK to Canada for simplicity’s sake), whatdoyoumeanthatMontrealflightisarrivingearly!..shuttle…luggage….domestic…international…luggage….shuttle…domestic…three domestic flights and one international, no shuttles, luggage delayed…. Ahhhhhh!!!

And I volunteered for that. Willingly. And I would do it again and again and again. Because I get to see all these excited and energetic students first and be the first smiling person they see as they begin one of the most memorable experiences of their young lives. If any SOI staff are reading this – never, ever, take me off of doing this important task. Never.

And then everyone was here. Well, almost everyone. A few missed flights. Some lost luggage. But the team… the SOI family… was home.

And that brings me to today. It was a day of getting to know one another – some introductory education sessions. Some breakout icebreaking activities. Food. Trips to Parliament Hill – this time in the day time with guided tours. And on cabinet shuffle day, too. There was a buzz in the air… or it may have been the sound of taxpayers’ money getting flushed down the drain in the Senate chamber…

Then we were off to the Canadian Museum of Nature’s collection facility (and head office for Students On Ice) in Gatineau, Quebec. This is my third or fourth visit to this facility, and as a museum nerd, it’s a bit like museum porn. The students were fascinated by dinosaur fossils, plant samples, DNA testing and whale skeletons – I was fascinated by the storage system.

Here’s a picture from the fossil collection storage – rows and rows of knowledge.

And then back home to Carleton for supper, more education programs and evening activities. Another typical whirlwind of an SOI day complete.

So I sit here in my dorm room, yawning away. It’s time for sleep – tomorrow we are off to two activities I’ve never done before – a visit to the estate of Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. Then (of course) a hike. Picnic lunch. And in the afternoon – a zip-line ropes course. I never done one before so this could be… interesting…

If I have time to update tomorrow, I will. But it’s an early night, as we have a 4:30am wake-up call on Wednesday for our flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and our home for the following 10 days – the Sea Adventurer!


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday July 11, 2013 - SOI Arctic Expedition 2013 - T minus 1 day

So this time around, I promised I’d talk a bit more about what I know about the students on this year’s Arctic Expedition. Anyone who has heard me talk about SOI (which is anyone who will listen), knows that it’s the students that make this whole experience what it is. They are the most diverse, engaging and passionate group of young men and women I have ever had the privilege to come across – and I haven’t even met this year’s bunch!

Their diversity makes each expedition unique and special. In my first four years, the interactions were different – from being Uncle Mike one year, to the DangerKatz in another – if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that no two years will be the same.

Ok, some straight up numbers. Over 80 per cent of the students on SOI expeditions are sponsored, whether it be Prince Albert of Monaco, to various Inuit and First Nations community organizations, to great causes like the Leacross Foundation – just to name a few.

Forty per cent of the students are from Northern communities. This year, there are students representing Pond Inlet, Grise Fiord, Gjoa Haven, Kuujuaq and many others. They are joined by other students from most provinces in Canada… but Manitoba, sadly, is not. My first two expeditions had a Manitoba student in each, but the next two did not. This year, as far as I can tell, also does not have one. This, to me, is a serious gap for us, as we are most definitely a polar province. But for a Manitoban student to go, some organization or company will need to step up and hopefully sponsor one – any takers?

And of course, we’ve got students from across the world as well. The U.S. is well-represented, with students from Washington DC, New York City, Houston, Rhode Island and Tennessee. The Tennessee students are usually the ultimate “fish out of water” expeditioners – often completely unprepared for the experience ahead of them, but completely ready to embrace every minute of it.

Internationally, we’ve got students coming from Switzerland, Norway, Greenland, and Monaco, along with other countries probably – it’s just not clear from their bios. These 80 students and about 40 staff will make up our little family for the next two weeks.

Friday is coming up pretty fast – the bags are ALMOST packed (everything fits!) and I think I’m ready to go. My flight arrives in Ottawa at 1:12pm – and the first two students arrive at 1:49pm! No rest for the wicked – it’s GO time!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday July 8th, 2013 – SOI Arctic Expedition 2013 - T minus 4 days

Adventure is worthwhile in itself.
Amelia Earhart

Four years ago, I put this quote in my very first blog as I had arrived in Ottawa to start my first Arctic expedition with Students On Ice. I look back on those first few entries, and indeed the entire expedition, with a bit of whimsy and nostalgia – I had no idea what was about to happen, and was literally a wide-eyed tourist jumping into an adventure feet first. It was a whirlwind of emotions and experiences that left me a little bit stunned, quite a bit amazed… and a LOT exhausted. But I knew one thing - I wanted to experience this adventure again.

And so I did… in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

And here I am, preparing for my FIFTH Arctic expedition with Students On Ice. I am honored and privileged to once again be involved with this great organization and this year’s voyage looks to be as exciting and action-packed as all the others. Of course, with four days left to go until I leave for Ottawa, there’s not much to describe just yet. Unless you want to hear the finer details about my packing, which probably isn’t that interesting. What I’m packing this year is quite different than what I packed in 2009 – experience and practicality have taught me some lessons about what I personally need to bring versus what SOI recommends . In the end, it all fits… hopefully.

There have been some changes to the SOI program this year. Of course, each and every expedition with SOI has been different and varied in many ways – itinerary, ship, staff and naturally, the students. But this year marks a somewhat different path for the SOI educational program. For starters, our amazing and diverse group of field staff will be conducting a series of TEDx-style sessions called “Arctic Hour”. These will take place numerous times throughout the expedition and will replace the lecture-style talks from previous years. A heavier focus will be on experiential and interactive workshops… which pleases me greatly, as that’s where I feel I can play a part. And of course, there will be the “usual” zodiac runs, shore landings, and community visits. I definitely invite you to check out the expedition website at www.studentsonice.com/arctic2013.

In reviewing our expeditionary staff bios, I’m surprised at how few “veterans” are coming along this year. Of course, there are a plethora of new faces to join with us – and that is definitely one of the highlights of each expedition. This year, I’m noticing a definite swing to staff with political and economic backgrounds – a former Assistant Deputy Minister for Environment Canada, current President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada, a CEO of an Arctic mining company, a policy advisor for the International Development Research Centre – just to name a few. But science isn’t being ignored – we have a paleobiologist, botanist, oceanographer, glaciologist, a couple of geologists amongst many others. Geographers, historians, musicians, photographers and artists also dedicate their time. And of course, there are educators of all stripes and backgrounds.

Our itinerary is also unique. After two full days exploring Ottawa and getting to know one another, we fly off to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where we board our floating home for almost two weeks. This year we are back on the ship we sailed with in 2011, although she’s been renamed the Sea Adventurer. After we set sail, we visit numerous stops along the west coast of Greenland, before heading across the Davis Strait to sail the Northwest Passage! This will be the farthest north I’ve travelled yet, as we wind our way along the north edge of Baffin Island, all the way to Resolute, Nunavut! From there we fly out to Iqaluit, where we drop off many of our Northern students, and then back home to Ottawa.

As usual, it’s a whirlwind itinerary, and it will change – guaranteed. Ice, weather, and any other factor can change our course or delay things. But one thing is for certain – it’s certain to be a worthwhile adventure!

Next blog: the best part of an SOI expedition – the students!