Monday, July 18, 2016

2016 Arctic Day 3 - Ottawa

This entry might be a short one - I'm typing it on my phone as I sit in Ottawa Airport waiting patiently in between student arrival flights. It's been a great pre-expedition program so far, with a really dynamic group of early arrivals. 

Yesterday was a whirlwind of walking and sightseeing and airport runs and eating. First stop was a farmers market at the newly redone Landsdowne Park in Ottawa. It was really difficult to walk the aisles with amazing and delicious varieties of food and not be able to buy much because we were out and about for the rest of the day. But I did manage to find some yummy homemade, all-fresh Popsicles to quench my thirst on a hot day. I'll be honest, I had three different kinds. 

After lunch, we headed to the Mint for a tour of their facilities. It was interesting to compare what they do to our beautiful facility in Winnipeg. After the tour, the group went to do some shopping. Luckily I had an airport pick up, so I got miss out on that. Not considering that a loss. 

Picked up a number of students and staff coming in from Iqaluit. One of the staff was Annie, a now-retired teacher from Iqaluit and one of the sweetest ladies I've ever met. She'll be mostly teaching students some traditional sewing and needlework. One of the students also brought some "country food" with her. Not sure exactly the contents, but likely some char, seal, muqtuq (whale skin and blubber) - and sadly none of it for us. 

With our group now numbering 16 students, we headed to dinner and then to Parliament Hill to watch their light show called Northern Lights. It was a beautiful program, better than the previous one, in my opinion. Even got me a little misty-eyed at the end after acknowledging those we lost in war, and then the crowd spontaneously stood and sang along to O Canada. 

Then it was bed for everyone but me, as I had one last airport pick up at midnight. Got them in safely and headed to a much-welcomes slumber, only to woken an hour later by two Northern students who couldn't sleep because of how warm their rooms were. Being a larger guy and not liking the hot conditions either, I could certainly relate. I gave them a few tips on how to cool down their room and beds, took them to get some VERY cold water to cool down their inner temps and tucked them in as best as possible. Just another normal day for an SOI chaperone. 

Today is airport arrivals for me. I'm stationed here from 9am to 6pm greeting new staff and students and sending them on with our van drivers. Makes for a long day, but I specifically request it each year. Even though I only get to see the students for a short period of time today, I'm the first smiling face they see coming off the escalator from their planes, and I'm glad to play a small part in starting their experience off on a safe and welcoming one. 

Flight from Toronto coming in! Let's go greet some students!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

2016 Arctic Day 2 - Ottawa

Hello, from sunny and hot Ottawa!

OK, I'm dedicated to trying to do this on a regular basis, so here's a brief and somewhat disjointed update...

Flight from Winnipeg was delayed by more than two hours... as we're sitting on the tarmac waiting for departure, I'm literally watching the flight from Calgary carrying the first two students that I am SUPPOSED to be greeting in Ottawa slowly creeping closer and closer. Luckily, we take off just with a good 20 minute head start.

Arrival in Ottawa was early yesterday morning - 1:30am EDT. As predicted, my plane beat the one with the two students by a few minutes. Collected the first two SOI expeditioners and away we went to our temporary home at the University of Ottawa. After check-ins, it was after 3am before we hit the hay - and I had to be up for an 8am pick-up at the airport!

Groggily, I made my way to the airport and met Joe Thrasher, a Grade 12 student from Inuvik. There were some luggage issues, so we had some time to chill in the airport and chat. Despite the muggy-hot weather, hockey was the main topic of conversation! This is another of my favorite things about SOI, the chance to chat and get to know some of these amazing students!

Luggage in hand, we headed to Ottawa U, where I dropped Joe off into the capable hands of the SOI team, and I headed to the train station to pick up a group coming from Montreal - mostly students from Nunavik in northern Quebec, plus one staff - SOI 2015 Arctic alumni, Gabi Foss! After some intros, we were all on our way in the giant 10-seater van to Ottawa U.

After some yummy lunch (fajita buffet!), we loaded up the vans and headed to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. I have to admit, this was my "recommendation" as a sight to visit - not just because I love space stuff (I do!), but because they are hosting a temporary exhibit about Star Trek. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am a little bit of a Trekkie (warning, extreme under-exaggeration here). Unfortunately, the exhibit was too expensive for all the students to go see, but while they went to explore the GREAT rest of the museum, I snuck away (with permission), to go see this exhibit while I had the chance.

Captain Mike says "Engage!"
And it was great! See attached picture. Actual memorabilia, some cool interactive games and lots of science. I am definitely going to push to get this at the Manitoba Museum, if we can. Now before you think me a bad chaperone abandoning the students to go see something on my own, I technically was supposed to do that, as I had an airport run to do to collect some SOI staff. So why not take advantage and get to sit in the Captain's chair of the Enterprise!

Airport run complete, all that was left for the day was dinner and then bed for some much needed sleep. And now with 7 hours of sleep under my belt, we're off to a farmer's market, the Mint, Rideau Hall, a haunted tour, and a light show at Parliament Hill - along with more airport runs to collect more new SOIers!

Have a great day! 

Friday, July 15, 2016

2016 Arctic - Day 1: Winnipeg to Ottawa

Me looking BADASS with a radio! Copy that!
Hello friends!

Well, I'm not sure how many of you are actually looking at this, considering I haven't written an entry in three years. So why am I back? As I type this, I'm a few hours away from departing on my EIGHTH Students On Ice Arctic Expedition! That's right, eight. I can hardly believe it myself. I'm so grateful that the organization, and Geoff Green especially, knows I can make a worthwhile contribution to the expeditions and brings me along.

But I guess the better answer to why I am back blogging is because I found it a great way to record my thoughts and memories of these great experiences, and I've felt less... complete (??)...  in the past few years when I haven't done them. Now, having said that, I can't make any promises that I will be able to keep it up all expedition, or even more than just this one blog. My role with SOI has expanded greatly in the past three years, and finding the time to sit and write a blog entry is increasing challenging during the long and usually exhausting days. There's also a question of access to internet to post the blog, but there are ways around that.

So be aware, blog readers, this may be my only entry. LOL!

What has changed with SOI since I last blogged? Well, a lot. The organization has grown immensely. There have been a couple of key changes in the core team. As mentioned, Geoff is still CEO and Expedition Leader. But the Education and Logistics Managers have changed, both for this year. Those are two key positions, and under other circumstances, I would be worried. But I had a chance to meet with Scott and Jenn a few weeks back when we road-tripped to Quebec City to take some qayaqs to our floating classroom, the Ocean Endeavor (I'll explain that in a future blog hopefully). And I can say with 100% confidence that we are in good hands with them. But not only that, they are all part of an amazing  team at SOI HQ that has grown much larger in size, to the point that they had to expand their offices! Every one of them are an integral cog in the wheel that makes these expeditions go smoothly, and it's awe-inspiring to watch them work and play a small part in helping them. There are even some interns who are former students from previous expeditions!

And the size of the expedition team has also expanded. We now have 120 students coming each year and they include a few university-level students as well. The staff team is up to 80, including some incredible people - too long to list, go to the SOI website to check them out - I'll also tell you about them in future blogs. I can tell you that U.S. Ambassador to Canada, and his wife, are coming. And, he isn't listed yet on the website, so maybe I shouldn't mention it here - but there is royalty coming. I kid you not.

As usual, I'm most excited for the dynamic that will result from putting all 200 of these diverse and unique personalities together on our floating classroom, the Ocean Endeavor. I'm hoping to blog about them as much as possible over the next few weeks. We have a truly international group, with students from China, Malaysia, Greenland, India, France, Monaco, the U.S. and of course, almost all the provinces and territories of Canada. I can't wait to meet them, and in fact, I will be doing so right as soon as I land in Ottawa - two students are arriving a couple of hours after I do.

So a lot of changes with SOI - and a lot of changes with myself in recent months. Maybe that's the biggest reason I'm writing a blog again. Not to sound too cliche, but I'm hoping to get a little grounded and center myself during this year's expedition. The changes I'm going through have been stressful, to say the least, and the remainder of 2016 looks to be filled with challenges. I might go into detail about them in a later blog, but needless to say, I'm hoping that the expedition will give me that injection of strength to power me through these troubled times.

And the adventure... continues. Come along with me!

Here's a link to the expedition website:

And here's a video I did to introduce myself to students: