Dr. Westgard's Arctic AdventureLatest update June 29, 2018 Started on May 31, 2018
A 2018 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow's Arctic expedition to Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland's East Coast.
Well, today was our last day on the Explorer in the harbor of Reykjavik (photo). I am sure it will take time to process this experience. We disembarked and headed our separate ways - I chose to do the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal hot springs/spa. It has really changed since I was here last - a swim up bar, mud mask station, and hotel. Very touristy than what it used to be. Before hitting the spa, we stopped at the Leif Eriksson Statue and the Hallgrimskirkja Church for a photo op. I headed out to the airport, anxious to get home and on land for a bit. Having daylight for 24 hours was interesting, so night will be welcomed.
My next post comes nearly a month after this adventure, and I will share some of the takeaways from this expedition before signing off this blog.
Latrabjarg Cliffs and Flatey Island
Today we see Latrabjarg Cliffs (photo) which is Europe’s largest bird cliff, it includes 40% of the world’s population of Razorbills. There were many jelly fish floating by as we were viewing this cliff. We continued on to Flatey Island, one of the largest islands in Breidafjord and an important trading post during the Middle Ages. Once docked, we took Zodiacs to the island and walked around, looking at local animals, a church and library. Many puffins were in the bay on this cloudy, rainy day.
I just love Iceland, this will be my third time visiting this island nation, and the first in the NW part of the country. Our stops today included Isafjordur and Vigur Island. I chose to take a walking tour of Isafjordur today, and I am glad I did. It was a nice pace and great to be walking on land again. It was a pretty rough night on the sea. Although I still felt like I was on the ship while walking…I guess that is called land sickness. Ha!
Anyway, fishing is the main industry and the town has one of the largest fisheries in Iceland. However, the population here has been declining due to fishing restrictions of the 1980s and less fish. Tourism is growing; there were many educational institutions here and a wonderful bakery as well! One thing that struck me was how grey it was outside. Our guide mentioned that many people here suffer from depression through seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is made worse because the town is surrounded on three sides by mountains, that in turn block the sun when it is sunny (photo). But amongst all the gloom, there were cheery poppies, probably Icelandic poppies, everywhere (photo).
We continued on to Vigur Island, which was phenomenal. There is one family that lives here, who rely on the fisheries, the collection of eggs and eiderdown, farming and sheep. The sheep here are transported to the mainland by ferry to graze during the summer so that the sheep do not disturb the eider ducks. Eider down, from the ducks, is collected by hand and is very expensive- it is used to make high quality products. They use a process to clean the down, and the first part is cleaning out rocks by hand. As he demonstrated for us (photo), he pulled out a shard of plastic, with disgust. There was no escaping the plight of plastic here…
I finally got to see a puffin (photo) and arctic terns. The arctic terns were nesting and very protective, so we had to carry the sticks above our heads (they attack the highest point) to prevent us from injury (video).
Today was our last day exploring East Greenland. Our main destination was the second largest fjord on the southeastern coast that was home to the largest glacier on the east coast of the Greenland Ice Sheet. After our last view of Greenland (photo), we spent the rest of the day at sea heading towards Iceland (map). I attended a session today on animal migration by naturalist Ciaran Cronin, where I learned of outliers – those poor animals that get blown of course and don’t have long to live in their new ecosystem, like the barn swallow that ended up on the ship in the high arctic...
Speechless July 25 evening
I am having a difficult time deciding what to even write about. The numerous wildlife sightings are incredible. I have lost track how many polar bears we have seen and just today we were following elusive narwhals. The Expedition Leader is scouting the land right now to see if we can get off ship for a bit. Yesterday was difficult to get to land to stretch our legs, because there were so many polar bears around – a good problem to have. Life on ship is better, motion sickness is being kept at bay, thank goodness. There is so much ice around, the hissing and popping of it makes a unique sound. The photos include kids playing around at Ittoqqortoormiit, the working sled dogs and the lone wandering dog of Ittoqqortoormiit, a mother polar bear and her cub in the ice field and some ice.
More evidence of climate change…
Today we headed south toward Nansen Fjord, where there are rocky headlands with active glaciers in between. The goal was to get inside Nansen Fjord, but we could not because the entry was choked with ice. A Google search of “what causes ice choked fjords” produces a wealth of information that I am not going to pretend to understand. There is a lot of floating ice, in what I think is due to rapid calving of glaciers, that jam up the smaller entrances characteristic of fjords. We continued moving south to find another place for zodiac cruising.
Upon entering another fjord, narwahls were spotted during lunch. Some were able to see these creatures, but by the time most people got out to the bow for viewing, they had left. However, it was fun to scour the water looking for these elusive creatures, in true expedition style (photo).
Undersea specialist Caitlyn Webster sums up the rest of the day “Continuing to the end of Ryberg Fjord, we sent out a scout boat to assess conditions for an afternoon activity. The best option turned out to be making a large U-turn and disembarking for Zodiac cruises. The afternoon’s highlights included massive icebergs, tumbling waterfalls, ribbons of fog, and Glaucous and Iceland gulls nesting on cliffs with a few fluffy chicks”. On these Zodiac cruises, the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows tasted ice that was fetched out of the bay by our mentor, Steve (photo), fluffy chicks (photo) and I saw some of the most intensely blue icebergs yet on this expedition (photo).
It was an awesome day!
Exploration. Bears. Bears. Bears and more bears!
Today we really got into exploration mode, venturing into a rarely visited section of the East Coast of Greenland around Romer Fjord. From the Daily program: "between Scoresbysund and Nasen Fjord, there are hardly any soundings to guide mariners or to indicate that others have gone before us through this labyrinth of glacier and fjord systems". Wow..."uncharted" territory- a great place for data collection!
The expedition leader really wanted to get us off the ship and to a landing in this area for exploration. The Daily Expedition Report sums up the efforts made to do just that, so click here to read . In a nutshell, no landing was made because there were too many bears around. But that made for a wonderful display of polar bears from the bow. We saw them swimming, running, rolling...and today was the first polar bear cub close enough to see with our own eyes! According to the naturalists, the cub seemed a bit small for this time of year, but it sure was cute. I have become fascinated with polar bear behavior, as many of the moves reminded me of my greyhound - rolling around, rubbing the chin on ice (grass for the dog)...so strange to me the similarities.
Later in the day, we were able to jump on zodiacs to cruise around the ice (photo).
A warming Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland
We were greeted by the piercing howls of working dogs as we landed on the rocky shoreline of Ittoqqortoormiit. The contrast of chained working dogs, waiting for their daily meal, and the freedom of a meandering, lone canine looking for love among the new visitors was memorable. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellows also received a tour of the local school. It is a very similar set up to U.S. schools, with students in grade bands learning a variety of subjects. One striking difference was the number of languages students learn – West Greenlandic, East Greenlandic, Danish and English. Students take their exams at the end of their schooling in a different town – Nuuk. There are eight teachers at this school, who come mostly from the western side of Greenland.
Before I forget, the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows got to write the Daily Expedition Report, a daily report sent out to subscribers about our adventures on board the Explorer, so check that out if you wish.
Anyway, in Ittoqqortoormiit, the residents rely on local sources of food such as seals and musk ox to supplement their yearly shipment of goods. Once a year, in August, the village receives supplies from a ship - the supply run happens in August because that is usually when the ice in the fjord/bay has left the area. It didn't go unnoticed that we were able to reach Ittoqqortoormiit in mid-June due to the lack of ice. I also couldn't help but notice the humanitarian philosophy of Lindblad/National Geographic Expeditions here. We were encouraged not to buy groceries from the store (because that is what the villagers rely on for food) and then there was the kind gesture of the ship leaving crates of bananas for the people. Another striking point of interest centered around the local church (photo), where services had been stopped for safety reasons. You see, the foundation is unstable due the disappearing permafrost; one person mentioned that half the buildings are slowly sliding downhill towards the ocean because the disappearing permafrost makes foundations unstable.
Before we left, we were treated to a traditional song/drumming event (photo).
During our evening recap, I learned that a changing climate will make Ittoqqortoormiit, and similar population centers in the arctic, even more isolated. Sleds with teams of dogs, and snowmobiles, are the main modes of transportation - mostly across ice and snow. Take away the ice and snow, and it will take longer to travel to places = increasing the isolation.
Ittoqqortoormiit is pretty isolated, with its share of socio-economic woes unfortunately seen in many subsistence-based cultures across the globe. I wonder what the future holds for Ittoqqortoormiit, as it is an area already facing a population decline. It may be a place where its people become climate refugees.
Another day at sea...
Today was mostly a travel day and a few presentations by the experts on board. We made our way to the largest fjord in the world, Scoresbysund. Doug Gould's Daily Expedition Report has a nice recap of this day, and some photos to check out.
Once the fog dissipated, I saw the largest iceberg of my life! No lie, this was like the size of a stadium! The photos do not do it justice, as there is no frame of reference to see how big this iceberg really was.
Summer Solstice at Jan Mayen Island, Norway
We made our way to Jan Mayen Island under foggy conditions, which meant the possibility of landing to get on the island was very slim. However, as we got closer, the fog burned off to reveal this out-of-the-way island.
Jan Mayen, a volcanic island at the northern extent of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, lies between the Norwegian and Greenland seas. After I had regained some strength back from being sick, I made it up to the deck to take in a view this amazing island. There was the island and the large mountain massif Beerenberg, with a large, glacier-filled crater on top, staring back at me.
At sea, along the Pack Ice Edge
I never imagined all the different kinds of ice there is in the polar region. Today was a travel day, navigating through ice, and I spent most of it in my room due to seasickness. Oh well...
However, what I learned is that the most important areas of pack ice are the polar ice packs made of seawater. And it is the behavior of polar ice packs that has an impact on global changes in climate. Pack ice is made up of drift ice that has been driven together by wind and ocean currents into one large piece of ice. Then, there are floes, which are single pieces of sea ice that is 66 feet or more across. And if that wasn't enough, there is Open pack ice and Very close pack ice...anyway, there was all kinds of ice floating around. Reminded me of that moment in Forest Gump when he was talking about the different kinds of shrimp with his friend Bubba...
Edge of the Ice
Today was a day of travel and catching up on rest as we made our way towards the pack ice of East Greenland. Most of the time was foggy, with the occasional birds around, like the Brünnich’s guillemots (photo) or kittiwakes (photo). Naturalist Ciaran Cronin noted a lost barn swallow made its way to the deck of the Explorer today. Poor thing! Today was also a day we heard three talks about polar bears, politics of the arctic and how to improve your photography by using a 'sense of place'. This is truly an expedition...
Woodfjord and Northern Spitsbergen, Svalbard
Today we explored the northern tip of Spitsbergen and ventured on shore of the Woodfjord. One point of interest was the trapping cabin in Mushamna built out of driftwood by Reidar Hoyelsrud in 1987. I took the short photo hike here at Mushamna, where I learned photography tips from Ralph Lee Hawkins and Steve Morello, the stream photo below was using their tips for landscape photography. I still need lots of photography practice, but one thing I will take away is Steve’s mention of ethical nature photography. Steve reminded us that as you are preparing to take that one shot of an animal, remember not to disturb it, as you never know if that is that bird’s only rest stop. By scaring the animal, you may just have made it use the last of its energy with an unnecessary flight response. That never occurred to me.
Later this day, I chose a zodiac tour of an area called Liefdefjorden. Here, our zodiac approached the huge Monacobreen glacier. This glacier was mapped by expeditions in 1906-07 that were organized by the Prince of Monaco. I was able to see this glacier break off (calve), and what was most impressive was the massive waves that would surge from the base. Zodiacs race away from the impending wave, and when one went down near us, we were successfully able to outrun it. What a rush! Birds seem to hang out at the bottom of this glacier, and as soon as the ice broke, the birds would take flight (photo). We were unexpectedly treated with hot cocoa by the ship’s hotel manager, who brought us hot chocolate in Viking disguise (photo).
Let the Professional handle this one...our Arctic Trifecta at Southern Hinlopen Strait / Torellneset
I am going to urge you to read the Daily Expedition Report for this day, completed by naturalist and photo instructor Steve Morello, who also happened to be my mentor on the ship. Steve captures this day much more eloquently than I ever could. But, you will see photos from this day on my Where am I in the World post (polar bear and walrus), in addition to the ones below. If you read the Daily Expedition Report, you will see there were 12 polar bears on the ice shelf (2 in the photo). We viewed Austfonna, the third largest ice cap in the world (photo)
Overnight, the waves were unrelenting. I looked out my porthole and I swear I saw a wall of water reaching up to the sky. It was a rough, rolling night on the ship for sure. By morning, things calmed a bit and I was treated to a view of ice out my porthole. The sound of ice, loudly scraping the side of the ship, was hard to get used to. Being I was on the lowest part of the ship, it was literally scraping on the other side of my head when I would lay down in the bed. Strange! We are navigating a body of water known as Storfjorden, on the east side of the big island of Spitsbergen. The daily program says the ice charts showed large concentrations of pack-ice in the area, which is where polar bears roam and hunt. Storfjorden was historically known as Wybe Jans Water, named after the whaler Wybe Jansz Stavoren.
From the Daily Expedition Report June 16 "The expedition from Svalbard to Greenland and all the way to Iceland is underway! Our first full day on board was a great introduction to the High Arctic of Svalbard. We awoke to wind-driven swells as we rounded the south cape of Spitsbergen, the archipelago’s largest island, and sailed into Storfjorden. After lunch, we arrived at the third largest island of Edegøya. Here we went ashore to explore an area called Russebukta, or Russian Bay. Svalbard reindeer greeted us as we stepped from the Zodiacs onto the smooth, glacially-polished rock outcrops. The tundra was soft and spongy underfoot. Purple saxifrage wildflowers painted the landscape in between the green mosses and lichen. Birders among the group spotted a variety of birds in the tundra ponds, including purple sandpipers, gray phalaropes, and king eiders". I had never seen a herd of reindeer before until today, they are much smaller than I imagined. What I will most remember about this landing is the squishy tundra. Every time you stepped, your foot would almost get stuck in the stuff.
Where am I in the world?
Yes, it has been a whirlwind of a few days. I am not getting to writing as much as I wish due to some motion sickness I am battling with. My fellow teachers have been looking out for me, so I am thankful when they check in on me. The first night was rolling bad – a tall wall of water out the porthole is something to behold for the eyes, not so much for the stomach. But, as much as I can fill this up with my motion woes, I am going to stick to the fun stuff.
The first day on the ice, about June 17, we saw a total of 13 polar bears. The first one was quite the showman. He is the one you see a photo of. We got to the edge of the ice, and he kept moving away from us. But he decided that darn ship was going to keep following, and since there are no seals, I may as well greet them. He came back and put on a show for us, rolling around, pawing at the sky, dipping in the water. I have a lot of awesome shots, but I want to watermark them before getting them out there.
After that particular bear, the next adventure was by zodiac to a walrus hang out. They are such playful, shy creatures. They would come a bit close, pop out of the water, and swim away. Their eyesight is terrible, so they take baby steps investigating the scene. In the zodiac we stayed still, and the walrus would keep getting closer and closer…One kept coming right at me, I got afraid and backed up a bit, which scared him off. They have stinky breath! Later that evening, at least I think it was on the same day, we got to a large ice shelf and parked the ship. There were 12 bears out there wandering around. They didn’t get as close as the first one, but many were mother bears and either 1 or 2 cubs. I was tracking a mother and 2 cubs for a bit, then I noticed they were suddenly going very fast. At the time I thought there might’ve been a crack in the ice they were swimming in and got caught in a current. Later that evening, a naturalist told us there was a male bear she caught wind of and started running with her cubs. You see, male bears will kill the cubs in order to mate with the adult female cub. Momma bears have no interest in mating while being a mom.
Then about midnight we got to a cliff of birds, thousands and thousands of birds. It was very noisy! That is what one of the photos is showing. I have also seen reindeer and walked on squishy tundra, learned some tricks with my camera and I now know what ice scraping alongside a ship sounds like…a bit eerie until you get used to it.
We flew from Oslo and landed in Longyearbyen, Svalbard today (photos). Exploring the Svalbard Museum was first on our list. One of the items there that caught my eye was a polar bear set-gun trap (photo). I had never seen anything like it before and felt bad for the polar bear investigating bait left out on this contraption, because disturbing the trap would trigger a gun shot to the head. Otherwise, this museum had many artifacts of early explorer/hunter days, including a reading room lined with furs. I was hoping to at least drive by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, but everything is under construction. Due to melting permafrost, the entrance flooded and Norway has now invested $13 million dollars in upgrades. I guess this would be my first piece of evidence about the effects of warming global temperatures. After our lunch at the Funken, we proceeded to load zodiacs to board the National Geographic Explorer. Getting in and out of the zodiac was easier than I expected. As we made our way across the bay to the ship, I loudly declared “this is really happening”, which made the others laugh :) Once on board, we investigated the layout of the ship, and I picked up my boots and waterproof pants courtesy of Ship to Shore Traveler. We also took part of a mandatory ship safety drill (photo) before setting sail around Svalbard for the evening.
It is a small world...
Some of you may know that earlier this spring, Jeff and I ran into a gentleman at Harold's Photography shop in Fargo while we were looking at camera gadgets for my upcoming expedition. This man overheard me talking about my upcoming expedition to the camera salesman and asked if I was going on the Lindblad National Geographic expedition to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland. A bit surprised, I said yes I was, and he told us his good friends were going on that very same expedition. He called his friends and put me on the phone with Rene, and we chatted for quite a bit about the upcoming expedition. I made a note of their names in my journal, and told myself to seek them out once expedition started. My husband figured out the odds to be about 7 million to one I would meet someone on this expedition before I got on the ship.
We had our welcome dinner tonight in Oslo at the Radisson Blu hotel, and wouldn't you know it, I forgot to look at my journal for the names of these guests I needed to seek out. I grabbed my dinner and sat down at a table of 9, proceeded to introduce myself to the surrounding guests. I got to talking to the lady on my left about what I was doing as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, and the gal on my right asked if I knew a teacher from Fargo, and I was waiting for her to give me some names, thinking she knew someone from the area. Then she said she had talked to this teacher on phone, and it clicked...she was talking about me. It was a bit comical once we made the realization. So, we were sitting right next to each other in a room of about 145....what are the odds of that?
The photos you see are from earlier today. We took a short tour of Oslo's Fram Museum, which reminded me of the Hjemkomst Museum in Moorhead, MN. Both are museums with full scale boats that were used in expeditions.
The Fram, meaning "forward", was used in expeditions of the Arctic and Antarctic regions by the Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, and Roald Amundsen between 1893 and 1912. It was unique in its construction because it was round, making it difficult for the ice to grab hold, while the interior was flexible. Walking across the ship, it was much larger than I had thought.
The Hjemkomst, in Norwegian meaning "homecoming", was built by Robert Asp who decided his Norwegian blood was calling him to sea. From the Hjemkomst webite: "The Moorhead Junior High School guidance counselor had shared his dreams of building a Viking ship with his brother Bjarne for years, but his plans were mobilized after a severe fall from a friend's roof that summer. While recovering from his injuries, Bob studied his Norwegian heritage and found the story of the Gokstad burial ship that had been unearthed from a burial mound near Sandefjord, Norway, in 1880. Current estimates suggest this ship was constructed circa 800 CE. Bob would build a Viking ship modeled after the Gokstad and he would dream of sailing it to Norway."
There is much more to the Hjemkomst's story - check it out here. This ship was sailed to Oslo, Norway in 1982. I am finding many, many connections between home and Norway...
The other photos are from the world's largest sculpture park, the Vigeland Sculpture Park with more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland.
Tomorrow we head off to Svalbard via charter plane. I will get to posting when I can, but internet will be sporadic at best for a few days now.
Did a little exploration of Voss, Norway before getting back on the train headed to Oslo. Voss is a ski resort village, that still sees its fair share of summer tourists. The train ride was scenic, as you can see from the photos, many lakes and forests. No wonder many Norwegian immigrants came to Minnesota - the two lands are alike in many ways.
Another similarity is that thing called "Minnesota Nice"...I really think this Minnesota Nice was a result of Norwegian culture that diffused through the state. The Norwegians I have encountered have been truly nice and considerate.
I hook up with the Lindblad and National Geographic Expedition tomorrow. I plan on taking a mini-tour of Oslo in the afternoon. The next day we head out on a charter flight to Svalbard to catch the ship.
More when I am able...
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
I will start with the ugly. I think I got food poisoning along the way, probably in Iceland. Yeah, the last 24 hours were not pleasant. Add to the fact I don't remember how much sleep I have really gotten since I left, my body was exhausted. For the students reading this, who are probably too young to have experienced food poisoning, imagine everything coming out of you from all openings, and your muscles just become one big cramp. Not fun. I at least made it to the bathroom on one occasion and to poke fun at myself, I made my own waterfall of sorts at the big waterfall we stopped at during my Norway in a Nutshell tour. Embarrassing to say the least...
Well, being in the state I was in, the Norway in a Nutshell tour was a blur. Which is too bad, as the other guests seem to have enjoyed themselves with their ooooos and aaaaaas. The twisty bus ride got to me, the boat ride was pleasant and I napped for a bit, and the final old-timey railroad trip was too much. I was to travel on to Bergen after this tour, but I was shaking so bad I didn't think I could make it. Jeff being the patient trooper called and got me a room at the same place in Voss for the night.
As I look back over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of good. I was taken care of by Lindblad Travel, who got me the 6 hour ride from Oslo to Voss so I could get my tour. I took a quick nap and shower at Voss Extreme - a great place with great service. As I had my incidences of getting sick, complete strangers looked out for me. One gave me some minty gum on the ship, and the other at the waterfall went and got the train conductor, who passed me off to the next train operator to keep an eye on me and make sure I got off at the right place. Drivers in Norway also stop for people in the crosswalks, another good thing. I also have to add to this list of good my husband, who at whatever time it was, took my call and took care of me by arranging a new hotel stay, from thousands of miles away. I was able to get some much needed rest here at Voss Extreme. After which I walked in the bright light of 11 p.m. to the grocery store to pick up some cheese, crackers and fruit. Another good thing, it seems as though the light food is staying down. I will take the extra time in Voss to explore, before getting back on the train to Oslo.
The photos are from my Norway in a Nutshell tour, lots of waterfalls and tall cliffs that are characteristic of fjords. And a look at dinner in bed.
Well, I get to add another country to my bucket list - Denmark! It was a trying morning, to say the least. The plane out of Minneapolis was late, thus making me late to Iceland, but I was told I would be ok. Then as soon as I got to the gate, scanned my pass, an alarm type thing went off. They told me I was not going on this particular flight, that I was to switch airlines and get a later flight. Oh, and go get your luggage and recheck in through customs and security.
Finally located my luggage, it went on a trip around the airport evidently, and went to Scandinavian Air for rebooking. "Sorry" the previous airline didn't assign you a seat with us. We can fly you out tomorrow, or the next day....blah, blah, blah. I have a tour I am doing before my expedition and need to get to Norway by 10 a.m. Tuesday. So I called the awesome folks at Lindblad Expeditions and they suggested to go Norwegian Air to get to Bergen- I tried that, and they were full. I went back to Scandinavian Air, and they got me figured out to get to Oslo by midnight tonight going through Copenhagen. Lindblad is also arranging my transportation to Voss, 6 hours away from Oslo, so I can get on my Norway in a Nutshell tour. They are bending over backwards for me, and I am so grateful. I am in the Iceland Air Lounge, which is nice. First time I have taken a shower at the airport, and I have lots of beverages to choose from, with food and comfy chairs. I still have three hours before my next flight. What you see in the photos is a glass bottle of Pepsi - been years since I have had soda in a glass bottle, and in the distance is the ocean view off Iceland, from the airport lounge.
Was this change in plans easy? I will admit, I was running nervous there for about 2 hours. But, if all this goes as planned, I should still be able to get on that tour of the fjords.
Or who knows, I may get rerouted to another country I haven't been to.
Thank goodness I had 3 hours to check in to Iceland Air! I waited in this line for 1.5 hours. Taking advantage of the now delayed flight to charge up electronics. Many students on going on trip to Iceland/Germany or France via this flight. I do hope they sleep on the trip over...fat chance ;) I sure wouldn't at that age. Not much else to report right now, will get on the plane and try to sleep the entire time, because when I wake up 6.5 hours into my flight it will be about 9 am in Iceland, and I am expected to be in Oslo by noon (their time).
Well, I am sitting in the Fargo Hector International Airport waiting for the first leg of my journey. I finished packing yesterday, and if I don't have it with me, I won't need it. I wrapped up my to-do list of home chores and even squeezed in an hour nap. Jeff asked when my flight was, and to my surprise, it was actually an hour earlier than I thought. After that adrenaline rush, and a stop at McDonald's, I made my way through airport security.
My journey today will take me first to Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, then to the Keflavik Airport in Iceland. After which I will have a couple hour layover before heading on to Oslo, Norway. I have three hours in Oslo to get through customs, leave my larger suitcase at the hotel, grab some Norwegian Kroner (NOK), a plug-in USB charger, some food, and then catch a train to downtown in order to get another train out to Voss, Norway where I will start my Norway in a Nutshell tour of the fjords.
My new compression socks are feeling quite good, to my surprise.
I will post as I have time and internet is available. If you haven't signed up to follow along, you can do just that and get email notifications when I do post.
I'm leaving a trail
If you don't know, my husband Jeff is much more of an explorer than I am. His mode of transportation is one of his motorcycles, going off to destinations where there is often little civilization. Jeff is actually taking his off-road bike to Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Arctic just hours after I get home from my Arctic adventure. I tease him that I am going further north than he is this summer.
Anyway, after a couple of serious motorcycle accidents, this nervous wife got him to invest in the Garmin inReach so I can track where he is located in these remote places.
Here is what the website says about this little gizmo:
With inReach satellite technology from Garmin and a satellite subscription, you can stay in touch globally. You can send and receive messages, navigate your route, track and share your journey and, if necessary, trigger an SOS to get emergency help from a 24/7 global monitoring center via the 100% global Iridium® satellite network.
Now, I seriously doubt I will need to trigger an SOS, but I will be taking this gadget along to track my route. I figure the more data I can collect, the more options I will have when creating my curriculum for National Geographic as part of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship.
It is for the students
Today, I also compiled the Arctic related questions my students asked this past spring. The questions seem to fall into one of four categories - Animals, Climate, Humans and Environment. Many want to know what is happening to the polar bears in light of climate change. There are some questions about the ice, and one of the more interesting questions is "do they have an accent in the Arctic?" It is my hope to get some of the questions answered by the staff.
I feel confident in the new backpack. It is only 2lbs! And fits everything! Traveling light is the way to go, in my opinion. I will also start my suitcase packing as soon as I have vacuumed out the nooks and crannies. Yes, I said vacuum a suitcase. This will be a first, but it is part of the biosecurity guidelines for visiting the Arctic. The Arctic remains one of the most pristine environments on the planet, and taking such precautions helps to minimize the introduction of non-native species to the Arctic. I am more than happy to oblige.
I will end this particular post with the information you can use to follow my trail. Just go to the website and enter the password. I don't plan on communicating through this, it will just be a map showing my location every 10 minutes (with satellite reception of course).
password (case sensitive)= Ride
It's almost showtime!
All good explorers must have a plan B.
Recently I have been following fellow Minnesotan Will Steger's Barren Lands Solo Expedition through the Barren Lands of the Canadian Arctic. At about Day 57 of his expedition, not long after a grizzly bear encounter-you really should listen to day 56 of his trek- he says he is going to his plan B, and all along he had a plan B. Will had to get back to the Cities for an important fundraiser, and at the rate he was going, he felt he couldn't get that deadline. He is going to cache his equipment and head back next year to proceed on to the Arctic Ocean.
As I was thinking on how to write about my change in plans, the only thing that came to mind was Will's story. I am no Will Steger, and my plan B isn't nearly as adventurous as Will's. But mentioning Mr. Steger's plan B was also a good chance to get you to go look at his journey :)
Remember that don't-go-overboard-with-it pile? Well, that pile has changed considerably. With all that gear, plus my laptop, my carry on allowance was definitely over the weight limit. Additionally, I have been struggling figuring out how to even use that awesome camera. I went and deleted the practice photos yesterday; in the last 3 months I have taken over 1500 photos. I can point, focus and shoot. I do not have the photographer mindset of composition. Maybe someday...
My plan B is a different data collection instrument (camera)-a point and shoot Lumix FZ300 . It is based off a recommendation from another Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (GTF) Trevor Hance @TXEnvEd. It is much lighter, but will do many of the same things the Fuji does. I am also looking for a new backpack today, as I won't have the bulk of lenses and that camera body to look after.
I will be traveling much lighter, and that has taken some weight off my shoulders...
Like most teachers, I find the last three school months get incredibly busy. For me the schedule gets messy with State testing and I need to prep for MN State National Geographic Bee March Madness. Then there are students with spring fever, teachers with spring fever, squeeze everything into the curriculum fever...it always makes for interesting times. When I get this busy, I start making deal-with-later piles.
I was notified of being selected as a 2018 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow in early February. It was then that I started "piling".
These piles are repositories of all things I think I will need for this Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Arctic expedition. I will be going through these piles in the next few days, making sure I have the necessities, and placing in either a suitcase or backpack. By the way, I HATE traveling with a lot of stuff, but I don't think I am going to get away with just a back pack this time.
Data Collection Pile
I am going to have to bring what I will be calling my data collection instruments. This pile, as you see, has taken over the kitchen table. I call this the don't-go-overboard-with-it pile. It includes the backpack, which will house the camera, filters, cleaning stuff, and lenses my husband, Jeff, bought. Jeff knows how to use this particular data collection instrument. I have made an attempt to learn the basics. There are lots and lots and lots of dials. The options on this camera scare me. I think Jeff saw my opportunity to go to the Arctic as his opportunity to get a REALLY NICE camera ;) . I am sure I will not appreciate it like I should. Anyone on the expedition who knows anything about cameras will probably think it is a crying shame a rookie like me is walking around with this set up. I almost forgot, I will also have a tripod, that can turn into a monopod/walking stick to bring along for stability and balance. Coming in the mail tomorrow is my Ricoh Theta SC 360 camera. I plan on using this to collect still images and maybe some video, in order to develop a Google Tour my students will use in the future. Add my laptop, a portable hard drive for storage and my iPhone and I am sure I will be set. No, I better be set...
Here you will find my expedition socks (see yesterday's post), and the winter clothing I have put aside for the Arctic. There is a recliner under there somewhere. I have waterproof gloves, base layers, waterproof pants, fleeces, hats, waterproof coat, hiking boots, neck gaiter, and a Nat Geo "brandana". There are also hand warmers, which are more for my batteries so they don't die in the 40 degree temps. I'm fortunate in that I feel like I am especially prepared for this Arctic weather - it is typical Minnesota cold. A fellow GTF who just got back from her expedition suggested latex kitchen gloves to keep the skin dry..so those may find their way into this pile.
Goal tomorrow is to start packing all this, with some "normal" clothes and hope I keep it under weight.
Am I missing anything?
If there is one thing I have learned over my years of travel, it is that the most important thing to look out for are your feet. Yes, your feet.
Back in 1994 I was preparing for my first overseas adventure, a month long expedition studying the historical roots of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in Italy, Austria and Germany. Although at the time it wasn't called an expedition, it was Concordia College's May Seminar. Anyway, as I was packing for that trip, my step-father, Dave, was very adamant that nothing else mattered if I didn't take care of my feet. I am sure my younger self did that eye roll we give parents, but I got a lengthy story (or two) about his time in 'Nam and how protecting his feet is what saved him.
Needless to say, those stories left quite the impression on me and I have heeded the travel advice ever since. I won't get into the details of his experience, or his feet for that matter, but the taking-care-of-your-feet thing is spot on.
If you think about it, if you can't walk because of rotten feet, sore feet, swollen feet, blistered feet, corns, calluses...well, you get the point...you are going to spend your time so focused on your feet and lack of mobility, and forget what is around you. I would rather be immersed in the location and not distracted because of my feet.
Therefore, one priority in my Arctic expedition preparation (and I may have gone a bit overboard with this one) is to make sure my feet are taken care of.
What am I doing for my feet?
- Being in the Arctic on the Lindblad-National Geographic ship Explorer requires the use of waterproof, knee high boots for leaving the zodiacs and walking to shore. I will have a rental pair waiting for me in my cabin.
- Merino Wool socks of varying cushion, wool is better than cotton. It insulates, can absorb moisture, dries quick.
- Sock liners...yes, socks for socks, with Cool Max to keep feet dry.
- Tennis shoes for on deck stability
- Flip flops for the shower
- I am debating my hiking boots, as I think the boot rentals will be ok for landings/walking around.
- Band-Aid Hydro Seal Blister Heels - these are the best for cut/cracks that sometimes end up on feet.
- Baby powder - this is apparently the secret ingredient according to Dave. Dave told me something else about Vaseline, but my younger self thought that wasn't going to be anything but slimy on my feet...yuk!
Are you of that "certain" age?
I just bought my first pair of compression socks today. Did you know they come in varying compression rates? Me neither...
As I get older, next to having to start wearing progressive lenses, probably needing compression socks rank right up there with NO! Not yet! But, I had a couple of flights this last week to D.C. and later to Nashville, and after Nashville, my feet/ankles/calves were so swollen. That has NEVER happened before. And I am a bit freaked out about DVT, so I bit the bullet and bought the compression socks. They are not cheap. A friend told me they better be awesome. Yup, I hope so...
I am a bit embarrassed by the photo. I have been buying socks for this expedition, here and there, since I was selected as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. I'd buy a pair, bring it home, and toss it in "the pile" (I will talk more about "the pile" in an upcoming post).
Don't you have something in your house that you didn't know you had, that you ended up buying another one when you were out and about, because you knew you needed it later and it was there right in front of you at the store? For my husband those items seem to be box cutters, batteries and light bulbs. Now, for me, it is the expedition socks.
So please, no socks for Christmas...at least for a few years.
May 31, 2018 - A Grosvenor Teacher Fellow looks ahead...
The last day of school was today and I feel I can now focus on what lies ahead. I am giving full attention to my upcoming Arctic expedition that starts in a short 10 days. One goal of this journal is to document what it is like to be a teacher explorer. I still can't believe I can probably call myself that...an explorer. But when I think about it, I have been an explorer all my life due to an insatiable curiosity.
Curiosity...that is something the National Geographic Learning Framework seeks to develop and nurture in students. I will also use this journal to record expedition data, and perhaps more importantly, spark student's and teacher's curiosity about the world.
How did I get here?
Persistence and Passion.
The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program was established to honor former National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert Grosvenor’s lifetime commitment to geographic education. Each year, pre-K–12 educators are encouraged to apply for this one-of-a-kind professional development opportunity. If you already know me, you know I pretty much breathe geography, geographic education and anything to do with National Geographic. I am a yellow-rectangle kind of gal. Applying for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program seemed like a no-brainer. I first applied and was told to try again. So I did the following year, and was told to try again. Third time's the charm! Lesson-do not give up!
So what exactly will I be doing?
I will enhance my geographic learning through direct, hands-on field experience and bring that knowledge back to my classroom and professional communities. Specifically, I will be exploring and learning about the Arctic (Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland's east coast), its people and environment, on board the Lindblad-National Geographic ship Explorer .
I will be heading out to Oslo, Norway on June 10, 2018. I am leaving three days ahead of the expedition in order to take personal time in the fjords of Norway. My plan is to take a train through Oslo-Voss-Flam-Bergen-Oslo and stop for a cruise of the Sognefjord. Sognefjord, nicknamed the King of the Fjords, is the largest and deepest fjord in Norway.
Once on the ship, there will be limited internet access - so posts may come intermittently, but I do hope you will follow along!
I am a 2018 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. I was selected to explore the Arctic region via Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland's east coast. I will take the knowledge gained on this Lindblad National Geographic expedition back into my 8th grade geography classroom in order to enrich my student's understanding of the Arctic. I also anticipate sharing my experiences with other teachers through a variety of professional development opportunities.
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