Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ellesmere Island Journal Entries 10 - 14

Yesterday was a rest day. I spent it skiing solo in the mountains tracking muskox. I went up alone and finally felt like I was truly out on my own. A good feeling when wolves and bear abound. I even saw wolf tracks that had followed my ski tracks. The strange thing is that we’ve switched our schedules around so much so we can travel in the cooler part of the day, getting to bed around 2:00 am and rising at 10:am. Our day now ends around 9:00pm. When I went for my solo hike I left at 7:30 pm and was out till late at night. I kept on observing the sun and the changing color temperature and fought the urge to return to camp before nightfall. I had to remind myself that there is no nightfall up here. I found a point where I could sit high above an alpine lake and look out over the exposed meadows. In the distance a herd of muskox roamed below a jagged mountain range. I left a cache on the peak with a note and my contact information so someone who might find it could send it back to me in the future. Hopefully the distant future, perhaps even with their own stories.

The distance we manage to cover day after day up here is incredible, sometimes 25-30k per day. It's not so big of a deal except that it’s a daily event, through rough ice, and over mt. Passes. The feeling is that you are constantly chasing the horizon, pushing into the distance with every horizon that you reach giving way to a new horizon and a new goal. I’ve never been much of a distance person but I’ve managed to get myself to travel along side the more practiced members of the team. My body has hardened and become lean, and I have the ability to set to climbing a mountain and not rest until I get to the summit. It’s hard to decide how to maintain this hard earned shape once I get home... (Mt. Biking in Santa Cruz?)

I’m listening to Metallica - Turn the Page... Good song for the moment.

As difficult as days can be there is always something that balances out the experience. The dogs and their antics can be both frustrating and at the same time entertaining. Today as we made camp, I saw a pack of animals moving through a mirage. Their white bodies contorted in the vibrating air. The way they circled camp made me immediately think ...Wolf! And a whole pack at that. Soon, we had cameras in Hand, and sam caught a few frames before they disappeared over a rise. We trudged up the hill to track them down but couldn’t even seem to find their tracks! Rabbit tracks abounded though. Good feeding grounds for the wolves I suppose. Tension was high when we heard a chuckle coming from Sam, camera in hand. He had zoomed in on a photo of the animals and, there stalking us in the photo, were some of the largest rabbits I’ve ever seen... They moved so much like I would imagine a pack of wolves moving, circling the camp, staying on ridge-lines, and stopping behind hills to peek over at us. They had even fooled Sigrid, our wolf expert who has raised wolves from pups. To our own credit, the arctic hare in this area are known to be excessively large, and it’s one of the only places they have been observed moving in Packs. Other single Hare I’ve seen here were easily three feel in length. The mirage most likely made them appear even larger.

It’s days like today that make me admire people who do this in the most real tough situations, when you just don’t want to continue, and you’re cold, wet, and hungry.
I felt no groove today whatsoever, the snow stuck to my skis in 10 pound clumps and the sun refused to let up until a cold wet system moved in to make things worse. I even fell through the snow into a river that had caused a nasty slush under the hard looking upper crust. Oh well, I search for Balance.

With the exciting portion of the trip drawing to a close, I find my energy levels have decreased. What do I have to worry about? I know we’ve made it. That and the fact that my portion of the trip was so ridiculously easy makes me hesitant to feel much in the way of Accomplishment. Though I have averaged 25k a day in the arctic, far from home, friends, and family. I guess I still have some claim to pride. Most people would never put themselves here in the first place. I need to let the ego do it’s thing, and just let me be me for a while as it squirms inside.

The sun here is so Strong you can walk around with no shirt on, warmed by its rays as they are bounced from every angle off of snow and ice. Yet the slightest wind will remind you that you are still in the arctic as it strips away the suns warmth. All that is left is the suns power to burn you.

Today was an awesome long day, I started out thoroughly demoralized, so I forced myself to push harder. We hiked up to the mummified forrest which was pretty much the same as what we’d already seen inland, but it was still amazing to think that we stood in a 45 million year old forrest and were dwarfed by the age of our surroundings. It gave me more appreciation even for the stones and sand that I stood on. We walked with a more delicate demeanor for a while. Once we reached camp again, we set off with the dogs for another day of travel. Almost immediately we were confronted with the challenge of crossing a a river which had opened up literally overnight. Spring has arrived all at once. Fording the river was more a mental obstacle than a physical one, and we were across in moments. Though some of us walked in the river all day due to our mukluks flooding. After the fording, we had a pleasant trip through fast snow that allowed for plenty of time to chat and more time to think, which has actually been hard to do. Mostly I find I end up in a near meditative state where the kicking forward on my skis, encouraging the dogs, and taking in the softly rolling hills fully captivates my mind.
It’s so pleasant to be separated from the world, yet when there is someone you care about and every moment can bring change, and every moment matters, it’s hard to think of what changes may have come about while I’ve been away.

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