We’ll arrive in the Canadian high Arctic to begin our expedition in just over a year. While I’ll be staying in the town local town of Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), Brian and the rest of the team will be circumnavigating Bylot Island on skis while they each pull two sleds (pulks) behind them with a rope harness.
For a month.
Two hundred and eighty miles on the frozen sea ice during the spring before the thaw. The average temperature will be thirty degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. They will test their endurance to the limits in an environment that is more hostile than most places on the planet.
There is so much to do to prepare, and the whole team is hard at work.
Job number one? Learn how to ski!
Brian and I booked this fantastic cabin through Airbnb in Parkdale near Mt. Hood, Oregon for a week. We picked up our rental ski equipment in Portland and arrived at the cabin on a Wednesday afternoon with an inch of snow on the ground. When we woke up the next morning it looked like this:
We pulled up to the little cabin in the middle of the big, flat meadow and went inside to sign up for our lesson. As it turned out, the heavy snowfall kept everyone else home and we ended up with a private lesson just for the two of us for the price of a group lesson. Score!
The bad weather didn’t deter us at all. Actually we were glad for it. Brian will be trekking in harsh conditions, so the heavy snowfall and very cold temperatures made us both feel like we were really in training.
After getting to know the friendly staff and chatting with the few volunteers who had arrived to help monitor the trails we bundled up again and headed out to the meadow, wondering if we’d be able to even stand up, much less move in any purposeful direction on the skis.
You see, Brian has been on downhill skis once in his life. He also tried snowboarding for a day years ago, but wasn’t very successful. I haven’t downhill skied for at least twenty five years, although I was an avid snowboarder for a few years in my late twenties.
But cross country skiing is a whole different animal. We weren’t sure we would be very good at it.
Our instructor was not very chatty, but was an excellent teacher. He started us slowly, one ski at a time, and made sure we understood not only the mechanics, but some of the physics behind how the skis move. Just my style!
Once we got the hang of sort of “skateboarding” on one ski (separately, on each foot) for nearly a half hour, we finally stepped into both skis and learned how to move forward. We learned the proper way to step, how to pull up your back leg for the next pass, how to bend our legs, hips and knees while using the poles, and where the poles should be placed for maximum efficiency.
Then we learned how to stop.
Very important, this stopping bit.
Somehow, for me, stopping was easy. For Brian? Not so much. He quickly learned how to fall over, and how to stand up again. This was another reason we were happy for the freshly fallen snow. It’s very soft!
Before long we had the hang of it so our instructor led the way to the big meadow where we could really go through our paces.
In the meadow we learned how to break fresh trails, how to ski over deep, soft snow, and how unfit we are. Huff, puff, huff, puff. But really, we did great! We stayed on our feet, we kept up, we blazed trails!
We eventually cruised through the meadow and over to the forest trails where we were treated to the view of this frozen waterfall.
I think we covered about four miles that day, and did it with our dignity intact. We had learned how to ski!
It was only our first day, but we did it! We learned something new and had a great time doing it. We fell, we laughed, we swore a few times and we had snow down our necks more than once, but we loved it.
Our fist day of skiing was a success. I’m feeling a lot more confident about Brian being able to get through Polar Bear country without falling over. There were more days of skiing to come after this one, but this one was the true test.
All those years ago when I was a snowboarder I always thought that cross country skiing looked boring. I thought it looked like a whole lot of work for not much fun. It’s probably age that has changed my mind, and the reduced need for an adrenaline rush that comes with maturity, but I have to admit that I absolutely loved it. If we lived somewhere with a lot of snow in the winter I would be out on the trails all the time. It was beautiful out there!
And I’m really proud of Brian. He got this chance to participate in the expedition and jumped on it. He’s stretching his boundaries, learning new things and saying yes to an adventure that will truly test him, but also leave him with the experience of an accomplishment that only his small team will be able to claim. This expedition will be the very first time that any human has circumnavigated the island on ice under their own human power.
Be still my heart.
The expedition website is www.bylot2015.com. Please go take a look and share the site with anyone you can. We’re in the process of raising sponsorship money and the more eyes we have looking at it, the better our chances of winning that all important sponsorship help.