2 weeks ago
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Day 2 - the hot arctic
On day two I paddled from Stor Øen to Ikerasak Island, aiming for the "Reasonably Flat Rock" campsite that I visited last summer. There was little in the way of ice compared to what I experienced last year on this stretch of water. I chose an open crossing as I am way too familiar with the coastline of Stor Øen having paddled it many times now. Whereas Uummannaq fjord is pretty sheltered by the Nuugssuaq peninsula it can still be adventurous paddling in iceberg choked waters. Sadly, a couple of weeks before I started, three young men lost their lives when, we presume, their boat hit a wooden pallet lying flat in the water. Their bodies have yet to be found. Being aware that local people have lost their lives in the very water I was paddling is very humbling. Whilst wanting to make the safest crossing at the shortest point at all times I also wanted to avoid large concentrations of ice. As I could clearly see a channel between the bergs for the 18(ish)km ahead of me, I decided to go for it.
Lars Gram of Gram Kajak in Denmark heard of my expedition on Facebook and he generously offered me a Greenlandic Paddle to use on the expedition. When paddling canoes I have always favoured a wooden paddle for both aesthetic and performance reasons. When kayaking, however, I have been won over by the lightweight carbon fibre models that glide through the water. I was a little sceptical about paddling with Lars' Greenland Paddle. I know what you are thinking ... I live in Greenland, surely I should at least try a traditional paddle, especially as I have made sure people see my Folbot folding kayak as a modern interpretation of the Greenlandic skin-on-frame qajaqs. With this in mind I gratefully accepted Lars' offer and arranged for him to deliver it to Lise and Sander in Denmark and they would send it on the ship with our other goods when Jane visited them in May. I just thought I could try the paddle a few times and then strap it onto the kayak and get back to my carbon fibre wonder-paddle.
The above picture is VERY misleading, but fitting if you want to believe that I ditched the wooden paddle at the earliest opportunity. The tape around my finger is from my sacrificial blood-letting the night before. Whereas I did get a few blisters from using the Greenlandic Paddle in the beginning it was nothing I did not expect and was more likely a result of technique than anything to do with the paddle.
I have to say I am a convert. I LOVE the traditional Greenland paddle! (I even took it as baggage on the flight to Qaanaaq.) It took me some days to stop twisting my wrists with each stroke - I am used to a feathered paddle. It took several more days to begin to work up a good rhythm and enjoy the effortless paddling that it allows. Not once did I use my carbon fibre paddle. I started paddling with Lars' paddle from that bloody first day and I stopped using it only when I arrived back in Uummannaq twenty-four days later. During all of the days paddling and especially the long stretches, I would need to stop to stretch my legs before I ever felt the need to rest my arms. Thanks Lars! And to Fat Paddler ... you were right!
I have always said that I paddle after midnight to avoid the worst of the mosquitoes and tourists. Actually, I paddle mostly at night as I used to think that the weather was more stable and it was always cooler. There were many nights when the weather was not so stable, but the worst part of paddling after midnight was sleeping through the day - the heat was unbearable!
Brace yourselves for a scary image, me, naked, sweating in a tent. Not pleasant I can tell you. During the start of the expedition I slept a lot. Okay, I admit that I slept a lot during the entire expedition, I could have easily made it shorter, but the truth is I enjoy the wilderness as it is there that I truly relax. As I sleep so much out there I need more days to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. Sleeping during the heat of the day was not good. At this particular campsite, a little to the left of Reasonably Flat Rock I definitely got a little feverish and dehydrated. The root of the problem would be arriving in camp around five or six in the morning, eating dinner, reading too much (I can thoroughly recommend "A Game of Thrones" - thanks to Jes for suggesting it!), and then finally falling asleep around nine in the morning, just as the Arctic starts warming up.
Sweating through a fever during the day does have some benefits. It is during the night that the wildlife is most active and the light is better for taking photos too. On the days and nights when I didn't paddle I would often wake to the yip of an Arctic Fox declaring its' territory. Scrambling out of the tent we would stare at one another for a few minutes until one of us blinked. He, or she, would then turn tail and scamper off only to stop again to see if I was coming. We played this game over many nights, different campsite, different fox, same behaviour.
All in all the expedition was progressing very well: already by day two I was slick with a layer of salt and sweat, turning my days into nights, abandoning modern technology and flirting with foxes of unidentifiable sex.
What could possibly go wrong?