Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 12 - trapped inside my head: lonely musings


Straight from the diary ... hold on, weird musings and anecdotes ahead!  Og til MorAnne - jeg håber Google Translate can klar dette indlæg! ;O)

I sleep too long.  I sleep well, but too long, every day.  It is now 10:15 and I am just starting to get up.  I don't think it is quite apathy, but the thought of packing all this is just ... eurch!  It is the same every time.  If the boat packed itself I think I would get further each day.  Alas, it does not and I just have to get it done.  It is the problem of dishes that slows me down every time.  The "big kitchen" dry bag has the most bits in it, including the Trangia that sits in the very bottom.  Until it is clean the bag can't be packed which means the tent remains a mess.  A pain in the arse but true.  The Trangia dominates camp life!  And it determines how quickly I move on from place to place.  Amazing really, it is three pots.  Well, I can read a few more pages and then get moving damn it!

It was a very leisurely paddle today along the coastline, looking for foxes - didn't see any!  I am now back in my favourite campsite - White Sands.  This sounds crazy, but the fact that I have returned and confirmed that the hunter's tent is indeed a Quasar, makes my decision to take five and not seven settlements all the more palatable.  Silly, eh?  Just another one of those "Chris things" that make me, me and gives other people a hard time trying to figure me out.

I had a melancholy moment earlier; I think I need to see people I love and soon.  It is day twelve and it will be day eighteen before I see Jane [I never did see Jane until the end of the expedition].  I usually share these outdoor experiences and it is weird not to.  Don't get me wrong, I now enjoy being alone too, but I think I am discovering a definite period of time when solo is okay and when two would be better.  Perhaps ten-day solo trips are the perfect period for me?  I am also getting a little homesick for the creature comforts of home.  Problem is, our home is in six containers and the prospect of making a new home for us is going to take some time to realise.  Exciting though - who knows what our new home looks like?  Whatever and wherever, we will make it "homely", we are good at that.

Different bits of kit now need replacing.  A lot of it is very old now and showing signs of wear and tear.  In complete contrast to technology, I love aged outdoor gear, with holes and dents that remind you of how and where you got them.  There comes a time though when stuff just needs replacing.  Unfortunately, we are moving into an economic period (Jane minus job) when that will be hard to do.  We'll figure it out though.

Just looking at my salty "paddlers' hands", cool.  Do love that.  Reminds me of my old poem "Neoprene Refugees", not sure about the title but the content has always been spot on.

“Neoprene Refugees”
by Chris Paton
30th August, Glasgow 1999

Salt encrusted windows,
blistering blue paint,
sand-drenched wicker mats,
air with heavy seaweed taint.

Kayaks parked out back,
wet boots dripping on the porch,
fatigued biceps, mildewed toes,
inspecting callouses with a torch.

another painful days' paddling
over brilliant blue water
thru dip and swell; the bow from hell
curses thru sun-kissed laughter.

Beaching in the gloaming,
paddles braced side by side,
pulling cramped limbs from the cockpit,
"another burst around the point?"  I lied!

Cosy on a sunken coach,
wet legs entwining one another,
steaming bodies and steaming mugs,
damp, salty kisses with my lover.

Edited 15th March 2010

I have deliberately not said much about Nansen.  I am thinking of him now as there are a few photos of him left on the pocket camera and I already deleted a lot of him from this winter.  I think he has a good home at the Children's Home in Uummannaq.  I saw a kid give him a treat on the very day I delivered him.  There are lots of kids that get a lot out of the dogs.  Plus, he will adapt and quickly learn who takes care of him.  He won't get nearly as much fuss and attention as he got before but neither will he be lonely, and he has always been a good "Uncle" to pups.  Yeah, he is going to be alright.  I was walking him less and less towards the end.  I was just too busy and didn't make time for him.  We won't have dogs again in Qaanaaq.  It is too demanding, both physically and emotionally.  I will enjoy dogsledding again and look forward to going out with new colleagues, friends and maybe hunters, but no more dogs of our own.

Thinking of Qaanaaq is very exciting!  I am curious as to life so far north.  Haven't had much time to really think about it.  That time will come - it is going to be a long, dark winter!  Can't wait!

Now Hamilton's "The Naked God" is getting interesting.  Perhaps I needed to be ready for it?  Lying in the tent in this beautiful and peaceful campsite, distant waterfall, few birds tweeting, warm - not too hot ... I am enjoying reading and relaxing.  I have finally started dinner; playing with the Trangia always reminds me of Sam Gamgee's pots that he carries with him from The Shire.  Reading about Ombey's Royal Marines reminded me of Afghanistan and that, unfortunately, I truly do not have any idea of the hardship nor the horrors of war and its effects on the population of war-torn countries.  My fascination for war is boyish, I am a "boy" still, at heart.  I mean no disrespect to the soldiers and civilians affected by war but I find it all-engrossing.  Must remember to reflect both sides in my writing from now on.

 The hunter's tent is a "Quasar", damnit!  With snow valances!

I miss my wife!  It's been two weeks - doesn't sound that long, but it all happened so chaotically.  That last day, those last days, packing, cleaning, leaving ... it was all shit, really.

It got cold suddenly - sun dipped behind the mountains again.  It's just circling - will be back in a few hours time.  I'll gird myself to go out for a pee soon.  Last one before bed!  Shouldn't drink any more coffee now!


It's weird being so totally alone.  Not even a distant drone of a boat.  I'm out here, in the Arctic, alone ... cool!

I sometimes - more often than I should - think about what I/we would do in the event of of an outbreak of war or natural disaster.  We have nearly all the essential gear, but it's nothing without food and water.  "The Road" was a tremendously thought-provoking book.  Must read it again sometime.  The image of pushing a shopping trolley, one eye fixed on the rear-view mirror, taped onto the side, a gun with one real bullet and five wooden ones designed to deceive the "threat" ... just brilliant.  Tragic.  Desperate, but brilliant.  Of course, it's not all that brilliant if we experience it ourselves now, is it?  The Greenlanders would do okay.  The hunters and fishing families anyway.  Of course, it would take a backward shift to compensate for the lack of fuel and bullets, but their culture is not so very far removed from the old days of kayaks and harpoons [most definitely not in Qaanaaq - daily life here!].  Of all the northern peoples, they would cope.  The majority of them [hunting and fishing families] I see have simple needs and desires too.  Once the booze was all used up we might start to make real progress!  It wouldn't be too great a stretch of the imagination to think of Qaanaaq cut off from the rest of the world.  With one flight a week and only two ships a year ... they are practically cut off.  What am I saying?  We will soon be cut off right along with them!

There are rocks falling down the mountainside as I write this, that and a gull, a stream and the tiny movement of water on the shore is all I can hear right now.  Rocks must have fallen from some height ... still falling ...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 11 - the turning point

After my failed attempt at getting into town the day before I finally got it right this time.  Paddling in to Ukkusissat was a pleasure.  Beautiful blue skies, snow-capped mountains and the promise of junk-food!  One has to get one's priorities straight and clearly, I hadn't.

In town

The shop

I had been to Ukkusissat before, arriving by 4x4 having driven across the sea ice.  This was a different approach and a very different time of year.  I was stunned by the beauty of the place which I had failed to appreciate during my visit in the winter a few years previous.  Ukkusissat is a pearl to be discovered in the Uummannaq fjord system.  It is little surprise that it is a frequent destination for cruise ships.  I wondered if I would be received as a tourist or as something in between.

I didn't have long to find out as I met a previous student, Karl-Ole, in the shop.  Juggling my two hot-dogs we chatted about the past in Uummannaq and what he was doing.  Karl-Ole accompanied me throughout much of the time I was in Ukkusissat but left me alone to make my phone calls to Lars and Jane.  It was decision time.

I called Barbara in Nugatsiaq first to let her know I had changed my plans and would not be paddling on to the most northerly settlement.  I also told her she could eat my food and other goodies that I had sent on earlier by boat.  I was later to change my mind about this.

Lars and Jane understood my decision and we agreed that I would keep them informed of my progress, backtracking through the fjords to Uummannaq.  It would be five settlements not seven after all.  I had been wrestling with this decision for many days and was feeling pretty good that I had finalised my plans.  The sudden arrival of Tukummeq in the shop lifted my spirits even further.  One of my star pupils of the last two years, Tukummeq has a huge and promising future ahead of her.  (Watch this space, you might be reading one of her books one day!)

Karl-Ole was a practised guide having worked with tourists many times and we spent a bit more time wandering around the settlement.  He invited me to a kaffemik in celebration of his brother's confirmation.  I had the offer of staying over but, as I had realised earlier, I was beginning to get used to my own company and I felt the need to get back to camp.  Here is where the goals began to blur in my expedition plans.  I was using a lot of energy on the change of physical goals, whereas the social goals had suddenly been met and yet I wasn't ready to make the most of them.  It would be later in Niaqornat that I would begin to experience this element of my journey.

I thanked Karl-Ole as best I could and made moves to get out of "town" and back to camp.  Walking back to the boat I came across some beautiful dogs with incredible masks.  Of course, I spent some time photographing them before struggling into my dry-suit again.  While getting ready to leave a fisherman sailed over to within a few metres or so.  I honestly though he was going to land so I asked if I should move my boat?  He didn't say a word, just ate and stared.  Having played tourist for several hours in town I figured it as okay to be on the receiving end of his curiosity.  After five minutes or so he threw some rubbish over the side and sailed back to town.

Ukkusissat was far from a let down, but my expectations were so focused upon physical goals that I was losing sight of the human element.  I think I assumed too much.  I think I felt that I should be able to blend in more than the tourists and when that didn't happen I was disappointed, and yet when it did, I failed to appreciate it.  Strange but true.

Paddling back to camp was uneventful.  I was lost in my thoughts of the coming days and what I had to do to make the rest of the expedition "work".  I made my decision based upon my safety issues and the safety net I had put in place.  I had been brooding over the problem for the past few days - actually since the satellite phone died and the dry-suit ripped back in the desert - but the fog outside of Ukkusissat had helped put everything into perspective.  It was time to move on, in body and mind.

As I landed back at camp I was treated to the arrival of René and Lars (another Lars).  They too had had to change plans for their summer adventures due to fog and injury.  It was reassuring to talk to others about the importance of prioritising safety.  I was also heartened by the fact that even their group, with the benefit of support from local hunters, was just as disappointed in not achieving their goals as I was.  (Incidentally, in the rush to move my kayak to accommodate their three speedboats, I nailed my leg on a rock.  The cut is still healing some months later.  Big rock!)