Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 17 - windbound!

Hanging around in Uummannaq I spent some quality time with different people that I knew from work, not least Makkak and Sammu.  Invited for pre-holidays kaffemik (a Greenlandic party to celebrate birthdays, confirmations, weddings and other things) I quickly accepted knowing that the brilliant cakes and coffee would prepare me for the next leg of the expedition.  Between coffees, Saamu told me that I was in Sermitsiaq, one of two national newspapers in Greenland.  A journalist had seemingly found the expedition Facebook page and published an article on Sermitsiaq's web page.  Curious, I checked it out on the internet.  It was interesting that they focused on my change of plans - a tiny bit of drama perhaps - but little did I realise how much this one article was going to change the shape of the expedition from that point on.

The following day, the 12th of July, I found myself in familiar surroundings, Hr. Mortensen's café, psyching myself up with a hot meal before paddling off towards Qaarsut, the next settlement on my journey.  I took the time to write in my journal while the Philipino and Thai staff served the basic meal of the day.  Hr. Mortensens is a popular place to eat for fisherman etc..  I'd eaten here many times before and after finishing yet another coffee, decided I couldn't delay any longer.

Having repacked and streamlined the boat I set off for what I thought would be a straightforward crossing.  Sure, it was a bit breezy but only when I poked my nose out beyond the point of Spraglebugten did I get hit with the full force of the wind and start to encounter interesting waves.  For 35 minutes I battled against the wind heading for the shelter of Uummannaq harbour.  It was a bouncy and wet paddle to say the least.  The Folbot Kodiak handled it well, as usual, and I pulled into the harbour to be met by Arne of Hotel Uummannaq, a little surprised to see me return so soon - the waves and wind were almost non-existent inside the harbour.

Arne mentioned that his boat was being chartered to Niaqornat early the following morning and that I could hitch a lift.  It would mean leapfrogging Qaarsut and going straight to my ultimate destination: the settlement of Niaqornat.  It sounded like a good plan, and would be as if I had arrived from Illorsuit - as per my original intention.

Things were turning out well and as the wind picked up I was hearing reports of friends who had also dropped Illorsuit from their itinerary due to bad weather - and they were in boats.  I could risk being stuck in Niaqornat for a few days, but it was a risk worth taking - of all the settlements in Uummannaq fjord, Niaqornat was the only one I had never visited.

Having packed everything I quickly needed a place to sleep and was very grateful to sleep in a real bed in Birthe's guest room.  Birthe, a colleague of Jane's at the hospital, had been following the expedition with interest and it was great to chat over even more coffee and shower one last time!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anonymous wrote ...

Your claim: The expedition will focus on Greenlandic culture and nature

I find this to be an extremely boring and self-serving expedition. Can't believe you got sponsored for this, can't believe that you have been living in Greenland, yet you provide practically no cultural background on the towns, and certainly nothing on the 'nature' you encounter. Surely you could do some research before embarking, so that you might have a grasp of the most fundamental natural history of the area. I didn't learn a thing from your blog. You don't even know a Dwarf Fireweed, the ubiquitous pink flower? 

Dear Anonymous

I appreciate your comment.  I have, in fact, considered the same points you have raised in the course of writing the blog.  I have published your comment but have also chosen to address it in this post.
I had high hopes for the expedition.  I intended to delve into the culture of Greenland and explore the nature but in many respects I failed to do so, greatly in the eyes of some including yourself.  Throughout the course of writing entries for this blog I have noticed a difficulty in defining the expedition.  At various times I use the words “journey” or “trip” instead.  The word “expedition” always seemed rather too grand for what I was undertaking and yet, given the egotistical nature of the outdoor explorer, I was keen to call it what I hoped it was and thus the expedition was born.

Benedict Alan once said that if you want to look around the corner then you are an explorer.  He said it better than I have written it, but by that definition I was exploring, both the area and my own self.  I would never compare myself to Benedict Alan but I have been inspired by his sense of exploration.  Once again my ego took over and the “expedition” became a personal journey, a test to see if I could cope out there on my own and come back safely.  I did that, and this weblog is the diary of that personal journey.  It is not an expedition report, nor is it particularly factual.  The diary is written from a personal point of view and, lacking a deeper scientific background or interest, flowers are pretty, sand is soft to sleep on and the wildlife is engaging, whatever its scientific or common name.

Regarding the exploration of the culture, just as I am no scientist, nor am I an anthropologist.  As the expedition developed I also realised that I was more or less a tourist with relatively little access to life in the settlements, no more so than what a real tourist might have.  However, living and working in Uummannaq placed me in another position, that of resident.  Whereas an anthropologist might be more willing to write about the people and its culture from an objective standpoint, I felt I was less in a position to do so as I knew many of the people I met, or had at least taught their children or relatives.  I did not want to change that relationship and become an observer when I had otherwise been accepted into the community.  For the same reason there are very few pictures of people.  By rights, and I am glad you brought attention to this point, I should change the expedition goals.  I did, however, enjoy trying to speak Greenlandic whenever the opportunity presented itself.

In terms of sponsorship and why I was sponsored then I think it is important to look at what was being achieved.  My sponsors did not provide me any terms of sponsorship beyond wishing to see their product being used and tested in Greenland.  In fact, I think my kayak sponsors were more than happy with the previous summers’ video of their product being paddled by the side of a humpback whale.  I met no whales during the summer of 2010 and I am therefore pleased, from a sponsorship point of view, that I was able to catch the whale on video the year before.  The experience itself was beyond description.  My relationship with my sponsors has been positive and has resulted in putting their products in a challenging environment and proving that they are up to the task.

In rounding off, I hope you appreciate that I have published your comment and addressed it here.  You are right on some points and perhaps missing the point on others.  If you were misled by the description of the expedition, and I believe you were, then I accept that I have not provided the information you had anticipated.  If, however, you are interested in seeing lots of photos from the Uummannaq area and reading about what I personally experienced and the personal decisions I made, then please read on.

This is a diary of my expedition.  It has evolved into a far more personal journey than one of cultural or natural exploration.  I have not hidden that fact in previous posts.  It is what it has become.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 16 - a pause for thought

I needed to rethink my strategy and decided to recoup in Uummannaq while organizing my gear for the next leg of  my journey.  I had decided to paddle on to Qaarsut and then further to Niaqornat.  I would paddle the same route back again and aimed to be back in Uummannaq on the 19th of July.

Having had way too much gear with me on the previous leg of the journey I was pleased to be able to ditch  the unneccessary weight.  Spending a few days in Uummannaq also allowed me to repair some gear and post some entries on the blog.

The day started out gloomy, as the icebergs loomed in out of the low fog.  Sledges blistering in the sun reminded me of the ice-less winter and caused me to reflect on the changes affecting hunters in the Arctic.  Climate change is the buzz-word slung around with wild abandon by journalists, politicians, explorers and activists alike.  It often strikes me as odd though that the majority of banner-waving climate activists are from the huge polluting nations, my own among them.  Are we so focused on the Arctic because we truly are sorry that the hunting way of life is so threatened, or are we just trying to absolve our own collective guilt for living a life of luxury? 

Whilst the media-houses of the polluting world are sending hordes of camera-toting journalists northward bound to capture the quintessential image of the last hunter, facing the uncertain prospects of hunting in a changing environment, governments are doing the same.  Politicians, their aides and groupies are piling into planes and blasting in and out of Greenland to see climate change in action.  At the same time, the representatives of each political party, anchormen and women of television news and newspaper columnists spout authoratative statements, basking in the glory of their rivals' carbon footprints.  It makes me sick.  Just like I wanted to throw up over Hopenhagen COP15.  Sorry, but as I have said before, climate change has been a hot topic since I was in primary school.  Greenhouse gasses wafted over the television screen and tainted the newspaper print thirty-odd years ago.

One thing I learned while paddling in the weeks before I returned to Uummannaq was the total acceptance of mother nature.  She decides, not me.  We have to bend; we need to stop pushing.  The Inuit have developed a spontaneous nature, as I have learned through experience and have been told by colleagues, as a result of being in tune with nature.  You can't arrange to visit someone in a settlement on Tuesday at four o'clock when you can't know what the weather will be like on that day.  Better to sail now, Monday at seven o'clock as the weather is calm and the visibility is good.  I had days when I decided not to paddle, and other days when I could not paddle because of the weather.  Equally, I had mega-paddling days when the conditions were too good to miss.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the more we try to change the climate the further we distance ourselves from it.  We in the Western world are typically far removed from mother nature, we will never fully understand her.  We watch the weather on the news and plan our weekend outing based upon the scientific model "some guy" told us on the evening news.  During the epic focus upon climate change we now have a whole army of guys and girls telling us what is going to happen.  But I tell you, having paddled for two weeks alone in the Arctic, I have been blissfully ignorant of what anybody has to tell me about the climate and the nature of the area I am paddling in.  I learned to stick my head out of the tent and take a good look at the sky, listen for the activity of the birds and, as Karl-Ole told me, look at the dark band of water far out at sea to determine the direction and strength of the coming wind.

So, as I spent a few days in Uummannaq collecting my thoughts, food and gear for the next leg of my journey, I relished the fact that I was in the thick of nature, living and breathing the very atoms of climate change and I was doing it all by myself.

Day 15 - a shower, a chat and an evening meal!

It was hot, again.  The hot Arctic had returned and deprived me of sleep after my lengthy paddle through the night.  Back on my home stomping grounds I decided I could sleep later and promptly made myself semi-decent in order to walk around the mountain and into town. 

Passing my old house - I had moved out the day I started paddling - I was surprised to see it already occupied.  It was not far from my house to Ditte and Peter's where I was well-received and gratefully given a towel and pointed in the direction of the shower.  Who was more grateful I can't say, but several layers of grime later I was feeling much better.

Ditte provided cake, coffee and gossip!  I felt starved of conversation having chatted mostly to myself for about two weeks.  After a few hours I made my way over to the Police station to let Jacob know I was still alive but changing plans.  He was very supportive as ever and genuinely interested in the expedition.  Keeping the Police sweet was always high on my agenda and made the whole solo-paddling more palatable for both parties.

Wandering around town I bumped into Makkak and was promptly invited to dinner.  Makkak and I had worked together for four years and I was delighted to come for dinner especially as it was my last chance to see Aviaq, her daughter, before she left for Minnesota.  There was masses of food and plenty of guests as Makkak and family prepared for their coming summer holidays.

With a full belly and hours of fun conversation filling the void, the scurge of the solo paddler, I made my way back through the mountainside to my tent overlooking the bay. 

Day 14 - numb nuts, teeth and bergs: a spontaneous paddlathon! Part II

On a small island, pop. 3 dogs, outside Saattut, I decided to go for Uummannaq.  The conditions were really good.  Too good.  Leaving that island I paddled to the next to call Jane and tell her my plans.  An iceberg calved about one kilometre away just as I had finished my call and was about to get into the kayak.  It made for a bit of a nerve-wracking time as the surge continued with quite some power behind it.  The kayak lifted up and was pushed over the low outcrop of the island pulling at my arms as my lower body was immersed in water, only to leave me standing high and dry on the rock as the kayak was pulled in the opposite direction as the sea retreated.  With no sign of the water abating I decided to go for it, timing my "wet entry" and paddling off the rock as the surge retreated.  All flustered, I paddled on to the only island before Uummannaq.

There was a lone dog on this last island before Uummannaq and I contemplated stopping as the wind was picking up and I had another five hours ahead of me with no opportunities to go into land of any kind.  I turned my back on the dog to make some soup while I thought about my next more.

Sipping my lukewarm soup I suddenly felt a nudge on the back of my legs and turned to see at least twelve dogs who proceeded to try and crawl into and onto the kayak looking for food - they could smell the empty chocolate wrappers I had in my deckbag.  That was it .. I couldn't stay here!  I performed a very difficult peeing manouvre as I didn't want to strip out of my drysuit entirely with all these dogs around.  Turning my back on the pack I made quite a picture peeing out of the suit - there is no fly zip on this model!  I then turned to shoo the dogs away from the boat just as they started to battle for dominance over their new found prize.

I jumped into the kayak and then began the next leg of a very loooong paddle!  I reached Uummannaq island after 4+ hours and then realized that if I wanted to camp within walking distance of the town I would have to paddle even further!  It took ages.  On the way I encountered angry gulls that spent the next twenty minutes dive bombing the boat.  Leaving their area - do they really need so much space? - I rounded yet another point and battled into the teeth of wind and waves determined to make me pay for every paddle stroke.  I was not amused.

To cap it all, Spraglebugten, the bay in which I was to camp, was completely devoid of flat camping sites.  Stony rocks, broken glass, tummocky grass, there was little respite to be found on shore.  Only when I beached and walked up towards higher ground did I by chance spy a flat, shingle terrace with a fine view, just made for me and my tent.  I promptly scrambled down to claim it, although the competition for such a fine site was, admittedly, non-existent.  The yacht moored across the bay had all the comforts of home without needing to share my space.  

I was finally in my tent eating pasta a little after 07:00.  I had started paddling at 18:40 (on the water) the previous night.  My paddlathon was over and I was in back in familiar waters.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day 13 - numb nuts, teeth and bergs: a spontaneous paddlathon! Part I

The weather was simply perfect.  I was eager to move on and there was nothing to stop me this time.  I embarked on what was to become a twelve-hour paddlathon, from the previously dubbed "white sands" campsite all the way to Spraglebugten: a bay on the otherside of Uummannaq island.  I was heading home!  I did not, however, realise that I was going to be paddling quite so far when I set out, it just turned out that way.

Of course, I was slow to start as usual.  I took plenty of photos to document what was likely to be the last time I camped in this beautiful place.  I also wanted to try to emulate the photos taken by kayakers I admire like the team from Adventure Philosophy in New Zealand.  Whereas I wasn't paddling in the extremes that they experienced in the Antarctic and around South Georgia, I did meet Graham Charles in Uummannaq and enjoyed paddling with him a few times. 

The water, when I was finally to get on it, was crystal clear with hardly a ripple to be seen.  The icebergs were behaving - in this area anyway - and I was good to go.

I blasted straight across the fjord, heading for the point from which I could then see Saattut.  Why oh why there is always another point I do not know, but it is sadly often the case.  I began to feel as though the paddle to Saattut would take forever.  My bum and various appendages were becoming hot, sweaty and numb.  Lovely!

The icebergs were a welcome distraction though.  As usual, they made good way-points to break up the long paddle.  I still had not realised just how far I would paddle this night but as the hours passed and I approached the late evening I began to think that the weather could not get any better.  Rounding the point I spied Saattut and the tiny islands before it.

Whereas the population of the settlements might be small the population of the tiny islands that surround them, especially Saattut, are both small and furry.  How friendly they were was disputable.  These tiny islands though were going to be my lifesaver in terms of getting out of the boat and stretching my legs.  Whereas I might have wanted to spend a bit more time walking around, the number of dogs on each island quickly determined how long I would stay.

As the sun moved behind the mountain my new-found canine buddies and I took leave of each other and I paddled on, racing to get back into the sun to warm up.  Saattut was still tantalizingly out of reach and I began to contemplate where I would be spending the night, or if I would paddle through it as the sun moved around me.  I made my decision on the next island, and nearly lost my boat as an iceberg calved before me.