Week 01 Team Work... Gets the Job Done!
Date Posted: 3.2.2009
Location: 44º54'N 92º47'E
Expedition Basecamp, Minnesota, USA
Weather Conditions: Sunshine and clear blue sky, -3°F (-19°C)
“Never in my entire life have I seen or experienced team work like this” says Mille. “And mind you – we are not on the trail yet! Everyone, everyone is busting!” It is not the crack of dawn when GoNorth! activities literally start buzzing. This includes the dog yard! Soon, Kodiak is rolling around on his back with his legs up in the air; Trigger’s bark is cutting though the noise of 28 amped-up Polar Huskies; and Domino flies in long strides through the air circling and circling. Polar Huskies are of one mind - it’s time for a run!
Team work is what the GoNorth! expeditions are all about. It involves the skills and dedication of all members of Team GoNorth! And team members are by no means just the people on the trail. As a group, we need to trust one another to do a good job and complete tasks efficiently. Each of us is responsible for one part of the whole. Separately, we cannot accomplish what needs to be done. Together, we have been able to develop curriculum, feed the Polar Huskies, build sleds, visit schools, work with teachers, produce movies, work with sponsors, write grants, format the curriculum, acquire and test new equipment, manage the web site, fix old equipment, keep up with accounting, attend meetings, talk to media, facilitate work shops, complete educational research, and train the Polar Huskies... (Get the picture?).
Frankly, this year more than ever it would not be happening if not for an incredibly dedicated team much beyond that of what is going on the trail. Everyone has been pulling for this adventure learning expedition to happen as hard as the mighty Polar Huskies will be once soon sledding up the steep cliffs and along the coastline on Baffin Island.
Planning and preparing to take off on an adventure learning dogsled expedition is always a major undertaking—one that can easily take several years from the planning of the route and logistical detail to the actual delivery. It was late November 2008, when the decision was final that we were heading for the Nunavut Territory in the high Canadian Arctic. Yes, really, barely even three months ago. Within the next few weeks the mighty Polar Huskies and the members of our team will be en route to Nunavut.
It will not be the first time to Nunavut for many of the team members, two- and four-legged alike. “I am so thrilled,” says Mille with the largest possible (and yes, a bit tired!) grin playing on her face. “My first time to Nunavut was in 2001 not long after the territory was created. Disko, Hershey, Khan, Sable and Nazca who will all being going on this year’s expedition and I traveled along with the rest of our team from the most southern border in Nunavut – between Churchill and Arviat – more than 2000 miles north to the most northern community of Nunavut, actually in North America (!), to Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island.
Disko will be the veteran lead dog of this year’s expedition and his siblings were just over a year-old back in 2001 when Nunavut had not yet had its second birthday. The year 2009 marks the 10 year anniversary for Nunavut! Teacher Explorer Chris Ripken is ‘normally’ a 10th grade teacher in Minnesota and when he is not in the classroom teaching geography don’t be surprised if you find him excitedly talking about what one can learn from maps; or with glazed eyes and a distant look to his face flying 3D across landscapes on the computer with Google Earth; or even better, actually out exploring new places with a map in hand. Chris exclaims “I am going to a place that was not even on the map when I went to high school!” He laughs, “and really, I am not that old!” Chris will be with Aaron when the two of them set off to meet up with the team on the expedition trail for some weeks during the program. “I have no doubt this will be a journey of a lifetime” says Chris.
Nunavut is that kind of place. “It takes your breath away. Just wait and see!” says Aaron. In 2004 the Polar Huskies set out on another journey, which was Aaron’s first visit to Nunavut. In 2004, Disko and company pulled the sleds for more than six months setting out from Yellowknife crossing into the territory of Nunavut on its most western border and traveling some 2000 miles across the windswept rocky tundra and onto the Arctic Ocean to Pond Inlet - the most northern community on Baffin Island! Actually, it was on this journey that Aaron took Disko for his first time (who was still just a young brat back then – Disko, not Aaron J) and put him in lead. Mille looked on in disbelief as Disko had never led a team before. She was astonished to see that sure enough, soon Aaron and Disko were working as a team leading the expedition forward.
This time when we visit Nunavut, our route has us traveling back to Baffin Island. However, we are now set to depart from the most southern tip traveling north and east to Clyde River - the most eastern community of Nunavut. This route is through what some consider the most spectacularly beautiful land in the world! “We are not sure we will make it further than Clyde River this year,” says Mille. “When we actually get on the trail and see the ice conditions we will know better.” We will be observing the on-coming of the Spring break-up, the migration of animals, how quickly leads of open water start breaking up the ice pack, and not least, listening carefully to the Elders who know the land and the sea ice better than anyone. It is our conversations with the Elders that determine the final destination of this journey. “With a great deal of luck, we may be sledding all the way north to Arctic Bay. Only time and the coming of the Spring break-up will tell. But, we are bringing all the maps - all 37 of them!” exclaims Mille. Make sure to post what maps you think the team will be packing with them in the Explore Zone and look for the post “Maps by Mille” to see the answer! Mille continues, “We will be in the best possible hands pulling the sleds into Clyde River hopefully sometime in May.” That’s when the team on the expedition trail will be coming to the hometown of our own GoNorth! Cool Scientist Shari Gearheard.
As we are writing this, the huge 14-foot komatek sleds are actually propped up on saw horses at Expedition Basecamp to begin stage two of getting them ready for the trail. This stage entails many knots! The sleds are made using the komatek design by the Inuit, the Native people of Nunavut, and true to their traditional knowledge, the sleds are tied together not using a single nut or bolt. We do it just as the Inuit have been doing it for thousands of years. These sleds are actually the very sleds that were originally built for the first expedition to Nunavut back in 2001! “I am a carpenter by trade and I was humbled when I went to pick them up for their annual check- and tune-up and to meet the man, Mike Falls of Otter Creek Carpentry, who built these ‘limousines of sleds’ that have made so many crossings of Nunavut!” says Tony. Tony has been working with the team training the Polar Huskies all season.
This week the Polar Huskies had their annual check-up too with our GoNorth! Chief Veterinarian Brad Taylor. Here all week “on loan” from his practice back in New Hampshire, Brad was really helping out in every possible way putting his skills of running an organization to work with gear and equipment (make sure to check out the “Funny Pics” from his Riverside Vet Hospital in the Dog Zone—and while there, post your own “anything dog” in there as well!). But, most importantly, all week Brad was keenly been inspecting and observing every Polar Husky in the kennel. “The expedition may have a few more things to check off on the list before it’s time to load them up the dog truck and trailer for departure. However, the Polar Huskies, even the youngsters, are ready!” says Brad.
The biggest obstacle for a young Polar Husky to learn the ropes being a mighty Polar Husky, is often that they can get a bit intimidated by the veterans. With his focus and determination that has not been an issue for Yoik. This is one reason he has been able to learn from one of the best in the business of getting the job done…That would be this week’s other Polar Husky Superstar: Sable. She is happy-natured and a real honey, but don’t get fooled by sweet Sable. She is actually one of the toughest Polar Huskies to ever pull a sled; and with her unbelievable technique and tremendous strength of both mind and body, she can teach the ropes of working as a team like no one else. She is not afraid to set anyone straight; she has no tolerance for silliness, and she never gives up. Yes, she is the type of personality that takes charge to change the world!