Week 06 Are we there going yet?

Date Posted: 4.6.2009
Location: 44º48'N 91º43'W
Wisconsin, USA
Weather Conditions: Snowing, 32°F (0°C)
The key is turned in the dog-truck and the dog yard explodes in an uproar of ecstatic dog noise. It is pitch dark and pouring rain, but no one here cares. We are getting on the road! Well, almost that is. The dogs are quickly loaded into their boxes and Aaron puts the big truck in drive – but the truck is going nowhere, besides deeper into the mud
that is.  After about an hour, a lot of splashing mud and an attempt-
to-tow later, Aaron and the truck finally digs in and sails out of the
dog yard cheered by the rest of us. “Crawling around in the mud, we
put huge chains on the four back tires of the truck and then the heavy
weight of the dogs actually helped. The truck sank onto the tire chains
so that it could grip enough to make it through the mud. They may
have been made for snow, but sure worked beautifully once we finally
were able to get them on!  They are a bit cumbersome, even when it is
not pouring rain!” says Mikkel with a grin.

Watch the team
stuck in the mud.
Watch getting the chains
on, and next
the truck is out!

Watch the team’s take off!
“I have been heading out on expeditions with the Polar Huskies every year but one since 1992 and it has yet to fail: it is always a snow storm!” says Mille. Sure enough, by the time we all—Aaron, Mikkel, Mille and John, who is helping us to catch our flight in Ottawa, Canada, had piled into the truck, the pouring rain turned to snow.  It literally was an inferno of huge, white snow flakes making for very poor visibility and very difficult driving in the dark night. Especially with the windows entirely fogged up! We quickly realized that there was no airflow in the windshield vents of the truck that are meant to stop this from happening. Slowed to a crawl driving down the highway, Aaron pulled over our 40-foot caravan (the combined length of the truck and trailer; about 13 meters). “Less than 5 miles out, it looked like we finally hit the snag that was going to make it impossible for us to continue,” says Aaron. But no! While Aaron and John had their heads underneath the hood of the truck, and Mille was trying to locate the truck manual, Mikkel found the fuse box, wiggled a few things around, and the air came pouring out of the vents!! Within minutes we were on the road again - into the snowstorm - but this time we were able to see where in the world we were going! We were afraid that it was something that had not been connected in the auto shop earlier in the day when we took the truck in because it wasn’t running correctly.


     Tiffany from Basecamp was a one-woman-
   production-line attaching patches to our
   jackets this week

See, the night before Mikkel took the truck to fill it up with diesel for the journey, he realized it was simply not firing on all cylinders. The truck had indeed been checked and re-checked in every possible way over the past month. The truck had spent hours and hours in multiple auto shops over the last many weeks. Help! Saturday morning was spent desperately trying to locate a diesel mechanic that could (hopefully quickly) resolve whatever was wrong with the truck. Right away that is as we had a plane to catch in Ottawa!

Learn how the patches are being applied to the gear!

Sunrise and Sisu on the last run around Expedition Basecamp – no more fields, next is Nunavut!  
We almost didn’t though - have a plane to catch, that is. We feverishly worked all week to get ready to depart Saturday morning and drive to Ottawa, Canada so on Tuesday we could catch a plane for Iqaluit, and onto Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Remember, Pangnirtung, is now the expedition starting point. Mille has not had too many hours of sleep for many days. “By Friday morning it was a mixture of intense pressure to keep everything moving forward and keeping up the steam down to the last strech for departure,” says Mille. That is when the email came in! The airline we have been working with since early February let us know they just decided to increase the cost per kilogram loaded onto the plane from about $5 a kilogram to $16 a kilogram! “I was stunned and simply did not know how we were to move forward,” gasps Mille. That would increase the total of getting to Pangnirtung and sending out our resupplies of dog and human food by about $20,000! $20,000 not in the budget that is! Mille got on the phone and began typing emails like a mad woman.


  Watch how we all
feel about finally
being on the road!

I got a hold of Borek Air to try to reach Sean Loutitt.  I have talked to him several times over the last couple of months. They have a DC3, which is a big plane, that we talked which would be able to fit all of our supplies and the dogs. But, it was way up north doing work in Resolute -  in the most northern parts of Canada. So, to use it, we had to pay for it to come thousands of miles down to where we would start. It would make for very easy logistics, but the cost was just way out of our league,” says Mille. However, desperate and with no other obvious options, Mille decided to call again. “Sean had sent me an email, some days earlier, saying the job the plane was being used for was now done and would be flying out of Resolute. I guess I was just hoping for a miracle!” says Mille. Within the hour they called back from Borek Air, and to our astonishment, they decided they were going to make it happen! So, if all goes as planned, Borek Air will be in Ottawa with their DC3 on Tuesday and we will load it up with everything and head for Pangnirtung! The other half of the equation is our resupplies. Aaron explains, “It can easily cost $4-8,000 dollars to get the resupplies out to each of the communities. However, for this purpose, lo-and-behold we have been given an incredible reduced rate from Canada Northern Air.” So, once again, because of really good people who were ready to help us out in the most amazing ways it all worked out! Maybe except for the many hours spent trying to figure it all out!

Getting supplies to any of the 28 communities in Nunavut is a challenge. However, Baffin Island is particularly difficult. The communities depend entirely on barges to be able to get into its shallow harbors when the sea is ice-free or on the airlifts when the island is choked up by ice. Because everything is airlied in, this is part of why groceries that are brought in from the outside of the region are so expensive! Have you thought about where your food comes from? Makes sure to share your thoughts in the Module 02: Culture Zone!

 the loading begins!
Watch how the loading process
is going!


Even without all of this excitement, getting the expedition on the road is a HUGE process! It is a major undertaking and it is not much different a hard day on the trail. Its all about making daily progress, attending to even the smallest details, keeping at it no matter what and eventually all of a sudden it is really time to load those dogs! The jubilant, but also very exacting process, is four-steps....

The first things to be loaded into the trailer are the two large komatek sleds. Then Aaron, Mikkel and Robb, a Polar Husky lead teacher who has been a tremendous help volunteering his time and effort to the program this year, piled in the loads and loads of dog food. This was all while Tiffany, who somehow found time from running Education Basecamp to pitch in, and Mille were sorting out and boxing the human food per resupply, to be loaded next.

Explore the packing of the trailer –
What’s in the trailer already?
A large tarp is then spread out on the ground in front of the trailer where each item going on the expedition is taken from the Expedition Barn, placed upon it, and highlighted on the list. Once everything is accounted for, Mille goes over it all for one last time. Then, it is finally loaded into the trailer when Mille puts the final checkmark on our list. Each big checkmark is followed by a triumphant smile for a job well done!




(left) Mikkel marks which resupply these food boxes are going to – these are heading for our own Cool Scientist Shari Gearheardt in Clyde River. Maybe you took part in the chat with during Module 1? Dont miss this week’s chat, on Wednesday April 8 at 11 AM with Alisa Reckinger from Hennepin County Environmental Services on the topic of World Resources

This “check, double check, and triple-check” may seem excessive to an outsider, but consider for a moment that every single item carried on the sled is with us for a very good reason, and once on the trail we cannot just run to the nearest store to pick up what might be missing. Having the right tool for a task can be a matter of survival as we travel across Arctic terrain in frigid temperatures - be it a chain functioning as a break to slow the speed of the sleds going down the mountainside, a proper star screwdriver to tighten the plastic on the runners of the sled if they shred and need be replaced, or a throw-rope to rescue a team member that has fallen through the ice.

     The final clothing sorting
The task of putting together a long dogsled expedition in the middle of some of the most remote areas of the world can seem a bit daunting. Our team relies on years of experience, encompassing both what we have been taught by Elders in communities where we have traveled, and our own experiences on the land. This know-how is all compiled in the “Expedition Bible” that lists out every little item and task. Each year the notebook is updated from the year before to include notes of lessons learned on the trail that were added during that expedition. Yet, Mille notes, “It always seems like a miracle when it all pulls together and we take-off with loaded sleds and peace-of-mind because we know we have prepared ourselves as best we can.”

Watch who is the first dog
to be loaded!

The most important things to prepare (and load!) are the dogs; and trust us they are more than ready to go. Observing the commotion all day, the Polar Husky veterans knew without doubt that this means take-off. Every move we make is being monitored very closely, and when they hear the sound of the door opening on the dog truck even an eighth-mile away from the dog yard the Polar Huskies begin howling, yipping and yapping. Pros at loading into the dog truck, the Polar Huskies simply cannot get in their boxes fast enough. Aside from being out on the trail, there are actually few places a Polar Husky would rather be than in a dog box on the truck going somewhere with the GoNorth! team. It is a sight to behold as they run and pull full-power to the truck, and then look for an open box door so they can jump in longing to pull the heavy loads, some cold, crispy weather and new adventures!

Polar Husky Superstar Jupiter  
Always up for an adventure and one of the greatest travelers in the Kennel is big Jupiter. Playful and jolly, we think the fact that Jupiter, at barely three moths old, traveled from the Polar Husky kennel all the way to Pennsylvania to live with Teacher Explorer 2005, Amy Vargason, for 3 months! We believe this is what makes Jupiter love to travel and that he is so agile he can self-load is very impressive because of his size. But then, Jupiter is a guy who likes to shine.  As you might have guessed, he is named after the largest planet in our solar system.  The planet Jupiter is 2 1/2 times as big as all the other planets in our solar system combined! When you look at the night sky, Jupiter is the fourth brightest spot in the sky and the planet is known for a storm that has lasted more than 175 years, named the 'Red Spot' for its red appearance when seen through a telescope from Earth.  Fittingly perfect with his name, or is his name fitting perfect with him?  "Jupi" as he is nick named, is indeed a huge Polar Husky with a very bright nature that loves to "storm around."

       Polar Husky Superstar Kinu
Watch jolly Jupiter going on the stake-out with John.
Watch Mikkel unload Kinu at our first road stop.

Just about as “stormy,” is this week's other Polar Husky Superstar, Kinu. As little as Jupiter is tall, Kinu also has the same sweet nature. Kinu’s name means “lots of little kisses” in Inuktitut, the Native Inuit language. As a little puppy Kinu would crawl up on our lap to shower us with little kisses.  However, first she has to get comfortable with you though as she is also very, very shy with new people. That said, as John, who she had never met before, grabbed on to load her yesterday, she just about leaped into his arms and was all ready to give him lots of kisses once loaded. Kinu too is turning into a superb traveler. No dogs in the kennel cared who was loading them last night, as they just wanted to get in those boxes! All dogs ready to load? Check! Are we there yet?... Almost!