Sunday, March 18, 2007

Day 231: Ketchup

Ugh. I'm running about a week behind on updates for this thing. I prefer to write on things while they're fresh. But the photo backlog is immense, and this past week has been somewhat dramatic.

As it turns out, my broken foot continues to be so, and I'm being scheduled for surgery in Tromso to bolt the thing back together, probably sometime in the next week or so. This means a trip to the mainland (the Longyearbyen hospital doesn't have the facilities to do surgery), surgery alone in a foreign country (something I'm not especially thrilled about - not that I don't trust the doctors, but the language exchange isn't exactly seamless), and another 5 weeks laid up. I'm going nuts not being able to hike. But hey, I'll be made of titanium. Bionic woman and stuff.

Last weekend was the culmination of Solfestuka with Ta sjansen, a sled race out across the fjord. We finally had the sun come out and it was a perfect day. Basically the entire town came out. As I started racing across the fjord on my scooter I suddenly hit a patch of actual sunlight coming around the mountain. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. You really don't realize how much you miss it - it was one of the moments that assured me I'm in love with this place.

Longyearbyen is located in a little valley and is one of the last places on the island to get real sunlight. You can tell the sun is back, but the surrounding mountains keep it out.

An hour before it actually started, the scooter's started piling up.

People came in by all manner of conveance.

Scooters, of course:

Pulled by dog on skis:

Snow buggy (like tanks for snow):

Manual labor:

And dog sled:

The flamboyantly dressed announcer began the first event, a children's sled race:


I was struck by how much this whole thing resembled a day in the park - families hanging out, little picnics:

And children everywhere.

People just kept showing up. The town must have been nearly empty. It was really wonderful - with such a small community (about 1500) everyone knows everyone. You can actually have these massive sorts of events and it has an enormous sense of community about it.

The main event for the day was a big sled race. For this, there were five teams contesting, who had been encouraged to build their machines for speed and/or laughter.

Getting ready - pushing the sleds up the hill:

Before the race, Ulli (one of the Frozen Five) explains how his stuffed bear will insure victory:

It was bright enough out to need sunglasses. Ridiculous!

A few straglers coming out from town - its really a rather large distance to walk.

The scooters compile into a collection of...a lot:


The track for the big race:

The first team, named the Arctic Bunnies, quickly developed problems on their way down:

That would be Regga (the Icelandic girl from my building) getting left behind her teammates...

Eventually the whole thing sort of got...creative.

The next team, made of people from town, had an impressive showing:

But Ulli's team, on the Baby Bullet, blew everyone else out of the water. On their welded monstrosity (the head of which was a huge auger) they tore down the track without steering or brakes threatening to put a hole though anyone who got in their way.

Next came another towns-people team - what appeared to be the plumbers, as they rode essentially a full bathroom down the hill.

The final team, however, won for most amusing.

Looking up the hill, the crowd realized that the team participant's appeared to be signficantly disrobed. They rode their make-shift Finnish sauna, complete with working heated-stone steamer, down the hill at remarkable speed. Unfortunately, they quickly suffered a casualty:

But were hardly slowed.

After the finish line, they joined the bathroom team for a photo op.

By far the fastest, the Baby Bullet team picks up their winnings:

A nice little barbeque - whale burgers! Delicious.

And then everyone prepared to head home.

Check out the medic's tires:

My fellow American's, Jeff and Colin:

After driving around the fjord a little, I arrived back in town at the tail-end of a snowmobile drag-race.

And that...was Solfestuka!


Anonymous said...

Bravo! Great narration, really enjoyed "experiencing" the event.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Laurel,

Below is a great online Polar Year workshop:

COSEE-West is pleased to announce our third annual online workshop for educators!

APRIL 15 - 28, 2007
To tie in with International Polar Year, this year's focus will be on "Research at the Poles",
with keynote presentations by:

Dr. Robin Ross, University of California Santa Barbara
"Ecological Responses of Antarctic krill to environmental variability: Can we predict the future?"
Dr. Ross has conducted research in Antarctica since 1981, and has participated in the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research program since 1990. The Palmer LTER is a region that is experiencing the most rapid warming on the planet, with over 80% of the glaciers retreating.

Dr. Donal Manahan, University of Southern California
"North Pole, South Pole: How and Why we Study Polar Regions"
Dr. Manahan has conducted research in both the Arctic and Antarctica, where he studies the environmental and developmental biology of invertebrates in extreme environments. Dr. Mahanan is a member of the Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.

This 2-week workshop is free, but the number of participants will be limited, so sign up now!
Register for the workshop at

Breakout rooms will focus on adapting this exciting science content to the classroom, which will include sample activities and lessons, and grade-band alignment with the California and National Science Content Standards, as well as the Ocean Literacy Principles and Fundamental Concepts. Information about graduate credit through California State University will also soon be available on the website.

We hope to see you online!!

Antonio said...

Hei Laurel!
Very nice blog, your pictures are amazing.
I'm a PhD student in Bergen and I come from Chile (southern part of this very narrow country). I just start to check some lectures in Svalbard, and... why not? perhaps I can take some lectures there!
Enjoyed your "polar experience" and save a piece for me :)


Anonymous said...

This week the local aquarium is hosting a unique event: Antartic exploration put to music. So I guess that raises the bar Laurel, we'll be waiting for the music to play as we peruse the next blog :-)

Scripps Oceanographic Society members are invited by the Museum of Making Music to attend a special musical performance:

Antarctic Explorations in Music with Henry Kaiser
Saturday, April 7, 2007 at 7:00 P.M.
Museum of Making Music, Carlsbad

Musician and adventurer Henry Kaiser spins a musical tale of his exploration of the chilling Antarctic waters in a live performance multimedia concert. A restless collaborator who seeks the most diverse and personally challenging contexts for his music, Kaiser performs frequently throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and now the Antarctic continent.