Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 274: The Bolt, Version 2.0


It looks bigger than the last one because it is.

So, I'm back in Longyearbyen, alive. Currently exhausted from trying to move around a bit too much. I'm going to have some wicked shoulders after this business. The second surgery on Friday ended well enough, with some...adventures. Instead of using a normal local anesthetic, they injected something directly into the nerves behind my knee to essentially paralyse my leg. It didn't work. So they had to put me to sleep - something I hate (it makes me panic) - but they hit me with a pretty heavy dose so I fell asleep real quick.

When I work up I couldn't move or feel anything below my knee, because the nerve-numbing thing finally kicked in. Which was good because I had zero pain, but somewhat nerve-wracking because it took much longer than expected for me to get feeling back in my leg. I spent the night in the hospital and got home to Longyearbyen Saturday night. In very random news, I sat next to two people from California on the plane. That's really rare up here.

What else...on painkillers, which makes me somewhat less than intelligent and sleep 80% of the day. My building-mates told me to stop looking out the window because it makes me look like a sad cocker spaniel and I'm depressing them.

I'm going to go stare out the window in my room.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day 270: Chivalry is Dead begin. I'm nearly two weeks behind on photos now, but that's going to have to wait, just like your entertainment via this website, because things have run amok, TO SAY THE LEAST.

As I mentioned before, I was scheduled for surgery in Tromso to bolt - literally - my broken foot back together. I theory I should have been back in Longyearbyen by now, but I am still in Tromso. My surgery was bumped from the original date to a day later - Wednesday - and ended up taking three hours instead of one. I opted to stay awake for the procedure, actually a fascinating experience. Eleven stitches and a plaster cast later, I was doped up and slept out the afternoon in the hospital.

Before being checked out, the doctor wanted some more x-rays to make sure everything was in place. So I was sitting in the waiting room, getting my IV-drip antibiotics, and the doctor comes in with a "I've got some bad news."

The bolt was put in wrong. Instead of laying straight in the bone, it's angled so it comes in the top and goes through the bottom. My only option is to re-do the entire surgery, which will happen on Friday.

I am distressed on a variety of levels. I find myself facing two surgeries in one week (turns out local anesthetics can't stop your bones hurting. Drilling hurts.); orders not to walk, period, for two weeks; an impossible non-waterproof cast; and, wow, about a million other things. I'm torn between focusing on the most amazing opportunity and experience of my life and a potentially life-long injury.

Well, that turned out more down-beat than intended. All in all I'm in fairly good spirits, I tend to get over things pretty quick. Although that could be the painkillers talking. Talk to me in a few weeks when I've gone bonkers from staying inside for so long. The people I'm staying with in Tromso are awesome, and despite the surgical problems, the doctors and nurses at the Tromso hospital are incredibly nice.

Having a two-inch bolt in your foot feels weird.

Christ! That thing seriously is a bolt.

Re: dead chivalry - flying out to Tromso I had to wait for awhile in the tiny holding area after security in Longyearbyen. There's only enough chairs for a little over half the people on the flight, and everyone packs in there. When I got there all the chairs were full. Despite the broken foot, I'm young and can handle standing around for a bit.

But honestly, what happened to people giving up their seats for old/injured/pregnant etc? I always give up my seat in any public transportation if theres anyone around who looks like they need it more than me.

Eventually, a 50-something Norwegian housewife figure came up to me and offered me her seat. I hope every twenty-something snowboarding dude in that airport was embarrassed.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Day 263: Heads Down Thumbs Up

Welcome to the land of the midnight sun! We've officially entered the other half of my official title (Life in the Midnight Sun and Polar Night: Images of Arctic Survival). Which, technically, I also saw in Canada at the tail end of summer. It's a strange life, this constant light. Difficult to fall asleep, too easy to wake up. But the bonuses - you can go on expeditions anytime of day (some of the best trips are in the middle of the night) and you learn to fall asleep ANYWHERE. Another thing with this light - I can get sunburnt and frostbitten simultaneously. I am quite pleased my freckles are starting to come back.

So, the rest of the brother's visit.

One of the big exciting things I had planned for his visit was a dogsledding trip, something I had never done before but I figured had to be done. It has since come to my attention that the next time I move out here (yes, there's going to be a next time) I must acquire sled dogs.

Harnessing up these wild dogs. They have two speeds: go, and anchored.

They were loud and peed a lot.

Awesome dogs.

And off we go!

I'm not going to lie to you. It was pretty much the most amazing thing ever. Silent, unlike the snowmobiles. For the first half Dane drove and I rode in the little sled-sitter.

My view:

We went down one of the valleys closed to snowmobiles, so somewhere I'd never been before. We started out with decent weather, but coming up the valley - facing a small glacier - the wind was pretty fierce.

Looking behind:

Some photos of the bro and I together, courtesy of one of the tour leaders:

Such happy doggies:

During our breaks, the dogs ate a lot of snow to cool off. We've heavy.

After the next stop, Dane and I traded places - I drove while he rode in the seat.

Don't ask how I took the following photo. It wasn't my wisest moment.

Proving that fact, after this photo:

I fell off. Now, technically, I had stopped the dogs with the snow anchor and I guess wasn't paying enough attention, so when the front dogs started, they ripped out my snow anchor, and I fell off. Dane tried to turn in the sled to grab the anchor, and tipped the entire sled over. Meanwhile I tried to catch up to the sled in a few feet of snow (with one useless ankle) falling down about three times in the process. But I guess dogs don't run all that fast and I flipped the sled back over and jumped on and it was pretty crazy!

So we all got back to the kennels in one piece.

Some of the dogs were packed in a doggie trailer to return to another kennel.

I'm glad I finally got to go sledding - one of those Arctic activities that I really had to do. Someday I'll do it for real - with my own dogs. Now that will be...interesting. The first few times.

You know, I've still never been skiing.

On his second-to-last day, we took advantage of some beautiful weather to take a little trip out to Bjorndalen - a very common destination out here, but I had actually never been. Its a valley beyond the airport (which is about 8km outside of town) with a lot of cabins. In advance, apologies for the billion photos of my brother. Unless you're my parents, then you're probably pretty happy about that.

UNIS has its own cabin for students out in Bjorndalen. Its a gorgeous area and a gorgeous cabin. From what I hear, having a student's cabin is a common thing among Norwegian universities. Going out to the family cabin is a normal weekend activity for many people.

I let the brother carry the rifle. We can't leave town without polar bear protection, which means a firearm with the power of a shotgun or .30-06.

I...really cannot describe how awesome this photo is. All the people I normally hang out with:

(Pierre, Johanna, Dane, Ragga, and Olgeir)

Looking around the Bjorndalen cabin:

Snacking on leftover food from the last campers:

Reading the guestbook:

The cabin has beds for 13 people, but considering floor space it could hold lots more. I've heard of up to 25 people staying at once. I'm hoping I get to stay there sometime before I go.

While sitting around I asked if people could tell that Dane and I were siblings. In response, Pierre took this photo:

I guess that's a yes. But I prefer this one.

Back outside we took some dumb boys with guns photos.

Unlike the US, every guy in the Scandanavian countries (that I'm aware of) is required to do a year of duty in the military. Hard to imagine. On the way home, we visited the Longyearbyen shooting range to practice our polar bear deterant techniques.

Gorgeous view from the range:

Your first line of defense against a polar bear: the signal pen.

It makes a bright light and a big bang. Pretty much only useful if you're far enough away from the bear to have the presence of mind to screw a little flare onto the end of a pen. In training we're advised to shoot in front of the bear, not behind, to scare it away rather than towards oneself. It happens.

Then the real shooting.

Which is extremely loud, so we all had hearing protection.

Dane and Johanna:

Me and Dane:

Olgeir was about a million times better than any of us. He does some hunting in Iceland. I usually think of myself as a pretty decent shot, but this day I was embarrassed.

Juice boxes, the poor student's target:

Technically, this is the best way to shoot:

But by the time you're forced to shot a gun at a polar bear, you're usually not in the kind of position to lay yourself on the ground.

Speaking of which, I'd like to share the most insane polar bear story I've heard in Longyearbyen - a legend around UNIS. Go here and scroll to the story at the bottom of the page. A fellow that works in the UNIS logistics department - Stefan - shot a polar bear in self-defense in 2005 with a very powerful handgun. The bear was shot from 1.4m (4-5ft). 1.4 METERS. I don't know a lot of details on the story, but thats...on top of you. You need nerves of steel and one wicked handgun to get out of that.

I also encourage you to check out Stefan's photo homepage and look at some of his photos from the 1980's for a view of a slightly older Spitsbergen.

Good god...I can't finish this tonight. I hope you people appreciate how much time it takes to process this many photos for this website. So I'm only about half a week behind now with still the last day of the brother to write about, then some more modern things.

Big news of the day: I've been scheduled for surgery in Tromso to bolt my foot bones back together. I'll try to write once more before I fly out on Monday. Never fear, I'll only be gone three days. Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Day 259: The Brother

I've been told that this website is a major source of procrastination measures for many of my friends. Glad my experiences are being put to educational usage.

So the brother got here last Saturday, and the week has just flown by. We've managed to pull off some pretty good times, though, despite some patchy weather. There was a bit of a thaw scare (for me) a few days ago, which thankfully did not culminate in a disastrous river like last time. I fear the next thaw will be the last for the usable snow. Anyway, the first day he was here we took a bit of a drive around Longyearbyen, then went home to help prepare the massive Easter dinner we had planned for our kitchen.

Clockwise from the lower left: Ragga, Sigrid, Paal, Dane, Pierre, Olgeir, Tone, and Elisa. We had fancy lamb, fancy potatoes, garlic bread, veggies, and a dessert ensemble:

This is big news around here.

Another photo of Paal and Dane (the brother):

The next day we went on a little scooter trip up Adventdalen to see what we could see. That was mainly a lot of snow and mountains in beautiful weather. For the most part, the past week was very lucky with a lot of super, cold sun.

Although, as it turned out, I may have given Dane a bit of frostbite. I blame all the stores being closed for Easter and me not being able to buy a proper wind-proof face mask. It was just a mild sort of sun-burn case below the eyes, gone now.

We went farther up the fjord than I had been before, and it was just lovely.

Brother trying to warm his poor little fingers without his atrocious gloves. He bought some supposedly good gloves in California which were basically useless out here. Eventually I let him wear my nice scooter gloves, and I tried to wear his gloves since my scooter has handlebar-warmers, and I'm more used to the cold. My handlebar-warmers melted straight through the gloves.

We also stopped at the Russian airplane monument again, as described in a previous post.

Ptarmigan tracks next to the flower offerings:

Reindeer across the gully:

Going back to Longyearbyen we stopped at the limited remains of a German war plane that crashed in the fjord during World War II. The only bits showing over the snow now are the undercarriage - the entire plane is upside down.

Coming back around the fjord, across from Longyearbyen - great picture of "arctic smoke":

Annnd with some real smoke:

Old mining bit you've seen before:

Ridiculous scooter tracks - turns out my scooter just isn't powerful enough to do much of anything with two big ol' people on it. We can just about handle going along on flat ground, as long as we don't try to turn to much. I feel like I'm hurting it. Which I probably am.

Another short scooter trip later in the week - Dane's first time up the glacier, always amazing.

Good old Nybyen:

And the brother having a look around.

We managed to accidentally time our trip with the arrival of a massive tourist troupe. Hm.

My poor little brother gets tuckered out from so much excitement. Most days he pretty much passed out right after dinner. Not that we actually had that crazy of a time, but our meat-and-potatoes meals seem to inspire instant slumber. And then him tossing and turning on my floor half the night unable to sleep. (Yes, I made him sleep on the floor. I even eventually found him a blanket.)

During our little travels, we had some relatively close encounters with the reindeers. Here they are:

And to cap this edition off, a photograph that I like very much:

I am currently trying to stay awake to send my brother off to the airport at 3:30am. Tomorrow will be a long and horrible workday. But soon enough I will have time to finish displaying his epic visit to the north - this only shows about half the week yet. Some particularly succulent photos are on the internet horizon.