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.


Unknown said...

Laurel, you're so amazing. I love those pictures and everything you're doing. I'm glad you and Dane had a good time, getting your dog sled on. Miss ya tons!

sam said...


-that's all so unbelievably pretty up there. and now that you mentioned them, i like to imagine that there are a couple reindeer standing just outside the frame of every outdoor photo

-i know that we kids like to project our own college experience onto everything, but you talked about Bjorndalen and i thought Halona

-it seems like the time it took to go from "no sun" to "sun all the time" was like a month, but maybe that's just the time dilation of being at the end of college

travel safe and have a good surgery!

liylak said...

Wow girl, some amazing photos! And DOGS! When you live there, and I visit, we are doing tons of sledding.

Good luck, foot-girl.