chilling feet

chilling feet

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Firefighter Training for the South Pole

It is finally time to stop talking about the Arctic. Let's talk about the Antarctic, or rather getting ready for the Antarctic.

When Sarah and I were talking about her going to Antarctica the first time she mentioned there is a secondary team everyone is required to be on, such as Trauma, Fire team, and a few others.  She is in charge of the trauma team as the doc and in that role would plan out certain rescue exercises should anything happen.  Basically really cool stuff where she would plan out a person needing rescued in certain areas on the base.

I think even back then Sarah knew she needed to get me on the fire team so I would not be able to grow one of the fiercest beards the South Pole had ever seen.  She claims this was not a motive but we all know it had to be part of it.

As it turns out she did not have to work too hard to sway me, even when I knew the truth about the facial hair commitment.  For a few years now I have felt the low deep burn from having never served the country.  The short side of the story was me deciding not to be a chaplain in the military for a few reasons, but mostly because they are not allowed to carry any firearms. Apparently I am the opposite of the guy from the movie that just came out, Hacksaw Ridge.  There were a few other reasons I never joined the military and so I would ponder what it might look like to be a police officer or fireman. As I lost a little bit of time working and living I began to paint a picture in my mind of living in a small town where I could serve as a volunteer fireman while working at a local church.

Then came the question for what training I wanted to do for the South Pole - trauma or fire school?  An easy question to answer, for both of us! Sarah had already done the trauma training and they allowed her to go through fire training as it is always good to have more people trained to fight "the" fire should it ever rear its ugly head down South.

So we headed from Guam to Denver for team training and then fire school - well two weeks of fire training we called fire school.  I do not want anyone to be confused by what we were trained to do or what we think of ourselves.  We are not firefighters and have not done even an ounce of the real training, but we did go through a shotgun training school quickly and learned a lot of helpful things.

The first few pics are from the weekend after our team training in Denver, which was fun by the way. Once finished we had a chance to head out and see Rocky Mountain National Park.  Beautiful!  The weather was quite nice and we were able to see a decent amount of the park in a very short time. Vistas peering out over golden valleys - climbing to the top of spectacular trails that offer a brisk view of mountains as far as the eye can see - seeking out the mighty Colorado river where it is still just a tiny brook we could wade through in my Chacos and then sit by peacefully listening to its silent beginning - then catching Sarah trying to get a quick nap on the the side of the parking area. All very nice and highly recommended to anyone going that way.

Our friends +Austin Russell and the now Alli Russell were out there on their honeymoon, which was amazing as we sadly had to miss their wedding.  Dinner with them and trying not to feel like we were stepping wildly into their private week was both fun and we felt beyond grateful to them for including us in their special week.

Then FIRE SCHOOL!! The moment we were so excited about had finally arrived and it did not in any way at all disappoint.

First of all, trying on our gear was as anyone would imagine it might be for a ten year old boy who wants to grow up to be a fire fighter, which clearly described almost every person putting on gear.  Well maybe sometimes I project my own inner ten year old on those around me.  I have been told that there are moments I think I am sharing with everyone around me only to find out I was the only hollering idiot full of excitement.  +Bryan Baddorf  still claims I was the only one in the theater hooting with excitement and shouting wildly "I've been waiting for this my whole life" when Yoda busted out his light saber to fight Count Dooku. Just as then I think at least a few of our team were as innerly jazzed as I was to be putting on the gear.

The training was informative, thorough, dangerous at times (but not if we did what we were told to do), and absolutely fantastic! We got some hands on training with various types of fire extinguishers and putting out live fires with them. We were given ample opportunity of time in our gear so we could come to understand what it really felt like to work in such heavy attire.  Our instructors made sure we also had various chances to do exercises on our air so we would know how it mentally and physically effected us in moments of stress.

Then there was the smoke and fire.  It's sort of a good thing to understand what the heat feels like when it reaches the temperatures it does during a real fire.  It is beneficial to see what it's like to be blinded by smoke while you're crawling through a dark room looking for a human being.  Can you imagine doing it for the first time when it really matters?

The confusion and stress felt is considerable.  I felt this the most when we were doing an exercise in full gear climbing through a training unit designed to help a firefighter learn how to crawl and work through small areas. In all of the gear my body overheated quickly and I had to force my mind to calm down and stop breathing so hard. I was finding breathing on the air almost impossible, as if I could not get enough. I found it more difficult to crawl through the confining and narrow obstacles than through smoke and fire. A truly great exercise.  I did not try it in complete darkness as Sarah did - yes she is still the boss and takes names no matter what she is doing.

Surely I have not felt the reality of what we might feel running into a real fire looking for real people, but the training gave us an inkling of some of what we will feel. The fire fighters who do this constantly and practice for years, not just two weeks, learn the muscle memory and hone the skills they need to stay calm under the insane stress that comes from the circumstances of running into a fire.  Our small dose of this training only gives me a higher respect for the men and women who give their lives to fighting fires.

One of my professors from seminary spent some time as a chaplain for local fire fighters.  As part of his responsibilities he would find himself standing a the scene of a fire to offer whatever support he could to the firefighters and families. When he would stop to describe the sort of scene he would watch at a fire he would get an admirable look of distant haze about him as he would say, "It is an odd thing when one sees people pouring out of a burning building.  Looks of distress as they search for safety.  Yet stranger still to witness other human beings running into the way of danger while everyone else is running in the opposite direction."  

Our training was memorable and while I hope I never have to use it, I am so much more equipped to deal with fire hazards now than I was before.  As our site manager for the year at the South Pole said, "I will never look at a fire extinguisher the same again," I have found myself thinking the same thing. And it is true.  We arrived back in Guam and I could not help but to see what type of extinguishers we had on hand.  Our training also offered us some hours spent in the classroom learning about fire behavior and how to handle the different types.  These sessions were illuminating and crazy informative.

The rest are some pictures and a video or two at the bottom, all with a comment or two about them.  Go hug a firefighter and thank them for what they do!

We practiced throwing our gear on as fast as possible - classic firefighter skills. How fast can one get dressed into their gear and jump on a truck or run into a fire? Sarah made it into the top four of our group.  I gave it a few attempts but was still only one week out from gall bladder removal.  I used that as an excuse a few times but it was real and I was told no exercise.  I broke that rule a few times but only in the hope to learn vital information.
One of our instructors teaching us how to rescue another firefighter.
After our entry into the fire or smoke exercises we would do a recap to talk about what we did right and wrong or didn't even think about.

As in the photo above, they took us in one of their practice hallways to see what it would be like to experience a flashover.
One of our instructors and Sarah laugh.  I love this photo because our instructors were a mixture of business and fun. When they needed to be serious they were firefighter serious. When it was time to laugh they did so heartily. What a great group of men and women of Aurora Fire Department in Colorado.

In the first video we got to use a giant rolling chem extinguisher which is similar to the kind we will have down in Antarctica. Each of us got to unroll the hose, turn it on, test it and then go put out a fire with it.  Watch this video see the power of this beast.  And that's Sarah on the hose ready to help if something goes wrong. Super cool. The second video is from when we were watching the flashover and it is also super cool.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

More Polar Bears - Last Arctic Post

A final post to sum up our Arctic traveling. There may be a post or two in the future about specific experiences from these trips, but for now here is the summation of our Arctic voyage. This will be slightly shorter than previous posts as it is time to be done. Click anywhere to read the last post.

Our first trip came through the Northwest passage from the Canadian Arctic over to Greenland. The second trip was much shorter and started in Greenland taking us just to the edge of the Canadian Arctic. The first pic shows Sarah's first kayak in Arctic waters.
In between trips we went with the Quark staff for a fun kayak and zodiac rescue training.

Our short kayak in some really beautiful waters on an almost perfect day gave way to the zodiac training. I was looking forward to this but it was way more fun than I thought it would be. The training was specifically designed to teach the staff how to rescue people into zodiacs, especially when wearing the life jackets Quark uses as they are unique. We learned at least eight ways to get people into zodiacs and even how to get ourselves back in should there be no one to help. Really cool knowledge to have!

The new passengers embarked at Kangerlussuaq and we worked our way North along the Greenlandic coast toward Sisimut. You can see from the picture above how practiced a mustard drill, learning where we should go if an emergency took place on the boat. Then a nice pic from the sunset that night, a nice sign of the beauty we would see on this trip.

We arrived at Sisimut the next morning. This is a beautiful little town with a landscape of houses in myriads of colors, rolling hills of equally fantastic scenic attributes, and especially nice people. Such an
interesting history and cool culture. We were able to taste many of the foods the natives of this area have been eating for hundreds of years. Just small portions but we did try each one they offered us. Not our acquired tastes but it was nice to experience their hospitality.

Once back on the boat we celebrated the birthday of one of the Quark staff, Dave. It was fun sitting with folks who have become close friends through traveling the world's polar regions together. Nothing like sharing a dinner with good folks.

Then it was back to Ilulissat, one of the most ice-filled paradises Sarah and I have ever visited. This visit offered more amazing views of icebergs, more whales, and yet another fantastic visit to the community there. This time when we saw the whales one of them was resting on the surface, taking a little cat nap I suppose. This time we were able to send off a few postcards while we were in town with a post, we
did a little bit of shopping, and enjoyed quite a nice coffee at a local shop. We also bought some sweet Danish coffee we have been drinking this week in Guam. After we left we had a fabulous dinner on deck to enjoy the wonderful view of icebergs.

When we left Ilulissat it was back across the Davis Straight towards the Canadian coastline. This time I was ready with the perfect motion sickness combination and was able to enjoy our entire day at sea. Sweet. Our evening ended with a fun party, but this time

a Welcome to Canada instead of Welcome to Greenland.  Different games, still red and white colors, and other silliness personified by sea swaggering goofiness. The pictures illustrate the fun times.

Can anyone say the word Qikiqtarjuak? Because that is the name of the next community we visited as we came out of the Davis Straight. Out of all our visits this was the only place that did not just overflow with crazy happiness when our boat of yellow-coated travelers descended upon this little community. Can you blame them? They were still great but they were not doing the happy dance.  A wonderfully peaceful town settled at the base of some hills near the water. While we were visiting I discovered some apple cinnamon cheerios and of course bought them as I had not seen any for years! Don't worry I checked the date on the box.

After hiking around town, visiting one of the local churches, and enjoying a beach with ice washed up onshore - it was super cool to walk down a beach with ice washed onshore - we zodiac-ed back aboard the boat to head for Sunneshine Fjord.

Can you name a place something better than Sunneshine Fjord?  Not only did it have a sweet name but it came with the opportunity to

jump off the boat and go for a hike. I was with the chargers who basically hike without really stopping to look at anything (seriously we missed an Arctic fox), and we busted our move up the mountain. What a great hike!   We kept trying to get to the ridge to look into the vast Arctic expanse but many false summits only led to more hills rolling off into the distance. So we turned back with downtrodden faces and left defeated. Next time mountain, next time.

In the evening we explored the fjord a little bit further in to see three different glaciers all depositing into one fjord! Not only were we in a fjord where maybe no one else had ever been, or maybe in a really long time, but as we explored one of our Quark experts spotted blows from some walrus. Walrus! One of the three Arctic creatures we kept looking for but who kept eluding us - narwhal, beluga, and

walrus. Sarah and I spotted the blows but we never saw any tooth walkers (as they are called at times) above water - argh. It was still pretty neat as now I know how to recognize them when they are hiding and only come up for a little bit of air. Crazy hiding walrus.

Well we did not see the walrus but the next day when we went to Cape Mercy we did see this... a female polar bear swimming in the water!!  Two of our zodiacs
were exploring and came upon a female polar bear backstroking through her own little cove. That's what they said anyway. By the time we got there she was swimming normally, looking at us, deciding what we were and what we were doing, and then swimming some more. Then she got out of the water and wandered off to her happily ever after.
Later as we were getting ready for a hike some bears wandered up on the other side of some water. Our zodiacs all came back to haul us off to complete safety but not before we got to see this magnificent momma bear and cub! Look at those beautifully fat and healthy looking specimens. Wow. This photo was shared with us by another traveler.

After seeing some awesome bears again I want to just end this post with while everyone is happy and thinking about polar bears. There is one more photo from beautiful Pangnirtung and then another up close shot of the female bear. Our little jaunt off into the Arctic was over and it was time to head back to Guam. Please go if you ever get a chance (to the Arctic or to Guam but especially the Arctic)! It is a magical wonderland of amazingness and awesome.

Our trip ended with a trip up the fjord past Pangnirtung. Look at those amazingly still waters and picturesque mountains!

There is a link at the bottom with more photos - including more polar bears and great landscapes. Make sure and take a look at the awesome pic a fellow passenger took of one of the bears.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fury and Hecla Concluded

After seeing such an amazing display of the Northern lights, click here for the last post, we woke up to get ready for another community visit on September 6th.

As part of the kayaking crew we got ready a little bit early and jumped in the first zodiac for a quick jaunt in the waters around Cape Dorsett. The boat crew knew there was an old abandoned community across the way from where the current locals are settled in Cape Dorsett. So naturally we paddled up to investigate. After our kayak guide cleared the shore as safe we went up to explore what looked to one day be another attraction to the Cape Dorsett community.

We located several stone structures that were clearly the bases for what once were homes. While we were taking all of this in and grabbing a few snaps of the structures, which you can see above, one of the crew on the other side of the bay was scanning the hills around us for any potential polar bear activity. They radioed over to our guide that there was a possible moving white spot way above us, so we retreated quickly to our kayaks just in case to be safe. Just look at the next picture! It was an area just begging to be explored. Safety first I guess. Once in our boats we went on exploring the bay around Cape Dorsett for a beautifully peaceful paddle.

The waters were stunningly clear and gave us a front row show to all sorts of fabulous rocks over which we were gliding with such ease. Each rock seemed to proclaim it was a special treasure waiting to be found and taken to a gemologist for inspection - fortunes await. Or maybe calling to a sculptor to come and haul them out of them out to unlock their potential as an Arctic Michelangelo. Well I just looked down and enjoyed seeing their beauty through amazingly clear waters. After allowing the peace that comes with such a special kayak to filter through us, we directed our boats towards the shore so we could rejoin the rest of the passengers. What a start to the day!

Once upon shore it was the duty of each person to see as much famous Cape Dorsett art as was possible, and to ponder if any piece was calling to one's heart for purchase. The artists there are known worldwide for their prints in particular. As it turns out the time on the water did not allow quite enough leeway to discern if there was any art Sarah and I needed for our home (OK, future home), but we did have ample opportunity to simply enjoy seeing most of it. Note the pic of the man carving and the other of polar bears already released from greenstone.

When it comes time to getting the right piece I think we will either need to bid on some online, as most of the stellar stuff is sold that way, or just have it made for us. I still have my eye out for an Arctic nativity scene with a snow igloo, baby Jesus, and of course a polar bear with cubs who has come to witness the miracle of Incarnation-though I am not sure it exists... yet. Although something tells me it does.

After our time visiting the community we headed back to our floating home for a special visit. Some of the women from Cape Dorsett came out to the Sea Adventurer to demonstrate a native talent called throat singing. They told us throat singing came from trying to come up with activities while they waited for the hunters to come back from long trips searching for food.

It is certainly an unusual sight to behold for those who have never before seen throat singing. In general two women face each other, one leading the other, in a guttural string of varying pitches and vibrations to a specific melodic tune breathing in and out rapidly with many of the sounds coming from their throat. As a game one of them is trying to throw the other off base from being able to properly follow their lead, which in our experience ends with smiles and laughter as it happens. Click here to see a youtube video of an example.

This performance was done in the traditional garb, which as you can see from the picture is absolutely gorgeous. What a truly special experience! It is difficult to describe and from what I have read so far I believe there is a deep Inuit spirituality around breath and sharing that breath with others, but I have more to read.

We said our goodbyes to the singers and headed off towards our next venture. While in route Gwen, our Eskimo onboard as she always called herself, gave us a talk on her life growing up in the traditional Inuit lifestyle. Pretty amazing hearing the life story of a person born on moving ice whose home was a temporary snow house which no longer exists. She literally cannot even point to a neighborhood as it has since melted into the sea. When her father met a missionary and wanted to be baptized he was told he would need to divorce one of his two wives first. He decided not to at the time because this meant his wife would die with no means to take care of herself. I'll talk more on this and other such topics when I do my post specifically on Arctic spirituality - coming soon, sort of. Gwen also taught us Inuit words on a daily basis, which was really cool. ᖃᓄᐃᐱᑦ is the syllabic said as qanuipit (Ka-nwee-peet) means, "How are you?" She showed us how to write our names too!

So one of the voluntary amenities that comes with a Quark cruise through the Arctic is the opportunity to participate in the Polar Plunge.

Now you would be surprised how many people opt out of this chance to connect with nature in more of an immersed manner. From where I stood, the prospect to jump in the frigid waters of the Arctic might not come around just every single day. So Sarah and I both literally leapt at the occasion to make an Arctic splash. The crew found a calm part of the sea and then tied a harness too us to make sure we did not drift away, or perhaps have an issue swimming back to the boat in super cold waters - which on this day was -4 degrees celsius or around 24 degrees for those folks from North America. Some of the staff joined in because it was colder than when they had done it before by a few degrees!

Woo! That was a frigid experience and completely worth it. I had grand plans of swimming away from the boat to pretend I was out for just a normal swim in the ocean, but as soon as I hit that water it was all I could do to clamber back aboard as quickly as possible. I was an autopilot and could not keep myself in the water. Yes I am wearing my sweet +Chacos as I sprang from the boat and I am determined to thank them for adding a little bit of warmth while waiting for my turn and protection while climbing back up the cold ladder to safety. I have found numerous uses for these fantastic foot adornments/protectants.

I have added two photos of us on our polar plunge experience for the reader's personal enjoyment. One as we leap with excitement into the water and one as we are in the cold Arctic waters. Especially Sarah's expression should evoke a laugh or two. There will be a few more in the photo album link at the bottom. Enjoy! The hot shower afterwards was nice.

The morning of the seventh started with some talks by our Quark experts. Nick Engelmann started us off with a talk on the evolutionary theories behind where the whale came from and then our Geologist stepped in to share on how much he has learned about Eskimo art. Both talks were interesting and informative.

And then another community visit! Kimmirut was our next stop and it started just the same as our visit at Cape Dorsett, with a sweet kayak paddle. I think I am going to have to get to a point in life where I live near water so I can kayak every single morning. There is something pretty special about starting the day off in such a peaceful way, and yes especially in the Arctic!

Our day in Kimmirut was almost perfect for our kayak/visit combo. Sarah was able to get on land before me and she started searching for a special side project I have - finding a Bible in the language of the places we visit. While I was kayaking she had been with Gwen searching for a Bible we could buy in Inuit. Though at the end of her search she had only found a an Arctic prayer book presented as a Bible, it is now a prized possession of mine. I've actually been using it and find a joy knowing somewhere someone in the Arctic is praying the same prayers. Kind of neat to my religious nerd side. I added a pic of Sarah and the lady who brought her the book. She looks like the sweetest Arctic grandmother ever!

When I arrived on shore I met her and some of the group who informed us of a nice walk we could do up a hill to overlook the beautiful town and the bay. We had just enough time to make our way up before the town put on some demonstrations of the Arctic games for us.

It was a nice exchange from being on the boat and having a chance to jog up a hill and then back down, with a short pause to look around at the landscape. That equation makes for a superb day for sure.

Now I enjoyed seeing the demonstration of some of their Arctic games, but the best portion of the day came from a soccer game we played with anyone in the town who wanted to play. Some people called it futbol. What?.

I am not sure anyone can properly understand how fantastic it was to spend forty minutes playing soccer with an entire community, but it really was something special. Some of this will come through in the photos as you look at the faces. What a fun way to spend time with people. We may live our lives differently and barely understand each other, but the language of soccer is universal. Drop that ball and it instantly turns into smiles, friendly jostling, and an full throttle game of intense fun. These kids could ball!

Kimmirut was a great community visit that ended with hugs and some last minute photos by the zodiacs. Sarah even caught a pic of a young boy
wearing a Chicago Blackhawks hat! Hey they love hockey and it is the best team in the world. I was not surprised to see the team proudly displayed on a hat even in the Arctic.

After getting back on board our "big" boat we shot off into motion for dinner, restful times, and one more talk from our bird girl on her winter spent in the Arctic at a Polish research base with less than ten people! It was an interesting talk with all sorts of fun stories about what happens with such a small group in such confined spaces for so so long. As Sarah and I get ready for our own Winter experience, but at the other Pole, I wonder what sort of odd stories we will come back with at the end of 2017.

One good thing that will enable this post to go a little bit quicker was a storm that basically left my journal blank for an entire day! Yes I could ask Sarah how her day went and talk about it here, but why should I pretend her day mattered when mine was spent in motion-full agony?

The morning of the 8th we went out in the zodiacs to explore the Lower Savage Islands. During our exploration we did not see much as a whole in the way of wild life. There was definitely a brief bearded seal sighting but my slippery brother did not really feel like showing himself much at all that day. There were plenty of landscapes and rocks to gaze at as we worked through an interesting maze in the Savage Islands. When we stopped to look at the rock in the picture posted here we also looked down to notice tons of tiny jellyfish, and whatever these super amazing pink things are that were floating in the water! I stuck my hand underwater for this shot so I hope you appreciate it.

While I was busy looking at rocks and staring at tiny pink gelatins guess what Sarah and her boat saw? They were the only zodiac to see... yes a momma bear and her cubs. Can you believe it? Well I suppose if someone had to see bears while I'm staring at rocks I want to be Sarah's boat. How cool though!

Back on the boat we spent plenty of time eating, breaking to read or look at passing sites, drinking tea and coffee, and then eating some more. Conrad gave a talk about deep diving animals, which was really intriguing and went into which of the diving animals can dive to which depths and how long they can stay down without breathing. The winner, in case you are wondering, is the stout elephant seal! They are, how should I say it, a unique looking animal with the face only a mother can love. Though there are none in the Arctic so no elephant seals for us.

Once done with all of our eating and resting we went back out for a zodiac sunset cruise around Monumental Island, which was named as a monument in honor of John Franklin. While the zodiacs were doing their thing we went for a short kayak in some choppy waters with icebergs floating off into the setting sun. While bergy bits, yes that's their official name, were floating about our kayaks and we rocked with the waves, the sun shone its last few rays over Monumental island with a magnificent display of orange and red. The zodiac ride back to the silhouetted Sea Adventurer was quite the sight.

Well the 9th of September is the day I missed right up until the end. I wish I had heard what I know was a tantalizing talk from Acacia on harvesting traditional Arctic foods. I am positive I would have preferred listening to Lilliana teach us why the little auk is the king of the Arctic to my confined cabin times. And hearing a talk from Jerry on great Greenland explorers surely would have piqued my historical itch. But this particular trip crossing the Davis Straight was just too much for my sensitive nature.

But I did make it up and about for arguably the most important part of the day - the welcome to Greenland party! Everyone is encouraged to put on their most ridiculous red and white to come and celebrate crossing the international waters as we approached a new country. As seen from the photos it is truly a goofy affair. There are games, team challenges, team chants, a best dressed parade, dancing, and a little bit of imbibing. Look to the picture of Sarah trying to work a cookie from her forehead to her mouth without her hands. I am not sure she was successful on her first try but she did manage to complete the task!

Wow, it's so much easier to sum up an entire day when the time is spent battling motion sickness in a cabin. Surely Sarah has all sorts of fun stories from this particular day but she will just have to share them at another time. Most importantly this enables me to jump to one of our favorite stops on this trip - Ilulissat! Well almost, the 10th was a day finishing our crossing of the Davis Straight.

The closer we got to Ilulissat the more ice would float by us. And when I say ice I am talking about some fairly substantial icebergs. Soon you will see some photos of the ice fjord that comes off a massive Greenlandic glacier, creating the second most substantial ice flow in the Arctic. This means the glacier calves icebergs and then they float down to the sea. If it were possible I would write a thank you note to the glacier as the views we saw due to its production were beyond breathtaking.  But there was not just the glacier to thank. The setting sun was a
major player that evening.

People worldwide stop to gaze at sunsets. I watched just the other day as twenty other people all paused to watched the same sunset over Tumon Bay that I myself had stopped to consider. It is beyond just the pretty colors and a fading ball of burning gases. Something about the sunset reaches into us and touches an inner part of us it can be difficult to describe with words.

In the ancient Hebrew songs about their experiences with God there is a very real struggle attempting to sing about this inner tension. In the 19th Psalm David, the most prolific writer of all the songs, sings of the Heavens declaring God's glory, the skies proclaiming the work of God's hands. His description of the sun is something quite special. A picture not of a fixed burning ball stuck in its trajectory but of a faithful servant lovingly obeying God as it begins each day anew to bring warmth and light upon this planet.

Poetry, a song. My favorite part of the song, however, is the idea of there being a tent prepared for the sun at the end of a hard day of work. I suppose a modern version of having a tent prepared for the sun would be having the guest room ready to roll with the bed made. Don't worry sun, we left a light on for you in our spare bedroom. Please get some rest so tomorrow you can do it all over again.

Well it was definitely time for the sun to close its eyes and anyone out on deck wishes they were half the poet as David. The best we could do was take pictures and stare in awe as massive blocks of ice danced with the fading rays of the sun on the Arctic sea. Looking back at the photos still stirs me and reminds me of the disbelief I felt looking at such a sight. Every ten minutes time was a different piece of art to behold, drastically different from the other now gone forever.

I have shared the photos on a smaller scale but if you click on them they will enlarge for better viewing. It is worth it.

As we drew nearer to Ilulissat the sun found its tent and total darkness engulfed our ship, leaving our captain and crew to navigate a few more pieces of ice before we docked for the night. Yes I was a little more than excited to know we would not only be attached to land all night long, giving us a super steady sleep, but we were able to head off into the town to see what the nightlife of Ilulissat was like.

This was one of my favorite nights during our cruise for a few reasons. As we left the boat we happened to be leaving at the same time as some of Sarah's fellow Quark staff. They are all beyond fabulous as people but there is not much of a chance to really get to know them as they are always working - that is sort of why they are on the boat. Surely by now if you've been reading these posts you know we are a big fan of these guys. This night out in Ilulissat offered a rare chance to spend some time with these folks when there was truly no work for them to do.

In an attempt to get some of the sedentary sea out of our legs we walked through some of the dark hills dotted with homes. While we talked and wandered through the peaceful night I looked up to realize the Northern lights were flowing all around us. Difficult to see with the city and its own lights shinning, the aurora mysteriously swirled all around to give a magical feel to our first Greenland stroll. It was the green wonder was welcoming us to the new country while also reminding us we were in a foreign land with its own secrets.

We finished our walk and headed to a place where we could sit and enjoy some time talking with a brew. Little did we know this place would have a local band singing in Danish and playing some groovy tunes. As this was happening a man and woman got up to dance. Surely we have all head the phrase "dance like no one is watching." These two did some traditional dancing and they were solidly focused on only each other. It was amazing. How rare to see only two people dance while at least eighty others just sit by and watch.

While this was happening Conrad put his arm around me and shouted over the music, "Welcome to Greenland baby! Welcome to Greenla-a-and" I've already mentioned in a previous post how fun it is to be around Conrad when anything good happens. His unbridled excitement washes over anyone nearby and amplifies the experience. We seriously enjoyed meeting him and having him as an Arctic mentor.

Sarah brought in the morning of the 11th ashore in Ilulissat while I headed out for what was supposed to be our last kayak of the trip along the mouth of the ice fjord (we snuck in one more later at our last stop). There were a few things that put this kayak experience in my top three paddles ever. The first was my first time seeing pancake ice. As seen in the picture it is a step in the seas freezing process and it at times resembles small frozen pancakes.

Beholding pancake ice for the first time in person in a kayak was amazing. The real joy, however, came from gliding through it. The water, as you can see, was absolutely still and it gave us a supremely quiet day. The subtle noise made by kayak or paddle pushing through or breaking the ice was a religious experience for me. I found myself involuntarily thanking God for the chance to be alive for such a day. A feeling of complete calm and utter fulfillment filled me as we made our way towards the mouth of the fjord. At one point Becs told us to all just be quiet and listen - so glad she did.

Then just awe. We paddled for thirty minutes in one direction and managed to cover hardly a speck of the fjord's mouth. The massive icebergs were dauntingly huge from kayaks and we stayed quite far away just in case one of them suddenly broke apart or flipped. This can cause mini or proper tsunamis depending on the break. One can understand why our guide kept us at a good distance! We heard some breaking at one point but it must have been further up the fjord as we saw no results of the sound. The team shot taken by Acacia shows the mouth of the fjord behind us. What a kayak!!

Then back to town! With not much time to spare and wanting to see the ice fjord from a trail that heads up alongside of it, Sarah and I shot off up through town and to the boardwalk. Seeing the impressive ice flow from the water was nothing to seeing how its vast body continue inland further than we could see or even hike in our allotted time. As a person contemplating the sheer size of space from earth finds their thoughts to be utterly underwhelming when peering deep into that same universe through a high powered telescope, similarly we were blown away by the ice fjords sheer immenseness. It is not every day we can be so near such a giant beast of nature.
We took several moments to just stop and marvel over the ice, listening for movement, and breathing in the scene with wide eyed disbelief. If my memory serves correctly the ice fjord went another forty kilometers inland before it found its source at the glacier. Just take a peek at a map of Greenland and it will quickly become clear what is meant by meeting the glacier. Most of this country is entirely covered by thick ice. Just take a look!
Sarah and I enjoyed a great hike along the fjord and then headed back into town. We made it back in time to check out two quaint museums and then it was back on the boat for the next part of our journey, which started with a zodiac cruise along the fjord mouth. The zodiacs are able to get much closer to the ice as they are more stable and can get out of dodge much more quickly than a kayak should anything happen.
Not only are zodiacs better suited for those reasons but they are also able to keep up with whales a little bit better than kayaks. YES, I got to see my first wild whale in person right in front of a beautiful ice fjord. Sarah was able to see a few on her way down to Antarctica but she was still super excited when we spotted some humpback whales nearby. There were at least two and there was speculation later as to whether or not one was a calf. How amazingly graceful these sea mammoths are as they breach the surface for air before heading back down. They were not in the mood to show off their flukes but we got a wonderful show just the same.

After the cruise with the whales and alongside the ice we hopped back on board our vessel for an outdoor dinner cruise, which makes sense when the scene is just too beautiful to go indoors. Warm drinks, delicious food, spectacular ice shows, and yes I kept on jumping up to look into the distant for my whales. Finally I spotted them and watched until they were almost out of binocular range. And no lie, just as they were almost too far for me to marvel over them anymore, they dove down and showed off their flukes! To my knowledge of all the time we watched them not one person saw a fluke and it was only as we parted ways they finally showed them.

Perhaps it was just that they were not diving deep enough for all that time for their flukes to break the surface, but I of course took it as a personal favor and even a waive goodbye from them. Always thankful I said my own goodbye and turned share my joy with those around me.

Thus we ended our time at Ilulissat and then capped of our evening with a fun talent show, which included both passengers and staff. You never know what hidden talents people have squirreled away.
This brings us all the way to September 12th and the last two days of our first cruise with Quark through the epic Arctic waters. Because our next trip started in the same area and moves through some of the same places for those first two days I'm not going to post anything about it here, except for a few photos because I just love the photos.

At the bottom as always will be a link to more photos in a google album. And BTW there are videos of the whales to the persistent who find them. Feel free to look through them at your leisure whenever you might fancy seeing some icebergs or other such sites.  I'm going to have a few more photos posted here as a teaser for the photo link with a comment or two. As always thanks for reading and joining us on our journey through life. We hope the stories and photos have been fun to follow. Our next post will be the start to our second cruise - it's much shorter but has some amazing tales!!

Total distance for our first Quark cruise - the Fury and Hecla Straight - 2,752 nautical miles!

During our last kayak we practiced a few things like rolling our kayak, at which I failed miserably. So then I decided to practice flipping off our zodiac.

Conrad and Sarah stop for a shot in front of the giant iceberg we passed just as our outdoor dinner ended. Love that guy!

Sarah stops to play with some pups. They are not working dogs yet so you're allowed to pet them. But one day they will sled dogs!
Just loved the hike at Ilulissat. The boardwalk turned into trails and they were equally magnificent, always calling for you to go further. +Scott Smith would have loved seeing all these trails heading off into the distance.

 One more shot of the ice fjord.

I really like the angle of this shot as you can just look off and see the ice fjord moving around that bend, but in reverse direction as it was coming towards the right of this shot - well very slowly.
Ilulissat as we came back from the hike.
A church with a view.
See you guys down the ole dusty trail.