January 10, 2007
Position: Back on the mainland
Today started as normal as any other. It was Thursday, so breakfast consisted of crepes with pure maple syrup. I like Thursdays.
We were on the ice for sampling by 8:30 and back onboard by 10. I kept my normal routine of getting coffee then rinsing down the morning's equipment. Mukesh stopped by the lab to tell me that the plane had already left Inuvik and would be here by 12:30. I would be airborne by 1pm, so instead of going to the aft lab to shave ice, melt snow, and filter water, I headed up to my room to pack. I stripped and bagged the linens from my bed, checked the drawers and closets, dry and wet mopped my room, closed the door behind me, and brought my bags to the flight deck. I then joined the others for a last meal down in the cafeteria.
The twin otter plane touched down on the ice runway as scheduled and it was time to go. It was very hard to say goodbye to the people who have made me feel so much at home the past few weeks. Debbie and Elizabeth presented me with a card that designated me as an honorary Canadian for life. It read:
As I walked with several others away from the ship towards the plane, people lined up on the bow to wave goodbye. I exchanged glances with the scientists and crew who had just arrived on the plane, walking in the opposite direction. It was obvious from the looks on a few faces that this was their first time north and I was envious, wishing the journey was just starting instead of ending. The pilot revved the engines, released the brakes, and within a few hundred feet we were off the ice. The Amundsen soon disappeared in the distance and I tried to sleep rather than think about all I was leaving behind.
Tonight I am staying at the Arctic Chalet in Inuvik, a small inn just outside of town. On the way from the airport, my host, Judy Falsnes, asked me if I was interested in dog sledding. She and her husband, Olaf, have been breeding and raising sled dogs for over 20 years in the Arctic. This evening they were going to be taking the dogs out on a training run and invited me to come along. After dropping off my bags inside, I went down to the kennel by the lake to help hook the dogs up to the sleds, pairing 8-month old pups with more experienced dogs. After a quick briefing I was introduced to my team and told to mount my sled. In all, four teams of six dogs raced out onto the frozen lake and into the woods beyond, responding quickly to the commands of "Che" (right) and "Cha" (left) as we weaved though the trees. This was the perfect thing to get my mind of the Amundsen even if for a little while.
After a long hot shower, I got a ride into town and was dropped off at the MacKenzie Hotel. There I met up with Jim, Mike, Laura, and Tim for dinner and drinks. Tomorrow we were all heading out on separate flights, but it felt like we were still onboard.
Now, as I sit here in my room I realize that within a few days I unfortunately will most likely become as detached from the Arctic world as I became from New York on my way north. Several hours ago I was not prepared to depart the Amundsen, but now that I have started my journey home I recognize that I ready to be home.
Tomorrow I fly to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, and then on to Vancouver Saturday night. Even though I am looking forward to seeing my wife, family, and friends again, I am glad that I will not be getting home until late Sunday night. It will be nice to stretch my legs, walking around cities I have not seen before. My nights will be spent organizing the hundreds of photos I have acquired. Barring any flight delays, I will arrive home at around 2 am Monday morning. The school day begins at 7:45 am that day and I better have some pictures to show my students.
During the past three weeks I have experienced things that very few people will ever get the chance to do. I am so grateful to those who helped make this experience possible, both directly and indirectly. I am forever in their debt.
Goodnight from the Arctic for the last time.