Week 04 Details. Checking Details... Check!

Date Posted: 3.14.2011
Location: 49º00'N 97º10'W Emerson, Manitoba, Canada
and 47º49'S 74º38'W Beagle Channel, Chile
Weather Conditions: Windy, 12ºF (-11ºC) / Sunny, 52ºF (11ºC)

The Polar Husky gang, Joar and Jim crossed the border into Canada at about midnight on Sunday; once the Canadian border patrol had unloaded the carefully packed trailer to check every single item in every single bag. But, didn’t matter—just another detail.

There is one lesson that never seems to escape every adventure learning expedition with the mighty Polar Husky sled dogs:

Watch movie
  Watch a last hi from the Polar Husky gang around expedition basecamp

Nature and her immense forces have a way of focusing our attention on what is really important, reminding us not to get hung up on detail. Friday morning, anything we thought was an important issue in our frenzy to get on the road dwindled in the wake of the immense earthquake off Japan. There were Tsunami alerts around the Pacific basin…

A rainbow over the Beagle Channel       
A rainbow over the Beagle Channel in Chile

Word ticked in from Skipper Clive, Chris and Tasha on the Sea Dragon sailing the South Pacific Ocean off the shores of Chile: “We are anchored in a small fishing town called Puerto Eden off the Messier Channel--Wave surge expected at 0100 local time, 0400 GMT.”

They were safe, and after consultation with the Chilean Navy the Sea Dragon was given the 'all clear' at 0800 local time to proceed and head north to cross the Golfo de Penas.

Our thoughts are with those in Japan during this devastating and challenging time; as they are with our fellow student and teacher explorers in Hawaii, Korea and all other places affected by this devastating force of nature.

Student Explorer Tasha

 Student explorer Tasha on-board Sea Dragon
To make up for lost time the Sea Dragon has been sailing 24-hours a day whenever possible; the crew working in 4-hour shifts. That not only means sleep being reduced to short naps, but also steering through the ship in the dark of night. Tasha on her first experience at the helmet in the middle of the night “ It was surprisingly difficult; all you look at is a compass and screen. There are no lights or landmarks to help you guide your way. After watching and asking questions, I finally figured it out!"

Turns out, the Polar Huskies too might have to take on a shift-schedule while in Chukotka running the Nadezhda race! Back in Norway, Joar is no stranger to waking up his dog team for take-off after just a few hours of rest and running in the middle of the night—that’s the way of many long-distance dogsled races. Nadezhda is indeed the longest race on the Eurasian continent, actually on any continent outside of North America… But it is also a kind of a stage-race.

Soft snow around Expedition Basecamp       
The 4-wheelers sank into the soft melting snow on the last training runs - time to head North!

That means that all participating dog teams gather at a check-point – all but two of them a community – to rest for the night, and the clock stops until everyone takes off at a set time together the next morning. That is very different from for example the Iditarod dog sled race that takes place in Alaska right now. Joar explains, “in that type of race there is a lot of strategy, and even slower teams can get ahead if the dogs and the musher have endurance and strength to keep going steady. But in a stage-type-race, its usually all about going as fast as possible.” We knew this all along, but as we knew it, the distances between check-points were not too far...

Then, we finally received the regulations with details for the race this week, like what is mandatory equipment for us to carry in the sleds during the race and details on distances between checkpoints... “In Russian that is!” laughs Mille. None of us speak Russian...

Joar having read racing regulations before sure came in handy, as Mille armed with dictionaries came up with some pretty creative translating of the documents!

Joar Ulsom making stake-out lite!

Its been a busy week coming up with ways to make our equipment lite for the race - yet keep it Polar Husky strong. Before Joar's magic, we were using stake-outs weighing some 20 lbs (~9 kg); now we have two long chains with bi-cable that weigh less than 5 lbs (~ 3 kg) to use for the race!
Turns out, its some looooong distances between check points, and yes, we will likely have to run a bit different race than most anyone else in the race, not only resting at the check points but also in between. That means being ready for harsh conditions as the coastline of the Bering Strait is not a forgiven environment. “We likely have to be better prepared to dance to Natures hymns than any of the other teams” says Mille, “simply because we do not expect to be as fast!” Basically, it is more like every other expedition with the Polar Huskies… Except even more than ever before, while putting safety first, the balancing act between weigh and speed is all-important.

Watch movie   Watch Jim explain how we determine what fuel to bring to Chukotka. The race rules demands that we have cookers like this along in our sleds. We do not carry this on expeditions - so John Stetson who has helped with the Polar Husky training this year helped us out once again, by  lending us two of the cookers he uses when racing with his dogs!
Watch movie  
Watch Ashley and Joar pack up dog food for the journey - team work!
Watch movie   Watch Joar attending to details and checking it twice!.. Cutting out liners from an old wet suits to put at the bottom of our mukluks insulating our feet from the cold surface below.

In reality, we are not running one expedition here—we are running two; so two lists of logistics! And, a to-do-list getting longer and longer! Actually, there is never one list… There are many! A whole “expedition bible” of them! And nothing is checked off any one list just once!

Food for the expedition       
Food pack out! On the move, 2 and 4-legged
team members each eat 5-6000 calories daily

Watch movie  Watch the cheer as we begin to trailer
  load  -
Joar and Ashley bringing the
  komatek sled to go first


It's a “check, double check, and triple-check” process—and one that may seem excessive. But, consider for a moment that every single item carried on the sled is with us for a very good reason, and once on the trail we cannot just run to the nearest store to pick up what might be missing. Being prepared for the environment and having the right tool for a task can be a matter of survival.

For months on end its been all about making daily progress, attending to even the smallest details, keeping at it no matter what and eventually all of a sudden it is really time to load those dogs—and the trailer. First to be loaded: the four sleds, then, the loads of dog food pile in. Two large tarps are spread out on the ground – one for the Alaskan side of Beringia, and one for Chukotka. Each item going on the expedition is taken from the Expedition Barn, placed upon a tarp, and highlighted on the list. Once everything is accounted for, Mille goes over it all for one last time. Then, it is finally loaded into the trailer when Mille puts the final checkmark on our list. Each big checkmark is followed by a triumphant smile for a job well done!

Observing this commotion, the Polar Huskies know without a doubt that this means take-off!!! Every move we make is being monitored very closely, and when it becomes time for them to be loaded: it is an explosion of excitement in the dog yard! The Polar Huskies simply cannot get in their boxes fast enough. Aside from being out on the trail, there are actually few places a Polar Husky would rather be than in a dog box, on the dog truck, going somewhere!

Polar Husky Superstar: Kodiak

 Polar Husky Superstar Kodiak
This week’s first Polar Husky Superstar, Kodiak is a terrific traveler and one on his tippy toes as he knows what’s about to happen. This is when Kodiak gets amped. Otherwise, pretty much no mater what goes on around him, Kodiak is easy-going—about everything and anything—not one to get stressed or wound up about silly details.

Kodiak is so laid-back that he preferably eats on his side, just lifting his head up to put it in the bowl and grab another bite. That’s Kodiak in a nutshell. Super-cool and different, he prefers to do things his very own way and is never one to follow the pack. He has always been very independent, never one to be seeking much attention. But don’t let that fool you. Kodiak loves affection, is very playful and is super-charged! An extremely hard worker, he can run anywhere in the team, but great as a point dog he will throw himself into the air and bark commands over his shoulder to make ’em move!

Polar Husky Superstar: Jupiter       
Polar Husky Superstar Jupiter

Jupiter is this weeks second Polar Husky Superstar. Kodiak's brother, he too is pretty laid-back but different from Kodiak, Jupiter is a guy who likes to shine. As you might have guessed, he is named after the largest planet in our solar system. The planet Jupiter is 2 1/2 times as big as all the other planets in our solar system combined! When you look at the night sky, Jupiter is the fourth brightest spot in the sky and the planet is known for a storm that has lasted more than 175 years, named the 'Red Spot' for its red appearance when seen through a telescope from Earth.  Fittingly perfect with his name, or is his name fitting perfect with him?  Jupi as he is nick named, is indeed a huge Polar Husky with a very bright nature that loves to storm around and orbit—making him one of the greatest travelers in the Polar Husky kennel. Ever-jolly and very playful about everything Jupiter is extremely agile, so much so that he can self-load!

  Watch movie 
Watch Jupiter in action
Traveling on the road to Alaska for the next many days he will have plenty opportunity to do so: morning, evening, and sometimes even afternoon, the Polar Huskies will be unloaded and then loaded again along with water pans, shovels, stake-out chains—everything secured and everyone all on board... Check!