Week 05 Going With the Flow

Date Posted: 3.21.2011
Location: 60º43'N 135º3'W White Horse, Yukon, Canada
Weather Conditions: Sunny, 19°F (-7°C)
Imagine the scariest roller coaster combined with the craziest water ride… No, actually at least ten times worse than that. That is what Chris and Tasha have dealt with this week as the ship, the Sea Dragon, finally made way into the harbor of Valdivia, the final destination for their journey at sea. In the meantime, pretty much at the other end of the earth, Joar, Jim and the Polar Huskies have been sailing up-and-down-up-and-down across the Rocky Mountains.


Changing a flat tire on the way to Whitehorse  

Unfortunately we have not had good uplink connection from the Sea Dragon, so it has been scarce with updates and media from Chris and Tasha—but give us a few days and we will have new pages up here on the site for the full out on this amazing adventure!

The Polar Huskies are now staked out in White Horse in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Chris and Tasha have landed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport back home in Minnesota, greeted with much relief and lots of love by their families and a very proud Mille. “Just last night I finally received a bunch of pictures from Chris, one being Tasha wrangling the sail—frankly I was just astonished. This young woman, what she just did here, it’s inspiring!” Turns out—we didn’t know the half of it either. As we all sat down for a bite to eat, we came to realize that these two, Chris and Tasha, just a couple of days earlier brazed a swelling sea and 52-knot winds (96 km / 60 miles per hour; hurricanes are 70 knots!)—that is, with Chris steering the ship!!! “Yes, I was on from about midnight to 4 AM…It is indeed exhilarating and terrifying steering the boat through the dark night with 10 foot waves crashing over the boat while attempting to keep a compass heading!” admits Chris. Tasha shoots a look, “its piloting, not steering a ship.” And, that was just one of many such stormy days at sea…

  Watch Chris and Tasha on one
  of their scariest moments
  onboard the Sea Dragon
  Watch how the Pacific ocean
  presented two types of waves
  Watch Tasha on how it is to pilot
  the boat
In reality, the Strait of Magellan just lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest places to navigate a sail ship on the world ocean. Chris explains, “This waterway is the most important natural passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, but it is considered a difficult route to navigate because of the unpredictable winds and currents and the narrowness of the passage.” He continues, “for the most part the strait was maybe a mile wide (less than 2 km), and in some places we navigated right between the cliffs of the Andes it seemed!” On another account where Chris has the wheel, a sudden crazy squall and vicious winds roll in over the boat. “I took the wheel and it was a clearing horizon, 15 minutes later Skipper Clive was on the deck handing me Oakley ski goggles for me to try and see the compass (anything, really) in the horrendous floods of water—crashing waves and what seemed like rivers of rain.” A short while after that Skippe-always-calm-Clive was back on the deck with the greatest urgency asking Chris to straighten starboard, immediately, “that’s when I saw the cliffs appear that we were headed against!!!” says Chris.


         It is its seafood Chile is known for, but Tasha
       goes for ice-cream when back on land
You might be asking why Chris was steering and, um, not Skipper Clive. Well, the Sea Dragon was originally a racing ship and as such the Captain or Second Captain sits below deck constantly monitoring everything on screens, while crew is then on-deck carrying out the commands. On several occasions we were sailing along in what seemed like calm water and all of a certain Clive would appear and tell us to make a hard turn to seek shelter in the side fjords to escape weather,” explains Tasha. She goes on, “the fjords are simply breathtaking. Except for the last two days of the journey when we headed out into the wide open on the Pacific Ocean to avoid weather again—we were in surrounded by the Andes mountains at all times: lush valleys carved with rivers, high mountains rising out of the sea and huge glaciers tumbling down and breaking off.”

The Alaskan highway winds its way across
permafrost and across the Rocky Mountains
In reality the Beagle Channel has been a sea road for transporting goods through some of the most astonishing wilderness for people throughout times—the Andes mountains were formed some 300 million years ago when plate tectonics crashed together (causes horrific earth quakes like exactly what happened in the Pacific around Japan again last week), and some 5-6000 years ago people came here from a place far to the north … none other than: Beringia! Yep, grab that map and check out that journey—by foot that is!
  Watch to drive the Alaskan highway- 1390  miles
  (2237 km)  up-down-up-down
  Watch how the landscape of the Alaskan
  Highway up-north came to be!

Today you can drive. Get on the Pan-American highway, and it will take you from Prudhoe Bay on the Alaskan Arctic Coast, (on the route of where we are headed with the Polar Huskies) to the very tip of Chile in South America, via, the Alaskan Highway!

“This crazy highway is worth experiencing—I guess I have to admit my knuckles have been white from grabbing onto the steering wheel a few times over these last few days” grins Joar.


      Bison in the night
Across the Rocky Mountains driving twisty, needle-hair corners and steep mountainsides in the dead of winter carrying 21 Polar Huskies on the back of the truck is at times nerve-wracking, but still, soaring mountains, endless vistas, the amazing sights make up for the hard driving (and a flat tire). To match Tasha’s reporting of seeing penguins, dolphins, seals, and even a humpback whale (!!!) down-south while onboard the Sea Dragon, the report from the Polar Husky caravan up-north is and hundreds of the rare Wood bison that once roamed the land of the very Bering Land Bridge, mule deer, moose and northern wooly spiders—also known as Undertoilet Seatrus. That last one not to be confused with the northern wooly spider monkeys South America that are for real and actually a threatened species!

You don’t have to be much of a ‘Spiderologist’ to recognize the northern wooly spiders pinned on the wall at Liard Lodge (formerly known as Trapper Ray’s) to be, well, cotton balls with pipe-cleaner legs! But, there is a story to it…

The hot spring
  Listen to Joar on his first –time in a hot
  spring & Jim about how hot springs come
  to be!

Mille explains, “the first time I drove the Alaskan Highway loooong time ago, we stopped at what was then Trapper Ray’s lodge at the Liard Hot Spring. Trapper Ray was one of those larger-than-life bush characters who have settled to make a living – or a way of life – along the Alaskan Highway since it was constructed in 1942 (another one was my great-uncle Thorbjorn who came from Greenland to Canada and built Johnson’s Crossing Lodge right outside of Whitehorse!). For a long while, Summers have been good business for lodges along the highway as droves and droves of people road-trip it for their vacation; but then there are many competing lodges open at that time of the year. Not that Trapper Ray did not already have an edge by being located next to the famously amazing Liard hot spring pools, but still, obviously a man who knew how to adopt to and make the best advantage of his environment, Trapper Ray came up with these infamous spiders, now famous around the world… Unfortunately Trapper Ray himself while hunting the woods was taken by a bear.


      Joar explores the Sign Post Forest along the
      Alaskan Highway with some 65,000 signs
      from people around the world! Share signs
      of your culture in the Culture Zone!
One of the coolest things about traveling the world with the Polar Huskies is that we get to experience so many difference ways of life, so many different environments and how people adapt to live in the different places—even when the places change. This weekend  we received a question from some of our favorite people of the Northslope in Alaska: the Burns family in Kaktovik who we met during our 2006 adventure learning expedition through Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The Burns ask us to bring a question along with us on the expedition trail: “… Are the other communities expiring loss of land? For instance in Kaktovik we lost quite a bit of land along the west coast of the island and the size were house sizes two years in a row. That would be my question for those villages along the coastal villages!

Right now the Burns' are visited by Oksana from Chukotka who works with us in the field going to communities and working with locals on both sides of the Bering Strait on the changes that are taking place in the environment today—and what this means to their culture and traditions.

Polar Husky Superstar Disko
On that note do not miss this week’s chat on Friday 3/25 at 1:00 PM Central Time, Human Connections, with ethnographer and social scientist Stephen ‘Stev’ Weidlich to talk about how we are shaped by our environment, how we change the environment we live in—can we address climate change by changing our culture? Stev actually may join the Polar Huskies on the trail as we approach Barrow on the Arctic Coast of Alaska! As part of his research working with locals, looking at connections between whaling, oil exploration and Inupiat culture Stev has spend quite a bit of time in Beringia!

This weeks Polar Husky Superstar, Disko, has been to Beringia before as well, and with his ever-happy, laid-back personality he is also one to easily adapt to any environment or situation. This is exactly the quality that has made him such a terrific lead dog, leading out the other Polar Huskies around the circumpolar Arctic in the past 5 years. Disko does not care how tough or tense it gets--he cares about getting the job done, being loved and lots of kisses. It can actually be down-right frustrating, because you can be pretty cranked about a given situation, yet Disko is entirely relaxed. In training he can even be lazy indeed, but, when its for real, Disko is on and up for the task; it is not ever that Disko is lax, he just has a very positive getting-it-done attitude...Yes, Disko is a guy who, no matter how high the waves might be kicking, floats to the top to be ‘going with the flow’...