You know when you talk about something you want to do for years and years, and then when you are finally on the brink of doing it, you’re slightly apprehensive that you may have overbuilt expectations? Yeah, that didn’t happen. The Arctic was everything I hoped it would be. My brother, Al, sister-in-law, Sheryl, and I made that trip to(ward) the North Pole to see polar bears in their natural habitat… You know, the ones that aren’t pacing in an enclosure. I had fears that they’d be super skinny and pathetic like the ones in photos that make me sad and angry, but they weren’t. I did take it as a good sign that we committed to this trip that I found right away, since the next day, there were reports that the Arctic could be summer ice-free in less than 50 years, and you know what that means for polar bears. (I can’t find the original article, but here’s one from Mashable).
The three of us met in Oslo, then took another plane to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the High Arctic, 78 degrees. It’s in the kingdom of Norway, but I do believe the Russians think it’s there’s as well. There’s not a lot to do here, but it was still cool and different. We dinked around for a couple of days, looking for the city limit signs where you’re not allowed to pass without a gun.
Then, we met our Quark Expedition
team, and headed even farther North. After my Antarctica trip on a 60-foot sailboat with 12 people, I wasn’t sure I’d love cruising with 100 people on a bigger ship (truthfully, we made a bit of fun of those passengers in the Antarctic.. Until we got to board a Nat Geo ship and smelled the pancakes), but there were definitely advantages to a bigger boat and a huge crew. I also met a couple of really adventurous girls, and I adored the expedition crew. I hope to cross paths with some of them again.
We sailed past gorgeous (smaller than they used to be) glaciers and saw an Arctic fox, some reindeer (they were actually wandering around Svalbard, too), lots of walruses (I am the eggman), and a seal. We saw a mama and baby polar bear, too, but they were more like cream colored dots on a rock shelf. We would absolutely do better.
We took kayaks out one day, which was super fun. My partner was Caitlyn from Seattle who admitted she was taking photos more than she was paddling.
The walruses we saw soaked up the sun much like my cat, Linus, if he weighed 2000 pounds. (Sometimes when he walks on my throat in the middle of the night, he feels like he weighs a ton.)
Then, one day we were out cruising around in the Zodiac and got the call that there was a polar bear on an island. We hightailed it over there, thanks to the expert piloting of Wayne, our only Inuit guide. This bear was much closer than the mom and cub from a couple of days ago, and did a bit of posing for us (in our opinion). She was probably looking for food, then decided to swim for it. She was gorgeous and perfect, and her dive was better than mine.
We all thought the bear looked pretty good, but Annie, the marine biologist aboard explained that she really didn’t. Polar bears are graded according to their fatness (they like big butts, and I cannot lie). Annie gave this bear a 2.5. She needs some seals.
Our days were filled with looking for animals (not as easy to find as they are in the Antarctic), listening to lectures about the animals and the Arctic. and EATING. We did not starve.
There were a couple of days where the weather was what you’d expect from the Arctic… misty, cold, foggy, snowy. On those days, we just filled time til we could eat again. We never had to wait long. One day, when the weather foiled both of our planned landings, we were rewarded. A pod of about 100 Beluga whales swam around us and checked us out for a while. It was a huge pod, bigger than any the expedition crew had ever seen. We learned about them, too. Did you know Belugas are one of the few whales that have movable neck vertebrae? So they can turn their heads and look at you!
Greedy whalers killed who knows how many of them in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There are remains of whaling camps all over the place. They feel haunted to me.
One night (misnomer, as it’s always daylight), we got an intercom message that a polar bear was nearby. It was 11:00. I put my Arctic wear right over my flannels and ran on deck. The bear was sleeping, but she heard the ship and was curious. She lumbered over the ice floes and hung out with us for a long time. Later, one of the passengers asked whether we should have shut off the fans to the kitchen, because her nose was working the smells. But Annie said the bear wasn’t too interested in spaghetti or soup. She was smelling US to see if we could come to (be) dinner. As you can see from her nice big butt, this is one healthy bear. Annie gave her a 4 or 4.5.
We had another really fun hike and saw a herd of Svalbard reindeer…
but that was pretty much the end of the big adventure. It was an amazing way to see this part of the world that not too many people get to see. I loved every minute of it and loved sharing a trip so out of the box with Al and Sheryl. Going new places or returning to places I’ve been and loved, or even planning that Next Big Trip is my great passion. I try to always have an adventure in another place on the horizon. It helps keep me moving forward. Mark Twain might have said it best:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
PS I reached Delta Platinum status last week. Where’s that emoji with the eye roll??