Out on the Water, part 1 - Morning Zodiac Cruise
This zodiac cruise was multi-sensory, with up-close encounters with growlers and bergy bits.
Did you know that a piece of floating ice is not an iceberg unless it is over 14 feet above the water line? A growler is a piece of ice less than 3 feet high while fragments of ice smaller than 3' x 6.5' is brash ice. Bergy bits (don't you love that term?) are 3 feet - 13 feet high. Go here for the NOAA for more info about icebergs!
I am a tactile person. Signs in museums or national parks that say DO NOT TOUCH do not only provoke me to really want to touch, they represent a barrier to how I like to experience the world around me. Being able to touch bergy bits was incredibly fun and satisfying. Licking one, well, that was just bonus (first, my tongue did not stick to the ice; second, the first lick tasted salty and the second lick tasted fresh; third, I highly recommend licking a bergy bit when you get the chance.)
We zoomed around the bay, weaving through brash ice, weaving through growlers and bergy bits that were over 10,000 years old with three glaciers including Monacobreen, around us.
This hour on the water was so very beautiful.
Exhilarated and red-cheeked, I loved this experience. It was cold and fresh and, well, it was wonderful.
We returned to the ship, sloshing our boots in bleach at the decontamination station before re-entering the mudroom. Chilled but happy, I pealed off my gloves and took off my life jacket and waterproof pants. I pulled off my boots and returned to my sneakers. Out of my parka, I stored my boots and pants in my assigned locker then headed for a quick stop in our cabin before heading up to lunch.
Out on the Water, Part 2 - Afternoon Kayaking
This afternoon we were anchored in Liefdefjorden, where the waters were calm - perfect conditions for kayaking.
I'd been looking forward to this for months and it was such a lovely, lovely experience with more quiet than I had remembered throughout the entire expedition. The water looks dark from above and when looking across, but being a foot away from the surface, I could see how clear the water was. I could see strands of kelp reaching towards the surface. With the help and fortitude of the two divers on ship, we were able to see the world below the surface, when they would share the surprisingly, provocatively colorful underwater world. From my vantage point, on a yellow kayak, I was mindful of the color palette of the Arctic under the Midnight Sun- white, brown, black, grey, blue, green, and gold.
Here's a little video about my experiences on the water.
Out on the water from Jen Chavez-Miller on Vimeo.
Out on the Water, Part 3 - The Polar Plunge
I had months to prepare for this. It wasn't that I was afraid....I just wasn't especially fond of thinking about jumping off of a perfectly dry, non-sinking ship into frigid water.
With the still waters, it was about a 20 minute turn around from kayaking to plunging. I rushed to our cabin to get dressed - I had planned this outfit - yoga pants and my Nat Geo Educator t-shirt. I walked down to the mudroom in flip flops where it was a party with music and shivering people who hadn't even gotten into the water yet and nervous laughter, building excitement and infusing energy to will myself out of my flip flops, setting my glasses on the counter before I passed through the mudroom door, down the cold metal stairs, and to the doorway between the ship and everything beyond the ship. I surveyed the scene - the doctor was out there. Good. Lots of strong, healthy men who looked like they were paid to jump in after us if we didn't resurface in a timely fashion. I watched as the brave souls before me launched themselves out into the water - they stepped into the floor of the zodiac and then onto the edge of the zodiac and then they jumped.
I remember standing there on the edge of the zodiac and someone pointing out where the photographer was.
"Jump over there!"
Shaking my head.....no no no no no no no...nope...no way......and then I thought of my student Jorge and all of my students and of my daughter who would be so delighted that I did it. Esta loca, Ms.
So, I jumped.
I remember the shock of the cold forced me to inhale and I recall the taste of the briny water. I remember opening my eyes and looking up towards the surface - I remember the foamy white and hues of blue and green.
I swam over to the platform where those same strong, healthy men were paid to pull people like me out of the water like a beached seal. I was grateful.
Shi-shi-shivering back into the ship, up those metal stairs, back into the mudroom where people clapped and cheered each other. I was offered a shot - Patrik called it a "defibrillator" - but I happily accepted a dry towel and a cup of hot chocolate.
A warm shower, dry clothes - I warmed up much faster than I thought I would. I felt like a million bucks! My skin was red and tingly. I was coughing up sea water for about half an hour. I was satisfied and thrilled, joyful and feeling a kinship and connection to the other 23 guests, 5 crew, and 3 staff who jumped into the 29 degree water that afternoon.
It was one of the best days.
Photos by Lindblad Expeditions
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As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I traveled to Svalbard in May 2018! Thanks to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic for supporting teachers and encouraging us to be explorers.
Some of the text shared here was written in my journal or through social media posts while I was on expedition.
But much of the writing shared here was written in the months following my return home.
I had this idea that I would embark on my journey and, in real time, reflect and write and create blog posts and videos and online albums and photo books and postcards. I had fantasies of sitting in the ship's library with my pen and notebook, collecting and composing what I'd seen and experienced and manifesting deep, profound thoughts.
Yeah. That didn't happen.
My experience was so intense, so surreal, that I had difficulty finding adequate words to describe it all. Silly, inconsequential, and unsatisfying words were all I had - great, amazing, unbelievable, incredible. At the end of each day I would try. After dinner, somewhere between 10pm and midnight, I'd make my way up to the library to write. But I would get distracted. The large, glorious, gorgeous windows were too inviting and each moment was unique. The clouds were shifting, the water was moving, the ship was in motion, the ice upon the water was drifting. Each and every moment was unique.
My eyes were up and wide open. I was outside on the deck feeling the cold air and the lightly falling snow on my face. Or I was sitting on the bridge, snuggled in warmth, with a pair of binoculars looking looking looking. Oh, I tried to shift my thinking to writing something more than a bulleted list, but I just couldn't pull it off.
To put it simply, I couldn't focus.
I coined my condition Wonder-Induced ADD.
It is a beautiful affliction to have.
This blog is dedicated to my aunt, Tina Chavez, who is always my biggest fan and supporter. When I told her about my expedition to the Arctic, she asked, "So, when do you go on the Polar Bear Express?"
She also told me to run fast from the polar bears, but naming this blog "Run, Jen, Run!" isn't as charming as calling it "The Polar Bear Express."