Our last full day out at sea was stunning with natural beauty and wonder. We spent the morning on our final zodiac cruises in Fuglefjorden, a bay with three magnificent glaciers. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous morning with still water and fairly warm temperatures. The ice was intensely beautiful, vibrant with the myriad of hues of blue. Twice, we heard the rumble before we turned to see ice sheering off the face of a glacier, crashing into the water. There were jagged peaks on the tops of the glaciers, fog that made the scene surreal and charming, an ice and snow bridge that captivated us, the Arctic palette of grey, white and blue that is now etched in my soul, and seals, including a juvenile with its mother. This morning was pure joy.
That afternoon, we sailed west, towards the continental shelf in hopes of seeing whales. In open, choppy waters, we were alerted to movement in the water and we were stunned by a pod of about 30 white-beaked dolphins in addition to a pod of about 10 fin whales. Fin whales are fast, considered to be the greyhounds of the sea. The sea was rolling, the ship was moving, and we watched these glorious beasts before and around us on the bow. It was challenging to take photos with the movement, blowing snow, bitter wind, and with the gray, sleek bodies of dolphins and whales blending in with the gray waters. I finally stopped trying and embraced the moment. I observed the slope and curves of dolphins right under the bow, racing along with the ship. In the distance, I watched spray plume from whale blow holes, not simultaneously, but more at a primal rhythm - 1---2-3-4--5--6-7-8! As we were heading inside to warm up, one of the naturalists asked if I'd gotten good photos of the whales. No, I said. I gave it up and decided to just watch and enjoy. He smiled, gave me a thumbs up and an affirming nod. In the past few weeks, having gone through thousands of expedition photos, I found a few shots I took that are somewhat satisfying to me, likely only because I was there, in those moments. These shots may be imperfect, but they are mine and take me back to that frigid, roiling sea with glorious dolphins and whales before me.
I have no reason to go, except that I have never been, and knowledge is better than ignorance. What better reason could there be for traveling?” ~ Freya Stark, A Winter in Arabia
We were now bee-lining towards Longyearbyen as we'd disembark in the morning. For the first time on the ship, I felt queasy. I took an hour-long nap before getting dressed for the expedition recap and dinner.
The recap was celebratory and joyful.
Captain Leif Skog shared some of the unique aspects of this particular expedition. Having passed the 82 parallel north was a milestone for the ship. We were a little over 400 miles from the North Pole, about 30 hours away. We had been over deep, deep waters in the Arctic Ocean, over water that was over 6,000 feet deep. The Captain said of these milestones, "We couldn't resist." However, he tempered these firsts with a perspective of the conditions of the ice, that the current conditions were like those in a typical mid-August summer. 20 years ago, he said, this part of the Arctic was covered in up to 30 feet thick, mutli-year ice while now its covered in only 1-2 year old thin sea ice.
We laughed and ooohed and ahhhed our way through the guest slideshow before moving to dinner at which point, my stomach was about to revolt. Ironically, I missed the first group dinner in Oslo and the last group dinner on the National Geographic Explorer.
Sleep is so very satisfying when seasickness befalls one. I once heard someone say - the bad news about being seasick is that it won't kill you. I did some packing, crawled into my bunk, and passed out until a little after 2am when a beautiful beam of sunlight woke me up, made me smile, provoked me to sit up and take a picture, and with a smile on my face, I slept my last sleep in the Arctic wonderland, under the Midnight Sun.
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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."