Our original plans had us traveling with our two Polar Husky teams and four people from Provideniya, through the Bering Strait north to Uelen, then heading west following the coast line of the Arctic Ocean to Pevek, a total of approximately 1,000 miles. We had been working on getting here for years and with the support of the Best Buy Children’s Foundation, National Science Foundation and NASA we were finally in Nome, Alaska – ready for the last leg of flying across the Bering Strait to set mukluks and paws on the Chukotka Peninsula. Closed to anyone from outside the area for more than fifty years and with no paved roads connecting any two communities, Chukotka is considered to be the most remote region in the Arctic. As one would expect when traveling onto another continent, not least to a significant Russian military zone, we had much paperwork to prepare and many permits to obtain. Finally,we had all of the permits in place. Still, the evening prior to departure our paperwork for the dogs was declared ‘not adequate.’ “Hurry up and wait” became our new mantra.I am the Expedition Leader and Field Science Director of GoNorth!. While the fancy title of Expedition Leader does makes me responsible for the much celebrated task of getting our team across whatever wide-open spaces may be our destination, it doesn’t really reveal much of what my job is really all about. I have been traveling in the Arctic on expeditions with the Polar Huskies every year since 1992. I’ve been on some awesome and I’ll admit very challenging expeditions. Yet I will dare to say that many of the hardships of an expedition, and certainly many of the challenges of an adventure learning expedition take place before we ever set out on the trail. There are the tasks of any musher with a small kennel and no fancy budget: running the dogs, feeding, watering, and cleaning up the dog yard. Then there are the challenges of setting up logistics, arranging re-supply points, and clearing permits. Finally, my job involves lots of networking – from science conferences, to conversations with local community leaders in the Arctic locales, to traveling to Goddard Space Flight Center a couple of times a year. There I have the honor of working with Dr. James Foster and his team in their studies relating to climate change, contributing our fieldwork on the trail and student participation in this research.On an adventure learning expedition once we hit the trail we are not alone in the wilderness to experience solitude in the face of our own limitations. In our case we are traveling with upwards up 20 million people ‘coming along’ online. Our tasks reach far beyond traveling from point A to point B. Each week the live adventure learning program has a research topic for us to communicate to online viewers from the expedition trail. Every Monday morning at 8 AM CST students from Africa to Alaska log on to read the weekly Trail Report, they see, hear and experience the Arctic, and get motivated to explore science, social studies, and geography Whatever the lesson may be in their classroom, it is brought alive. And we must deliver—regardless of the size of the mountain blocking our satellite signal, or the polar bear in camp last night. The following six weeks I sat in Nome with our 23 Polar Huskies a mere 80 miles on the ‘wrong side of the Bering Strait.’ The arduous process to get this expedition even to the starting point seemed to start over on a daily basis. Our Chukchi team member bailed; the hunt for a canine vaccine against plaque set in (turned out to be an issue of mistranslation); a plane had to be assembled; analysis to guarantee our Red Paw dog food was free of the contamination sweeping across the US was needed, and on it went. The stories and adventures of what happened would take several articles in this magazine. I must say that my time in Nome was not wasted, and despite the extreme stress, wonderful people helped me with the dogs, fed me, and made me feel very much at home. I owe much to Victor Goldsberry and Family, Kevin Bopp & Lynn DeFillipo and Karlin Itchoak.April 15 all the gods and powers to be, decided that we could enter Russia. Part of a military complex that was abandoned some five years ago, the ‘International Airport’ is not heated and is somewhat humbling with its stark cold spaces. The federal border guards drove six miles around the bay from the once thriving harbor community of Provideniya to meet our planes (I had met them a week earlier and had been denied entry, Polar Huskies and myself then flying back across the straight to the US – so, yes, I was very nervous). With Vladimir Bychov of the Chukotka Support Group by my side to translate, the loads of supplies and gear were inspected. Hours later, with the final slam of a stamp on our passports we heard the phrase “welcome to Russia!” a greeting that had never felt so good.However tired, I couldn’t stop smiling. I sat eating Chukotka pork dumplings while intensely gazing out of the window at this incredible place so different from anything else I have seen in the Arctic. Our view was of the mountains surrounding the town and its high-rises – some grey and abandoned, some in bright green, pink and yellows – while lots of people were going in all directions, many dressed as if they were in Moscow. It was a curiosity to see this as compared to the more casual and bush dress in Alaska. It was with no less curiosity we had our first experience with the ‘Vestego,’ an impressive Russian all-terrain tank which we loaded with our re-supplies to be brought out a few days later. Artur Annalu, a Native coastal Chukchi from a community on our route, was tying down our fuel to a snowmobile ahead. Introduced to us by Vladimir, Artur was a knowledgeable park ranger for the Beringia Park and though he did not speak much English, he was a perfect replacement of our ‘lost’ local team member. No one who is not local to the region is allowed to travel unaccompanied on the land. With just a month left on our visas and considering the oncoming thaw and open water, we had to change the plans for our route. We decided to travel as fast as possible about 140 miles north to the larger town of Laverentia. Here we would meet up with the rest of our team mates, Dr. Aaron Doering who heads up the program at the University of Minnesota, our Teacher Explorer, Jeff Sipper, a 5th grade teacher, and Igor Sudakov. A local Yupik Inuit, Igor would be our translator when visiting for longer stays in the communities on our slower paced return trip to Provideniya.At last we harnessed up the dogs and let loose. Setting out on the smooth sea ice heading for the mountains the conditions were perfect – it was beautiful day. I was a little concerned about what kind of shape the dogs would be in. As usual, we started training in September. We had plenty of training miles in by the time we got to Alaska, but six weeks of waiting around was not part of the plan. I wondered especially about a couple of the elder statesmen, Peto 12 and Timber 11. These two have never missed a beat, and they are definitely our best cheerleaders, noisy and never quitting. However, the dogs seemed to have no less desire, spirit or ability than they did before. For them the delay was just that: a delay. We made the 20-mile trip to New Chapilino in less than four hours.Polar Huskies are not racing dogs. They are freight dogs. The males average around 95- 120 pounds, the females 70 – 90 pounds. They are a mix breed of Greenlandic Husky, Canadian Inuit, Mackenzie River Husky and some have a dash of Malamute. People who have these lines will know what we mean when we say they are heavy-coated steady pullers, traveling 4-6 miles per hour regardless of whether the sled weighs 1400 pounds or if it is empty. Artur was traveling using the Russian snowmachine called a Boran – the automotive version of a Polar Husky! He led us to the edge of the community, where we then pitched camp along the shore and settled the dogs. They were obviously as happy to be on the trail as we were. Next to us was a musher with his dogs strung out. We watched him wield his cleaver, chopping up pieces of walrus while his dogs watched ever so patiently, including one lucky puppy, who found small slivers frequently falling his way. We were very excited to meet and see the native Chukchi mushers and their beautiful working dogs.Although we were unable to speak a full sentence with one another, we had a great time visiting and being treated to traditional delicacies. The orange sea cucumber grows on the ocean floor of the bay. Like a cucumber, ‘uba’ as they are called in Chukchi, is fresh in taste and just a little bit sweeter than the vegetable. For drinks we had ‘grib.’ We were unsure when Artur’s niece grabbed what looked like blubber stored in big glass jars and poured it for us to have a taste. It turned out to be a fungus that created the most delicious sparkly drink with a sweet taste much like apple cider. April is the best time of the year to travel on the land, when the routes between the communities were pretty well established. With the day being hot and the dogs being new on the trail, we expected it to be a couple of days to cover the forty-some mile stretch overland to Yanrankynot. We normally run four hours then take a short 30-minute lunch break before traveling on for another four hours. The miles kept clicking away. The dogs were slowing, but they still felt strong and to our surprise by late evening we were pulling in to Artur’s home village. Quickly, elders and mushers gathered. Our every move was watched and studied as we set up camp. Much was said between those who watched. Finally our hands and shoulders were grasped. Artur used his best ‘Russianlish’ and we used our best sign language, and we were able to meet and understand. They all thought our dogs looked big, but then again our sleds were huge as well. The sleds we have are made in Wisconsin and are a of komatek style. Actually, they are a copy of a Greenlandic Inuit design used by the Danish Sirius Patrol in Greenland. The sleds are 14 feet long and 3 feet wide with uprights and no brakes. Artur was joined by two young Chukchi men for the trip to their community of Lorino. He mentioned that we would have to travel inland because the ice around the capes was no longer safe. Concerned with going inland and the heat of mid-day travels the day before, I urged that we be hitched and going by 3-4 am. But Artur smiled, and made blowing sounds and twirling hand-gestures indicating “no problem, no problem.” We soon found out what that meant. Enjoying the calm beautiful morning running on a fast ice-foot we were signaled to make a ninety-degree turn, which left our teams now facing straight up the cliff. Cheering the dogs to pull the loads up the cliff wall we turned the corner only to be blasted by very strong head winds. It was a good ground blizzard that day; 40–50 mph winds and blowing snow with at best 20 feet of visibility. The dogs had to work hard to move the sleds forward, and they pushed their way into the storm as we went across the hilly terrain. Artur and crew were eager to get to a cabin for shelter. It was getting late in the day when at last a building came into sight. The shack was probed open and the Borans were moved inside out of the storm. Our experience is that cabins are often hard to heat up to dry our clothing so we mostly stay in our tents, but Artur and crew had no need to dry their reindeer clothing which they keep on overnight. After we’d aligned our tent with the wind the dogs settled in. Experienced by many expeditions, the dogs knew that once they were done eating, the best thing to do was curl up and let the snow make a warm blanket to cover them until morning.We woke up to bitter cold and broke camp to make our final push into Lorino, the largest native village in Chukotka with 1,200 people. We could see the ever-present coal smoke stacks of Lorino for some distance. The stacks were pouring out black smoke from boilers creating hot water to heat the community. Because of this, the snow around the communities has a great deal of soot. This soot makes any white dog, including ours, turn gray in color. Lorino is still a subsistence community living off the land and the ocean, and there are more than one hundred dog teams here. Running their dogs in tandem, the mushers ride on the sleds using the penis bone of a walrus to act as a brake. They jam this into the ground and wedge it against the sled to stop. A small skin boat is tied sideways on the back of the sled – as they shoot a seal they tell their dogs to lie down, then the hunters paddle out to collect their prey.As we left Lorino the ice was pushed up into the shore, which made a narrow path to follow between the pressure ice and the beach. Artur waved us up into a long valley. This turned out to be the wrong valley, and soon we were descending a rather steep incline back to the sea. My partner Mille was out front with her team following Artur, who had not realized how steep the descent was. Mille realized that it was too dangerous to stay with the sled, and she jumped off mid-air, sending the sled crashing to the bottom. The dogs pulled along side Artur, with the sled almost running over the top of him. I could not see down there, but I could see a Chukchi team coming across the ice to our south heading for Artur and Mille’s team. Mille came running up to tell me to unhook dogs and get the chain brakes on. Our method for steep declines is to unhook dogs from the team and have them run down free while we hook chains to the bottoms of the runners on each side to act as brakes. With both sleds back on the sea-ice we greeted the elder hunter and his son on their way out seal hunting. At first as we hugged the shore the conditions turned for the worse with jagged ice, open leads of water and jumbled pressure ridges, but as we turned out a ways we came across an old lead that had frozen over creating a smooth highway for miles. It was a real joy to travel along, and we watched the Native mushers and their dogs in action on the small swift sleds only yards apart from our teams. We separated as they headed for the flow edge and we turned in up the right valley to crawl our way up and over the mountains. From the top we could see Laverentia on the shore of a great bay. What we couldn’t see was the last drop onto the bay. Standing at the edge of the cliff crashing down into the sea with rumbled ice below we realized this was Artur’s first trip to either Lorino or Laverentia! We do not normally enjoy the comfort of ‘snowmobile support’ but since it was there we decide this was the time to use it. We simply ran a line from the back of our sleds to the front of Artur’s Boran. Artur put it in lowest gear then ran it down the cliff acting as a brake. By the looks of the local fishermen it must have looked rather amusing, but I think they were thankful we did not come crashing through their fishing camp.Coming into Laverentia was an epic ordeal. We first had to meet the border guards on the edge of town. Then we had to travel with the dogs down main-street, between apartment buildings and over playgrounds into the center of town. Next we had to leave the dogs and sleds with Artur, while we sat at the local police office awaiting permission to visit town. I think dog sledding in communities with traffic, loose dogs and lots of observers is the most hair raising experience. You just never know what is going to happen, but as we have seen time and time again the dogs show great composure and get us through.With the arrival of Aaron, Jeff, Igor and our team basked in the comfort and kindness of the community, and we were loaded with well wishes and gifts to remember new friends as we set out to depart. Artur and Igor took off on the Boran in the distance, I followed with Jeff, and Mille and Aaron were last with their team behind us. Looking back, I could see two people chasing up the mountainside following them. At first I thought it was some kids having fun, but then I realized they were carrying guns! It turned out that despite knowing our itinerary the guards were very alarmed when we took off. After some intense sign language Mille grasped the seriousness of the situation. She kept pointing south and uttering ‘Provideniya’ and the guards finally relaxed and allowed the dogs to take off. Back-tracing our trail we continued to be filled with Arctic landscapes and impressions: eating strips of caribou fried over fire in the yaranga, (a large dwelling of driftwood and walrus skins with Chukchi herders at a traditional reindeer camp), deep throbbing sounds of walrus drums, high-pitched throat singing, kids and men dressed in colorful traditional outfits as they danced ancient stories to share their knowledge and traditions; a fantastic dinner of seaweeds, seal, cod, walrus, whale and potatoes locally grown at the hot springs hosted by the most respected musher Edward and his family. Our journey was coming to a close and we were enjoying the incredible arctic spring and Chukotka’s truly unique riches. The travel conditions were getting soft as we entered into May, but the beauty of the country, its people and the kindness of local mushers made our journey one to cherish for a lifetime. Our hope is to someday return and to complete the original plans we had made. For now we have returned once again to Minnesota and are making plans for next winter’s journey to Fennoscandia, the Arctic region of Sweden, Norway and Finland.


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