Arctic Expedition 2014 – the story of our adventure…sailing from Kuujjuaq

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On July 12th, Day 4 of our adventure, we woke super early, gathered up all of our gear and headed for the school buses, which took us to the Ottawa International Airport. There we loaded our mountain of gear and hoped that we weren’t about to overpack our First Air charter flight. It’s happened on previous expeditions, apparently. Sucks to be on the tarmac, scratching your forehead and wondering what to leave behind because the plane just can’t handle the weight of all of it. In the end, it was beer bottles that were left behind. But that’s another story that I’ll tell a little later. And it does have a happy ending.

The excitement over the start of the northern part of our adventure was palpable, despite the early hour of the morning

The excitement over the start of the northern part of our adventure was palpable, despite the early hour of the morning

 

Our charter flight was headed to Kuujjuaq, a remote community on Ungava Bay, in northern Quebec. Our ship would be waiting for us in the bay. And we were so anxious to get on board and begin the expedition component of our adventure together. Our flight time from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq was about two hours.

Boarding a flight from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq in the early morning. The air was buzzing with excitement.

Boarding a flight from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq in the early morning. The air was buzzing with excitement.

Welcome to Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec. Population ~ 2,400.

Welcome to Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec. Population ~ 2,400.

We arrived to overcast skies, much cooler temperatures than we’d had in Ottawa, and an incredible landscape. We walked about a mile from the airport to the town’s community centre and then had a walk around town, headed down to the beach and then back to the community centre for a BBQ that the town had put on for us. Youth from our expedition connected with local youth and soon, friendly challenges of Inuit games and rapping and beatbox were being exchanged.

The village of Kuujjuaq, home to some of the students on our SOI expedition.

The village of Kuujjuaq, home to some of the students on our SOI expedition.

 

Stretching our legs on the beach and enjoying the fresh, cool air.

Stretching our legs on the beach and enjoying the fresh, cool air.

After a few hours in town it was time to head for our ship, the Sea Adventurer. She had come upriver a bit and anchored, waiting for our arrival. But we still had about a 30 minute zodiac ride to get to her. Exciting! Our first ride in the zodiacs! As we sped down river, the wind in our hair and the northern sun on our faces, the rhythmic bouncing of the zodiac on the waves, we soaked up the scenery as we went.

The shoreline as we headed downstream, from Kuujjuaq, towards the Sea Adventurer, our floating home for the next 12 days.

The shoreline as we headed downstream, from Kuujjuaq, towards the Sea Adventurer, our floating home for the next 12 days.

The landscape around Kuujjuaq and along the river is rugged. Kuujjuaq is located just at the edge of the boreal forest treelike. So you see some trees to the south, but they are small spruces. And the treelike quickly disappears as you head north. The shoreline is rocky and rugged. Looking out onto the massive pieces of rock, one expected to see a polar bear lumbering across the landscape.

The rocky and rugged shoreline near Kuujjuaq

The rocky and rugged shoreline near Kuujjuaq

The crevices in this ancient rock creates its own version of art

The crevices in this ancient rock creates its own version of art

Leaving the tree line behind us, the ruggedness of the landscape seemed more apparent

Leaving the tree line behind us, the ruggedness of the landscape seemed more apparent

As we made our way down river in the zodiacs, everyone was pretty quiet. Talking above the sound of the outboard motor was difficult. But part of the silence was that we were all just taking in our surroundings. For many on the expedition, this was the farthest north they had ever been. The magnitude and magnificence of the landscape was something many had not experienced before and none of us could help but just look and watch as we sped along.

Our first zodiac ride of the expedition. One of many, but in some ways, the most exciting as we had no idea what adventures awaited us.

Our first zodiac ride of the expedition. One of many, but in some ways, the most exciting as we had no idea what adventures awaited us.

As we headed down river towards our ship, we began to notice camps dotted across the landscape. One of our northern students said that families were out on the land now, hunting and camping.

Temporary camps along the river

Camps along the river

Many of these temporary camps consist of canvas tents

Many of these are temporary camps with canvas tents

 

As we sped downriver, the outline of our ship came into view. And as we got closer, it’s size and magnificence became apparent. It was hard to believe this would be home for the next 11 days! There was definitely a palpable excitement in the air as the zodiacs circled, waiting their turn to tie up to the ship’s platform and step aboard.

Arriving at our new  floating home, the Sea Adventurer

Arriving at our new floating home, the Sea Adventurer

The Sea Adventurer, is a 100 m long ship with an A-1 ice class rating. So technically, it’s not an icebreaker, but its reinforced hull can find its way through plenty of  ‘bergy bits’ that often litter the waters of the northern Labrador coastline in July.

Total excitement as we are greeted by those already on the Sea Adventurer

Total excitement as we are greeted by those already on the Sea Adventurer

Welcome aboard!

Welcome aboard!

The Sea Adventurer, with 10 zodiacs that allowed us to get to shore to explore

The Sea Adventurer, with 10 zodiacs that allowed us to get to shore to explore

The Sea Adventurer staff had already kindly installed all of our luggage in our cabins by the time we arrived. Our cabins were tidy, modern and comfortable. Sure, they’re small, but we were just there to sleep (and as we’d find out, grab whatever rare nap-time could be stolen during our busy days).

Our two person cabin. Very comfortable and a great sized window for iceberg watching.

Our two person cabin. Very comfortable and a great sized window for iceberg watching.

I remember on Day 1 of our adventure, during our introduction, Geoff Green was describing the Sea Adventurer. His comment was that this ship is far, far too nice for us on us. Ya, sure. 😉 It wasn’t until I began to explore around the ship and came upon the dinning room that I understood what Geoff meant. Just peeking into the dinning room, I felt as if I should have brought my evening gown on this arctic expedition! Note to self for next time – don’t just pack the rubber boots and blackfly jacket, include evening wear as well. 😉

Our ship's dinning room - not what I expected on an arctic expedition, but hey, I'm not complaining! ;)

Our ship’s dinning room – not what I expected on an arctic expedition, but hey, I’m not complaining! 😉

But it gets better. Not only is the dinning room fancy-schmancy, but all of the serving staff were wearing tuxes. And they were the most incredibly friendly people. By the end of the expedition, we’d all become friends. And… we certainly didn’t starve during our expedition. How could one starve while eating 5-course meals for dinner, for 12 days? Seriously! They fed us 5 course meals for dinner! Breakfast and lunch were buffets. And all I can say is that the food was phenomenal! I normally don’t eat dessert, but I did for these 12 days! Although I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the delicate pastry that was shaped like a swan. Seriously, it was ‘pastry origami’! Talk about roughing it on our arctic expedition. 😉

I didn't think you'd believe me about the 5 course meals, so here's the menu from lunch

I didn’t think you’d believe me about the 5 course meals, so here’s the menu from lunch

And…. the menu from dinner one night… some evenings we ate fresh arctic char that members of our expedition had caught that day.

And dinner. Oh... how we suffered! ;)

And dinner. Oh… how we suffered! 😉

Here's more of how we suffered. Dessert one night. I think it was a blueberry cheesecake, but I can't remember because my head is still swirling with delight. Oh so many desserts...

Here’s more of how we suffered. Dessert one night. I think it was a blueberry cheesecake, but I can’t remember because my head is still swirling with delight. Oh so many desserts…

After dinner, I wandered up on deck with my camera, soaking in the fresh evening air as we made our way through Ungava Bay. The land disappeared and the open water lay before us. As the sun began to sink in the sky, many of us took some time on deck to jus have some quiet time to ourselves, to reflect on all that had happened up to this point and what our next 11 days would be like.

Time to reflect as we leave head out of Ungava Bay

Time to reflect as we leave head out of Ungava Bay

Watching land disappear...

Watching land disappear…

And the sun sink low in the sky. It never got completely dark because we were so far north. But we were treated to some of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen.

And the sun sink low in the sky. It never got completely dark because we were so far north. But we were treated to some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.

This is how our days ended. Falling into bed, tired from the days activities. But what more could you ask for... arriving in your cabin to find your bed turned down and a mint sitting there.

This is how our days ended. Falling into bed, tired from the days activities. But what more could you ask for… arriving in your cabin to find your bed turned down and a mint sitting there.

Our floating home, the Sea Adventurer, was INCREDIBLE. All of the staff were more than outstanding. So friendly, courteous, the food was out of this world. The cabins so comfortable. We all complained when we got home that our beds at home seemed not to be nearly so comfortable as those on the ship. Our captain was phenomenal. You’ll hear more about him later and how he’s given us the adventure of a lifetime.

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Tune in  next time for the first BIG day of our adventure, exploring the beauty of the Labrador coastline…

Arctic Expedition 2014 – some experiences just change your life forever…

Getting out in zodiacs to explore was one of the huge highlights of the trip for me. I love that the students (and staff) got to see, smell, taste, touch, hear - to experience the north with all of their senses. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

Getting out in zodiacs to explore was one of the huge highlights of the trip for me. I love that the students (and staff) got to see, smell, taste, touch, hear – to experience the north with all of their senses. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

A few days ago I returned from the trip of a lifetime. No, not a trip of a lifetime. An experience of a lifetime. I was an educator (biologist, photographer, and environmental communicator) on the 2014 Students On Ice Arctic Expedition. I, along with 45 other educators and support staff and 86 high school students from Canada, the U.S., Scotland, China, Monaco, and Greenland, spent 12 days together on an icebreaker, exploring the arctic – northern Quebec, the coast of Labrador (including the absolutely spectacular Torngat Mountains National Park), and then southwest Greenland.

The incredible rugged beauty of the Labrador coast near Torngats Mountain National Park. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

The incredible rugged beauty of the Labrador coast near Torngats Mountain National Park. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball)

It was 12 of the most spectacular, action-packed, eye-opening, inspiring days of my life. And for those 86 high school students on board, it changed their lives. For some, profoundly. In subsequent blog posts, I’ll share some of those stories. In my 20+ years as an educator, I have never seen such transformations in young people in such a short time. It may sound corny, but what I witnessed on that ship in those 12 days renewed my hope in humanity. There are truly good people out there who will do good things, not just for themselves, but for our entire global community. I have no doubt that some of those 86 students on our expedition will be the ones to go on to do great things – big things –  for our world. But also small things too. I think it’s important to be reminded that big isn’t the supreme goal. We can all do something good for our world, in our own ways, no matter how small. So I believe that all of the 86 students on this expedition will have an important influence on the world, in one way or another. Every effort, every action matters, regardless of magnitude.

Me, teaching a photography workshop on shore. I wanted to inspire the students to use their images to share their experiences with the world and to share their concerns about the health of the arctic environment and its cultures, with the rest of the world.

Me, teaching a photography workshop on shore. I wanted to inspire the students to use their images to share their experiences with the world and to share their concerns about the health of the arctic environment and its cultures, with the rest of the world. (photo copyright Lee Naraway).

If I had to sum up the achievements and milestones of the expedition, it would be difficult, because there were so many. We learned about the arctic environment – plants, animals, geology, ocean currents…. We learned about the peoples of the arctic – their culture, history, and some of the tragic stories of contemporary times, when Inuit were forced by the government to leave their homes, their communities, to live elsewhere, and to adopt ‘southern’ ways of life. This was all part of the governments strategy, decades ago, to assimilate our northern peoples into ‘southern’ ways of life. We learned about climate change. We learned about the geo-politics of the north. From early in the morning until late at night, we were busy – outside exploring on the land, exploring the shoreline by zodiac, participating in workshops on board our ship, listening to presentations given by educators, hearing ‘life stories’ that inspired us. There were so many great things we experienced and that resulted from this expedition. But I would have to say that watching the students stretch – to muster up the courage to step outside of their comfort zones in order to experience life to the  fullest and to connect with the people in our group, was by far, the most incredible result of our experience. For me, it did a lot to reinforce my desire to follow my passion – to take youth around the world on life-changing expeditions that will teach them about themselves, help them reach beyond their limitations, to show them some of the earth’s most incredible places, and to inspire them to preserve them and the cultures of the people who live in them. This is my dream. And now, more than ever, I’m determined to make it happen.

Our arctic sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball).

Our arctic sunsets were some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. (photo copyright Shelley L. Ball).

 

Over the next several days, I’ll be blogging about my experience on this Arctic Expedition 2014. I want to share with you the things we saw, the things we learned, the experiences we had, the insights we had, and the stories that developed over our 15 days together (12 of which were onboard the Sea Adventurer, our floating home).

I hope you’ll come back to read more. And please pass the link to this blog to anyway you think would enjoying reading it. Thanks!

Shelley

Me, aboard the Sea Adventurer, with a massie glacier in the background. Our wonderful ship's captain took us down some of the most incredible fjords in Greenland.

Me, aboard the Sea Adventurer, with a massie glacier in the background. Our wonderful ship’s captain took us down some of the most incredible fjords in Greenland.