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WHY paddle the shores of the Arctic Ocean?

The coast of the Northern Territories and Nunavut, above the Arctic Circle, is not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word. It is a wild and harsh beauty, cold and windswept with no areas of natural protection like forests because it is north of the tree line. At most one will find every now and then some stunted growths, which elsewhere would be trees, that have mistakenly taken root and are still holding on in survival mode.

Although a lot of the permafrost has already disappeared from the upper layers of the soil, the land is not usable for agriculture, and, anyway, the growing season would be impossibly short.

Most of the land is low, sandy or rocky and tundra where there is vegetation. It is mostly muddy during the brief summer, and frozen solid the remainder of the year. The few hills or low mountains are not spectacular and apart from being useful as landmarks, generally do not merit a second glance.

The animals, at least the big ones, grizzlies, polar bears, wolves, caribou and musk oxen are somewhere between not very friendly to downright life-threatening.

 

So, what makes it so compelling to paddle those shores?

For one, at least for me, the most compelling reason is that I think that paddling those shores for a few summers is an experience unlike any other that I have had. It is a land with a lot of elbow room; open spaces for many miles around which requires focus, skill and perseverance to pass through, as well as a little luck.

I believe myself capable to withstand the bad weather and hardships, deal with being alone for a few months and actually enjoy the physical and mental challenge.

I am looking forward to encounter, from a safe distance, the “unfriendly” wildlife and to see the arctic foxes, the thousands upon thousands of birds, the whales, seals and walruses and sleep in a little tent on the barren grounds along this incredible coastline.

Also, the land is not completely empty of people. Every few hundred miles are small villages. The local Inuit can be found in tiny temporary settlements and fish camps along the shores of the Arctic Ocean,  and meeting and interacting with them is a major draw for the few non-natives who travel those shores in the summer, judging by their own reports.

Paddling alone in that environment is coupled with some undeniable risks. An accident can happen any time; I could become ill or incapacitated in some way. The physical demands could be more than

I may be able to cope with and, I am sure, many other reasons for not taking on this challenge could be listed. However, I have some experience in expedition paddling. In 2010, I paddled together with one of my sons for 70+ days in the Sea of Cortez; in 2012, I completed a 1.700 miles, 105 days solo paddle from Seattle, WA,  to Glacier Bay, AK through the Inside Passage.

Especially the Inside Passage paddle gave me ample insights into my capability of dealing with physical and mental hardships during a long expedition with conditions sometimes approaching what I expect to encounter on a regular basis above the Arctic Circle, e.g cold, strong winds, heavy seas and plenty of rain.

I am convinced that with the right preparation, the right equipment and the right motivation, I will be able to achieve my goal of safely paddling, and possibly hiking part of the way, from Inuvik in the Northern Territories to Churchill in Nunavut in two short summer seasons.

I also believe myself to have enough common sense to know, if and when necessary, to call it a day and return home before the intended goal has been reached, if the risks to myself or others would be too much to be acceptable.

 

Finally, I do not want to grow old and regret that I never attempted to paddle far up north while I was still relatively young, fit and healthy.

The following quote gives me real inspiration:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed in the things

that you did not do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowlines. 

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

 

 

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