Day 40–The First of Anything

June 19, 2010 8:20pm

About to lift off from the adventure

N77°28.015 W69°12.601

You always remember your firsts. You first drive. Your first suit. Your first kiss. Your first love… And forty days on the ice, living in a tent isolated from the rest of the world is plenty enough time to make you re-discover a lot things, as if for the first time.
We did not bother setting up the tent last night, given the nature of the terrain: rocky, uneven and sloped. Instead, we spread our mats, laid out our sleeping bags and slept in the open, a flare close by in the event of a wandering bear! It was bright and sunny at four AM when I turned over. At eight thirty I called the pilot confirming clear local visibility and our 1100 hours pick-up.
I made another important call; set up a time lapse on my camera; and fell back asleep, dialing my internal clock for a ten forty five wake up.
“It’s coming over the glacier!”, I heard Eric shout. In a daze, I shot up to the fast approaching deep thumping of the helicopter’s rotors. It was 1040 hours; and twenty minutes early! I wanted the approach on film and jumped to my camera just in time for the craft’s final approach–and caught it by a hair!
The pilots greeted us warmly and enthusiastically, wanting to hear details of the trip.
“After such a long journey, I thought you boys might appreciate one of these!”, said one as he walked out of the cockpit holding two cans of Coca-Cola! The first pop…! Ironically, I had told Eric not a week prior, that one of the things that I crave after an extended trip on the trail for some reason–is a Coke!
We gathered our things, packed them in, and boarded the craft. Our first proper seat…! The rotors began slicing the air; the thumping grew faster, and louder; the machine shook as we slowly lifted off. And pulled away from the ground that we had gotten to know so well. In no time, the helicopter dove forward and the earth below started racing by. I looked over at Eric who put his thumb up, which I echoed. And I turned to the window to take in the bird’s eye view of what we had just covered on foot. It always looks so easy from above… I saw the rocky slopes we negotiated; the patches of snow we slid down; our campsite by the glacier; and in the distance, beyond the multitude of crevasses, I saw the ice sheet we were leaving–alluring, gigantic and forlorn.
Soon, more icescapes sped below us: glaciers scarred by crevasses pulling down to valleys below; ice rivers snaking through them with bright blue hues; giant moraines, dwarfing the glaciers with the sizes and reach that they once held; and small, domed ice sheets which could just as well have been scratched with our skis–but were not. From up here, everything begins to look the same…
Qaanaaq is a small Inuit settlement, about twenty minutes by helicopter from the bay we had reached. It is separated from Greenland’s main ice sheet by a valley, with a river slicing across it, pouring a torrent of melt water into the ocean. Qaanaaq is not directly reachable by ice from where we came from. Its airport is a patch of dirt, serviced once a week by Greenland Airlines. Our helicopter was dispatched from Thule airforce base, about an hour away.
We said our farewells and boarded a van that took us to our accommodations until Wednesday, for our plane out of here. I could not help but notice the exhaust smell from the vehicle’s tail pipe. Our first fumes…!
The village, which assembles perhaps fifty dwellings amongst its dirt streets, is dominated by the bay. Still hard, the sea ice holds trapped some gigantic icebergs, many the size of city blocks, fading away in the distance. It looks like a frozen valley of the giants that time forgot. I will venture out on it tonight and capitalize on this remarkable shooting opportunity.
The little house we’re are staying in is a sort of prefab affair, riddled with black flies, with no sewage but a plastic bag! In that respect, I almost prefer the outdoors…! We rushed to the market as it was about to close for the weekend to get food for the next few days. I found myself staring aimlessly at rows of product, dazed and overwhelmed by the quantity of choices (and this is a small market!) Our first commercial experience…
But mostly, I wanted to get back to our digs, throw everything in the washer, myself included! The first first shower! Now this is a first I have been waiting for! Next is the first kiss…

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