Text and photographs by Ben Horton
The contrast of coming home from Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Artic reminds me of a light switch being thrown on in the early morning. The body recoils in sensory overload from the nonstop noise, motion, and the number of unchecked e-mails. I guess it didn’t help that our first real stop was in New York City. While on the expedition, it was normal to ski alongside the dogsleds for 25 kilometers without seeing a single sign of man for days in a row. Now we are forced to confront our “normal” lives, weaving in and out of people on busy sidewalks, crossing car choked streets, and choking on the smog that churns out of them.
I catch myself thinking back to the few times when I wished for the comforts of home. I realize now that I so much prefer to be moving steadily across the ice, chasing the horizon. I miss most the days when we would pick a distant mountain, hardly visible, and then trek steadily onward until we reached it. For me, the repetitive gliding motion of skiing was like being rocked slowly into a trance, my mind was occupied only with monitoring a few simple things, like if the dogs’ lines were tangled, whether or not we were keeping pace with the other two sleds, or pushing and pulling the sled over cracked and broken fields of rough ice churned by the changing tides.
There are a few comforts at my home in Colorado that I am glad for—the darkness that comes with night, seeing the stars, and being able to sleep without shielding my eyes from the 24 hours of sun. All together though, I learned that with a little practice, life in the Arctic soon becomes just as comfortable as life anywhere else. When we finally got our system down, once setting up and taking down camp each day took only a few minutes (and we could do it in the extreme cold without taking off our gloves), there was no real reason to wish for the “comforts” of home…not to mention all of the stresses that come with these comforts….
People constantly are welcoming me back to what they call the “real world,” and I keep wondering, which one is it that’s real? I certainly hope that this was not my last chance to explore the Arctic. Having learned so much about how the Inuit survive up there, about the animals that inhabit it, and about how our lives are so intimately connected to it, I want to keep learning more. There are so many changes taking place at the Poles and so much more to see. Our team saw the collapsed Ayles Ice Shelf, traveled across the ruins of the Polar Ocean, and witnessed a spring that came three weeks early. The Arctic cannot keep changing like this and remain a healthy, productive ecosystem for much longer. Only 20 percent of the “old ice” that has made up the Arctic for as long as we can remember even still exists!
Until recently, the Arctic seemed to be a constant feature of the planet, as immovable as the Himalaya, as much a piece of “land” as the continents themselves. But it is as fragile as it is vital to the health of our planet.
- Nat Geo Expeditions