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Everything is hard in the Arctic

Published: at 02:19 AM

Several nights ago, after a long day of digging holes and working in the wind, Michael, Von, and I were lazily chit chatting, reluctant to do the necessary tasks for bed. It was the dregs of the night. Andrew and Matt had already retired. Von, in his reluctance to get up and enter a cold sleeping bag, said with the type of delirious exhaustion that begets utter truths of life “ Everything is hard in the arctic.” Eventually we three boiled our hot water bottles, spat our toothpaste in the wastewater hole we cover with plywood, negotiated the cold pre-bed pee, buried ourselves down and got a good night’s rest. For days now though, Von’s words have been ringing in my head.

Everything is hard in the arctic.

I asked my teammates what specifically is hard in the arctic and have compiled an abridged list below

  1. Keeping olive oil uncongealed
  2. Putting things together when you didn’t bring the right fasteners. There is no Ace hardware.
  3. Healing. Cuts, strains, tendonitis, hangnails. Everything heals slowly.
  4. Fastening nuts and bolts outside. Wear gloves and you fumble, go bare handed and the wind bites.
  5. Finding white airpods you dropped in the white snow.
  6. Having your period. Given our team’s composition, I lose all anonymity with this addition.
  7. Spatial awareness. The clothing and boots required to stay warm make you a vastly different size than you’ve been your whole life. Trips, bumps, snags, knocks ensue.
  8. Waking up to frost falling on your face. When the nighttime temperatures are below -30F, the moisture from your breath condenses to a thick crystalized frost layer on the ceiling of your tent, inches from your forehead.
  9. Keeping pee bottles unfrozen. Many campers in the arctic opt to pee into nalgenes in their tent and empty them at a later time. It is not so simple when they freeze.
  10. Falling asleep to the sound of flags flapping. Flags are imperative for safety. In white out conditions, visibility drops to mere feet. In windy conditions, which is most of the time, however, these flags and stakes can keep a person awake.
  11. Personal hygiene for twenty days without a shower. Wet wipes in a tent in the midday heat is the only recourse. For hair, it helps to cut it short before coming. Matt has been experimenting with dry shampoo spray and I have been rubbing cornstarch in my hair to absorb the oil and brush it out. The cornstarch works quite well.
  12. Keeping the underside of your nose from burning. Sun bounces off the snow.
  13. All zippers are hard in the arctic.
  14. Making it to morning meeting when the vestibule of your tent has filled with snow overnight.
  15. Melting snow to have water.
  16. Getting into a cold sleeping bag at night and getting out of a warm one in the morning.
  17. Keeping hands moisturized enough so that the skin doesn’t split.
  18. Rehydrating dehydrated foods adequately while cooking so that people’s stomachs don’t get upset.
  19. Digging a hole while the wind blows snow right back in.
  20. Hearing your alarm clock through a linear foot of hats and down and waking up on time.
  21. Drinking coffee in the morning when your mug is full of ice from the beverage you didn’t finish the night before.
  22. Grabbing. Any object. Anytime. In the cold.
  23. Watching movies with a projector when the sun doesn’t set. Michael brought a projector with high hopes of a movie club running on solar power. We tried projecting on multiple surfaces, blocking the light with blankets, but we couldn’t get our tent dark enough.
  24. Managing the toilet when the initial hole wasn’t dug deep enough and all “outfall” freezes.
  25. Remembering to leave the tea kettle empty overnight. This seems to only be hard for me, but here I am taking public accountability for the frozen kettle the other morning.

Despite this long list of challenges, I actually must admit that I have been shocked by the luxury and comfort of this trip. We are renewable energy powered and given our mode of transit was an Air National Guard flight, we weren’t limited by volume and weight of gear. We have an 8 gallon kettle with a temperature set point for melting snow, an air fryer pressure cooker combination appliance we use for cooking, an electric heater we use on occasion to cut the bite of the cold, and a 1.7 litre electric kettle for hot beverages, outlets to charge our devices, and access to the internet.