There are a lot of places that I want to travel to, some of which I already have planned out. However, there is one place that I got a chance to travel to that I never thought I would visit in a thousand years: the Arctic Circle. Now, how many people do you know that can say that they’ve been to the Arctic Circle when they were eighteen?
I made this venture as a crew member of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, one of the oldest United States owned polar class icebreakers. When I first learned I was going to be stationed on the Polar Sea, during Basic Training in Cape May, New Jersey, I was extremely excited. Not only was I the only one picked to go there in my company, but I would get to go to some cool places, well a little colder than cool.
When we started our trip, it was the beginning of some of the worst months that the Bering Sea experiences, which made for quite the ride on the way up. Imagine being in a place where at some points in time, you can walk on the wall and you would hardly feel the difference from walking on the ground. We traveled through that for three days straight and needless to say, there was some sea sickness abroad. Afterwards, we finally made it to one of the coldest places most of us had ever seen.
Now, since the Arctic Circle encompasses a part of Alaska, we could have easily just pulled into one of the encompassed Alaskan ports and gone home. While we could have done that, we didn’t and continued Northward into the Arctic ice that most people think of when they hear the Arctic Circle. Three days after passing through the Bering Strait is when we finally spotted our first ice floe of the trip. Though it was just a small piece of ice that broke off, seeing ice that wasn’t out of a freezer or a soda fountain was pretty cool.
Eventually, we made it into the thicker ice known as pack ice, at which our pretty quiet trip turned into a mass of scratching, scraping, and grinding of metal against ice. When we made first contact with the ice, I wasn’t expecting it to be so rough or so loud; therefore I kept waiting in anticipation of the flooding alarm. Later on that day, I finally became accustomed to the sound and wasn’t freaking out every time I heard it.
As much fun as it was being up there in the ice, it was just as much of a challenge navigating through the ice. There were times when we hit such thick ice, we had to use our ‘backing and ramming’ technique to break through it. Along with navigation challenges, we also had to deal with weather challenges. There were some nights where the outside air temperature was negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit. With temperatures that low coupled with thirty-five knot (forty M.P.H.) winds, we felt wind chill factors of negative fifty degrees or less.
When I first told my friends about my trip and showed them some of the pictures I was able to take, they all thought that I was crazy for going out in that kind of weather. In my opinion, dealing with the cold was well worth some of the sights I saw. The sunrises and sunsets were truly captivating and the scenery during the day was amazing too, but in my opinion, I think that the nights were the best part of the day. Being up at that high latitude, 76? N to be exact, sometimes I felt like I would float off into space if I jumped high enough. There were more stars visible up there than I have seen on the clearest of nights in the city.
During the day, when I didn’t have any work to do, I would wander around on the outside decks just to see the area and bask in its beauty. Some of my photo opportunities felt like I was taking one of those photos that you would see on a calendar or on a card. Next to the amazing sceneries, being able to see some of the wild life in their natural habitats was beyond cool. We saw everything from seals to dolphins and even polar bears. The polar bears were probably the most intriguing animals that I saw up there. Their inexhaustible curiosity of our giant red ship as we broke through the ice around them was what intrigued me the most. It was also interesting to see how they interacted with each other, especially the interactions between the parents and their cubs.
Once we started making our trip back home to Seattle, I really did miss being up there and seeing the sights that I saw on a daily basis. While I could recap the whole four month trip, I don’t think that I would be able to completely capture the essence of the amazing things that I was able to experience. And thus ends then story of one of the exciting adventures of my life so far.
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