And so we come to the end of our time in Qikiqtarjuaq and the beginning of what will be a fantastic experience but seriously hard work. As packing has progressed our eyes have widened as the pulks have grown taller and fatter and the realisation of the work to come has become a solid reality in the shape of the unyielding and towering sleds.
Our past six days have involved very little else apart from the quest to find our dog, more on him later, and packing the small boulders we are planning to drag the equivalent length of the US/Mexican border. Weight and what to take and leave has been at the forefront of all our minds. The closest sled weight estimation I can offer is the lighter side of 300kg, although it’s not shy by much. The weight is made up of a staggering amount of Wild West beef jerky, dry meals, chocolate buttons, fuel, dog food and lip salve. Benno, getting a bit concerned when the sleds were 3/4 full, mentioned that "we haven’t put anything useful in yet". We all take some comfort in this fact, the "useful" stuff, stoves, sleeping bags, spare gloves are a tiny part of the load and the rest of the pile will diminish as we chip away at the miles: ten days in we should all be 20kg lighter, one month and it will be 60kg. This, along with the gradually increasing daylight and the smooth sea ice littered with gigantic icebergs dazzling away in the Arctic sunlight give us all a lot of hope and courage, safe in the knowledge that the start will be tough but everything is in our favour and after all, it’s what we signed up for.
Another cause for happiness is Colin the doggie. As we met in the pub, completed training weekends and traveled over the Atlantic we discussed at length the dog we would buy. A dog that could guard the gates of Hades, modeled on Buck the sled dog from Jack London’s imagination; fierce, loyal and massive. We got Colin. Despite not quite being the monster we had all imagined he is a strong and willing friend and with some encouragement is starting to come out of his shell. Dogs are working animals to the Inuit and therefore aren't always treated softly and Colin does have a hard time understanding that a hand coming to pet him is a friendly one. However with some patience, kind words and lots of Inukshuk dog food Colin is gradually coming round and has now started wagging his tail and coming to us for a little stroke.
We have all been surprised with the amount of snow that has fallen and we are now heading out on a practice run to see Eric and family in his polar yacht frozen in the ice on the other side of the bay. We shall begin to see if conditions do suit our cause. Whatever the next four months bring my experience of the North so far is centered firmly around the people we have met up here who are so willing to help and support us in we have been doing. From the Inuit elders offering advice on the ice conditions, the friends we made in Iqualit or Lois, the superb manager of the hotel we are staying in, the sense of community and the pride everyone takes in the environment they survive in is enough to warm the heart, even at -40c. Thank you all for your continuing help and support, your messages of encouragement are amazing and we all appreciate them immensely. And finally in the words of Bertie Ahern "much done, much to do".