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April 11, 2010

Tuktoyatuk, NT



By Lydia


This is a magic place. We are in the arctic. The sun’s last rays linger until after midnight.


Woke up late after such a big day yesterday. We are staying at the A. Gruben’s Transport Ltd. Camp Workers’ Dormitory. It is extremely comfortable and rather the ‘Club Med’ of the arctic. The open cafeteria keeps us fueled with good meals and endless juice.


We have a warm safe shop to store the car in. At night, we put the car in the garage next to huge arctic trucks and plows. This morning, we returned to the shop. Re-packed the solar car batteries with little hotties, Styrofoam insulation boxes and blankets, and wheeled the car out to catch some rays. Unfortunately, today was an overcast day, and by evening we were only able to get ½ a charge on the battery.


When the sun is always out it is difficult to determine direction. North, South, East, West all blend together. Earl told us that the natives tell direction even in a snow storm by looking at the trees and bushes. Apparently all trees grown tilted, facing south towards the sun.


Dehydrated from the dry arctic weather, and worn out from the previous day’s expedition, we all took a short nap in the afternoon.


We are meeting interesting people here at the worker’s camp. At lunch time, we chatted about plans for a road running between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. Currently, there is no permanent road between these two towns. During the winter, trucks haul supplies on the ice road. In the summer, everything and everyone travels by plane or ferry. The planned road is now being surveyed and preparations are being made. If the road is completed in several more years, the Northwest Territories government will likely opt to forego spending money towards maintenance of the ice road and will instead maintain the permanent road. This would mean the end of the ice road!


Tuktoyaktuk sits just about at the northernmost end of Canada. It is a rather artificial way to live. All supplies are trucked in. All resources trucked in. Even waste is an issue, since the ground is frozen in permafrost.


We keep noting areas for energy efficiency improvement. Since it is so cold here, many things are done by brute force. Engines and machinery need to be plugged in or left idling to avoid freezing. This creates an enormous waste in diesel and other fuels.


Most of the workers here at the camp only live here part time. It seems standard to work about 1 month on and then take a week or two “vacation” back home.


Evening time saw us back outside. We took a drive through Tuktoyaktuk and ended up at the beach of the Arctic Ocean. Jim was eager to take his kite out for some kite surfing and had borrowed a set of skis.


While Jim got the kite ready, several young girls came out to play and to see the kite. They gathered around me and we all exchanged names. Then they ran off down the ice to greet Jim.


Marcelo pulled out beach chairs from the van. We sat them down at “water’s edge” and took some arctic beach photos! Sunset up here is a multi-hour event. The sky is crystal blue and there are few things that could be more beautiful than watching the sun sink into the arctic white.


The sun sets so late that all of us lost track of time. At the end of the evening, Jim reminded the girls that it was Sunday and a school night. It was already 11:30pm and still dusk out! Some of the girls’ parents were waiting for them at the door of houses.


Just another Sunday in the arctic. I am constantly amazed just to be here and feel privileged to have the experience.



By Marcelo


Early in the morning the sun was shining but by the time we crawled out of bed to take care of business the weather changed, overcast, we could still see a bright point in the sky, it was noon, low sun at about 25% degrees. The array was only registering 150 watts.


We all had a good night of rest, jokingly we nicknamed the E Gruben's camp "out post Mars" because it remind us of a frontier camp as we would envision in space; we get from a controlled environment into our suits and transport to brave a hostile environment. Okay, live right now is not as dramatic but we sure have a better understanding and a lot of respect for the wonderful and resilient people of the land. Wow, this is as far north as anyone can get, we see the Arctic ocean from the window and pretty much everywhere we look. Except by the site of two pingos we can't tell the difference between land and the arctic ocean. It's all so flat, it has it own beauty, sure is a magical place.


Finding our bearing is another challenge, no land point of reference. Where is north, south, east or west. The Magnetic north is almost around the corner from us. Well, not really but considering where we are it feels that way..


The out post Mars, was built in the 70's during the hike of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. Today, it serve as a hotel / camp for modern arctic explorers. The building still reflect the 70's decor, it is extremely well maintained and immaculate clean and the food is great.


XOF1 was stored inside the shop, warm and cozy. Batteries were seating at 92.4V (~15% charge). We removed the foam covers, there was still some residual heat from the hand warmers we used to keep the batteries from freezing. We replaced the hand warmers, placed the foam cover and wrapped the batteries with blankets, closed the solar car and pushed it outside to charge, no point to set up the array as we could barely tell were the bright spot in the sky was.


Back in the out post Mars, we we indulged in first class meal. Still felling a bit overwhelmed from all the work in the past few days we took a siesta . I woke up very stiff this morning, the tension of constantly dogging cracks on the road the the slippery ice was a bit harder than I anticipated but it is all good. After we woke up from out comatose state, we got on adimin work, organize photos, emails, updates, etc... but didn't have time for much, 07:00pm dinner time came by fast, we had another incredible meal and head out to bring the solar car inside the shop for the night. In spite of overcast sky the batteries were registering 96.4V, that's almost half. I was pleasantly surprised.


Shortly after dinner we went to check out the batteries, the array wasn't even registering anything. So, I decided to pack and call it the night. Ironically, the moment we tucked XOF1 for the night at the shop the sun was out. Jim wondered if it would be worth setting it up but I didn't think it would be worth our time. Armed with a kite and a lot of enthusiasm we set out to visit Tuk. Calm wind, beautiful sun set, picture perfect. We drove around town for a bit, doing the tourist thing, taking photos of kids playing street hockey, antlers on the roof of s small shed, pingos like mini volcanos far in the horizon., snow mobiles, caribou hide hanging to dry in front of someone's home. We came to a stop near the RCMP quarter, the Canadian flag was gently flying indicating there was some wind. Jim head towards the beach to check it out, minutes later the kite was flying. I headed back to the van to pick up beach chairs and noticed some kids near by were mesmerized at the site of the kite, some were very shy, I encouraged them to go check it out. By the time I return to the beach with the chairs, kids were running and yelling "Jim", "Jim", they were talking to Lydia who told them about Jim. The site and the sounds of the kids, laughing and running, giggling was so grounding in the most wonderful way. Time stood still as the kite flu, the frozen arctic ocean underneath our feet, the horizon touching the sky and the laughter of kids.


The wind died down a bit, we took the opportunity to take some silly photos of us, indulging a sun tan, on a frozen beach in the arctic, just the thought of it was entertaining but I had to take it a step further, that's unfortunate I didn't have my bathing suit with me otherwise I would have dove into a bank of snow, just t-shirt, tights and no socks did for me. My feet froze near instantly the moment it touched the ice, so I had to keep some layer of insulation. Since there wasn't any wind at the time the freezing cold was tolerable. We made silly faces and poses. Near half hour later the cold hit, got dress, a gentle wind start blowing again and Jim's Kite was dancing in the sky, kids running and laughing. We watched the sun set,. The kids found a crack in the ice, hidden by snow. A reminder of the danger these people face everyday. We all looked at the cracked, wondering how deep it went. As the temperature increase so is the danger in the ice. We went to shore and use a snow bank as our play ground. At that moment there was no age difference between the kids and us, we were jumping in the snow, skidding down, laughing like the kids and playing as if we were kids, having the time of our life's. We lost track of time, just as it start to get dark we began to realized how late it was and the kids were still playing with us, tomorrow is their first day back from school after spring break and we were keeping them late. Sure enough, a couple of parents came to get their youngsters to come home. We said our good byes and part our ways.


Back at "out post Mars", we took the opportunity to unload photos, videos, and catch up on some emails. We were still a little Jittery, out little flying and screaming monkey was making us laugh non stop. Luckily there wasn't any immediate neighbors to us.


Time to catch some z's. Hope tomorrow the weather forecast will be wrong, it is calling for rain. Yaks!!! rain in the arctic. Oh well. It is what it is.





E.Grubens's Transport Ltd sign at the heated shop housing the solar car

XOF1 inside the shop, Jim working on the batteries, Lydia filing

A bright point in the sky, didn't set up the array

Lydia and Jim signing up for lunch

The mini cabbage didn't stand a chance


Say "ahhhhhh"


say "1, 2, 3, solar car"

 So many choices!




The nylon ring of the hitch ball broke with the cold weather, loosening up the ball hitch



Marcelo and Jim, doing a synchronized "store the solar car for the night dance"


Marcelo dreaming of bigger tires for the solar car


Antlers on the roof of a shack, Arctic ocean on the back ground

 Kids playing hockey on the street, Pingo on the background

The dog's house was nearly covered by snow, the dog was
Howling away, wowowowowoww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! at the kids playing hockey


Lydia the camera women!



Our Uhaul wheels. Hey, that's probably the first U-haul van in the arctic!



A larger than life wooden sled







Marcelo stripping down. Can someone tell him he is not in Brazil!



Los tres solar car amigos basking on the beach in the arctic ocean at 10:00pm at -9C



Say "solar car!"



Jim wearing his "texas A &M" t-shirt.



Hey Lydia, when was the last time you folded a beach chair in the arctic ocean.




Instead of cleaning sand off the chair, in the arctic you have to clean the ice





Jim getting the kite ready for lift off 




I didn't take long after the kite was flying, kids came by the beach to check out the kite 




All smiles, kids running with the kite 




Jim on the controllers of the kite and looking himself like a kid all over again.
Way to go Jim, you really made the day.




The kite flying just over the kids, they were all very excited and cheerful 




The kids found a crack in the ice near where we were. One off the many dangerous. Cracks and holes get covered by snow hiding the danger. 




We could see water down below, into the crack. 




Lydia standing over the crack, holding the ice together 




It was a beautiful evening, clear sky, relative warm arctic temperature -9C and new friends 



Everyone laying down on the frozen arctic ocean





Tuktoyaktuk on the background, a view from the arctic ocean 




A mount of ice and snow was our playground. Uncle Jim, Aunt Lydia and uncle Marcelo being kids all over again 




Only -9C 




XOF1 internet cafe at out post Mars  




Jim keeping the monkey out of Marcelo's reach




Our flying screaming monkey catching some z's