This is the sound that tangled lines being untangled make.
The green nylon cords were the only color to dot the barren landscape. And the sound they made being untangled filled the vast empty space that existed between the plateaued walls surrounding both sides of Hurry Fjord. Negative space filled only by four and a half feet of new snow atop the
sea ice and miles and miles of ocean below. And that sound.
The whoosh whoosh.
It also filled the empty space between my ears. Sitting on a sled surrounded by snow and rock, a brain can only operate at full capacity for so long and then it needs to hibernate. Blame the cold. Blame the
monotone scenery of white on white. Blame the vastness and sheer scale of everything. To fully comprehend your place in that landscape is an epic effort that is better done in small doses...if at all. Rather, it is best to quiet thought and thinking. It is best to calm the breath and let your body sink into the empty space. To fill that space and be one with it. To simply be. No use in waging some kind of war against the cold or the chore of traveling 50km down a fjord on a sled. you will lose.
Since I wasn’t doing the untangling, I tried to stay out of the way. That was really my goal during the entire trip. Stay out of the way. It became my mantra. And yet, somehow, I managed to get in the way. Simply by being there, I was a nuisance. I was a bother. In a country 1/5 the size of the United States, I managed to still take up too much space. But I was determined just the same.
I had to stay off the sled and away from the dogs. So I sat down in the snow. As I sat cross legged, layers upon layers of insulation and down puff propped me up. Buddha in a snowsuit. At first, I didn’t even do it intentionally. Mediate that is. Truth be told, I thought I’d just take a nap. I was still a little jet lagged and travel weary and getting over a cold. So I thought I’d sneak a little shut eye as Benjamin untangled lines. I figured it was a lot easier to take a nap than sit there and think about being cold or wonder how much longer we were going to be on the sled. And then it happened. I didn’t even know until it was over.
Then a question from Benjamin.
‘You doin ok there kiddo? Going bipolar on me?’
I woke up. Except that I hadn’t been sleeping. (And I wasn’t bipolar.)
At first, I didn’t even open my eyes. I just responded.
‘Nope. Just resting.‘
Not resting though. It was as if I had transported to another place. (Now here is where I get all hippy dippy.) Do I call it another dimension? A new state of mind? Is it even a place? How did I ‘go‘
somewhere if I didn’t intend to go there? But when I opened my eyes, it was as if I was seeing for the first time. A true awakening. I felt lighter. I felt clear. I felt calm. In a place so heavy and austere, it
was nothing short of a miracle.
“Where did you come up with kiddo?” I asked. “I mean, why call me kiddo?”
“I call a lot of people kiddo,” he said. Why did my heart slightly sink when he said this? “I call Grandpa Albert kiddo.”
Throughout the rest of the day, when the sled was stopped and the lines needed untangling, I could almost effortlessly transport myself to that place. And each time, I opened my eyes anew. Refreshed. Awake. So, when someone asks me how I got through a 14 hour sled trip in Greenland, I just smile. It wasn’t that hard I say. Really. We lucked out with the weather. And even though it was only supposed to take 6 hours, it didn't really feel long until the last hour or two. And well, you just do it. You have no choice but to keep moving forward. But I‘m not really being honest. We did luck out with the weather.
Well, after three days of white out and blizzard and 4.5 feet of new untracked snow, we lucked out with no wind and sunny skies the whole way. But 14 hours is 14 hours. And when you’ve never been on a sled and you spend 20 of the 30 miles running, sinking with every heavy step into a foot of snow, pushing a 500 pound sledge, the temperature hovering in the negative double digits, it isn’t exactly what I would call easy. When all you have to eat after breakfast is a frozen hot dog, a chocolate bar, a couple shot bloks and some tea, I wouldn't call it easy. And when you don't go pee the entire day, I wouldn't call it easy. It was actually one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Although, it made 45 minutes in spin class feel like a blip. Actually, spending the remaining time of my trip in the most remote town in the Western Hemisphere with my childhood sweetheart who turned out to be a complete stranger was much harder. But, that was an emotional challenge. This was physical. And yet, I had to tap into mental reserves I never knew I had. And apparently spiritual ones beyond the mental and emotional. All in the company of a self-proclaimed atheist.
And all Benjamin could say was “honeymoon’s on.” In the morning, when he jumped on the sled, and we bobbed down the fjord “honeymoon’s on.” He seemed to hang onto this idea until Kap Hope, until we were 9km from Itto. And then, when the dogs started to fight over seal remains left in the middle of the road, and he had to beat them to stop - “deck deck deck” he said over and over and over again with each hit - the honeymoon seemed to be forgotten and abandoned. Just like the town of Kap Hope. A ghost town. As the northern lights danced green and yellow across the arctic sky, the mood was oddly somber and heavy. Too heavy to comprehend. Like this place. So worth coming though! Hard to imagine. But so worth finding light and love and levity in a dark, cold, unforgiving place. Even if that loves exists only in your own heart and for something larger than yourself and another person.
At the tail end of the trip, after we had unloaded half our gear and after we were able to start moving on the track packed by four other sleds coming from town headed out to hunt musk ox, when my feet were far past the point of feeling, I actually made a conscious decision to meditate. Except this time, I couldn’t just close my eyes and sink into that space. This time, my body was waging a war on itself thanks to a little help from nature and negative 30 degree temperatures.
The northern lights would have been a nice distraction. They put on a fine show. Nature's own Cirque de Soleil. But cold is cold and it is the ultimate nag. So I started a mantra. Mantra is kind of a nag in itself. It repeats and repeats and repeats itself over and over and over again. Om na va sha vaya. Om na va sha vaya. Over and over. I repeated this mantra over and over again. With each syllable, I touched my thumb to a finger alternating from one finger to the next through all my fingers and then back through them again. Over and over again. With each repetition, the mantra filled the empty space.
It untangled the mental and emotional knots that tried to keep me trapped in my cold body. Instead, it pushed out the cold and along with it the negative thinking. And eventually, it pushed out thinking all together. I guess it was all I could do to become the mantra. To become the repetition. To sink into it and trust it and stop fighting it and certainly stop asking when it was going to end.
And once I did, we arrived.