Our Arctic exploits start at Heathrow Airport. I am driven there by James Bustard the project director. Perhaps he wants to make certain I actually make the flight in time or don’t suffer from last minute jitters and decide not to go. If he but knew. I wouldn’t give up this chance for all the tea in China, or more appropriately, all the ice in the Arctic. James looks rather wistful and suddenly I have the idea that he is thinking that if one of us is a no-show or has to pull out for any reason, he would be there ready to step forward and make up the team number. I wonder if he has his passport with him, just in case. This time it is a case of unlucky Jim. Although I am feeling somewhat apprehensive and nervous there is no way I would give up such an exciting opportunity and the chance of such a glorious adventure. I hug him goodbye and he wishes us well and a safe journey. I remind him of something I heard from a Chinese friend. She had told me that one thing she had learned about life from her country’s history, is that the journey itself is the reward and it’s a long process. It is a philosophy that fits in with my own and it is particularly apposite now. Who knows what the next few days will bring and what we will see and experience?
There are just the two of us setting out from Heathrow, Penny Govett and myself; we plan to meet Fabian Carlsson and Erik Mustad en route. Both Penny and I are wearing the T-shirts I had printed with the slogan, which now seems very optimistic ‘Monday at the North Pole 24 April’. The challenge, and part of the excitement, is to reach the North Pole in the shortest time, without allowing any margin for mishaps, errors of judgement, aeroplane delays or other difficulties. However, the weather conditions are notoriously unpredictable in the Arctic, as indeed in the Antarctic, so we will need more than our share of good luck to arrive at our agreed rendezvous on time.
Arctic Circle Map Alaska Photo Gallery
We book into Air Canada and I am asked to check in my bulky hand luggage as it is twice the allowed weight. However, my pleadings and explanations on the purpose of the expedition finally win through and I am permitted to proceed as far as the final gate, for a final decision. Arriving at the gate we say goodbye to James; the next time we meet we will all know whether we were successful or not. He is obviously regretting he isn’t going with us. I cover my outsize bag with my coat and I am allowed through. I am also carrying something very special. A secret not yet to be revealed to anyone. I am determined that it will make the journey with me, all the way to and through the Arctic, until that momentous moment when, hopefully, I will meet Andy Goldsworthy at the North Pole. What a moment that will be! The thought and pleasure spur me on. The American poet, Robert Frost, lends some words to lean on, ‘We dance around in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows.’ I snuggle in my seat, thinking of what it will be like to stand at the North Pole. I dream of the Arctic, polar bears, husky dogs and never-ending expanses of snow and ice most of the way over.
The flight, which takes off just after 1 p.m., is relatively uneventful and we arrive at Montreal Mirabel Airport at around 3.30 p.m. local time. We take a taxi to the Four
Seasons Hotel and excitedly meet up with the two other members of our group, the Norwegian and the Swede, Fabian Carlsson and Erik Mustad. They are old friends and insist we must all toast each other several times over. It’s obviously a portent of things to come! We stagger to our rooms to freshen up and arrange to go out for dinner at 7 p.m. (12 p.m. London time). We meet first in the lobby from where we adjourn to the bar and have more drinks in the hotel. Then we taxi to a Greek restaurant, Milos, which had been recommended to me. The food is excellent and we gorge ourselves on oysters, clams and lobster, followed by strawberries, all the time accompanied by huge quantities of beer and wine. We arrive back at the hotel at 11 p.m. (London time 4 a.m.) and for Penny Govett and I it is time to call it a night (or day) but Erik and Fabian decide to go out drinking on their own. I tell them the Swedish joke (it could easily have been Norwegian) about two Swedes meeting in a bar to drink. They steadily (although subsequently unsteadily) drink their way through most of the evening when one eventually lifts a glass to toast the other and says, ‘Cheers’. The other angrily responds, ‘I thought we were drinking, not talking.’ Erik and Fabian laugh but seem somewhat puzzled and Penny and I leave them to it.
Next morning, after breakfast, we eagerly meet downstairs at 8 a.m. ready to set off. Now everyone including Erik is wearing the ‘Monday at the North Pole’ T-shirts. It takes about one and a half hours to reach Montreal Dorval airport. Fabian has already restocked by buying quantities of champagne, whisky, foie gras, cheeses and chocolate. The plane, a Boeing 737, is fairly empty so we spread out in different rows and have plenty of room. Fabian and Erik work their way through the drinks menu.
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