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Polar Plunge, Longyearbyen, and Final Thoughts

This trip was special for me, not only because of the wildlife we were able to spy or because of the experiences we had aboard the Ultramarine, but also because I am a total Polar History nerd. I have read the expeditions of the polar greats: Nansen, Amundson, Svedrup, Franklin, Shackleton, and many many more. This voyage gave me the opportunity to follow in the metaphorical footsteps of a few of those greats and sail North of latitude 88 degrees N. It is totally incredible to imagine the voyages of these sailors back in the 1800's with their wooden boats and wool gear, planning their ventures knowing the certainty they would be overwintering while stuck in ice floes while discovering new lands or searching for the exact location of the North Pole. Admittedly, this voyage is quite a bit more comfortable than the voyages they led, but to sail the same waters and walk on the same bits of land is more than a gal could possibly ask for. 

Throughout my travels I have, much like others, kept tabs on my list of continents (not quite finished yet) but I have also kept a list of another sort: Oceans I have swum in. On our trip to Svalbard, on a very brisk afternoon around 5:30PM just north of 88 degrees latitude, with the bright sun shining overhead, our group had the opportunity to Polar Plunge. Now, you cannot sail all this way to not dip a toe into the coldest waters on the planet! So, with adrenaline pumping, I quickly changed into my swimsuit and plunged into my "final" Ocean, completing the task of swimming in all 5 of the worlds oceans with a dip in the Arctic on a chilly 2.4 degrees Celsius evening. This was quickly followed by a shot of Vodka and a chilly walk straight into the ships sauna to get some feeling back into my toes. Having also plunged into the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, I can honestly say that the Arctic was much more bone chilling and brain freeze inducing, but also, worth every frozen, skin tingling second. Definitely not something to pass up. 

Finally, as I finish up my thoughts and tie a bow on this trip, I wanted to touch on Longyearbyen itself. This small town is truly an isolated existence, hosting about 2000 residents on an island of 3000 known polar bears. The town consists of a couple dirt roads with houses painted in government regulated colors (To preserve it's heritage). Old mining history and active mining areas surround the town itself. The town center boats the "Northernmost Brewery in the World" a couple hotel and activity centers, a tourism center and a small museum and town hall. Any activities or excursions that take you out of the town must be led by a guide and must be armed. A visit to the town is a great way to see what life in the far north is truly like, while enjoying a beer with intrepid explorers from around the world. 

By the end of this adventure, I felt accomplished, truly lucky and extremely fortunate to have had the experiences I had, and completely exhausted. Longyearbyen was a great transition between ship life and our return to bustling civilization in Oslo the next day. 


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