Saturday, April 22, 2017

Nunavut Quest 2017

Easter Monday Games.
Arctic Bay residents celebrated Easter Monday by assembling out on the ice across from the Northern Store for an afternoon of Inuit games.  The games were organized by the Hamlet Office and announced on the community’s Facebook page.  The games got underway at 2pm.  I had to forgo participating because I needed to be ready for classes on Tuesday, April 18.  I spent the majority of Spring Break relaxing rather than preparing for school.  From what I saw from a distance, it looked like the participants, especially the kids, were having fun.
My students had quite a few questions about what I did over the break.  I shared photographs of my trip in Strathcona Sound and me ironing on top of my apartment.  Several students added that they watched me iron and took pictures with their iPods.  I encouraged them all to give extreme ironing a try but to be safe at the same time.  They said they would think about it.  I was over-prepared for the first day of school after Spring Break.  (Better to be over-prepared than ill-prepared).  Everyone had their minds set on the next big event: Nunavut Quest.
Nunavut Quest (NQ) is an annual dog sledding race that sees mushers compete for cash prizes.  The race is broken up into timed segments – the sled dogs need to rest & eat – and the timings determine the rankings.  The tournament began in 1999 when the territory of Nunavut was created.  The “race course” alternates between the communities of Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, & Igloolik.  Unfortunately, a race was not held in 2016.  In 2015, the race began in Igloolik and Arctic Bay was the finish line.  This year, the competitors would begin in Arctic Bay and Igloolik would be the finish line.  The last time the race began in Arctic Bay was in 2013.  I remember that day quite well . . . because I documented it on this blog.

The competitors, sled dogs, and support teams began arriving in the community over the Easter weekend.  They came by skidoo and plane.  The noise level down at the ice rose significantly because there were so many sled dogs.  Tuesday, April 18, also happened to be the day of the opening ceremony for Nunavut Quest.  When I was walking home from school in the afternoon, I noticed a crowd had assembled out on the ice.  The race organizers were holding a qualifying race to determine the order in which the competitors would leave Arctic Bay.  From what I saw, the competitors raced their sled dogs to Uluksan Peninsula and back.
Community Hall.
The opening ceremony began at 7pm at the community hall.  A local band was on stage going through sound checks when I arrived.  The place was already packed with people sitting in a ‘U’ shape.  The band played an Inuktitut song to get the crowd warmed up before the formalities began.  A prayer was said and then the organizers came on stage and briefly spoke about the history & evolution of NQ. 

Competitors & Support team members.
The eight competitors were called up to the stage for everyone to see and so they could receive their bibs.  Their bib numbers determined their starting positions.  People walked up to the stage to snap pictures of the competitors receiving their bibs.  I took my pictures from the back.  My digital camera has a good zoom feature.  The support team drivers were also called up to the stage to be introduced and recognized for the hard work they were about to undertake in the coming days.  More pictures were taken. 
Parking Lot was full.
I think all the competing sled dogs should have been brought in to be acknowledged for the hard work they were about to undertake.  After all, they would be running around 100km a day, but unfortunately, the community hall isn’t big enough to accommodate that many dogs.  (Each competitor commanded a team of 10 dogs).           

April 20, 2017

The race began on the afternoon of Thursday, April 20.  They were supposed to leave on Wednesday, but bad weather caused a delay.  The ‘entire town’ assembled out on the ice to see the departure of the support teams & competitors.  Afternoon classes were cancelled.  A makeshift parking lot for vehicles was created out on the ice using a loader.  I walked down to the ice because my skidoo was ‘in the shop’.  The weather was perfect: sunny, clear skies, and no wind.  This was a far cry from 2013.  There was a lot human & animal activity.  While the dogs barked & huddled together, people stood around talking and/or walked around snapping photographs.  Someone brought their drone and filmed everything from a bird’s eye perspective.  The competitors were dressed in a mix of traditional Inuit & western style clothing.  They each carried a whip and kept a close watch on their dogs.  The supply team qamutiks were packed to the brim with food, tents, gas, oil, clothes, and emergency supplies.  Several students from Inuujaq School were part of the supply teams.

Support Teams leaving.
After waiting around for what seemed like an hour, the supply teams began to leave in a large convoy of skidoos & qamutiks.  They had to leave early so they could set up the first rest point.  People waved and shouted “Good luck!” in English & Inuktitut as the supply teams drove off towards Uluksan Point and beyond.  A part of me wanted to follow them – I have yet to experience a dog sledding competition in its entirety - but I had to stay behind and teach.  Maybe someday, I’ll get to tag along and fully document the experience.  Another hour would pass before the timed race would begin.
Support Teams leaving.

An NQ organizer shouted at the competitors to get ready.  People whipped out their iPhones, iPods, and cameras to film the departing mushers.  Two NQ organizers loudly counted down each musher, ending with the word, “Go!”  (A megaphone would have helped a lot).  Each competitor left in 30-second intervals.  Some dog teams left immediately while others needed coaxing.  Competitor #7 almost had a mishap because he nearly fell off his sled.  He wasn’t holding on properly and when his dogs took off, both his legs were lifted into the air.  Thankfully, he held on and laid down on his stomach.  The whole thing happened in a matter of seconds but my camera recorded it all.  (You can watch the video here).

When the eighth & final competitor left for Igloolik, the crowd slowly dispersed.  A long line of vehicles drove off the ice.  A lot of people on foot went to the Northern Store to buy things.  I & several teachers returned to school to clean up, correct work, and prepare for the next day.  If the weather remained ok, the competitors & their support team would arrive in Igloolik within a week.  Updates would be posted on Facebook.     

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