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Author Topic: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975  (Read 6797 times)

OldLeatherneck

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My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« on: March 16, 2013, 06:01:05 PM »


Little did I know, on the 15th of January 1975, when I arrived in Thule, Greenland, that some of the experiences I would have in the ensuing 8 months, would provide memories that would last for a life time.   Yet then, a month earlier, when I left the US Marine Corps, I didn’t know that my next destination would be Thule, Greenland.  For more than a year, I had been certain, as well as assured, that I would have a lucrative position with UNIVAC.  Then as an economic downturn became a recession, UNIVAC went into a hiring freeze.  Having no alternate plans for my post-military career, I accepted an offer for immediate employment maintaining the radar processing equipments at the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) in Thule, Greenland.

It is now 2013, almost 40 years since I lived and worked in Greenland.  As I watch the decline of the Arctic Sea Ice and the unparalleled melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, I can’t help but reflect on the brief time that I spent there.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t search for some data on the temperatures, glacial retreat or some other event that is climatologically or meteorologically relevant to Greenland.

Yes, I’ve survived an extended period of time without sunlight.  I’ve lived through destructive katabatic winds blowing in sub-zero temperatures (-40F or colder).  I’ve also seen the splendor of the ice floating on the calm waters in a fjord, the morning after a massive calving event from a nearby glacier.  Yet this story is more about having witnessed a way of living that soon will be no more.  That is the way the Inuit people have lived for centuries, if not millennia, and now are faced with a changing climate that will alter their lives more than their 100s of years of interactions with western civilization.

How I came to have the opportunity to meet an Inuit family, interview them and then hitch a ride on a dog sled, is a brief sidebar story in itself.  Although I was working 72 hours a week, I needed something to do during my non-working hours.  I thought that it would be more beneficial to further my education than to sit in the club every night renewing a friendship with Jack Daniels, who I spent too many nights with during my year in Vietnam.  Therefore, I signed up for a class in journalism, being taught on-base by the Air Force Base Public Information Officer (PIO).  By the time April came and the class was nearing completion, I was given the final assignment of covering the Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races, being held on the frozen bay between Thule and Dundas Island, for the base newspaper.

On the morning of the race, I was driven to the nearby Inuit village along with the Air Force PIO and the Danish Liaison Officer.  Once entering the small cottage of an Inuit family, I was given the opportunity to interview them about dog-sledding in Greenland.  The interview process required that the questions were translated from English to Danish and then to the native Inuit tongue, with the answers requiring the same process in reverse. 

The Greenlandic sled dogs are more than just beasts of burden, they are integral parts of an Inuit family and given the love and care we give to our household pets.  Yet caring for a sled dog is no small feat, in and of itself, as each dog eats approximately 2 tons of seal meat each year.  For a team of 10 or more dogs, that requires a great deal of hunting just to feed the dogs.  As the above picture indicates, the dog teams in Greenland are harnessed in a fan, unlike the tandem harnessing of an Alaskan or Yukon dog team.  The harnessing in a fan provides more pulling power than does the tandem method and is suitable for Greenland because there are no forests with narrow trails.  The lead dog, in the center has a longer trace than the rest of the pack.  This lead dog is the naturally selected leader of the pack.  The younger dogs start their pulling careers at the edges of the fan and move towards the center as they mature and learn to work as part of a team.

I had the fortune of being able to ride on a dog sled from the Inuit Village to the site of the race, which was held on the frozen bay between Thule and Dundas Island, which was no more than a few miles away.  I also learned the important lesson of having the right lens on my camera before the ride began, as it’s a bit difficult changing lenses with bare hands in sub-freezing temperatures while riding on a dog sled.

Inuit families had travelled hundreds of miles across Greenland and the frozen waters along the shoreline of Baffin Bay, to participate in this annual event.  Using track vehicles with plow blades, the Air Force had cleared a circular race course of about two miles in length.  The race was a timed event with each competing team racing individually and the winner was the team that completed the course in the least amount of time.  It was a fascinating and exciting event to be a part of. These are events that soon will be no more, as the 2013 Annual Greenlandic Dog Races were cancelled due to lack of Sea Ice in a location far south of Thule.

It’s sad to think about the changes that are being imposed upon indigenous peoples, not just in Greenland, but around the world, because we have so carelessly destroyed the habitats they have lived in and thrived in for millennia.

Thanks for allowing me to share these bittersweet memories of a time gone by and a time that shall be no more.

Below are more of the pictures taken of the day of the race plus a few others showing the stark landscape of the frozen shores of Greenland.


Proud Friends and Servants



Cuddly, Cute & Loving



Waiting to be Called



A Bit of Rest Before the Race



This Team is Ready for the Big Race



The Sleds are Ready



Some Days it Just Doesn't Pay to go to Work



The Proud Winner of the 1975 Greenlandic Dog Sled Races



Previous Year's Icebergs Trapped in Bay



As the Arctic Melts, sights like this will never be seen again!!!




"Share Your Knowledge.  It's a Way to Achieve Immortality."  ......the Dalai Lama

TerryM

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2013, 04:21:53 PM »
OldL


Very nice read. In Canada the RCMP killed all the sled dogs on the pretext of saving the people from wild dog attacks. That was some decades ago & the Cree & Inuit I've run into are still very resentful.


I've never been anywhere near as far north as Thule, but the Inuit I came across were all fluent in English. What I noticed was how friendly they were. Constant jokes, real concern for my comfort, never ran into a group with better people skills.


We've done/are doing terrible things to their culture, but, at least on an individual level, we're treated like a visiting relative deserving of all the attention they can lavish on us. At a gas station in Chisasibi the wife and I had a line of people that just wanted to shake hands with a couple that had come so far to meet them.


Terry

ivica

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2013, 06:45:50 PM »
OldLeatherneck, thank you for sharing your memories with us.
BTW: Just showed those dogs to my daughter, and told her a bit of your story.

sidd

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2013, 02:36:34 AM »
My thanks also.

sidd

Neven

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2013, 06:28:49 AM »
And thanks from me too (with a hint of jealousy).
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ChrisReynolds

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2013, 12:06:40 PM »
The 'Cuddly Cute & Loving' has given me the urge to go off and check out some cute animals on Youtube.  ;D

Thanks for the pics and memories.

OldLeatherneck

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2013, 12:16:20 PM »
The 'Cuddly Cute & Loving' has given me the urge to go off and check out some cute animals on Youtube.  ;D

Thanks for the pics and memories.

It was fun reminiscing about times long forgotten.  I was also amazed at how much of the geography of the arctic regions I had forgotten in the nearly 40 years since I had been there.  When I started following Neven's blog last year, I had to re-learn the geography.

As to the dog sled races, it was a once in a lifetime experience and one that I will cherish forever.  I'm only happy that I could share it with friends who care so deeply about what we are doing to destroy our biosphere and the many cultures therein.
"Share Your Knowledge.  It's a Way to Achieve Immortality."  ......the Dalai Lama

Anne

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Re: My Memories: Annual Greenlandic Dog Sled Races – 1975
« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2013, 02:01:26 AM »
OLN, Many thanks for this. I'd like to hear more about your memories of Thule. It's heartbreaking to think this way of life is coming to an end.