A perilous journey to the Arctic Circle

16 August 2017

With my friends on Grímsey Island at the start of our trek

My friends, I am sure you are wondering how our trip to Iceland has been?

Well – we made it to the Arctic Circle!

It was quite a perilous journey. First we had to take a 3-hour-long ferry ride to the tiny island of Grímsey, which is off the north coast of Iceland. Once we arrived on Grímsey, we hiked 3 miles to the Arctic Circle.

“Why is it called the Arctic Circle?” I asked my friends, on the ferry ride over to the island. I was feeling a little queasy from the bobbing of the boat, so I was trying to distract myself.

“The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line around the Earth, at about 66° 33′ North Latitude,” explained Cheerio. “You’ve heard of ‘the land of the midnight sun’, right?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

Oregano held onto me tightly so I wouldn’t blow away

“Well, that’s because, during the summer months (which is in June in the northern hemisphere), the sun remains visible above the horizon almost throughout the whole night. Around 21 June every year, which is the time of the summer solstice, the sun is visible even at midnight.”

“And during the winter months,” added Chamomile, “the sun only peeks above the horizon very briefly, so it is dark for almost the whole day. In fact, around 22 December every year, when it’s the winter solstice, the sun stays below the horizon for 24 continuous hours.”

“Gosh, I’m not sure I would like that,” I said, shivering. “I love being outside in the sunshine, it always makes me feel cheerful.”

“Did you know that the position of the Arctic Circle isn’t fixed?” explained Paprika. “It actually moves by about 15 cm every year, as part of a 40,000 year cycle called the Milankovitch cycle, named after a Serbian climatologist called Milutan Milankovitch. He recognised that the tilt of Earth’s axis shifted from about 22 to 24.5 degrees every 20,000 years, before shifting back gradually over another 20,000 years. It’s quite complicated.”

Snapping pictures of puffins

“Currently,” added Oregano, “the position of the Arctic Circle is fixed at 66°33,5’N, north of the airport terminal in Grímsey.”

And curiously, it is marked with a big concrete ball. I did not know that, did you? (see link and link)

I must say, I am very lucky to have such knowledgeable friends. I sure am learning a lot from them.

The scenery on Grímsey Island was breathtaking! There were cliffs and long grasses blowing in the cold breeze. Along the way, we had to dodge some very angry birds, known as Arctic terns. On some parts of our walk, the birds squawked loudly and dove towards our heads. I was very grateful that Oregano had me safely tucked inside his backpack.

Our Arctic picnic

On our way to the Arctic Circle on the north end of the island, we were lucky enough to spy some puffins. These adorable black and white birds with bright orange feet live along the coast of Iceland, but usually leave the area in August. We were very excited that a few of them stuck around for us to see. We tried to snap a photo with our cell phones, but the zoom wasn’t strong enough. Oregano did take a funny photo of Cheerio, Chamomile and Paprika trying to photograph the puffins though!

After encountering the puffins, we trekked past free roaming sheep, while deftly dodging that which sheep leave behind (!).

It was so serene. The landscape was stark, but beautiful in its simplicity. The only sounds we heard were the bleating sheep, howling wind and the crunch of our own shoes on the ground.

Just before we hiked up the last, hilly stretch of our journey, we stopped to rest and have an Arctic picnic. I was sure glad that Oregano let me hitch a ride in his backpack. Had I been left to walk alone, I think I would have blown all the way to the North Pole.

When we finally arrived at the Arctic Circle, we all took some time to reflect on just how far we had come for this once in a lifetime experience before we started the long walk southward.

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