Within an hour of landing, we attended a short orientation meeting, then thirty of us packed into a vehicle the size of a UPS truck and headed for the Russell Glacier. The truck stalled two miles outside town, but a trio of Toyota SUVs were sent to our rescue.
The Russell Glacier is a mammoth river of ice feeding a flow from the ice cap to the Watson River. At the point of entry, the glacier fractures and looks like shattered granite, with a cool, blue glow caused by trapped oxygen. While we were gaping at it like the looney tourists that we were, a large sheet broke loose and crashed into the river with a thunderous roar.
When we returned, we were treated to a Greenlandic barbecue, consisting of quickly braised muskoxen, reindeer and lamb, sausages, and just enough vegetables to make us feel like civilized creatures. And, no, muskoxen does not taste like chicken. It's more like dog, though less tender.
Today, we toured the marathon course, driving a 19-mile road to the ice cap. The topography reminded me of the California desert-rugged, rolling hills dotted with scrubby foliage-only, of course, it was covered with snow and the temperature was ten degrees, a notable difference. As we climbed toward the ice cap, the road grew steeper (it's significantly hillier than I expected), the mountains loomed taller, the snow deeper. Last year, the race was run in unusually warm conditions. The road was bare. That is not the case this year. It's white powder the whole way-the purest, driest snow I have seen in my life.
At the ice cap, we tumbled out of our vehicles to inspect the course. What a sight! It is a Sahara of gently rolling snow drifts, stretching to horizon. I took pictures, but they are feeble imitations. I have run in some beautiful places-the Grand Canyon, Big Sur, Santorini-the ice cap is the equal of any of those, but the spaciousness, the silence and the solitude sets it apart. That will stay with me forever.
Over dinner last night, an Irishman advised me to wear my running clothes under warmer garments for the tour today so that at the ice cap, I could strip down and run it, testing my gear. I thought that was excellent advice and did as he suggested. I was the only one to do so (including my new Irish friend). I'm glad I did it. The ice cap was covered with a thick layer of snow. At times, I plunged into it up to my knees. Very difficult running. But, it allowed me to determine that I had the right gear and that he cold was not going to be a factor. I finished brimming with confidence.
Tomorrow, I'll learn if that confidence was misplaced.