Katja was giving our small group instructions on how to don a dry suit in the gear-jammed room of Wildlife Svalbard Adventures. I slipped into the ladies room (you never pee enough times before you zip yourself up for the next three hours) and then shoved my head through the tight neoprene of my bright blue Kokatat. I was breaking it in today, on the waters off the shores of Longyearbyen, the small town where most folks live here on the Svalbard Islands.
Katja is typical of many of the guides working in these parts. She’s a geologist, but fell under the spell of the isolated, cold mountains and silent spaces that Svalbard offers.
Today Katja would take us out in double kayaks for a few hours’ paddling on the cold water. If we flipped, she promised, our hands and heads would be chilly, but otherwise we’d be fine. I’ve been dumped in ice cold water before and it’s no fun. Double kayaks are very stable, however, and even in the inbound swells we had no worries.
My partner, Amanda, had never paddled before. I’ve kayaked both white water and ocean a number of times so gave her some pointers to help save her shoulders and sense of humor on what would be a long day on the water. She adapted well, finding a rhythm. We landed on the far shore and set up a bonfire for lunch and a short hike.
While we were hopeful, not much wildlife showed up. A distant reindeer herd, too far to photograph, grazed quietly on the mountainside where remnants of an old coal operation still sits. Huge engines, left to rust in place, are now considered artifacts.
By the time we finished our lunch and made our way to the defunct cable car operation, several of us were feeling the effects of coffee and Norwegian berry drinks as well as many hours since the last potty break.
Katja sent me scurrying to the east side of the decrepit cable car building where I figured that my drop seat dry suit would make everything a breeze.
The curved dropseat zipper didn’t line up with the front to back zipper of the polypro Kokatat union suit I had on underneath. And the two pairs of liner pants underneath that.
Defeated and desperate, I had to strip down to bare skin in the icy wind and light rain-turning-to-snow.
My beautiful blue dry suit lay on the mud, forming a protective layer for all my other duds.
Right about then a sightseeing helicopter paused overhead.
I looked up. Waved. Peed.
Then began the slow process of layering everything back on top of the chillbumps that now made up my naked skin.
Things could have been worse. A polar bear could have come poking around the corner. A wandering walrus. A rutting reindeer.
It’s hard to run with a dry suit around your ankles. Four layers of clothes around your knees.
Hey. Just saying.
On the other hand I may well see varying versions of my near-naked self on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and travel forum.
But that’s another story.