Students relax on the deck in the warm sunshine as the ship sails on smooth seas through Torngat Mountains National Park as Geoff Green expands on SOI’s plans for the evening. Photo: Lee Narraway

By Addison Asuchak

Just do it!

There are three words I hold near and dear to my heart: Just do it! These words branded in the back of my mind inspired me to embrace this summer’s Students on Ice (SOI) program as one of Parks Canada’s Arctic Explorer Champions.

Addison Asuchak Students on Ice
Addison Asuchak lies on a low roof to photograph the abandoned mining town of Ivittuut, Greenland. © LEE NARRAWAY

After sailing the Arctic waters from Labrador to Greenland this July with SOI, my sense of adventure has expanded exponentially and my eyes have been opened to the power of exploration, adventure and stepping out of my comfort zone. I finished the expedition with a more rambunctious and inquisitive sense of wonder in the world around me, craving to further explore the unknown.

The SOI program consisted of 88 students from around the world, 12 of whom were ambassadors like myself. Forty-five experts joined us, who brought light to the science, history and art we witnessed each day on our exploration. In many cases these experts also served as mentors.

One of the experts I admired most is renowned explorer and oceanographer Don Walsh. Upon seeing our eyes light up at new sights, he would proclaim, “You have the Explorers Gene.” He was right. I was fully entranced. He taught me that exploring is curiosity acted upon and a deeply satisfying activity.

This being my first Arctic expedition, I actively embraced each moment, excited for the next. I found myself often questioning:

“What lay around the corner? What might I see? What will I smell? Will I remember everything? What adventure will I come across next?”

Thankfully, both the good and challenging experiences laid the foundation for extraordinary memories.

Our journey began upon boarding a First Air chartered flight to Kuujjuaq, Nunavik in Quebec. After a morning of wandering Kuujjuaq, playing Inuit games I had recently learned, I became uneasy wondering if I packed everything I would need for this expedition. However, I was confident to board our ship, the Sea Adventurer, no matter what! With adrenaline coursing through my veins and excitement in my heart, we boarded the ship, pulled anchor and set sail.

Finally aboard our ice-class vessel, and our new home for the next two weeks, I scurried to my room, as thrilled as a kid on Christmas morning. Throwing my bag to the ground, I whisked myself back out the door to explore the ship. Soon enough the expedition leader, Geoff Green, reeled us to the common area. We eagerly awaited our welcome like it was the first day of school. And that is exactly what it was: a floating classroom. Green described our daily workshops, landings, the necessity of organization, schedules and, above all else, flexibility. I learned that on such endeavours, and in life, one must never fear the unknown and should embrace flexibility largely because “Plan B” often goes above and beyond all expectations.

Our daily workshops had an excess of choices. We could dabble in Inuit print making and sewing, expand our knowledge and understanding of history and politics, try our hands at Inuit games, and gaze at the life of phytoplankton under microscopes.

Personally, the leadership, expedition and entrepreneurship workshops really peaked my interests. Learning from the experienced and insightful minds of the great modern-day explorers Don Walsh and David Fletcher was priceless. They taught me what it takes to be not only an explorer, but also a leader in life and harsh conditions. As Fletcher would say, “Right or wrong, a good leader always makes a decision. Indecision is the worst form of leadership”. I was deeply moved by Walsh and Fletcher, who often shared their words of wisdom about life and team building. They truly put my life into perspective. They evoked a great sense of motivation and eagerness, because their insights have been drawn from hands-on experience.

Some of my greatest moments of our trip include my frequent outings to the ship’s bow. I would peer into the frigid Arctic water, and, in a tranquil state, reflect on my life — accomplishments, lessons learned, the future. My birth day was fast approaching during the expedition and I was feeling both lost and eager about my future, all the while I was on an adventure of a lifetime. Then one evening, a Canadian singersongwriter aboard named Kathleen Edwards really honed my emotions after she played an acoustic set. It tied my thoughts together, making sense of everything I was feeling – life is an adventure and it is what you make of it. I had photographed polar bears, seals, muskoxen, reeled in a number of Arctic char, and captured underwater GoPro footage of whales. I realized I was in the midst of my own life adventure. I shed tears of joy as Edwards strummed her guitar.

I ended up losing my GoPro camera in the water on my birthday. My heart sank to my stomach. I took it everywhere with me: bungee jumping in Switzerland, skydiving in Austria, literally everywhere as if it were another appendage. However, Green’s teachings of preparedness proved me well; I had ended up saving my footage just minutes before. Yes, there were some shots lost, but the stories are priceless.

Once I returned home I passed my passion and stories on to more young Canadians through Parks Canada outreach programs in Vancouver. I am confident that those I connected with will find their own way up North or at least appreciate the wonders that lie outside of our busy cities. Since memories are hard to share, I encourage everyone to see the world at their feet and boldly take steps to create their own adventures.

I give great thanks to Students on Ice, Danielle Koop, Grant Lahring, Missy Chareka, Mila Mezei, Justin Fisch, Parks Canada, my friends, and especially my family for having helped shape and prepare me for such memorable and endearing adventures. I bid you adieu, the best of luck, and bon voyage.

Lastly, here’s my piece of wisdom: Just do it!

You will be glad you did.

Read more Students on Ice reports:
Connecting with the inuit culture by Chaim Andersen
Reflections on my SOI experience by Alistair Walker