5:45pm. Overcast. Somewhere along Canada Route 97.
Roger: “I’m never ever going to go to something called an ice breaker.”
Brigt: “Well then you’re going to have a real problem at Arctic events.”
This morning a team of seven northern Norwegian researchers and one American (conversant in Northern Norwegian) set out to explore the landscape of British Columbia in two cars instead of flying over it. They were heading off to the mid-sized city of Prince George for the International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS).
Brigt: “Mining project to the left.”
Roger: “It looks like the back of an animal that has been skinned.”
Håkon, the backseat driver currently sitting in the front seat, confessed that it is an exhausting experience for him to do this kind of travel. “I can’t stop looking,” he offered. “I’m so curious about everything when I drive through new landscapes.”
Several times the group lost their way because high roaming charges meant that no one had enabled data on their phones (e.g. for GPS-assisted driving) and the proud Norwegians had instead decided to use their God-given gift of map reading. In finding their way without satellites, they were compelled to conjure up “everything we have learned from Crocodile Dundee,” as Håkan put it.
“So the first lesson is that we have become poor map readers,” offered Brigt.
“It’s the road signs’ fault,” responded Håkon, speaking to the paucity of indications along and off Northern highways.
“Another juncture coming up,” Brigt moaned.
“Another ten hours,” Roger, the rookie in this setting, shot back.
“Ahh, it’s a walk in the park from here,” responded Brigt.
At this point, it was only another 500km to Prince George. Conversations in the car had begun to seem less like conversations and more like collections of singular, disembedded statements intended solely to break the monotony of the road. Group discussion had been abandoned for something akin to the name-the-licence-plate game: passengers shouted things out when it entered their field of view; sometimes there were responses, sometimes not.
Before the morning’s departure the stress level was high. Many of the Norwegians’ flights had been delayed by some twelve hours, and there was no small amount of confusion about where and when to meet.
“Everything will work out as soon as you get in the cars,” counseled Britt, a Tromsø-based Arctic Encounters researcher, via a morning Skype call. On roadtrips, every group develops their own dynamic.
Britt was in fact originally meant to attend the Prince George conference, but in February, after extensive planning discussions and after counting the number of Norwegian researchers who would be attending, she decided that it was not the time to fly halfway around the world to another Arctic conference just to give a talk for twenty minutes.
“A recent study on tourism showed that CO2 emissions from cars and planes are more or less the same, per capita,” Brigt reminded everyone.
“What tourist activity do you think generates the most emissions?” Brigt asked.
“What tourist activity generates the most emotions?” Håkon asked.
Silence. And a single laugh.
“What about CEO emissions?”
At one point, we pulled off the road into a petrol station to meet up with the others. Grete Holvesrud was the speed demon helming the other vehicle. During a pit stop, Grete told the story of how ICASS was founded in 1990. Up until then, social scientists had been something of an add-on to natural science engagements on the Arctic. As part of the group who initiated the first ICASS, the motivation was to create their own arena in which social science perspectives on developments in the Arctic could be shared, discussed and developed.
Roger, still in the car, yelled out, “We are missing the ice breaker!” Perhaps there was irony, perhaps not.
It didn’t matter, though. It was dark out, well after 10pm, and the roadtrippers were beyond tired. And the icebreaker had actually ended several hours prior. But there had to be, everyone in the two cars agreed, some value in driving through a landscape instead of flying over it.