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Pole to Pole

Day 3: Ny Alesund

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThough we are crying for a day off after the polar adventure, Geir Paulsen, a round, pony-tailed adventurer with a considerable sense of humour, is of the opinion that we should try to leave before bad weather sets in. (One thing I've noticed in countries full of weather stations is that no one can give you an accurate weather forecast. They can tell you that palm trees will be growing in Iceland in seventy-five years, but nothing at all about the afternoon ahead.)

We load up and set off about 3 p.m. It is appropriate that our column of snowmobiles and trailers should pass, on the way out of town, a three-foot high bronze head of the explorer Roald Amundsen. It commemorates the first transpolar flight in his airship Norge, which left Ny Alesund on 11 May 1926 and landed in North America on 14 May, after a journey of over 3000 miles. Three years later Amundsen died in the Arctic attempting to rescue his friend Nobile, whose airship, like Amundsen's, left from the thirty-foot pylon which still stands on the edge of town, receding into the distance as we head for the mountains.

Determined to do all my own stunts, I send myself and my passenger David Rootes flying as I lose control of Mach-One (the name of the black Ski-Doo I've been allotted) round a tight bend. One handlebar is the accelerator, the other the brake, and at this stage I'm not entirely sure which is which. Fortunately the accident causes more injury to pride than to limb. The going is not easy. The sun is now lost in cloud and it's difficult to see the track. Heinrich, a young Norwegian with disconcertingly blue eyes, who can probably drive a snowmobile standing on his head, leads the procession as we climb towards the saddle of the mountain. Quite suddenly thick cloud envelops us and everything around is white. All sense of direction is lost, and when we do eventually have to pull up, David Rootes informs me drily that 300 yards to my left is a precipice, dropping sheer to a glacier. Defeated by the worsening conditions we turn back. Fresh snow is falling and a small drift has formed already on the side of Amundsen's huge and beaky nose as we re-enter Ny Alesund. Neither he nor anyone else seems surprised to see us back.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 3
  • Country/sea: Norway
  • Place: Ny Alesund
  • Book page no: 16

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