Really ‘being on top of the world’

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My brother-in-law Jeff and daughter Aimee enjoyed their time at the “top of the world.”
My brother-in-law Jeff and daughter Aimee enjoyed their time at the “top of the world.”

My beloved husband Stu loved to travel and planned a trip as soon as we came back from the last one. Well, his younger brother Jeff has the same wanderlust and often travels to exotic spots.

He just returned from a remarkable one, the North Pole. I wanted to share his experience of literally being “on top of the world.”

The ship Jeff traveled on is a nuclear-powered ice breaker that keeps the North Pole passage open for commercial ships. Going through the ice, he said, was like the turbulence on an airplane, only it lasted for hours!

During the summer the ship, a working merchant marine vessel, takes on about 120 tourists. Jeff explained that the passengers were an international group, mostly from Japan and China, with a few people from America, Europe and India.

Below is a diary that Jeff kept of his journey to the “top of the world” that began on July 1:

The first day I was awakened at an ungodly hour with breakfast at 3 a.m., then a long walk to check in, then an even longer walk to the gate. Yet we were unable to board until 6:15 a.m. Same old story… hurry up and wait.

Finally, we were ready to sail out of the Russian nuclear base. Should be fascinating.

The ship is the “50 Years of Victory” (Victory), the strongest ice breaker in the world. It is nuclear powered with 74,000 horse power. It rides up on the ice and then crashes down to break it.

The next day, after experiencing 80 degree weather, it had cooled off overnight. I slept 10 hours. We had the small windows open and we awoke to 50 degrees. Certainly was refreshing. It’s amazing just how little time it took to go from sunny and 80 to foggy and 40.

The crew gave us our emergency talk and drill. If you ever need to know how to wear a survival/immersion suit, ask me (if I survive the immersion). It was strongly impressed upon us to be careful because the ship is going to encounter not rough, but bumpy conditions once we hit the ice and if we get hurt there is no place to get off. In fact, no matter what happens there is no place to get off. Fortunately, the doctor on board claims to have brought home alive everyone onboard each trip.

This afternoon we had mandatory talks on the helicopter proceedings and what to do when confronted with polar bears. The answer… group together and let the guys with the guns earn their pay.

The cabins are set up for sailors. We have a “suite” which gives my step-daughter Aimee a little privacy. All beds are oversized twins. They are decorated in early dormitory style but have a refrigerator and TV for DVDs. No real comfort.

Today is a sea day with various lectures scheduled. It is assumed that we will hit some ice later today. Last night, we met the captain at his cocktail party. He reminded me of Sean Connery with his beard and rugged Russian good looks. He gave us all confidence in the ship.

After a great day that included a helicopter ride, we had to get Neptune’s “permission” to approach the North Pole. It’s a ceremony at sea when crossing navigational points.

The captain had to give a “gift” to Neptune to let us pass. It was a gallon of Vodka that we all had to share in order to pass on through. It was a hoot that was followed by a barbecue on the deck in 25-degree weather in bright sunshine surrounded by ice.

That’s a memory one takes to the grave. Oh… and since it was July 4th, the Russians played American favorites including “These Boots are Made for Walking” and Michael Jackson songs. What a night.

When we arrived at the North Pole, the ship’s whistle blew and champagne flowed freely. The only way to describe the event is to picture NYC on New Year’s Eve with whooping and hollering and everyone kissing and photographing everyone else.

For me, in many ways it was a magical moment to think that I was physically on top of the world… not just in the way that I have always felt due to my luck in wife, family, friends, business and health.

That’s it from the top of the world. Tonight we start south with a stop or two in Franz Josef Land. That’s a group of islands originally discovered by a group of Austrian explorers and named for the Austro-Hungarian emperor at the time. Not sure I’ll even get off. I miss my warm temperatures.

I’m glad the trip thrilled Jeff. I loved hearing about it, and that’s enough for me!

See more photos from the trip