Kangerlussuaq, Greenland was not a place I expected to love; it was a place I expected to tolerate.
It was the light that got me.
I was enchanted by the quality of light in late October in the Polar Circle. The sun takes its time rising, appearing around 9:30, then skirts low across the sky just above the hills, before setting languorously in mid-afternoon.
The landscape is rock, low vegetation, dusted and covered in snow, and the low golden light gives everything a wistful, melancholy feel.
AND at night, the auroras!
They swirl and dance grow and fade. Enchanting. Mesmerizing. We stayed outside as long as we could stand the cold. I woke over and over during the night to peek out the window and watch the magical show without even leaving my warm bed! I was so enthralled it seemed a shame to sleep through it. Mornings were dark and sometimes still the northern lights danced.
We were in Greenland to run the Polar Circle Marathon, an amazing event put on by Albatross Adventures.
Kangerlussuaq is a small town, dominated by the airport, which is the main hub for flights all over Greenland. Greenland has no roads between towns, relying heavily on air travel, and it all goes in and out of Kangerlussuaq. The airport restaurant and bar are the only things open in town in winter, so the airport serves as the social hub as well.
Out the door and around the corner is the Polar Lodge, a no frills, sparkling clean, cozy warm hostel, with a great view of the runway, and a kick-ass hot water radiator in every room. And across the street, a well-stocked grocery store with everything, I mean everything you might need. We settled for beer and some snacks.
The Polar Circle Marathon and 1/2 Marathon begins with about 10 Km on the Polar Ice Cap, a phenomenally wild and beautiful place. It is as if the ocean froze solid, waves and all. There are hills and valleys and plains, sometimes covered in snow, but often bare blue ice, many, many meters deep. We wore crampons, and scampered up and down, over and around, on a course marked by poles. I felt like a kid, just out playing on the ice and snow, and around every corner was a jaw-dropping view.
We hiked the course the day before the races, a great opportunity to take pictures and get a first glimpse. The opportunity to explore the ice cap was such a rare gift, I wanted to soak in every minute.
Once we left the ice, we had 30 plus kilometers to run on the only existing road, back into town. Gravel, snow and ice covered, skirting alongside the Russell glacier, weaving between low mountains, past frozen lakes, scenic views filling the eye and the spirit, until at last we could see the brightly painted buildings of town and the finish line.
I am a slow runner on my best day. Marathons are hard, they’re long, there are always times when I just want to get done. This race was no different, but it was also the kind of day where, looking back, it’s hard to believe where you’ve been, what you’ve been lucky enough to see and experience. That’s why I call marathons “sightseeing on my feet.” It’s an amazing way to experience the world, to be in places I’d never get to otherwise. It’s enough to keep me getting out, every day, putting in the miles and saying
YES, when the next crazy opportunity comes.
In this case, I also said “Yes” to the “Polar Bear Challenge”, meaning full marathon on Saturday, followed by ½ marathon on Sunday. Which meant I got another day on the Polar Ice cap. What a gift. I wanted to dawdle all morning on the ice, and along the road past the glacier, just soaking it in. But alas, there was a cut off, and I do have a tiny bit of ego, so I kept moving forward.
A final note: Remember, I said I only expected to tolerate Greenland? Well, I fell so hard for this rugged, wild, beautiful place with the golden light that I went twice. Originally in 2016, and returned in 2018 to do the trip described here. After completing the Polar Bear challenge, we flew to the town of Ilulisat for a few days, which deserves its own article, coming soon.