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The Mission: Into the Wild

Head north from Norway and the archipelago of Svalbard is the last stop before you reach the North Pole. Kari Schibevaag is a fan of the area and headed there for a snowmobile and kiting trip with old friends. If you want to run into polar bears – and Kari advises you don’t – it looks like an awesome destination, a true Arctic wilderness. She certainly came away with some special memories from the trip.

PHOTOS: Tommy Simonsen
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When you fly into Svalbard you land in Longyearbyen, the main city of Svalbard, with a population of just 2368 inhabitants. Longyearbyen is always the starting point for my adventures to this remote land – it is the gateway to true Arctic wildness. The polar night is long in Svalbard. From the 26 October to the 16 February it is dark all the time, but after months of darkness the light starts sneaking back and it is a truly beautiful light. I love the time of year when the sun hits the island again, it is a great time to visit. I have been to Svalbard several times and it has a special place in my heart. It makes me feel free and happy. It’s the people I meet and the unique nature you find up there that make me feel like this.

The third time I visited Svalbard I got to know a family that have lived up there nearly their whole lives. The mother, Berit, owns a dog sled tour company, Svalbard Villmarkssenter, and her kids are still all up there working in the city. I knew when I met Berit that she was a special woman with a big heart. She has so much knowledge from all her trips and years of experience, which she loves to pass on to her family and others. And I believe that her dogs have the best life up there with her. They do what they love, and she gets what she needs from them. They are like her kids. We were dog sledding just outside the city and only one hour away you feel like you are miles and miles out in the wild.

Berit was going on a trip with her dog, her two girls, and our good friend and photographer, Tommy. We all headed to a cabin that Berit’s husband had built. It is old and small, in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, and polar bears have infiltrated the place – you can see their footprints outside – but it is just my type of cabin. We got there by snowmobile, traveling over a glacier and mountains. Just getting there is an adventure in itself with the light, the cold, crisp air, and the unique nature that you have to experience for yourself. On the way you can meet a lot of wildlife like reindeer, the Arctic fox and of course… the polar bear. We had to take care to avoid them, and avoid glacier cracks, but I felt safe traveling with this crew. The journey to the cabin took a few hours and when we arrived there was work to be done – removing the protective cover from the windows, firing up the woodburner and getting the cabin ready to stay in.

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Silje, the owner of the cabin, had tried kiting before. I brought my kite hoping to get it up in the air with her. She was excited to be trying kiting again. But we arrived to no wind, just an amazing sunset. The next morning, we sat by the window watching a polar bear with a cub passing on the ice. It was crazy to watch them, this animal that looks so cute and cuddly, knowing how dangerous it could be for us. Such is wildlife; they were here before us, so we must respect their space and not get too close to them. After a good breakfast we headed outside. Suddenly the wind came in and I looked at Silje… It was time to kite! The wind was perfect and the snow was good. I cruised around out on the ice, around the cabin, and climbed the mountain. I even crossed the polar bear tracks and was awestruck to cross tracks with the animal I love. This kite session was one to remember. Silje had the biggest smile, kiting again for the first time in a very long time. She once again felt that awesome feeling we all know after a good kite session.

After that session Silje was high on life and couldn’t wait to kite again. When we got back to Longyearbyen there was wind, so Silje pumped her very old kite and we cruised together in a valley called Adventsdalen, something we had talked about doing ever since we met. It was so nice to see her back on a kite after so many years and still hooked. After the session she was so hot, despite it being -20°C with windchill, that she really wanted to drink some slushy ice. A real Arctic woman!

The time flew by on this trip, seeing amazing things, awesome nature and wildlife, experiencing the magic light and the cold, fresh air, and sharing it all with good people. The trip left me feeling more energized and with some special memories – it felt good to be alive. I was sad to leave and for sure I will be back to spend more time cruising Svalbard with a kite. On the plane home I was already thinking about my next trip to the Arctic. The Arctic feeling is the best of the best…

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