Under the Arctic Sun

Reg Sherren presents "Under the Arctic Sun", our feature about Marcelo da Luz and the Power of One Solar Car Project's Arctic adventure. Terry Stapleton was the producer. Warren Kay was the cameraman and editor.

Marcelo da Luz admits he's a bit of a dreamer.  The former flight attendant decided to trade in a career flying on fossil fuel for one powered by the sun.  The solar car he designed and built with a team of experts, called the Power of One Solar Car Project, has powered him over 35,000 kilometres.  Now, he's decided to test the limits of his car, and himself, by attempting to travel from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, deep within the Arctic Circle.  Our Reg Sherren went with him on his journey, and presents da Luz's tale of adventure, and his message about climate change.

Read Reg Sherren's blog "Springtime in the Arctic"

It’s hard to get your head into an "Arctic" place when you leave Winnipeg and it’s 18 degrees above zero.  But it didn’t take long. The blizzard we hit while landing in Edmonton helped - blinding snow with wind gusts of up to one hundred kilometres an hour. We landed, only to have them suspend ground crew operations. It wasn’t safe for them to work. We sat on the plane, being bounced around by the wind, for almost another hour.  Springtime in Alberta.  Yellowknife was sunny, but with another wind that could bite.  Finally, after two weary days - Inuvik.

Before I go any further, if you are wondering where the best airline in Canada is, you need look no further than the first, as in First Air, "The Airline of the North".  Now, this is only my own opinion, but I haven’t seen service like that since Wardair disappeared.  Friendly, helpful staff, hot towels, lovely food, even warm cookies and complimentary candies - quite the introduction to the high Arctic.  Not that I needed to be re-introduced.  I have been here before, several times, but never at this time of year.  Winter still has a solid, if wobbly, grip on the land, which seems a little weird when the sun is already dominating the skyline for around 14 hours a day.  Twilight is already after 10 p.m.

But it’s always the wind that reminds you it’s still only early April inside the Arctic Circle.  It can send you running for a toque pretty fast, especially out on that ice road.  I have driven over ice before, but this is the longest stretch of road over frozen water, both fresh and salt, in the world.  It can be a little unsettling to be standing there as a big truck passes, with the ice, which is several metres thick, cracking with every roll of the tires. Then there’s the slush, just off to the sides - water that works its way up from below the ice and mixes with the snow.  As spring approached, it can be a metre deep. 

Fortunately, Marcelo da Luz and his solar vehicle were able to avoid that.  But he and his team were not able to avoid those cracks. We are not talking about small imperfections in the ice.  We are talking about openings six inches wide, and extremely deep - deep enough to swallow his tires and spit them back out flat as pancakes, which they did.  That was his vehicle’s Achilles’ heel, but it also had its strengths.  The capability of his electrical system was a testament to technology.  Lithium-ion polymer batteries, charged by 893 solar cells, generated about 900 watts - less than you would use to toast your raisin bread.  But that was enough to drive a twelve horsepower motor, which pushed him and his car all the way to the Beaufort Sea.  Quite impressive.

I won’t get into all the details of our trip, that’s why there’s a story to watch.  But I will say this: every time I travel north, I think to myself, why do so many people in Canada get it wrong?  Year after year, they save up and head south to bake themselves inside some compound in a foreign country, with a bunch of folks who aren’t from there, either.  Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but for my money, every Canadian has to experience the North, our North, at least once in their lives.  There’s a whole other country up there, full of friendly, helpful, colourful folks.  The landscapes, the artwork, the animals, the way of life - all a unique part of what we call Canada.

You won’t leave there feeling anything less than "in awe" of this great country of ours.  I can promise you that.