Friday, 31 August 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 1: Arriving into Anchorage, Alaska

I have to admit, it felt a little weird, as I arrived with my parents at Heathrow this morning. I say "this morning" but I'm sitting here writing this under the influence of jet lag, so it might be more accurate if I said 28 hours ago. Heathrow Terminal One, proud to be known as one of the most busiest and vibrant city airports the UK has, was uncharacteristically quiet. I noted a very 'dead' atmosphere from what would, later on in the day, be a very busy terminal. This point aside, typical airport behaviour was still evident: one person outstretched on a row of 5 or 6 seats, a group of very tired tourists wandering aimlessly around, and security personnel standing and supposedly looking tough! I enjoyed a 'last drink' with my parents; a medium hot chocolate at Costa Coffee, which was doing good business for 1:00am. I thought £2.60 a little overpriced for a hot chocolate, but I realised this was to be expected.

Sitting there and sipping away, I suddenly became very tired. The larger bag I have out of the two I'm taking is not easy to hold, so I was pleased to say "goodbye" to the 10.3 kg when the baggage disposal counter became available. After saying my final farewells to Mum and Dad, the next job was passing security, and I must say how surprised  I was at the sure speed of the security process. One conveyor belt; one screening monitor; a couple of staff and no questions asked. I was told to expect long question and answer sessions and individual baggage checks, but this wasn't the case, fortunately.

To get to America, I had to travel firstly to Frankfurt, Germany. I have tried for a couple of days now to find out why, in particular, Frankfurt but all I have come up with is the fact that Condor Airlines- the company I am using to reach the states- is a German based company and only operates from a German airport. The flight to Frankfurt was just as quick as the Heathrow security checks! I was unfortunately dozing in and out, and I reckon a more alert passenger would have wanted my window seat.

Frankfurt International Airport's system is very different to that of the UK's, and it took a few minutes to get my head around it. It wasn't just me either; a young man- slightly older than myself- was asking around, and getting, what it seemed, little in the way of answers. To reach America, I would be taking the DE 4066 Condor flight which meant a long walk to gate 19, although when I got there, there seemed to be little urgency. A couple of the terminal personnel were having a right ol' laugh at some of the passengers names; I thought this a little unprofessional, but after a long morning already, and the thought of a long flight coming, I enjoyed sharing a chuckle.

So, the actual flight to Anchorage took a surprising route. I imagined it would have either gone east over China, or west over the Atlantic, but in actual fact, the plane took what now seems to be the most efficient route; over Scandinavia and the Arctic, over Greenland and into Alaska that way. Travelling at 33395 feet, and again next to a window, the views out of my little shade of glass were quite popular with the other passengers who all seemed to be using my window to take photos out of. We went at about 579mph, although you wouldn't have thought it, because the flight was very long.

For my first trans-Atlantic flight (although we weren't going over the Atlantic as I said) I was a little disappointed with the dinner; I woke up from a nap, looking at a vegetarian dish. Potato and Vegetable bake, accompanied by lemon cheesecake, and what I thought was a flapjack, although it soon turned out to be two very tightly squeezed pieces of bread. Two words about the bread: not eaten!

We arrived at Anchorage, ahead of schedule, at about 10:48am. The views immediately prior to landing were stunning; the meandering Yukon river was reflecting the low morning sun, and as we got closer to Anchorage airport, a number of different geographical landforms could be identified- well, if you knew what they were, that is. Deltas, eyots, mudflats- they were all there, and I noted a large proportion of land being managed carefully for farming. Giant box-shaped farms surrounded by conifer-like trees. Little was being grown though, and I suspect the discontinuous permafrost might have a part to play in that.

The views upon arrival of the majestic mountain ranges were stunning; what wasn't so stunning was the weather, which had decided to open the heavens as soon as we touched down. It wasn't reassuring to see one of the ladies, unloading baggage from the plane, literally throw people's things through the air, but this in comparison to the long wait I had to come would be fine.

The 'customs' queue cancelled out Heathrow's quick and easy process very easily. When I eventually reached one of the armed and uniformed guards behind the counter, it turned out I needed to have filled out a form, so back to the end of the queue I went. What annoyed me slightly after this was the fact that apparently I actually didn't have to fill this out after all, and to top my first US Customs experience off, I was sent into a special room where my bag was searched religiously, and questions were asked. "What's the difference between college and university" was one of them, as was "What jobs can you get with a degree in Physical Geography" and "Why are you so interested in Permafrost?" The whole experience for a while did dis-motivate me a tiny bit, but I proceeded to the tourist information desk where there, in contrast, I had a lovely conversation. The lady, whose name looked like Trudy on her ID, apparently once worked at the Alaska Backpackers Inn, 25 years ago; my residence for the next couple of days. She was working right next to the giant Polar Bear that many guide books refer to as the first in a long line of bears one will see when they enter Alaska.

A quick phone call home, and then I was on my way again; this time, into Downtown by shuttle. The shuttle buses are somewhat different to UK buses. Firstly, the conductor doesn't provide change- "We can't magic change!"- so I ended up unfortunately paying $2 for a $1.75 ticket. Secondly, you don't actually receive a ticket as such after paying. Thirdly, when the bus enters different streets or a different road, an automatic voice naming the street or road can be heard; very useful for the tourist!

I entered Downtown with the mission of firstly finding my hostel, which turned out to be a longer walk than I expected. In any case, I was far too early for checking in, so I decided to do a small tour of 4th Avenue; the avenue that I'm staying on for the next few days. It was doing this tour that I happened to be acquainted with US Road Crossing Procedures, which are very much different to the UK's. You have to cross the road in a certain time, and a sign counts down how long you have to cross; an idea that was on the UK news a few months ago.

Deciding that I would have my main meal on this tour, as opposed to later on, I found a nice cafe which doubled up as a convenience store. I had the Halibut and Fries and a Dr Pepper, and I must stress that I'm on a budget! Incidentally, all that came to $15 which I'm still working out whether it was a rip off or not. I left the cafe, to greet more rain, but I decided to walk on and continue to explore more of 4th Avenue. There's all sorts down here; many different restaurants and it's refreshing not to see someone outside trying to tempt you with deals, as is so often the case.

Picking up a few leaflets from the tourist information desk, it started to rain more persistently, and at last, I could make use of the 'Bag Waterproofing Material' I had bought. I'm not so sure I should be happy to be using it or not, on my first day.

By the time I had returned to the hostel, it was 4:00pm and time for me to check in. The rooms are wonderful for the price, and are decorated with motivational graffiti such as "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose the shore". I have just been speaking to my room-mate Kevin. He's here in Alaska working in the cement trade at present, but he loves photography and more importantly, he loves exploration. Sounds like we could get on! I better Skype my family now. Until tomorrow, goodbye from Anchorage!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


Well, time just flies by doesn't it! I'm almost ready to go on the biggest experience of my life so far! Here's my 'Pre-departure arrangements video' to start off my series of weekly video diaries.

Monday, 27 August 2012

A Message from Dan...

Not very long now before I head off- here's a little message for you!


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Best of Norfolk- PART FOUR

Dan leaves the country in less than a week, to go to America on a Gap Scholarship he received from the Royal Geographical Society. In this, his latest four-part series, he celebrates the aspects of Norfolk he will most certainly miss. To conclude the series, in this programme, Dan takes a look at some of his Norfolk memories and visits the places that made them.

Friday, 17 August 2012

A LEVEL RESULTS DAY- Dan's reaction

I would like to say a big "congratulations" to all those who received results from their A Level Examinations yesterday, and a further "well done" to those who managed to secure a place at their chosen university. I, for one, am celebrating the opportunity I will have to read Physical Geography at the Royal Holloway, in Surrey. It is, arguably, the best university, I think, for this particular strand of Geographical Higher Education and I am looking forward to working amongst fellow keen geographers like myself!

From what I understand from a report released from the Royal Geographical Society, Geography seems to be getting more popular; great news for people like me who are continually promoting the subject. There was an increase in the number of students sitting Geography A levels this year; 32,005 students across England, Northern Ireland and Wales took their A2 exams this year and 45,923 sat AS Exams. Collectively, that is 3.9% higher than 2011.

One of the things that was going through my mind yesterday was whether academic excellence and high level attainment are any substitute for subject passion. Are they compactible? Does one naturally get top results if they are 100% passionate about the subject?

Not for me, and maybe not for you either. I have 200+% passion for Geography; the subject and the way it is delivered. I put in hundreds of extra hours into it; well, 'Geography with Dan' is just one example. But, I certainly don't receive the highest results all the time. Flip the coin, and let's consider someone who actually does get the top grades. Not just in a few exams, but in every exam. This person will most likely to have read the textbook inside and out, learning it by rote, so that no question can stumble him or her on the exam day. Does he have time to explore around the subject? Does he find time just to sit there, sipping on a latte, cruising through undergraduate papers and professional journals? Probably not.

So what's my point here? Well, academic excellence is to be encouraged, without a shadow of a doubt. But a strict, military-like approach to learning the information for the exam, I don't think, is always the way to go. We want and, more importantly, need people to think outside the box. The world requires those who can think just as broad as they do deep, and not those who knows what colour the sub-heading is on page 34 of their textbook.

In short, to those going to study at universities in September, high grades are most certainly significant but shouldn't be a substitute for passion. Explore the subject. Ask questions. Debate answers. Have passion.

My very best wishes to all those going to a university of their choice, particularly those who are going on to further explore the wonderful world of Geography.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Best of Norfolk- PART THREE

Dan leaves the country in less than a month, to go to America on a Gap Scholarship he received from the Royal Geographical Society. In this, his latest four-part series, he celebrates the aspects of Norfolk he will most certainly miss. In Part Three, he selects three things that he will be sad to part with. Next week, in Part 4, he selects photos from his childhood and revisits the sites where they were taken.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Three weeks to go!! AND COUNTING...

There's a great sense of anticipation at the moment in the Evans household! It's now just over two weeks before I get dropped off at Heathrow Airport, and start my 5 month Royal Geographical Society Scholarship. Yes, five months- split into what I am calling the 'Three Phases'. By this, I mean 3 months in Alaska, 2 months travelling down the West Coast of the USA, and 1 week in Toronto, Canada! Why so little time in Canada? Well, it's not that I dislike the Canadians; in fact, I originally planned to spend at least a month there. Since my original plans were made, (some time ago now), money has been spent, cuts to the plans have been made, and ultimately, savings too!

A lot of money! I am writing ahead of what will be, no doubt, the biggest and greatest experience of my life. Having said that, trips cost and due to the fact that some of the areas I am visiting are classed as 'Cold Environments', the equipment we have had to get are built for purpose, or in other words, specialist. Knowing the extent of the expenditure, would I go back in time and change things? Cut a few months out? Stay in Europe?

Of course not! The 5 months, as they are currently set out, are all very important. In Alaska, I will be living in a Cold Environment and as a keen geographer, I am looking forward to comparing the primitive lifestyles of the typical Alaskan community against the capital intensive, sophisticated lifestyes of a Seattle resident. Indeed, how does Seattle compare with Los Angeles? (If you're a bit rusty on your maps, Seattle is about 1140 miles North of Los Angeles!) My first impressions of Toronto will perhaps be my only impressions in this trip, because of the short length of stay I have there. However, I do hope to make some observations and assess these against the other two 'phases'.

So, in three weeks time, expect BIG changes to 'Geography with Dan'. I know many will not get the opportunity to do a trip of this nature at my age, so I do hope my blog will be a virtual guide around some of the Americas. Expect daily reports! Expect photos! Expect a weekly video diary! Oh, and I think I might add a weekly quiz question in there for good measure! So, add 'Geography with Dan' to your favourites. Tell your friends! Even if you're not a keen geographer, I do hope that my experience will inspire you to explore more of this wonderful planet!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A different kind of Olympics

I had a 3 hour trip earlier this week, to West Sussex for a filming shoot and, as often is the case, I killed the time by reading some of my National Geographic Magazines. It felt fitting to browse my 500+ magazines for articles on past Olympic Games. The October 1964 article offered information regarding the 'modern games' and the July 1996 article celebrated 100 years of the modern Olympic sports. May 2008 focused on the Beijing Olympics whilst the August 2000 issue provided a glimpse at the Sydney Games.
The May 1984 issue, however, I brought with me by accident. It did not contain an article which reviewed past, present or future games, nor did it offer any sport-related article. My database was right in selecting this magazine to go with me on my travels, as I soon realised when I started searching the journal. It featured an article on The Olympic Peninsula.
Excited about the prospect of having a break from sport related reading, I continued to explore the article. I must say although I will be about 40 miles East of the National Park later this year (when I   enter Seattle) I have to admit my lack of knowledge for this landmass. From reading the 80s article, I got the first impression that despite it being geographically close to a highly developed and sophisticated culture,  the Olympic Peninsula is strictly in-keeping with its old cultural traditions. It's inhabitants follow nature's calendar, living to the rhythms of flora and fauna, as if animal-like themselves.
Geologically, the World Heritage Site was born as part of an offshore oceanic ridge, "swivelled to its present position during a massive tectonic shift". There's no doubt about its tectonic dynamics; it's "jagged peaks" that form Mount Olympus demonstrate the power of Physical Geography, and the inability of human control. The glaciers carve channels and cut off the migrationary path of snakes, bears, and wolves; all of which are common in parts of Alaska and Canada. (Don't remind me!)

It was through reading this article that I realised there were a lot of interconnections between the sport related Olympics and the National Park; it's not a coincidence that the park is named the 'Olympic' Peninsula. The Olympic Peninsula contains the "pounding surf of Pacific beaches to lush rainforests" for which there is "profound respect for nature's reign". Only this last week, billions have looked up and respected the reign of Bolt in the 100m Sprint, Murray in the Tennis, Hoy in the Cycling. The public, as ever, are proud to be part of their own country and respect the sports-men and sports-women who make life long sacrifices to win gold, just as the small communities of the Olympic Peninsula respect and are proud to be part of such an untouched wilderness.

We're only halfway through the 2012 Games, and already it is clear from watching the TV coverage and scanning the newspapers, that the younger generation are becoming more and more inspired by the efforts of the athletes, the swimmers, the rowers, the jumpers; the sportspeople. They will fuel themselves with motivation and determination by watching this older generation aspire for excellence, much like how the moss and the saplings feed off the nourishment from centuries old wind toppled trees in the Olympic Peninsula.
In all aspects of life, we can make interconnections between the physical and human environment; it's what Geography is all about. The Olympic Peninsula was never named after the Olympic Games, to my knowledge, nor vice versa, but the fact still remains; there are many similarities between the two; the person who can identify this, I think, is a true geographer.

The Games might be classed as the 'Greatest Show on Earth', but I would be hard pressed to make a decision between a seat at the 100m final and a seat on the summit of Mount Olympus.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Best of Norfolk- PART TWO

I leave the country in less than a month, to go to America on a Gap Scholarship I received from the Royal Geographical Society. In this, my latest four-part series, I celebrate the aspects of Norfolk I will most certainly miss. In Part Two, I select three things that I will be sad to part with. Parts 3 and 4 will follow on every Wednesday in this month.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


Watch Part One of Dan's Brand New Four-Part Series, 'The Best of Norfolk' right here.

With just 30 days to go before Dan leaves the country, he celebrates aspects of Norfolk life that he will most certainly miss. Parts 2 will be released next Wednesday!