ML 137960


Interview :33 - 32:24 Play :33 - More
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Helen Thayer  






Adventure; Mountain climbing; Polar expeditions  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 Mar 1997

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PB 00:50 (asks HT to explain what she does when a polar bear attacks and to describe a polar bear attack)

HT 1:05 (says she learned polar bear survival from Inuit; she had 7 encounters in all; talks about her dog charging the polar bear; talks about having to circle around her tent for 4 hrs. while being stalked by a polar bear) 4:14

PB (asks HT to talk abt. Her solo journeys and being so far removed from everyone)

HT 4:29 (talks abt. Walking to the magnetic north pole alone and doing most expeditions alone or w/ her husband)
4:55 but being alone out there, I realized when I walked to the magnetic north pole that I was really no more important Out there than the tiniest flake of snow. And if you were to go out there w/ a giant ego it would soon be crushed b/c it's a very humbling experience in that huge, vast expanse of silence where even the sound of your own breathing sounds too loud sometimes and here you are in this great place w/ just his tiny little human being, scurrying along, trying to go somewhere and sometimes I would stop and think just how tiny I was in the order of things. 5:30

PB (asks if she is whistling a happy tune along the way)

HT 5:35 (says no b/c always watching for bears and navigating, keeping heads up always) 6:01

PB (asks if there is one moment that stands out as the greatest moment or the perfect moment in the wilderness)

HT 6:19 (tells a story about finding a wolf family and returning 2 yrs. later to find the family still there and 2 pups were there also) 7:22 00:06:43"Kids can see the four corners of the world through my eyes and the lens of my camera so they can know that there is a world out there beyond their own city street and city block and that there is hope for them, so that's why we go on all these expeditions¿"00:06:58

PB (asks where spirit of what you do comes from)

HT 7:41 (says hers b/g at age 9 b/c her parents were mountain climbers and she then climbed her 1st mountain)8:51 00:08:06 "When I stood on top of that mountain I knew that one day I was going to be a high altitude mountain climber and I was going to do all sorts of things I figured."

PB (comments that the places she goes seem like really stark places)

HT 9:07 (she sees them as living places) 9:41 00:09:09 They're really living places even the silence, that vacuum of silence that you experience in those places it's a living silence it's part of that environment and I consider it a real privilege to be able to go into these places where their are no roads no people¿they're not empty and they're not stark.

PB (asks what separates people who read about adventures from people who go out on adventures)

HT 9:55 (says she enjoys the challenge and the planning but to other people don't want to do that but live vicariously) 10:37 There are those of us who like to meet a challenge head on, like full tilt into a challenge feels good and solving the problems as you go, and I enjoy the planning I would really miss that if I couldn't do that.. to me that's a great challenge¿

PB (asks what it does for those people to hear abt. Her exploits)

HT 10:49 (says if putting her on a pedestal for kids and others is for their own good, then that's good) 11:24

PB (comments that education is a big part of her expeditions)

HT 11:39 (personal challenge is biggest reason for expeditions and then education; she describes going into classrooms) 12:51

PB (asks if on a tough trip the physical endurance part does not become an issue but is mental)

HT 13:47 That's right. The physical part goes away because I've trained all my life. I've trained for years pulling sleds¿.and so my body is well accustomed to it and I have sort of the right build to pull a sled so that's not a big feature. The biggest part is the mental - the keeping going of the mind and the body and through the deprivation and the trials and tribulations that go on. Just keeping your mind going all the time. ¿.14:32

PB (asks if there's a trick that she uses to keep going)

HT 14:37 (says she looks in a positive manner toward success, small daily victories) 15:49

PB (asks if in some way the journey become more important than the ultimate goal)

HT 15:56 Yes, the ultimate goal to me is not always terribly important. I'm not one to strive for firsts¿ it's the quality of the journey, what I can get out of it as a human being and what education I can bring back to the kids. Those are the most important. The fact that I push on and make my goal then I have achieved a personal goal and a challenge, and I have grown with it and been successful. That always feel awfully good when you've got that. 16:30

PB (asks if she prefers cold or warm)

HT 16:34 (says there's no worse way to die than from lack of water; doesn't really have an answer) 17:52

PB (in reference to her age asks if there are endurance activities that one can keep doing regardless of age)

HT 18:14 (says genetics has a lot to do w/ it; mental attitude; says living same way as I was then; will wait for body to tell her when) 19:19

PB (asks if it's ever gotten to the point where she says she will not do this again)

HT 19:34 (sometimes yes; but remorse usually very fickle) 20:08

PB (asks her to tell a wasp story)

HT 20:11 (talks about being swarmed by all these bugs while in a kayak and then going into pirahnna infested water; probably abt. 10 minutes from dying b/c of the stings) 22:06

PB (what's left to do)

HT 22:16 Well I want to walk across the Gobi Desert. That's very high on my list. And there's a place in the Australian desert where they say rats won't live. And I want to go there and find out why rats won't live there. I think that would be a very interesting study to find that out. 22:33
(talks about planning for an Antarctic trip and the Gobi desert still being very high on the list) 24:01

PB (asks about records of polar bear attacks and she's not sure if she holds the record for attacks or not)
(comments that she had her mountain training by Sir Edmund Hillary)

HT 24:51 (talks about how her parents were climbers and Hillary didn't live far away and would visit their school; he was her childhood hero; attended his informal climbing school) 25:39 00:25:02 "Of course Ed Hillary was my childhood hero. Anything that Ed did was fine by me!"

PB (asks if there is a lot of discipline involved)

HT 25:42 Extreme discipline. Without discipline you'll hardly get out of the starting blocks¿..discipline is a life-giving substance out there. You have to have it or you will not make it. 25:58

PB (comments that in extreme situations there is no margin of error)

HT 26:12 (agrees and says you just plan around the situation and try to have as many backups as you can ex. Brazilian govt. wouldn't allow them to carry a two way radio- various other expeditions as well) 26:51

PB (asks if there is a luxury that she takes w/ her on her trips)

HT 27:02 (peanut butter cups; but really has no luxuries at all like combs, mirrors; doesn't worry about luxuries when on a expedition) 27:53

PB (asks if she learns something on every trip that helps for the next trip)

HT 28:00 (yes - about herself, the environment, logistics, etc. writes copious notes in a journal) 28:33

PB (asks if there's one thing she learned about herself that she wouldn't have learned not being on an expedition)

HT 28:41 (talks about feeling of having fun because facing the biggest challenge of her life) 30:00
"One thing I learned , and it happened to me when my food and fuel blew away and I had 7 days to make it to the magnetic North Pole and I realized then, most people would expect you to be totally unhappy¿ but I sat in that tent when I was looking for food and seeing what I had left to get to the Pole.. and I discovered that I wasn't a bit unhappy, I was having fun because now the chips were down now it was time to really dig deep and pull up everything I had ever learned and use it for survival and it felt good it was like an awakening and I'll never forget that feeling and the wind was howling around the tent and here I am just having fun because I knew when that wind went down I was in for the biggest challenge of my life and I'm going to make it and it was exciting. It was as if my whole being just woke up."

(They talk about her involvement in the Olympics, but she didn't go. She was tired of competition and wanted to just go back to the mountains.)

PB (comments that mountain climbers are some of the most competitive people)

HT 31:32 (agrees but says she is not one of them) Even in my strongest competitive days, I never competed against anyone else; I competed against myself. For me to compete against another person means immediate defeat. So what I would do is set a goal for a personal best. And I would go out and compete against myself and then I did okay¿.32:14


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