Bill Martin, William McQuay
North pole expedition discussion.
Celia Martin, William McQuay
North pole expedition discussion.
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 Apr 1999
- Eureka Station #4
- 79.98808 -85.94472
Decoded MS stereo.
Show: North Pole
Log of DAT #: 7
¿Eureka Station and Return Flight to Resolute¿
ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good
One of the places we left it was, I think on this type of trip, especially this trip here, I would say everybody, probably except Paul, had pushed themselves beyond what they thought, you know, before the trip, they would have been doing. Yeah, I really do. I think that here no one, you know you never really have a good grasp on what's waiting for you, and, you know, I think that here that was surely true to case for the people on this trip. I think that their, like I say, everybody here pushed beyond limits that they would have otherwise expected.
Do you think everyone did that because of some spiritual gain they expected to gain?
No, no. I think that one of the interesting things, I think that I would say, one of the terms I like, is sometimes the road to higher consciousness is you sneak in the back door. I think, though, that anybody, after going through an experience like this, they've definitely bumped themselves up a level. Do you know what I mean? Because I think there are so many people that take off on these journeys, and if you said to them at the beginning of the journey, ¿Do you feel this is going to raise your level of consciousness with the universe?¿, they would scoff at that and, but, I feel, as one that's been on a lot of these, and is truly a believer in that journey, that sometimes you sneak in the back door with the people who tend to scoff at those things, and then at the end of it, it has. I feel it has. I just haven't run into people who would embark on this type of thing and go through this type of thing that, you know, can't say at the end, ¿Gosh, there is an element here that I didn't expect.¿ And when they get home, weeks later, they find that this has a carryover into their life, and coming, as I always tell people when I take them to the mountains, ¿I hope you take the mountain home with you. And keep those lessons that the mountain told you close to your heart. And don't get involved in our everyday stuff to push that away.¿
What do you think that is?
Well, I think it's really bringing you close to a centeredness on your priorities in life and what truly is the essence and the importance of life. And we tend to get so wrapped up, I think, in stuff and we get wrapped up in business and not really getting close to the elements, relationships, and I think one of the things we all see here is that the true essence of living is your relationships and that's, everything else can be taken away from you, your money, your stuff, all the other things, but when you have relationships with people, that closeness, that intertwining of people, then that'll take you through anything and a good team. You know, that's one of the things we learn here, is being a team, coming close together through adversity, is that those relationships, and then you take that feeling home, you never grow apart from these people, but you also take that home to your family, and you take it home to the people you work with, and say, ¿Yeah, this is important. This may be a lot more important than I ever thought it was before.¿
Did you ever get to the point where the pain was so great that you thought maybe you wouldn't see this one through to the end?
Well, yeah. I remember saying to Paul that day, you know I said, ¿I may have to be air-evaced out of here if it looks like I might put the team in jeopardy of reaching the Pole.¿ And because I would certainly incur the expense of that before I would want to incur these guys maybe not reaching the Pole because of something like that happening. And so you always wonder about that. And David, who had a problem early in the trip and decided not to leave on the plane that came in to resupply us, you know, he had a lot of those thoughts, and boy, I'll tell you, everyone on this trip, there were times where, if that plane appeared in front of you, and said, ¿Hi, guys. We have some warm hamburgers. Let's get out of here,¿ that people would have just piled on the plane and left, you know. And that's one of the things, you I think, one of the really fascinating things about setting a goal and if you're gonna get to that goal, you're have to burn your bridges. A lot of time, if it's a really worthy goal, you just have to burn bridges, say you can't turn back. Because, God, there's so many times you want to turn back when you're working, but, you know, the thing about being out on the polar ice, there's no turning back, you know. You can't go back down to base camp like you can on a mountain. You know, there is no base camp. You're constantly moving.
So that's the difference, since you're a climber, you didn't have base camps. Is this the only experience where you didn't have that support system?
Yeah, really it has been, because¿now, not the only one, I've had situations where we have been out where we've had to come up and over to get to something, where it's more dangerous to go down. A lot of times in the mountains, you'll find that you're climbing a route where it's far more dangerous to go down that it is to go up and go down another way. So there is no going down, it has to be a going up. And that's the same type thing. But I think that with mountains, you in the back of your mind know that there's that base support there, and here, you didn't have it. Your only base support was airplane that might be able to come in and get somebody out.
Is that frightening?
I, I tell you, it is an interesting feeling. One of, I think, somewhat, on one side, a little bit of a scary feeling, to be honest, you know, you can be macho and say it's not, but that's bullshit, and, you know, it is. And on the other, a feeling of real commitment. That you're committed, you know, you've got to do something and I think that that helps you keep push, push, pushing. It really does.
Tell us about some memories.
Oh God, yes. I think that, this is, I feel Antarctica is, Antarctica was land. You were on land. And it was a stable mass of land. Here you're on 5 million square miles of polar sea ice. It's in a constant, constant motion, constant change, and it's truly like being on another planet. And I think the closest thing that we can achieve to being an astronaut and going to the moon. And so, here, I would say my memorable things are the landscape, the change of the landscape, the sounds of the landscape when the landscapes moving around you. We had this amazing instance where we could hear. Remember that, Celia? Where we could hear just the roar (roar sound) as everything was moving all around us. And then the beauty of the ice, the colors, the blues and the whites and the way the sun would shine on those. Just, just true, just incredible beauty, incredible beauty. And memories of, I think the thing that I think of is just some of the, a lot of the laughter, a lot of the ¿Hike, hike, hike¿ as you say to the dogs to get them to go, ¿Let's go dogs, let's go dogs.¿ I mean, I'm gonna be hearing Randy, who was driving the sled that I was inside of, saying, ¿hike, hike, hike¿ and ¿let's go dogs¿ probably 'til the day I die. I was, I was laughing last night, saying, as they lower my casket into the ground, and I'm there like I was in the dog sled, I'll be hearing Randy saying, ¿Hike, hike, hike. Let's go dogs!¿ (laughs) You know, and then just sitting in the tent with my sister and Paul, and just at the end of the day, when everybody is just exhausted, and, you know, one of the beautiful things I look at as far as special, special people, are people that you can go through something that is difficult and painful and very hard, and you can look at each other and just laugh, just laugh from the bottom of your soul. And my sister and Paul, they're two of those people. And, you know, we would, at the end of the day, just be able to just roar with laughter. And so, those are the things, that, you know, that's what I'll remember ten years from now. I'm not gonna remember how much it hurt so much. The thing, the interesting thing about climbers, is climbers have terrible memories, or they wouldn't go back and do it again. Because high altitude climbing is just, is a real uncomfortable experience most of the time, because you feel crummy from the altitude and you're having trouble breathing in your nostrils and you can't eat well and all these kinds of things, but hell, you come home and you start planning out the next trip. And so I think the people that do this kind of thing, the people that do high altitude climbing, we just have terrible memories and we tend to weed out the bad stuff and remember the good stuff. I guess it's women having children. You wouldn't have three kids if you remembered what having that first kid was like during labor, but you tend to forget that, and you tend to remember the warm part, the fun part, the, you know, kid laying against your chest just after it's born. And it's little breaths coming across the hair on your chest, that's what you remember. That's why you have the next one.
And you are¿
I am Celia Martin.
And how did you arrive on this?
This fabulous expedition? Well, my brother Bill has always shared his ideas of adventures and he mentioned this trip and I had always deep in my soul wanted to go to the top of the world, even as a child. I just, there's something I felt very magical and different about the North Pole, so in all of his other adventures I bowed out gracefully and didn't jump on the bandwagon and when he mentioned this one I said, ¿That's something I would like to do.¿ And he said, ¿Well, if it is, then let's start working, you know, to make it happen.¿
So when did that start?
Well, I guess the real planning was maybe a year ago when he first got the idea and then started getting in touch with Paul Shirke and talking about the different ways to do and both of us are orthodontists so we're very involved with children. They're our life and love in all different ways and the fact that this group could have an impact there was real important to me and being the only woman on the expedition, you know, I wanted to let little girls and women know that, though they may not choose to go to the North Pole, whatever their dreams and goals and aspirations are, that they can go for 'em, and they too can do whatever their heart desires.
You mentioned being the only woman on the expedition. How do you think your experience differed from your male counterparts?
How did it differ? Well, physically there were no differences. You know, no one to help me over the rough spots and I pretty much had to get myself as an individual, you know, call to the depths of my strength on days, not knowing if I could take another step. So the demands, I think, were the same. I think certain things were a little more important to me. Not losing my tip of my nose or losing my finger, so I was perhaps a little more aware or wary of those sorts of things. So I think in some ways I fared better physically because I took a little better care of myself.
Other than being at the top of the world, have you exposed yourself to the demands of this type of thing before?
Well, I've done, I've always been a duck out of water as far as choosing, you know, research in Costa Rica, research in the Galapagos, going places that were not easy to go, survival schools with Outward Bound and things like that, you know. The physical challenges, I have found, have always given me certain insights and growth. The hard things in life. So now, I at times seek those out because I know, maybe masochistically, but through pain, instead of looking at pain going, ¿Oh my gosh,¿ I say, ¿Wow, there's going to be some incredible growth learning experience here,¿ and it's always seemed to happen.
Why would you choose this type of pain?
Well, I've never done anything cold weather. So that was an incredible challenge, coming from Florida. The day we left it was 95 degrees and my friends, you know, all laugh because I wear down jackets in Gainesville, Florida, which is a warm, warm climate and I don't do cold. So for me to do cold was probably the biggest challenge and the thought of cold water, our training deal in Minnesota when we skied into the lake, frozen lake, punched a hole in the ice, was something that was just so far outside my comfort zone, as well as fearful, you know, not knowing how I would respond, whether I'd survive and my heart would beat again or not. So it was just something so different from anything I've done and it's been years since I've challenged myself. There was a great group of people. We met in Minnesota, and I just thought, you know, a worthy cause, and I love dogs and it was just¿to go some place that, maybe it's corny, but no one has ever been. Meaning the ice flow is constantly changing, it's not a path through the woods or a road to follow or going where someone's ever been, though lots, not lots, but no people have been to the North Pole who ever put their feet where I put my feet.
What do you think about the technology- iridium phones, pagers, etc.?
I found at the end of the day when you absolutely were totally trashed, as far as physically burned out. You know, one day we had the death march to the tan, you know, it was absolutely, you know, one step after the other, following the person in front of you, not being able to see any further than 3 or 4 feet, really wondering about the whole thing. At the end of the day you would come in, you'd take your little beeper off and there would be these just wonderful, inspiring love messages from friends and family and it would just sort of make it all worthwhile. For the first time, people could follow along with you. Instead of you getting home and saying, ¿here's what it was,¿ each day they got a report. You know, we want to know about this. What about the dogs? What about this? So there was a constant, live interaction that made it very different.
When you saw your brother having such difficulty, how did you feel?
Well, it's a helpless feeling. There's not a lot you can do for someone out there. You know, it's not like, you know, if a plane landed, that'd be one thing, but the logistics of trying to get someone out of that, so you just try to make the most. And when we would be going across these open water leads, and knowing what it would be like wrapped up in there when we're all bailing off the sleds for fear they're gonna go through the ice and he's tied up inside of it is difficult.
Did anyone go into the water?
Yes, just about everybody. A foot, one to the chest, one to the crotch. I didn't get wet, but I felt I sort of had the divining rod for where to step. I was really determined after seeing what it was like for them to go in, not to go in.
People would misstep or the ice would just give out underneath them or, you know, the back end of a sled would dip down and you'd be standing on it. So there were all different incidences. You know, your foot would go through the snow, and then there would be slush underneath and a crevice or something like that. So it was, there are lots of different ways to get wet.
What was a high point and a low point?
Well, I'll do the low point first, was the first day we had a whiteout, and you can't see, and its 40 to 50 below zero, 20 mile an hour winds, and you've got to cover miles. It's not like you can say, ¿Okay, well, let's climb in the tent and, you know, rest for the afternoon.¿ It was like when we came to this point and I really thought that I did not have anything left and Paul said we've got three more nautical miles to go and I knew what that would take, was very difficult. It was definitely one step at a time, and I can read lacrosse on the back end of Dave's boots because for the next three miles, that's all I saw. I followed in his footsteps and read that lacrosse a million times each step of the way to get there. And the highest high, there were thousands of those, you know, just the beauty, the landscape, the noises. One day I skied and it's just to be out there in front, you know, for probably fifteen minutes I led the way and to see the sparkling and the glitter in the snow and no footsteps and just this pristine environment was absolutely amazing. And then, of course, getting to the Pole was just an incredibly emotional, you know, tears, joy, ecstasy, and it felt like we were they. It all of a sudden felt that when you stood there, everything was a perfect circle around you. I mean that, I don't know if it was the energy or what, but to me it was and when we stepped off of it and continued on for two miles as we joked, you know, ¿Not only did we get there but we're going further.¿ Because we wanted to camp in thoughts that we would drift backwards, they way we had for the last several nights. But you could feel yourself cross over that point and leave it, I could.
How'd it feel during the middle of the whiteout when you're told you have three more miles to go? What's your immediate thought?
Well, whether or not I can do it. You know, am I just gonna say, ¿Hey, forget it,¿ or you know, kind of let the group energy lift me enough to say, ¿If that's what the group needs to do, that's what I'm gonna do.¿ And knowing that at the end of these incredible days, your day wasn't over. You put a tent up, you fed the dogs, you know, you unharnessed the dogs, you fed the dogs, there was still a lot to do once you got to the point where you could stop.
What time did you guys get up in the morning?
It varied. You know, when the plane stopped, you know, with the Malaysians, we were up at 3 AM, 2 AM, trying to get things done. With the 24-hour daylight, what we tried not to do was get to the point where the sun would be facing us, because then you have a lot of eye problems. So, basically the sun went from your right shoulder to your left shoulder and, you know, you kind of watched your shadow go as a clock and, you know, each hour you could adjust your route. Some mornings we'd start at 9, one morning we started at 12, some nights we'd get in at 10 o'clock, some nights we'd get in at 6 o'clock, it just¿no days were the same as far as time. And yet me, who runs my life on 5 minute intervals because of my profession, looked at my watch once when they asked me to set my alarm to get up for a radio call, didn't know really particularly days or hours or¿time was just not an essence or a presence at all for me.
Was routine important to help mark your day?
No, there was no routine. I mean, every day you'd harness different dogs, you'd feed different things, you'd do different things, there was no, you know, the scenery was different every day. I never felt a routine and yet I am a very routine person, and so it was totally, you know, spontaneous. Paul would change this or that, or pack things differently, or, you know, do things differently, tent setup, you might help this person or that person. You know, it wasn't like regiment at all.
Would you suggest to anyone that this is something they should consider doing?
I would say, I would encourage someone if it were a dream to do this, but I would not try to create this as a dream for someone, because I think that the difficulties, I really don't know. I can't think of anyone in my life that I would encourage to do this, just because of the fact that, you know, when I would tell people what I was doing, you know, it was, they couldn't believe it, they would never want to do it, you know, this sort of thing. If somebody did, I mean, there were a few people who said that was neat, most said, ¿I couldn't ever do it,¿ and I would try to encourage them, ¿Yes, you could if you chose to. However, the North Pole may not be for you.¿ But yes, if someone had a burning desire the way I did, I would encourage them. However, I would hope that I could prepare them better than I was prepared.
Tell me about that.
Well, I did, to my belief, incredible preparation. You know, I would exercise morning, noon I'd do my rollerblades, at night I'd do weights and things like that and on days off I would do 6 to 8 hours of rigorous exercise. But there were a lot of logistic things that I wasn't prepared for like the manual dexterity needs required and how to do those with protective gear on. I would have handed someone one of this dog chain buckles and say, ¿Okay, you're going to be doing this during the day, this, that, and the other, you know, figure out how you can do it and keep some sort of gloves on your hand.¿ That's the thing where the baggie came into effect, because you have to take these huge gloves off. So I wasn't prepared, I could stay warm, but I couldn't function and do the things I had to do and stay warm. I think there are ways around it, but I'm one who, yes, I figured them out, but I would have liked to figure a lot of this stuff out before I was in the situation. Because it's, you know, Paul Shirke is to me subhuman. The man is absolutely incredible. You know, it's like, well, Paul takes his gloves off to do this or Paul can ski without the back binding hooked and I would tell people, Paul is someone you admire but you do not try to imitate. Because he's not of that breed. The average human being could not do what Paul Shirke does and survive. And I felt we were pretty much average human beings. And he knows his limits. He takes his gloves off and in his bare hands, in 40 degrees below, works on a sled or does things with the dog team that I would have no hands for in one-tenth of the time. So he knows his limits and the rest of us had to figure those out, so it was a real interesting process.
Yes. And he's different. You know, I mean I think he handles the cold well. You know, I think that the challenges we had, you know, at the end of the day, he could have gone another 2 or 3 days. I mean he's absolutely phenomenal as far as his capabilities and how he responds to the weather and his knowledge about this place. Obviously, he's been there how many times. And I would choose to make it a ¿been there, done that.¿
So you don't think you'll be back anytime soon?
Not this way. I mean, who knows, I might fly in some day with grandchildren who have done it this way, but no, I've had this experience and I'm ready to go on to some others. I'm sort of a one time person. I take my canoe to the water, I cross the water and I leave my canoe behind and move on to the next one.
This way again? What do you mean?
Well, as with hiking, skiing, and dogsleds. As I say, I might be the grandparent who flies in to meet the person who gets to the Pole or however else you can go, icebreaker, who knows, scuba dive, who knows what's in the future, but this way was a once in a lifetime.
End of Celia Martin interview
Was the technology issue a big deal for you?
I think the interesting part about that was, when I go on these expeditions, my wife, I'll give her an itinerary of this is where we'd like to be when. And what she would always do, is she would write me a letter for that day and she would maybe put a picture in of, but she would write a letter. She's been around my climbing now for many, many, many years and so, she's knows at 16,000 feet how I'm feeling. There are certain crux points where, you know, that you know, entries in your diaries the last ten years have said this, okay. So you know you're not gonna be feeling good or something. So she would write these letters and they'd be letters of encouragement and different things, and this is what that pager is. It's, that little pager did more for team spirit, more for people's morale, more for saying, come on, you know, we are all cheering for you, our prayers are with you, you can do this, you know, you may feel bad today, but, you know, tomorrow the sun's gonna shine. And, you know, I think all the people getting that were getting these pages, I could just see, they'd sit down at the end of a hard day, but by the end of going through that pager, God, there was just like this change. And as a team leader, I'd like 'em on everybody, you know, I think that yeah, it does take away a little bit from the wilderness experience, but for a very difficult experience, what it adds, I think, is tremendous. If I could have my climbing teams sitting on a tent, in a tent, in a storm ready to say, ¿Aw, man, this is the worst experience of my life.¿ If I could have those guys to be able to go click, click and look at a pager that says, ¿We love you. You can really do this,¿ and it just helps you sort of reach down inside a little deeper and pull out, you know, what it need, what you need to keep pushing along here. So I feel they were tremendous. I feel that we were hampered a little bit, let's be honest, by technology on this trip. I was asleep for Celia's, I didn't hear what she said. But I feel this iridium phone and our media responsibilities definitely detracted some from the essence of the experience. Having to, you know, make a call at a certain time, and once, the team had to sit out in the cold while a call was made, 20 below with blowing, so that media call could be made. You know, I just think some of that was just a little much for me. You know, I've had satellite phones on prior expeditions, but it's been a base camp thing, and it's been a thing that we would come down to base camp or a base camp manager would, you know, we would radio base camp and then base camp manager would take care of that aspect of it. But to actually be carrying the thing with you all the time, even though it was small, it did take something away, I feel.
Why was it done?
Well, because, what we had done, is that was one of, you know, the pitches of the expedition, to these sponsors. See, the companies that were, quote, ¿sponsors,¿ this is the only expedition I've ever been on in my life that we were raising money for a foundation for children and not for the expedition. So we could go to a sponsor and say, ¿If you give us 25,000 dollars, then you're gonna get this many media contacts, and we're putting on this ongoing show every day where we're going, you know, on the telephone, which is then going on the Web, which people are gonna¿and we had millions of people following this expedition, which is wonderful for kids. I mean it was wonderful for kids. And we raised over a million dollars for this charity, so that made my heart sing. I mean in really did. But it also, on the other side, you know, when you're out there in 20 degree below zero weather, trying to hold up that end of the deal was, that was tough some days. It was real tough some days.
Any other thoughts before we sign off?
I'd like to share with you a poem. When I went to Antarctica, my dad was very much part of this trip. And when I was a child, he was stationed in Greenland and Tooley during the war. (interruption) And my dad, we used to sit around afterwards, and he had pictures of polar bears and pictures of Eskimos and pictures of dogsleds, and we used to sit around and dream about what it would be like to go to the North Pole, and so a month before we were leaving on this trip, my sister and I were going through his effects. He died in '96. And we found a picture of him on a dogsled, and so I, for me, you know, everybody's dad's their hero. You know, your dad's your hero. And so this was completing a circle and he gave me a poem when I went to Antarctica that he always said that, you know, I was living out some of his dreams in my climbing and in stuff. And so, I can't remember who the author was of the poem. The poem went, ¿There's a race of men, that don't fit in, a race that can't sit still. So they break the hearts of kith and kin and they roam the world at will. They range the field, they rove the flood, and they climb the mountain's crest. Theirs is the curse of gypsy blood and they don't know how to rest. If they just went straight, they might go far, they are strong and brave and true. But they're always tired of the things that are and they want the strange and new. And each forgets, as he breaks and runs, in a brilliant, fitful pace, it's the steady, quiet, plodding ones who win the lifelong race. Ha ha, he's one of the legion's lost, he was never meant to win. He's a rolling stone whose bread and bone is a man who won't fit in.¿ And when he gave me the poem, he said, ¿I hope you will always remain a man who will not fit in and a man who wants the strange and new, because that is the way we change the world.¿ And so that's how I want to leave this.
Bill Martin interview ends
43:36 ¿ 48:18
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