Hercules aircraft take-off
North pole expedition discussion.
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 Apr 1999
- Eureka Station #4
- 79.98808 -85.94472
DPA4006 omni mics; Sonosax preamp
Show: North Pole
Log of DAT #: 12
"Eureka Station and Interviews #3"
ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good
very loud plane sounds with voices
dragging of metallic objects
plane revs up and discussion of logistical problems with getting to Pole from NASA guys
radio sounds while sitting in car
If you could just give me your name again and then tell me your story, where you started, how you got involved.
Right. The name is David, or Dave, as most of my friends call me. Last name is Golibersuch and that's G-O-L-I-B as in boy-E-R-S as in sugar- U-C-H. Just say it like it's spelled, Golibersuch. I come from upstate New York, Schenechtady in particular, grew up snowy Buffalo, western New York, so I've been in winter weather most of my life. I'm up here as one of 11 members of the Aspirations expedition and this is a group of us, basically all ordinary citizens except for our leader, Paul Sherke, and the thing that has brought us together was one, the desire to reach the North Pole in the manner that basically reproduced or recreated what Admiral Peary and Matthew Henson and 4 Innuit did here back in 1909 which was their so-called final dash from 88 degrees North latitude to the Pole and, of course, there are a lot of questions historic, historians have about did they actually make it and that will probably be debated from now until the end of time, but that certainly was their plan and that was our plan, but the main, really, the big reason that we were doing it and where the name of the expedition, Aspirations, comes from is that one of our team members, Doug Hall, has founded a charitable organization called Great Aspirations which is in, organized to basically create and distribute, free of charge, inspirational material for children and parents around the country and around the world for that matter, and so part of the purpose of the trip here was actually to raise funds from corporate America to further that cause and to, and to provide the basis for creating more materials and distributing them to more and more people, as well as getting out the whole concept, and we had, actually, a major website in progress during the entire trip at www.aspirations.com and people could go there and not only could they look at much of this inspirational material, and a lot of it is really directed at parents and the idea is to get parents to be full participants with their kids and to help them and get them to aspire, to achieve certain goals, and to know that, hey, if they really want to do something and have confidence in themselves and determination and support from people and the teamwork, and all of those elements which we were trying to embody in, in whole expedition experience . And, of course, also during the trip why we had an iridium Motorola satellite phone with us and, once a day, why journal entries were sent back to a base station we had in Resolute and they were subsequently posted on the website so people could tune in every day to the website and find out what our progress had been, what our problems had been, what some of the highs and lows and, in turn, we also, most of us had iridium satellite pagers which could receive up to a 200 character e-mail message and so, a lot of the folks, literally from around the world and especially a lot of the school children that some of us, like myself, had talked with before the trip, were sending messages up to us literally as we were on the trail heading toward the North Pole, responding to the things that they had read on the website about what we were doing and commenting on our problems and mostly just giving us lots of encouragement to keep going. So I think that's the essence of the story and now we got a little music to¿
All right, Dave, the trip started out when?
Okay, we, let's see, we came up to, give me a chance to get my bearings here. We came up to, came up through Edmonton on, I guess, Monday the 12th. Does that sound right? Monday the 12th? Okay. The team rendezvoused in Edmonton. Not only the humans but also the dogs and from there we went onto, we stayed overnight in Edmonton and the next day we flew up to Resolute with the dogs and then stayed overnight in Resolute and then the next day, which would have been the 14th, Wednesday, why we flew from Resolute to 88 degrees north latitude on the Arctic Ocean and we were left off at that point in time along with all our gear and unassembled sleds and skis without bindings and mishmash of equipment and dogs and food. And the 11 of us were on our own out there in the middle of the Polar Sea, literally like being dropped off on another planet someplace. It was just, I would use the term "surreal experience." Every place you looked it was just white, white, white, occasional little spots of blue here and there where large chunks of blue ice had broken through the surface and been exposed, but 99.9 percent whiteness. A lot more snow than I had expected. A lot colder than I had expected. And we set up cam and got ready for what was to be a 120 nautical mile journey by ski and foot and dogsled to the North Pole and by the time, if you take that into regular miles like on your speedometer and take into account walking around all the pressure ridges and leads or open water, why we probably put in close to 2, 250 miles of trekking across the polar sea in the next 10 days or so until we were successful in reaching the Pole on this past Monday, which I guess was the 26th, I think.
I see you've got some injuries. You experienced these during, at what part of the trip?
Yeah, I was, in that sense, I was very unlucky in that I experienced three injuries in a row right at the very beginning. The very first day I got a very bad bit of frostbite into my, one of my, my big toe on my left foot, which was pretty painful that night and kept me awake and made walking a bit difficult and the next day, which was the second day of the trip, I was mushing one of the sleds through some rubble ice and at one point in time we went over some pretty rough stuff and I got thrown off the sled and it came down and landed on my other foot in a, in a way that my ankle didn't particularly appreciate, so I thought at that point in time, "Here it is only day two and I was done for it." I really thought I'd frankly broken my ankle, but the word was, "Well, if you're standing, it can't be broken, walk it off." And so I spent the next day, ten days, walking off a sprained ankle. And then the third day, I got, unfortunately, some frostbite on all ten of my digits of my fingers, some worse than others. So basically I spent the entire trip while we up there fighting against frostbite on both, on one foot and all my fingers and a sprained ankle and it certainly taught me about the need to depend and rely on your teammates because without a lot of help from them, I wouldn't have made it at all. In fact, even with a lot of help from them, I was, it was very difficult at times, frankly, for me to just take care of myself in the sense of, you need a lot, you do a lot of eating or burning up energy like crazy, part to stay warm, plus we're pushing these ton sleds around and skiing, and so you have to be eating and drinking constantly and that was very difficult for me to do with the situation with my hands and so there was one day that I actually, my battery went down to E and somewhat below and I actually developed what my teammates subsequently described to me as a classic case of hypothermia where I was basically stumbling around the trail and babbling and saying things that were not terribly meaningful or coherent. And, but I can remember some of that. I do remember at one point in time, one of my teammates asking me if I knew what year it was and, in my brain, I said, it was1999 was immediately in my brain, but I just couldn't it out and it took me about 10 minutes and I was working backwards and saying, well, let's see, I think we're getting close to the millennium. That must mean we're in the 1900s. And I swear, it took me about 10 minutes to work out the logic of what year it was to get it out. It was really¿ (BM: It must have been frightening.) Yes, it definitely was frightening and scary and a bit demoralizing and depressing, but like I said, fortunately, I had a couple of things going for me. One, a great group of teammates and the other thing is we were getting, thanks to modern satellite technology, why we were getting a steady stream of short email messages from family and friends and children and people literally around the world offering their verbal encouragement and support and keep going and telling us how we were inspiring them and, of course, they we were the ones that were inspiring us, so it was sort of like a mutual bootstrapping operation. People who, some of whom, never met each other and probably never will meet each other, but we were helping each other from literally around the world to achieve our respective goals here these last couple of weeks.
How did you receive these messages?
Yeah, the messages were coming to us individually. We each had a small Motorola iridium pager which was capable of receiving up to a 200 character email message and people could, we had a couple of websites, the main one of which was aspirations.com, which was keeping a daily, reporting a daily journal. And from there, you could obtain the code that you needed and then you would go to the iridium site and you could type in an email message and the code for the individual and fire it off and within half an hour to an hour, why one of the appropriate birds would fly over the area of the North Pole and whoever the message was addressed to would hear a little vibration somewhere inside of his gear and know that another message had come in.
Birds, you mean satellites.
Yes, correct, right, one of the iridium satellites, I don't know, I think they have a couple of dozen so that effectively, I think the concept is that within roughly a half hour to an hour, why every place on Earth is covered by the footprint of one of these satellites.
What things were going through your mind¿did you have a supply plane come in the third day or so?
No, we unfortunately, we were hoping to get a supply plane in about halfway through the trip, but that, we actually did have a plane meet us halfway through the trip which was bringing out a British group that had just basically, as far as I know, just been camping out at the North Pole for a few days. And that plane was supposed to be, have some resupply equipment for us, but unfortunately, something went awry and the resupplies never came through. So about the only way in which we were to take advantage of that particular plane was to actually send out some stuff that we had no longer use for like empty gasoline cans and just deadweight stuff we were dragging along that had no value to us at that point in time. So we, we in fact did not get a resupply and as it turned out, the day after we got to the Pole, that morning for breakfast we had some concoction of pasta and pepperoni, I think, and tomato sauce for breakfast and followed by the declaration that that was the last food. And fortunately, we basically ran out of food about an hour or a couple of hours before the plane came up to start to pick some of us up that did have our resupply, finally. We got our resupply after we got to the Pole, in time to eat some of it on the way back.
That would have been on the 26th, that you arrived at the Pole. So there was no way with the injuries you received, there was no way for you to get out. You had to get to the Pole, is that correct?
Yeah, basically. I mean, if, again, this is something you have to rely and you have to have confidence in the judgment of the leader of the expedition. In this case, for us, it was Paul Sherke, who has, this was actually his fifth attempt to make the Pole and the fourth successful one. And Paul's judgment was that while I was definitely suffering from some significant injuries, that his judgment is that they were not life-threatening, that I would survive, and that getting me out a few days or even a week or so earlier really wasn't going to have a whole lot of, make a whole lot of difference on my recovery and prognosis, but to get me out those extra days would basically seriously jeopardize the, the entire project and the mission for any of the team members to get there. And so he made the judgment that, "Hey, Dave, tough it out," and basically was very effective in helping to inspire me to keep going with both on the high road and the low road. There were times when he would help me remember some very lofty, oh, philosophy and thinking from some of the folks who had survived concentration camps and that sort of thing and that, there's a powerful book called Man's Search for Meaning written by a man by the name of Frankel who was a concentration camp survivor and Paul reminded me, I've read a little bit of the book, that one of the messages there is, "Hey, you can be in, you can be in very difficult situation and feel like all is pretty much lost, but the one thing you've always got some control over is your attitude," so that was the high end, and other times he would just say, "Dave, you need a good swift kick in the rear." But he kept me going, and we all, I wasn't, by the way, I guess, there were two of us on the trip that really were in, I would say, a condition of borderline helplessness. I was able to help myself mostly and I was, during all of the trip I was able to stay mobile and either mush one of the sleds or mostly, when the frostbite got to be more advanced, why I was spending most of my time skiing, so I was mobile all the time. I did occasionally some help with people, from people to do mundane things like buckle up my pants so I could, and help me get some food and stuff like that, but we did have one other team member who was just in the last couple of days in an even more helpless situation, that he'd developed a very serious back situation and possibly ruptured disc and he became not only. I mean, he still had his hands, so he could feed himself, but he basically, couldn't, couldn't walk at all, and so we had to carry him on the sled actually for the last, the last day and a half of the trip. His name is Bill Martin. And he's here in the building with us right now. So he had a pretty rough ordeal, but everybody else is, has, you know, has suffered in various discomforts and injuries and deprivations or whatever what, just, almost everybody, hey, there's Jerry right there, had a little bit of frostbite, lot of aches and pains and muscles and bruises. I mean, we all got thrown around the ice a fair bit from time to time and very tiring. I mean, one of the things that, like I said when we first started talking, that was just very surprising to I think all of us was the amount of snow that was up here and that made trekking and mushing the sleds much more difficult because there were just large drifts and occasionally you would come across these drifts and you would pothole or just your leg would go down, sometimes right up to your, right up to your top of your thigh and not only was that very tiring every time it happened, but it would slow you down and in some cases, it was, in some ways, it was rather dangerous, because, you know, sometimes, you were moving along with that sled at a fairly good clip, and all of a sudden, one of your legs goes right down up to the top of your thigh and is basically immobile. Meanwhile, the rest of your body keeps going and that may well have been what triggered the situation with Bill Martin, 'cause he did have a fairly severe potholing kind of a incident like that that seemed to be the start of his winding down over the next couple of days.
What was the weather like up there?
The weather was also a surprise in that it was much colder than, was certainly much colder than I had expected. I was anticipating an average temperature around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. As it turned out, why we were pretty much down around minus 15 almost every day of the trip. And then there were two or three days where we got some fairly significant winds blowing and so the wind chill was quite a bit lower than that. So, you know, I think the whole trip, I doubt if we got, I doubt if we got into positive, I'm almost positive we didn't get into positive temperatures and I suspect we were probably somewhere, minus 10 or so or lower the entire time. (Fahrenheit?) Yes.
Is this what you said, did you expect, I mean, is this the kind of adventure you really expected when you decided to sign on with the expedition?
No, there were, well, there were, I think there were more surprises than there were, as I said, the amount of snow was a surprise, the degree of coldness was a surprise. One of the things that did meet my expectations or I should say, not only met them but exceeded them, was that one of the compelling reasons for me for doing this, this, I mean there were many reason, love of the Arctic and adventure and all that, but the one that was really the decision maker when I signed up for this trip was the association with this Great Aspirations and the idea of using this as a way to inspire and motivate children. And that I think, has turned out to be a, really a smashing success. I mean, as far as we could tell, we've literally had hundreds of thousands in not millions of people around the world following the expedition on a day-by-day basis and messages coming in from kids all over the world that appear to really be taking this as something that is indeed providing inspiration to them in their day-to-day lives. So that one is one where I would say the expectation was, was exceeded in a major way, okay. Probably the other one that to me was a, was totally unexpected, I did not come on this trip to find inspiration for myself to do things differently in my life, but I am thoroughly convinced that that has in fact happened. Exactly what it all means, I don't know yet. I've got to digest this, but I think it certainly revolves around being up there in a state of, in this absolutely unearthly world, in a state where, literally, life and death hang on the balance if the team doesn't work together and being one of the people that was, unfortunately, on the weaker side of things and requiring assistance from people, why, it's made me, who has for most of my life been pretty much of a loner and an independent sort thinking that, "Hey, maybe we should move a little bit more in the direction of not only accepting a little bit more assistance and so on from others, but more importantly, to reach out and perhaps try to help some of our fellow folks that are in a state of needing help on a much more permanent basis, let's say, that some. For me, I mean, I knew at the very worst this thing was gonna come to an end, you know, sometime this week, because we were gonna run out of food and, you know, something was gonna cause it to stop, okay. Either we would come to a lead that we couldn't get around or we would run out of food or something and some planes would eventually get through and I would get out of there. But, of course, there are many, many folks around the world that have to deal with limitations that there is no plane that is going to come a week from now and take it away from them.
Did you ever think you weren't gonna get out of there?
Yes, there were times when I had my serious doubts that that was where we were gonna terminate things, but I think that was clearly just my head getting carried away with frankly, a fair degree of discomfort combined with, like I said, I did have a pretty classic case of hypothermia at one point in time and I think that's when those kind of thoughts were creeping in most strongly. I mean, you think about all kinds of bizarre things. In fact, I remember one time, that in fact the day that I had that, I remember I could see that people were trying to set up that tent and get me, get things set up for to help me out and get me in and get me warmed up and I just said, "Hey, but I really want to get out of here," and so I turned around and I started walking backwards on the trail that we had made that day, saying, "Hey, if I go South, I'm going to get home, right?" So you, you tend to, I mean, your brain tells you that doesn't make sense, but your brain doesn't always have control in those kinds of situations.
I know it's only a day, really, since you've been back, but I guess the question is, are you glad you went?
Oh, yeah. No, I don't think there's any question about that, like I say, because for the two, the two major reasons being that one, the primary reason for going, as far as we can tell so far, has vastly exceeded expectations and, in a sense, it may just be the start of things. I know there're all kinds of media around the world that are anxious to interview various people on the team next week and I think, some of the major news shows are gonna have some of the folks on next week an so on, so I think it'll grow and build. The impact that it's had on me and my own thinking, time is too soon to really judge the value of that, but I think that's going to be extremely important, and the other thing is just that, hey, you know, I can't say I would recommend it to somebody to do it, but having done it, I've always found that the way that I can really appreciate the challenges that some people have overcome is by trying to do it myself, okay. To take an analogy from a different environment, I used to, over my life, have tried to learn how to play the piano at various times. Never got to be very good at it, in fact, never got to be very good at it at all, but one thing it did for me is when I listen to a real expert play the piano, a real artist, why it just made my sense of what they were doing and what they had to deal with and struggle with to get to that point. I think, having been through this experience, and I certainly am a long way from dead, okay, and was all the way through this trip, but I certainly, in the future, when I sit down to read some of the experiences that many of the classic historic explorers and adventurers have had in really trying to map out these parts of the world and some of the enormous difficulties that they had to go through. I mean, just the thought of, you know, like I say, you think about people like Peary and there's this question about did he make it or didn't he make it, but, you know, there's a guy, I think, a hundred years ago, I mean, he spent, what, I don't know, 20 or 25 years of his life, if I remember my history right, trying to get¿.
sound begins again¿
And then there were other times when despite these miserable hands, I somehow figured out, developed a new poling technique where I would basically cup the end of the pole into my palms of my hands and actually start to get a fairly good glide going on the skis and I'd say, "Gee, this is what it's all about, you know." Skiing in the beautiful, you know, nature environment, and like we're in without, just powder snow, how often do you get to ski in powder snow, in any direction you want to go, you can ski for several hundred miles, right? So, you know, there were those highs and lows even while I was going through this thing and we'll just have to see, you know, how it all sorts out when we get mended and get back together.
Well, the beauty is that people have a relatively short memory for the bad things, so in time, you will only remember the adventure and the good stuff.
Right, well I guess, I suspect, I've never been through the experience, but I've been told many times that women who go through childbirth and have a rough time of it swear that they will never, ever, ever again allow themselves to have to repeat that experience and yet as we all know, why there are more women that do it multiple times they go through the experience. So you're right, yeah, you tend to forget the, and you know, I think that's very much true of the Ellesmere. I mean, there was certainly nothing quite as severe as this because we had much milder weather when we were on Ellesmere last year and we met you for the first time, but there certainly were some difficult moments then when I really would have preferred to have been someplace else then where I was, but¿
And yet a year later, you came back.
But yeah, you know, but once I got back, and started to think back on all the positives and what I had learned and, not only what I had learned, but I think, one of the things that's been so tremendously rewarding for me on the basis, as a result of that experience, and I'm sure it will be also the case for this one, is not what I have learned, but the incredible amount of knowledge, information, wisdom, if you want, that I've learned that I haven't learned, okay. I mean, I just am totally amazed at how rich the Arctic is in terms of natural history and science and culture and just that I was just never exposed to in my preceding 56 years, okay. It was this white, empty space, right? With maybe a Santa Claus up there someplace and other than that, there was nothing there, right, you didn't even think about, and now, here we are in the middle of it and it's just totally fascinating part of the world and just¿One of the things that I was really hoping, one of the ways in which I didn't meet an expectation on this trip, in part because of this, is I was hoping to do all kinds of interesting, at least, scientific kinds of things. I wanted to keep a log, a careful log of things like temperatures and wind velocities and I had some stuff jerry-rigged up that I was gonna hope to make some ice thickness measurements and stuff like that, but with these things, why all of the, the science part for me, anyway, went by and by. Wanna hear the NASA story as far as I know it?
There is a group as we speak from NASA on the North Pole with several other members of the Aspirations expedition including Paul Sherke, the leader, and they are basically, the NASA people are up there to do some experiments, I think which have largely to do with, I've talked to one of their scientists, and as far as I understand, the major objective is that they're trying to come up with a way to measure the thickness of the ice remotely using satellites, by some mechanism, probably some kind of radar. I'm not sure what the physical mechanisms that they're trying to use, but the idea is that they need to get some calibration and so they wanted to take some measurements, some readings from the satellites at the same time that there were actually people on the ice who could measure things directly and they had basically made an arrangement, it was a very last minute thing, as it turned out, with Sherke that in exchange for getting some of us out on the plane that brought them up yesterday, why they would basically take care of 'em and provide sleeping bags and tents so that they could stay overnight last night or until they come out, but it was a very, as it turned out, it was a very much of an ad hoc thing. On the other hand, if you go back 4 or 5 months from now, 4 or 5 months previous to now, why there had been some significant negotiations going on trying, that I understand, I was not a party to them, okay, so I was just hearing about things second hand, but there was a hope at one time that perhaps the Great Aspirations, the Aspirations Expedition and NASA could have jointly done something together, okay. But I understand that there were just all kinds of complications involving the fact that NASA is, of course, is a government organization. As a government organization, there are all kinds of restrictions on what they can do, either directly or indirectly to indicate that they are supporting, you know, even though it's a charitable kind of a thing, to indicate that Uncle Sam is supporting this charity versus that charity and even the appearance that that's happening, I don't know all the ins and outs and buts, but you'll have to talk to the lawyers about all that. But as it turned out, why it was not possible to do anything in a formal kind of way, in a pre-announced kind of a way, but to get the real details on that, you'll have to talk to Paul Sherke, 'cause he's the one who was, him and Doug Hall, who where the principle negotiators.
End of interview
So, could you start. If you'd give me your name.
My name is Mike Warren. I'm from Gainesville, Florida.
And you were on the Paul Sherke expedition to the Pole. Why did you decide to do this?
Well, I got talked into it. The co-leader of the trip is Bill Martin. I know Bill from Gainesville. Bill had mentored me before in his mountain climbing and he talked about this for a while and got my interest up. I agreed to go to Minnesota for a shakedown back in December and afterwards enjoyed it and figured I'd go along. It was really, I think, the challenge that lured me more than anything else, although I probably have to admit, I probably would prefer to be climbing higher that to be in this environment.
Interruption and repeat of two previous questions without dryer in background
What was it that¿
I think it was the challenge. The, both, the three part challenge. It was obviously a physical challenge, a mental challenge obviously as much, too, an emotional challenge. So I was relishing the challenge of the trip, I think. And once it became clear some of the things we would get into, although we tend to underestimate those until we're here, I think those there the things, it was something I wanted to test myself.
Is this the kind of thing you'd do on a regular basis? You mentioned climbing before¿
No. I really haven't done this until a couple of years ago and I just decided that I was getting only and that if I'm going to do these things, the time to do it is now, that physically, I probably was at a, had a limited horizon, and that the time, it was either now or never, and I decided to seize the moment and start doing some of these things, so I've done a couple. I've, you know, climbed here, I've climbed over in Nepal, and now this trip.
So what was this trip like?
The trip was cold. The trip was very cold. It was very demanding, in that regard. I think the hardest part of trip, probably, was dealing with the cold in a mental way. Physically, I think everybody's hands and toes were cold because of having to, well, let me put this, the cold is relentless and you never get any respite from it and it's not just a matter of walking or skiing or riding behind a sled where you can generate some physical activity to keep warm. It's also having to do the various tasks of setting up camp, breaking down camp, tending to the dogs, doing all those things that are necessary to sustain an activity, and during those times, even stopping to get some water or to grab some food on a trail, you get very, very cold quickly. That was probably the hardest thing I think people had to deal with.
I see you've got some frostbite.
Just a little bit. I've got some frostnip on the nose, on the face, and my hands are, my hands, my fingertips are still numb, though they're coming around, but actually I have very, I have minor infirmities compared to some of the other people, so.
Yeah, Dave was in here earlier. He said that one of the things that struck him was the quality of his fellow expedition members.
I think you have to be a team. You have to be a team and certainly, it's no, everybody knows how difficult it is when you're out there, and when you see somebody else who's not faring quite as well, you pull together for them. Everybody was hurting. To see someone else who obviously has physical pain and physical illness worse than yours just really tugs at you. So we know we had to work and Dave got some frostbite fairly early on, so a lot of us were helping him. Towards the end of the trip, of course, Bill Martin hurt his back, so we had to pull together to help him as well.
What's your overall sense? I mean, it's only been a day since you've been back.
And it is hard to get perspective. I think, it was funny, going in, initially I think you're very gung-ho. That wears off very quickly. As I said, the cold takes a toll on you, mentally probably more than anything else, 'cause you know you're gonna have to face it again and again and again. About halfway through the trip, it became clear to me it really wasn't ultimately important whether I got to the Pole or not. And that was surprising. I wasn't going to measure the success of this trip in terms of getting to some arbitrary point on the Earth's surface. It was probably more important to me that I was gonna survive with my, with the team members and that we were gonna have a successful trip in that regard. And I think we did that. After we got to within about half a degree, 30 nautical miles of the Pole, I think then it changed. I think everybody became, it became clear to everybody we were gonna make it. There was no question about it and we had, you know, gone through so much. We were sort of on a downhill slide. And when we got to the Pole, of course, it was emotional and it was very nice and I said a prayer. I'm not a very religious person, but I said a prayer because one has to be blessed to this. It is not alone, the human effort, the human will to endure the challenge that's gonna get you there. You have to be able to have some help from above. Even on the last day, we started out with very clear sailing and then we hit a lot of open water. I think we hit more open water the last day than we probably hit for almost the totality of the remainder of the trip. And there were times where literally, we, where, Paul Sherke, our guide, is just extremely resourceful out in the Arctic, was baffled as to which we way to go and we weren't sure, you know, which way to go. So it was a trying day and it was very emotional when we got there. But, as I said, I don't think I measure the success of the trip, necessarily, getting to that arbitrary point. That's just icing on the cake. I think it was the fact that we set out together, we went through very hard, trying times together, and I think we came back all, you know, relatively in good health except for, you know, some minor things and I feel blessed in that regard.
What would be the high and the low points?
Sure. I think the lowest point, probably, second or third day, we went into a whiteout. It was probably 20 degrees below zero or maybe a little bit colder, we had a fierce wind in our face. It was very hard to see where we were going. Fingers were frozen to the point where I literally had to take my hands out of my gloves and just bunch 'em together and try to keep 'em together to get any warmth. My hands were numb. It was a very, very, it was the hardest day I think we faced and it was early in the trip and that was probably a low point, because at that point I think started sapping my mental strength. Am I going to be able to get through this? Is it really physically able to do this? And then when you realize that we're drifting away from the Pole, so for every 10 miles we're tredging, trudging through the day, we're going back a mile to a mile-point-three at night and if we have to make it back up again. So I think that was probably the low point when we ran onto the whiteout with the really fierce weather early on. The high point was obviously just getting to the Pole. The countdown in, you know, once we got within a mile, nautical mile, and then half a mile, and then a tenth of a mile as someone sort of, you know, marching in there with Corky Peterson, our 69-year-old leading us. That was nice. It was very nice. And again, I just felt very lucky. I felt very lucky to be there. 'Cause I, there's, it's just not, there's not enough within us as human beings to do this. So many things could have occurred that would have stopped us no matter what effort we put forth.
So many things? It sounds like so many things did occur.
Well, yeah, but they were, obviously we made our schedule and stuff, and I think those were probably, from my perspective, yeah, those are big things now. Obviously, someone like Paul Sherke who's done this four times, he said, "Yeah, those are just normal things that you face." But we could have had more bad weather, we could have, you know, we had two days with whiteout conditions, actually day and a half, I guess. We only had, really, one day of fierce winds. Another day we had some winds blew us to our back. That wasn't too bad. So the weather could have been much worse. The weather was colder than we anticipated. Sherke indicated this had been the coldest trip that he's gone since '86. But to some extent, the cold weather actually helped us because it probably eliminated some of the water, the open water leads that we might have faced otherwise, so.
In those whiteout conditions, what did you guys do?
Just keep your head down and you get very well-acquainted with the boots of the person in front of you, because you can't see very far. And you need to stay close together. You really can't even look up. The wind is so biting that frostbite, any exposed flesh is almost, becomes frostbitten or frostnipped within minutes, so you keep your head down with your hood pulled over you and just sort of look down and don't have a perspective more than about 10 feet in front of you.
What was it like with the dogs?
The dogs were great. The dogs are wonderful. Obviously, we could not have made the trip without the dogs. The dogs just love to pull. They, they're almost machines and they just want to get in their harnesses and pull for you. Towards the end of the day, obviously, they get very tired as well, too. The dogs are great. What is very surprising is that dogs as big as they are and as vicious as they can be with each other and if you let them stop and if you let them get to the point where they're not pulling or they're too close to each other, they will start tearing into each other and there's often times, you know, superficial wounds and blood on the ice from the wounds of the dogs, but to human beings they're just incredibly affectionate and just crave our affection as well. So these big, strong animals that are, that really were our life support there, just are incredibly affectionate and I really got to enjoy them.
You mentioned how cold it was. Now that you're in a warm room, in retrospect, are you sorry that it was so cold or do you think that now that's an integral part of the challenge and you would have been sorry if it would have been easier?
Well, I think it would have been easier if it were a little warmer, but I'm not sure what the consequences of that might have been. I think the temperatures averaged, probably, we had one day that was about 5 degrees above zero. I can tell you, that's hard, because we had to shed clothes. Once you start getting moving, we had, I stripped down basically to just a fleece top and was sweating. But then, as soon as you stop, of course, you get very cold. So the optimum temperature probably was, I would guess, close to where we were. I mean, we didn't have to change¿
But do you consider conquering the cold, now, as a major part of the challenge¿
if it had been 20 degrees warmer, this might not have been the intense experience¿
To answer your question directly, yes. If it had been 20 degrees warmer, it would not have been as intense an experience. But I don't know what the consequence would have been with regard to the ice. Would we have encountered so much more open water because of the warmer temperature that it would have become a challenge of another dimension? And I can't answer that, having only been here one time. But, yes. It was colder than we anticipated and that cold made it harder and it just made it hard to do every little thing that you have to do to sustain human activity in a trip. Again, when we're out skiing and stuff, it was fine. Once you got going, skiing was fine. But for the first, after you stopped to do anything, for the first 10 minutes or so, hands were literally numb and it took probably 20 minutes or more before I had any feeling in my fingertips after I started skiing, before my hands felt warm enough that I could know that I was actually gripping a pole.
The circulation shuts down¿
Yeah, it certainly, you know, you can modulate a lot of your body temperature by putting a hood on or off. It really is true that you can keep your temperature, you can regulate your body temperature more easily with your head than anything else, so I learned to take my hat, my hood on, pull it tighter or relieve the tension on the hat and the like and that would warm me up faster than anything else. But, it's hard to say, I'm not sure what the consequences would have been if it had been significantly warmer, but I do know this was significantly colder. The one day that it was warm was 5 degrees became too warm for us to move in the snow without shedding clothes, and then you had to worry about getting your clothes back on when you stopped. Obviously, one gets acclimated somewhat to the cold, but you never get accustomed to it. Your hands and the extremities never get accustomed to it. And I went in the water, my boots got wet, and then my feet were cold after that because I could never get the frost and the frozen water out of the boot liners, even though I tried. I literally stood over a fire, a campfire, the Coleman burner for an hour or more, literally trying to defrost the boot liner and get water out of it, squeeze it out, so I could go ahead and try to get them dry. But still now, when I got here in Eureka, still there was water. As we warmed up in here, my boot was getting squishy because there's still, there was still frozen water inside there.
Is there ever a point when you thought, we're not gonna get through this?
No. It's, it's not so much that I never thought we would get through it. It's that I got to a realization, probably about midway the trip, that it wasn't that important to me, whether we made it to the Pole, and that, I think that was almost like a defining moment. There were times during the day when, where we were going for so long, without any stop, without the ability even to grab, you know, some finger food or grab some water and the like, that it was frustrating. Is this ever going to end? I felt like I was on a death march. But I always thought within us we had the ability to get there. It was more that I just, at some point, I decided, I'm not gonna to measure the success of this trip nor the success of my being on this trip by reaching this arbitrary point.
Dave mentioned that the expedition leader, Paul Sherke, he thought played, obviously, an important role, knows the environment and etcetera, but also in terms of moral support or making clear what the challenge is. Was that an experience that you had?
No, I didn't. I think Dave, because of his, the infirmities with his frostbite, probably got a lot of attention from Paul to help him out. I think, I would have actually liked more from Paul in the way of feedback as to what was going on. Paul took the role of almost, as a scout, a guide, he was ahead of us, probably, maybe a quarter mile most of the time, trying to find pathways through the ice that avoided most of the pitfalls, the open leads, although we went over many, pressure ridges, and we crossed many, many leads, but it would have been more helpful to me if we were closer together as a group and we were more aware of what was going on. I felt, many times there's just endless trudging through the tundra, through the snow, and the ice, seemingly without knowing where we were going, because we could have been, you know, you navigate essentially by the sun. Time is meaningless out there. When the sun's out 24 hours a day, time has no meaning. Days have no meaning. It's a funny thing. Someone who, you know, is programmed to live by a watch, by time, and you get up there, within two days you realize that time is meaningless in that environment. So I would have liked some more input from Paul as to where we were going, what we were trying to do, what we were trying to accomplish and the like. So I would have to disagree a little bit with Dave on that.
Would you recommend something like this to folks and if so, why?
That's a hard one to answer now, because as you stated earlier, I don't think I have the perspective. And I've found on some of these other trips, you need to get, have the perspective. I'll tell you, one nice thing about being is Eureka today and yesterday, is having the ability to decompress a little bit. In the past, it's been hop, step, jump on a plane and fly back home, and although I would love nothing more than to be with my wife and my daughter right now, the ability to sit here and decompress a little bit, and warm up, is an extremely luxuriating proposition. So we're very helpful, very thankful to the people at Eureka who've been so kind to us, but in terms of, I don't have the perspective yet. I would, it would be hard for me to recommend this to anybody else. I would probably say that 14, 13, 14 days on the ice is too far, too long. That the toll on body and mind is beyond that necessary to gain the perspective of getting to the North Pole. And I would recommend to somebody, perhaps if they wanted to do this, start at 89 or start at, some of the other groups started at 89-20, 89-40, you know, 3, 4, 5, 7 days is plenty. Plenty to encounter everything we've encountered. And there's really no reason to put oneself through the duress, the arduous task that we did. We were trying to recreate Peary's dash to the Pole of 18, of 1909, and in that regard, our trip was preordained. It was determined beforehand where we were gonna start and how we were gonna go, but I don't think it's necessary for anyone to gain the Arctic experience to be out here for 13 days. It really is overkill.
Did you use the pager?
Well, yeah. I was a passive user of the pager. The pager was wonderful. Let me step back just a second. I think the hardest decision I had to make about this trip was the length of time being away from my family. I've done a trip almost as long a couple of years ago and it was very difficult to be away and that was my biggest concern, being away for 3 weeks. So what the pager allowed my family to do was be able to send me emails which I got every morning or actually any time as soon as we got in the Arctic region. It made me feel connected. It made me feel that they knew what was going on and that was so important. That probably was more important, more nourishing than the candy bars, than the, than anything else we could have taken. A sustainment to know that they were behind me and friends and relatives, especially the family, my wife and my daughter wrote me religiously, and just to know that they were following where we were. To go to sleep knowing that you're, say you're 30 miles from the Pole and wake up in the morning, "Congratulations, only 30 miles to go," and stuff like that, "We're with you, our love." It was just so, so important. It would have been a very different trip without that. No question about it. It was very important, and I've saved over 100 of them. I've filled up two mailboxes. They're just wonderful and I'm gonna keep the pager and obviously gonna keep those on there for quite a while. They, they really made a big difference to me, and I think to everybody else. It was really funny. One, apparently, the pagers have a whole lot of different mechanisms to let you know when you come on. There are different rings, there are, you can vibrate, there are seven different rings, or you can put them on silent. One morning, as we were eating breakfast, Paul Sherke announced, rather sternly, that he'd been woken up three times in the night by somebody's pager going off and he did want to have these pagers anymore. Well, the next morning, Sherke got a couple of pages and stopped everything to read 'em, and next thing you know, he was hooked, too and everyone coming in and saying, "Look what I got!" It was a real source of enjoyment after a really hard day to come in and over dinner time, everybody sitting and pulling those iridium pagers out and looking and seeing what they got and sharing the news from family and friends became one of the high points of the trip. No question about it. It was a ritual that I don't think anybody would have traded in. I can tell you, when if, I constantly checked, constantly checked, to make sure the pager was on my hip. If I'd lost the pager, I think I would have lost the trip and had to leave.
It sounds like, in some ways, like letters from home.
Exactly. They are letters from home. They're 200 character letters from home, small snippets, letting people know that they're with you. That they may not be enduring the cold and everything else, all the physical hardships, but emotionally and mentally, they're with you and that's just so important on a trip like this. I think the trip would have been very much harder, very much harder without them, no question.
It sounds like, too, it was a way to bring various members of the group a little bit closer.
Certainly, certainly. We got them not only from family and friends, but after a while, people were sending information to the website and then they were being uplinked to us by the people in Cincinnati and as a result, I mean I got something from a school in Los Angeles, from a teacher who said her 24 students in the second grade are following your trip with, you know, with fascination, and those really warm your heart. To know that not only are you going up, but you're bringing the hopes and aspirations of so many other people with you. To know that that many people were following us was just very heart-warming and I say, just added a tremendous dimension to the trip. I'm sure we could have done it without that. I don't think I could ever do it again without something like that. I'm not sure anybody would want to do it without having that communication. Now, the fact we couldn't talk back, you know, obviously took something away from it, but the most important thing was the sustenance that we gained from the messages, knowing that people were there supporting us. And I only gave out the pager number to a couple of people, but my wife and some others gave it out very judiciously. Just friends would give me, you know, congratulatory messages all the times we hit milestones. I can't tell you how much they meant. Just very, very important.
end of interview