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Interview 1:16:34 - 1:59:20 Play 1:16:34 - More
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Will Steger, Peter Breslow  

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Polar expedition discussions.  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
31 Mar 1997

    Geography
  • United States
    Minnesota
    St. Louis County
    Locality
  • Steger Homestead
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 48.0875897   -91.7262268
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
    Microphones
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS stereo

NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS WILL STEGER WITH PETER BRESLOW April 1997 LOG
NG = no good OK G = good VG = very good
DAT 1
OK 00:19-07:52 (Mon pm) -driving in car to meet Will and Elsa (beginning not as good -ok to set up the long trip into backwoods to Steger's house) @ 05:27 -change into 4 wheel drive
08:09 (in car) PB: is that a big green gate? .. he said turn in at the big green gate on the left
G 08:24-14:37 turning down his driveway, more driving
14:40 -PB -well we've gone this far ...wholly moley!
14:53-15:45 driving...
16:02 -PB: here we are ... (FX: opening and closing car door)
16:14 walking out of car to house, through wet snow
16:37 -sound of a chain saw
16:57 PB -we weren't sure we had the right place here 7
17:08 WS -quite a trip out, huh! (PB -yeah!) we just put that road in about 5 yrs ago. we used to come in 3 miles over the lakes to get in ... (walking through wet snow with generator in bg)
17:35 PB -well, i am glad you told. us to get a 4-wheel drive
17:40 WS -well ... (PB -wow, look at that place up there) yeah we have been working on that for a decade. that's future convention/conference center -a thinktank -retreat type think tank for small groups, 7 to 8 people. mostly i want to do work in education environment there. probably will be finished in 2 more years.
PB -you have been working on it for a decade?
18:06 WS -yeah, quite a project
PB -yeah, we came around the bend there and it kind of looked liked some magical castle up on the hill
WS -yeah. i'll take you up there. we are just finishing up putting up a wood floor in the back room there ..... (OFF MIKE this thaw .... )
18:43 WS -we make everything here -the bldgs, doors, windows ¬
PB -how many of you live up here?
18:56 -WS: well, ah -i bought the land in 1964 ... i bought the land for 400 hundred dollars ...
walking up to the house
22:05 WS -we are just finishing up spring cleaning, and the house is a mess ...come on in...this is my wife Elsa ... 23:03 ...we have used this as a training camp for a dozen years -for Antarctica. we have had 10 to 12 people living here for almost 10 years and then 50 dogs. we base the expeditions out of here. and organize them and all the gear and all of the dogs. and all of that is over with and i am solo'ing. so i am going to be doing that for some time. but that i will use the facilities for the meeting ctr, retreat ctr. then in the 70s here i used to raise all of my food. when it was really isolated i would have small gardens and i am going to get back to that (hammering in bg) self-sufficiency probably in another 3 more years i figure.
PB -so is it just the 2 of you living here?
23:44 Yeah. right now. there is one carpenter/craftsman that lives here. he lives in one of the cabins. you may have seen him out there. he is doing some work. so 3 of us are out here. so it is pretty quiet out here right now. break-up at this time of year is always quiet (hammering in bg) ... it is hard to move around -hard to drive around.
24:04 PB Is it actually easier to drive around in the winter time?
WS -oh yeah. it is almost like a paved freeway. winter roads ...are really easy.....the best roads are in the winter time ...no one plows it .. .
26:11 PB-so you have a generator for electricity?
26:14 WS -here i use solar -solar power and propane. there isn't any generator here at all ....outdoor plumbing ...
26:50 PB -...but do you have to haul water?
WS -yeah-right now, i will show you tomorrow -the ice here ¬the water is a little bit brackish -not brackish, but it has tannic acid in it. it is good tasting but it is a little bit brown, but early in december when it freezes 8 -10 inches of ice -the tannic acid freezes up so the ice is crystal clear. pretty good tasting. so we harvest the ice like they used cut ice in ice-houses in december and then we keep it up here until June and then the other half of the season we get it from a spring about a mile and a half away ...we just got a cellular phone in here last year ...
32:26 PB -did you build this whole place yourself?
WS -yes. everything -actually the interior wood here i cut with chain saws by hand. with a chalk line not with a guide ...then send it the planer. and also i cut the trails for the wood and then dog sledded into the forest. cut the wood, brought it back, chain sawed it, dried it -so it is done the extreme long, long way. it took literally almost half a life time to do it ...
preparing tea ...
33:20 WS -yeah. we are going to have nice day tomorrow.
PB -is it supposed to be nice?
WS -yeah. it will be warm.
PB -does that make your work outs easier?
WS -well, it will be kind of hard with the snow, punching through. but a work-out is a work-out. so it doesn't matter if it is going to be hard. the harder the better in a way. i will be out and get some experience now in this wet snow. on the pole it is going to be above freezing, and the type of snow i run into is just like this here. so this is the first day actually where we have had this real slushy sloppy snow. it's been bigger granulated snow the last couple of weeks or so it is going to be pretty close to real conditions ... [making the tea, talking about the puppy that run after the deer]
36:24 UNDECODED MS STEREO TUES AM riding in to Steger's house again
36:26-39:50 driving in to will's place
G 38:15 driving through water (?)
FX 39:52 -get out of car, slam doors
FX 40:11 door opens and closes
40:12-42:43 walking to will's house from car
BREAKFAST
44:01 WS -i normally get up and i put wood on the stove ....
NG 44:10-44:44 putting wood on the stove
44:48-47:11 putting wood on the stove, lighting the stove, stove working -GOOB -can hear the low roar of the flames
not enough sun light in the winter (re. solar power in his house) ....experimenting with a wind beam? -installing it soon ¬the combination should supplement
47:51 WS -what i do now is water for lemon drink and oatmeal ...usually the sound -for myself -the sound of the stove and the sound of this, since it is really intimate i do it alone and i have been doing it all my life... the simple sounds of camping when you are starting the stone (?), is always a nice time of day for me
G 48:20-50:40 pouring water from a pot, walking around room, smashing ice and putting it into a pot
G 50:44-54:00 kettle boiling (some other mov't in bg)
54:04 CHANGING THE CHART ON THE BAROMETER -NG
54:44 WS -I have been changing barometer charts since 1961 actually...LOUD CLANGING -this is simple, there is a monthly chart here ... (pulls out chart -G FX) .. . here is the month of March. looks like March. cold warm cold warm. very typical month. last year it was very cold. very high browner. this year it is pretty average -in and out of hot and cold weather.
OK 55:18-57:24 ambi -changing the barometer?
57:26 PB -So you have kept these records going back
57:28 WS -yeah in '61. I have been recording -I have been keeping weather records since i was 8 years old. 1952. I have always watched the weather -up here it is something to do. i don't listen to the radio or the news that often.
PB -no desire to go work for the weather channel?
57:44 WS -actually i wanted to be a meteorologist when i was a kid but I couldn't do the math. i went to college with the idea -meteorology, but i just couldn't do it. so i went into geology instead. i wanted to be an astronomer but that was out of reach with the physics. but i am always involved with weather here or in the arctic. they interplay with the weather. in this case what i am doing on the ice it is not only being able to make a
solid prediction of the weather -but the ice flows with the weather so your decisions on the ice you have to know the weather first and then with the weather you can understand the ice. so you have to understand both the moving ice and the weather at/ the same time which is pretty interesting.
58: 28 PB -so how good are you at predicting...
58:30 WS -actually i don't want to brag, but pretty good ¬usually better than the radio. the radio usually has -although the forecasts are amazingly accurate compared to a decade or so ago -but often up here they will have too much information and make a wrong forecast. but by keeping track of the general barometer winds, those two are a good indicator and then the clouds. and then you have to factor in the cycle. up here we usually get ourselves into a 6 week cycle ... [more about the cycle] dry weather might start coming and then it will flip back to wet maybe the next day so you have to factor the cycle in....
59:25 PB -so how accurate do you figure you are, time-wise, over what period of time can you be accurate.
59:31 WS -usually w/in 48hrs. what's really needed is the forecast the next day -if it going to frost the tomatoes, or if it a storm if you are going to travel the next day ...it is real farmer, practical type knowledge. the farmers knew basically how to do that in New England. it is pretty simple. it is just keeping track of signs, and over the years you factor in your experience level .... it's more of an intuition...up here it is more like tv or radio, it gives you something to do, it occupies your mind. and you may notice up here that everybody talks about the weather...bc it is common ground ....
1:00:29 -breakfast prep -squeezing lemon for lemon drink -my mornings are kind of a simple ritual. i have been doing the same thing -you just get up basically put on your water on the stove and then i squeeze lemons and a couple of oranges and grapefruit if i have them. and them put them in with a pint of hot water. and then once i get that ready the oatmeal is going i sit down at my desk and do my first round of work at the computer or the telephone ...1:01:21 I stock up with organic citrus about every 6 weeks or so, usually when I am down in Minn .....
1:01:32-1:01:50 cutting the citrus
1:01:51 WS I don't have the luxury of electric squeezer ....
1:02:16-1:02:55 G FX -squeezing fruit
1:02:55 PB -so as you start gearing towards a trip do you start consuming more and more calories?

use the shakley (?) supplements for protein and carbs ... i have changed the average high fat diet of an explorer to a higher carbohydrate, and dropped down the fat considerably and had pretty good luck on that. fat is slow burning energy so if you have a high fat diet you have ...your body can't get through the calories fast enough so it starts digesting the body's reserve with higher carbo .. the energy is more accessible, so you are burning your calories almost directly as youare eating them. the idea then is to try to keep up so you are not digesting your
reserves.
1:04:08-1:05:41 indoor house ambi, pouring drink, walking around house
1:06:1 WS -went in town, made my calls, got the mail, the computer is even newer i just really start using email recently...it took a while for the electricity, energy thing to be figured out ....no i am pretty much dependent on email.ilike email a lot bc it is a quieter form of communication and it is less obtrusive than the phone but both the email and the phone at this stage of the expedition i really depend on. it keeps me home. when i would go out every week to get the mail and to use the phone it was almost like crisis management. you would hit a wall from being really mellow in the wilderness to all these crises ... it was too much of an up and down life. and here in the morning i pick up the calls, and if i am on top of it there are only a several calls in the am, and the email is usually pretty gentle. let's see what we have here -(1:07:08 START UP OF COMPUTER) it's the official start of the morning (dialing up ¬automated voice saying: 'Welcome to the ...WILL STEGER' ... )listening to messages -logging on to computer, computer start-up FX
1:12:10 WS -my only concern on this solo trip is technology we rely on technology -it's a real problem. it is not rational.
1:12:21 -ambi -bg computer, rustling around room, beep from computer -(WS -talking to Elsa re the computer) .....WS -Elsa has been coaching me with this thing
logging on again to computer, having problems with computer -it is freezing -(problems with the recording, clicking of mic ... )
1:15:20 WS-Oh well, I guess no email this morning! (computer not working) ...problem is when we are on -line it is cellular time which is 26 cents a min. 1:16:34 you know i was first able to use

a computer about 6 weeks ago i have real serious eye problems, headaches, my eyes were so bad, wlo my glasses i couldn't find them i had to use my hands. i had the laser surgery just this last year. it has been an absolute miracle.
1:16:59 PB -what do you do on expeditions?
WS -i used contacts up until antarctica, and contacts were fine except for the hassle of taking them out in the evenings. and then i used glasses which were an absolute nightmare. i couldn't see. they would fog up. especially leading a group. if your eyes are out on ya like that -especially the headaches. it is hard to make decisions all the time. so i had other people leading in front. it was almost like leading in braille but now i can not only read the screen, but i can look at the screen wlo getting headaches. so i have been working these on-line programs for 7, 8 yrs wlo having every turned on a computer. i have always worked with other people to fulfill that end of it. i had
the ideas. now with the solo -one reason i like the solo is
that you are totally dependent only on yourself. i have to know not only how to run this machine, but also how to brainstorm and fix it1:18:10. and all this technology i am working with i have
to become really fluent wlin the next 90 days. that is an extra challenge. it's really timely for me to get instep with the 21st century, so -so the learning of this elsa is my teacher
(with computer stuff) (he will have a diff. computer on trip ¬hopefully hewlett packard will sponsor it)
1:19:13 PB -and you are going to put stuff on-line?
1:19:16 WS -the plan is -i think the technology is finally there, i will be able to put up full journal entries. i work with -i type or write 45 mins to an hour consistently, as a discipline, each morning. so i'll type that up, and in the evening i will send it up -when you are sleeping at night, the transmitter sends it up to the satellite when the satellite comes over. in addition i will be able to send up some photographs.
PB -so you will have a web page?
WS -yeah the web page will be nationalgeographic.com. we sre working the whole program through the national geographic on¬line. geographic and shakley are the sponsors of the project ... the technology compared to 2 yrs ago -in the field ¬is about 4 or 5 times more friendly. we actually invented this technology as we went. we had major problems. for example, we had problems with the antenna .... i am fairly uncomfortable talking about an on-line project, and what we are going to do ¬and then having to depend on technology that wouldn't be there. i have confidence in this new technology right now bc it is a lot simpler...and i think i will do ok on it this time.
1:21:28 PB -...on the trans-antarctica thing you did email with kids?
1:21:36 WS -in 1995 in the international arctic project, we crossed the arctic ocean or at least part of the way from Russia to Canada over march through July and we used the -our live contact, basically from the field, on-line to draw in kids and adults that basically worked on everyone's curiosity. they got on-line to follow us and we had developed an educational on-line program on the polar regions. and once they got on-line to follow the expedition...most people got into the educational programs bc they had an interest already..... we had about 2 million kids, students, that followed us on a daily basis they were actually part of that interactive process. as part of that process we could answer questions from the ice and some of the schools would communicate back and forth. we were really pushing the limit of technology then.
1:22:47 PB -is this the first time you will actually have a web page?
WS -yeah. actually web pages even 2 yrs ago were just beginning to come in their infancy.....how they developed their page.
1:23:28 PB -is there some kind of fundamental all of the technology and the modern stuff that you potentially have access to and kind of the spirit of exploration and expedition -man against the element sort of thing. how do you balance?
1:23:47 WS -well, again, a lot of it is in your perception in how you want to place it in your own reality. the GPS is a good example of that. the GPS is a small hand-held instrument that weighs less hat -about 14 oz. now -that w/in 10 secs will give your location w/in several yards. and we have been using this since 1992, and what it has done for me it has given me almost like a 6th sense. for example, in the arctic ocean i can take a reading in the evening, and a reading in the morning when i wake up and i can tell exactly how far i have drifted and in what direction. and i have been able to predict the wind outside by knowing what the drift was last night -so it gives me, just like the recording barometer over her, it just gives me another sense to be able to see and predict and understand what is going on around me, but then on the other hand, if you get so much into technology i think the problem we are facing in the new cyperspace era is people are getting so much off the ground they are loosing their roots or their feelings of nature and what is really real. they are living in this almost a make believe world. it is a reality but it is not really a reality...so that is a problem we are going to have to struggle with in the future -that technology is really remarkable tool -a tool that is capable of understanding of the surroundings which is essential for our survival. but on the otherhand, it's a partial tool, it

is not the full answer in itself. technology, for example the computer at home -i am fascinated by it, i am curious why it doesn't work, i want to figure out why it doesn't work, and that is a learning experience for me -it is not taking away from my environment but i am not on playing computer games all day. i am still -clearly w/in 2 hours i will be outside working and enjoying the day. 1:26:05 it is a little of a discipline for me
to sit at the desk at not be involved in the outside in the morning. i used to be more active outside in the morning, but it is a little bit of a compromise, you have to make. also you have to consider that it enables you to make your living, maybe not fulltime but keeps you at home more often....i am able to be at
this desk a couple of hours a day. and that saves me a lot of
travel time. if used properly, i think telecommunications is essential for our evolution and our survival for the
future.l:26:44
1:26:45 PB -but where do you draw the line? i remember reading about your polar trip, and it seemed like part of the challenge was trying to use a sextant to see how close you really could nail the pole. is it cheating at all to have a GPS?
1:27:01 WS -again, it's all your perimeter of how you see your expedition, if it is cheating or not. of course if you are saying that you are using a sextant and you sneak in a GPS that to me would be cheating, probably maybe dishonest if you are telling people that but i felt very fortunate that i spent most of my time in the polar regions before the GPS -so i learned everything, my goal was to learn everything intuitively and to be as unsupport as possible. in polar exploration things drastically changed in the 20s. and what changed it was the airplane and the radio. and what changed was the consciousness of explorers where they depended on bringing in some supplies now -we need this, we need that , so you were depending on this technology, and the planes to bring you in everything. so you lost your potential of loosing your sense, your intuitive senses of survival. 1:28:01 when i started traveling in the arctic in the late 70s i traveled as self sufficiently as possible, and i wanted to learn the intuition, that to me is where the learning, the instinctual part was the real learning, the permanent learning part that what i learned in the arctic i could take with me, basically for the rest of my life. now that is beginning to change with satellites and so forth where it is taking -has the tendency to take you out of your own reality. actually most expeditions that travel i have met very few people that really could survive out in the land if you unplugged their computer or if you unplugged their radio. but again, that's a -it's the 21st century. there is still the choice of going out there w/o it but it is so convenient to have a GPS and to know exactly where you are. there is a safety factor too. in the early 80s i took these long multi-thousand expeditions w/o even a radio. i had a little crash locator on airplanes, so in extreme emergency
i could press the button and there would be a major rescue involved which would be an ultimate problem, but you know pulling that button. but i had to rely -no one really ever knew where i was or that i was out there -so i relied on myself to travel. and i didn't think anything of it actually. but the small little argo system that i am working on now is a safety device -that you don't even need to turn it on, but if you are having trouble you can turn it on and you can also print out in a simple format what your problem is -if you need a resupply or if it is life threatening. so i think it is important to have at least simple rescue backups that these new electronic gadgets offer. 1:29:55
PB -so you'll have on this trip -what did youcall it? [WS -an argo system] -an argo system.
WS -actually on this trip even if i want a -if there is a rescue situation there is a possibility that no one can come in and get you. it is almost -when i get off at the ice breaker at the north pole it is very committing bc there is really very little hope of rescue even if you can get your word out. what you don't want to do is get yourself in a rescue situation and then send out an alert where other people's lives are risked trying to rescue you and that's what i look at in terms of being very responsible, and not just pushing the button to come and get me, but you have to consider the risks to the men in the airplanes that are going to rescue you. but i am carrying a pretty full compliment of electronics on this expedition. starting with the basic rescue unit transmitter that transmits a rescue signal. planes carry this -if a plane crashes, i call it ELT, emergency locator transmitter, that will send out a beacon and any high flying plane will pick it up. all planes are tuned into that frequency and satellites, and it will automatically send -down plane is what it looks like, and that is sort of the ultimate -and i have another satellite instrument thatweighs a little over a pound. it is completely water proof, and that is another locator, and that goes out via the satellite. and that is monitored all of the time, and i have my own code. if something goes wrong there then the code goes through my hq's in st.paul and i can coed my messages. for example, reinhold mesner who is the famous climber who climbed all of the peaks over 8,000 meters and did everest w/o 02, was trying -crossing the arctic ocean the year we attempted ours in '95 unsupported with his brother. the first night out on the ice at 50 below, a storm came up and shattered all around him, a very emergency situation, and he had to press the emergency beacon and his wife received it 6 hours later in munich and w/in 14, 15 hours he was picked up at the ice and that satellite locator is very similar to what reinhold had. 1:32:36 then my 3rd instrument is the argo system. again, argo is a weather satellite system. basically it is a system where you can have a transmitter that can send up weather instruments -weather info to the satellite, but with a little bit of software in there we have developed a coded system. using
our transmitter, the satellite in order to get small little coded messages. probably of about 200 characters. and i can attach that to my lap top and write out a small paragraph and say -oh there is a problem here ...MORE ON ARGO and EMERGENCY SYSTEM (and connection to educational system) ....so it is a backup of rescue, but a combination to salvage the educational program of the technology. the very height of the technology that i am working with now is that i have a lap top system, a polar orbiting system that i am able to send up unlimited text right now every hour and 20 mins. and then some photos. the problem has been that in some polar regions up until 2 yrs ago there were not any communications satellites ... all the communications satellites are been equatorial. it is not cost efficient to have them go polar orbiting, but there was a new satellite launched in '95 called HELSAT by the medical community. with the idea that from the 3rd world and africa to send up xrays, and so forth to get second opinions on critical situations in isolated areas.
1:34:38 we piggy-backed on to HELSAT and that is the main satellite that we use now. and hopefully that's the main unit that i will be using. i will be able to communicate out and even if there was emergency i could use that in real detail, maybe i have a medical problem or need some advice -what i do here or how do i-where do i stitch next. i can maybe go back and forth on the computer with just that, but it is -the technology is there, it is just starting to break a bit. 1:35:16
PB -will you have school kids following you again?
1:35:21 WS -yes ...we are going to be working with some summer school sessions through NGS. the problem with the schools is that we are going to be traveling through the summer when school is out. however, our main audience that i want to reach is just the general audience that serves the net out there. yet to think in yrs to come -school will always be there, but home schooling and self schooling is going to be a dominant thing here -so a child may have an interest .......that's the potential here, in self-learning, or home-learning. so i want to work towards the more general audience this time around also including any school ....real-time adventure is what will attract people ...
1:37:09 PB -yeah, it is quite amazing to think about that you used to have to wait for the article ...now you can be with the guy in the most remote place ....
WS -1:38:00 my 2 specific goals with NG is one to refine and test out this new technology to be used in the field by research or explorers so you can make that live contact. and the 2nd part is to develop with NG the educational program that would utilize that live contact ..... [trying to log on again...still not working ....talking about the computer problems] ...1:42:08 i work a lot on lists like on expeditions. [will -talking on the phone with NGS] ... I am doing some filming for NG -TV .. they are giving
me a High-S video camera
1:50:56 PB -how will your laptop stay powered... through batteries?
WS -yeah, lithium mostly. we were experimenting a little with solar but i don't have the confidence i need ... .maybe in future ...but the lithiums are good and light, but it is weight that you are dealing with. (TALK ABOUT BATTERIES ... ) this summer, on this expedition the temperatures will be above freezing -btwn 30 and 36 above F -we won't have the problems of the instruments freezing up -the wires cracking ...that's a big advantage -no longer have to worry about keeping all the equip. warm ...
will be recording sound -ice breaking....
1:59:20 END OF DAT

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