Elsa Steger, Peter Breslow
Personal history discussion.
Will Steger, Peter Breslow
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
1 Apr 1997
MinnesotaSt. Louis County
- Steger Homestead
- 48.0875897 -91.7262268
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS WILL STEGER AND PETER BRESLOW ELY, MN APRIL 1, 1997 LOG OF DAT 4
Flawn -this is the second tape with the omni's pair, we will pick up right after lunch
00:55 Elsa Steger -married jan of 1995, in the Phillipines ....Will was there in '93 ....he is very calm (she describes how they met, she was a civil engineer there, biggest shock for her was snow -in Phillipines the weather is always like summer -will says it is hot or too hot, she describes arriving for the first time in MN ...will showed her pictures ... i'm a city girl, asked herself what she is doing here -but she finds it peaceful ...but here it is only will and me, the birds, dogs, not even a car passes by)
6:47 PB -so have you been here while will has been away on an expedition?
Elsa -not really
PB -and what do you anticipate?
Elsa -umm, i try not to think about it -if i worry, it sends off negative ...will says he feels it kinda of like that, so i try not to think about it.
PB -so he will be gone, what, a couple of months?
Elsa -yeah, 50 days.
7:19 PB -so, do you have an actual role in this expedition from this end?
Elsa -I don't know, I think I just the way i support him ....no
really in the education and technology -i just buut in some
things that i know that can be of some help and that's it.
PB -how about in the preparation? have you been involved at
Elsa -no. i don't know anything about it, and will knows
everything about it. i just help in packing, and things like
that -but not in the big stuff ....
7:58 PB -well at least he will be gone in the summertime ....
Elsa -he has plenty of assignments of he wants me to do .... (laughter)
PB -what about eating?
Elsa -(she talks about eating a lot of friend and fatty foods ¬not caring what is on the labels -very different eating habits than will) ...but i like it -i like the way it is
PB -so do you go back to the phillipines?
Elsa -yeah, i go back as often as i can -i was there last
january...will was away, and i don't like to be alone here in the winter for a month
10:34 -LOOSE DOUBLE OMNI GOING DOWN TO LIGHT THE SAUNA ¬walking through wet snow, windy
10:58 -walking on harder ground
13:16 -hitting something? cutting wood? dripping in bg ¬walking around in snow, throwing logs,
**G AMBI/FX 15:07-19:55 roar of fire starts, soft in bg, gets stronger, clanging, wind, fire crackling, 18:16 -filling something with water? walking up satirs into sauna? 18:51 getting into sauna 19:06 filling something with water, (Will sighs)
19:56-21:24 ambi inside sauna (quiet, occasional soft bang of a tin? some dripping,
21:25 -inside sauna, people come inside, footsteps insie, walking outside of sauna
21:57-22:08 ambi -outside of sauna
MAIN INTERVIEW WITH WILL -OUTSIDE
22:45 PB -what was your main -you talked a little about how your parents sorta let you do what you wanted as a kid -but actual real expedition stuff, how did that come about and when?
23:03 WS -when i was in 4th grade the first book i read as a kid was THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN, and i was really inspired by the book and those stories down the river, and since we lived by the mississippi river in minneapolis i was aware of the river and i was aware that it flowed south all the way to new orleans and that always captivated my curiousity. so when i was 12 i got a wooden outboard motor boat and i fixed it up with an old motor, and i fixed it up to a point where i could trade it in, and i traded it in and got another one and fixed that up and traded it in and got a third one. and the third one, by the time i ws 15 i had a fairly decent motor boat, and a motor which would give me access down the mississippi to new orleans. and so i left right after school, i think it was my freshman year and i was 15 and my older brother was 17 and we went down the mississippi from minneapolis to new orleans, and then back up. that was a first expedition of that sort. first and last motorized adventure. a lot of problems in the way down. i then started climbing in the canadian rockies a year after that -i got my drivers license and it gave me access to the mountains. and i started to do expeditions into the mountains during the summer time in high school and college, long expeditions. for example when i was 18 i kayaked down the yukon river one summer it ws pretty major. it was a pretty major trip at that time. so i got involved as a teenager into summer type expedtions. i ended up doing a lot of climbing, and specifically a lot of kayaking. kayaking was a good access to the north by traveling down the rivers, down mackinze and the yukon and the peace rivers. so i started up in the summer time period.
24:59 PB -and how about the progression into cold weather stuff?
WS -well, the cold weather progressed for me -i always was involved in winter camping. i was fascinated with the winter in high school and college and went away for weekend trips. but when i moved to ely in 1970, when i was 25 years old, i worked for minn outward bound, and there they ran the winter programs. and there i litterally spent entire winters -2 winters in a row -and i was forced to come against my bad attitude towards bad weather and adjust to it bc i always thought of myself going south in the winter time. but it was in outward bound in 1970 that really taught me how to survive quite comfortably in the cold. got rid of my bad attitudes of the cold 25:48. and i basically started living outside in the winter. i started my own school then so then for almost 12 years i spent those winters from december to april outside.
26:00 PB -what do you think um -i mean there are people that go out and do these things, and there are people who read books and are satisfied to read books about them. what do you think seperates those people?
WS -the doers from the readers? [PB: yeah.] ah -the doers basically just put their boots on and go and unfortunatley there are far less doers. but there are percentage of people that have the energy and the curiouslity just to follow through with their dreams, and so it is just ah -i think what it probably takes is to have a strong interest in an area. if you really love the wilderness and you are motivated by that passion, that will get you off your chair and start hiking, kayaking -whatever -get into the wilderness, get active. in my case i was able to make a living. bc i wanted to stay in the wilderness, but i didn't want to compromise by moving back to the city. so i had to make a living in the outdoors, in outdoor education which was actually really well matched for me. i think it is a passion -an interest in whatever area it might be that motivates people to do something that is different or just action oriented instead of really -27:25
PB -and urn, when you are in the middle of one of these things where does the importance lay? is the importance in the journey and how you do the journey, or is the importance this goal and how you reach that goal that's always out there for you -to reach that goal
27:44 WS -the importance is always in the moment. it's the journey -you set up a goal in order to organize yourself around that goal. but it is certainly not living wlin that goal when you are traveling day to day. in the polar regions, in extreme travel like that, you have to be totally aware of the moment ¬like on a solo expedition. if you are thinking of a goal, or somewhere other than where you're at it is actually quite dangerous bc you are not aware and you will step on thin ice or a number of other problems that you will get yourself into if you are not totally aware. 28:19 this is why i like the solo bc it requires absolute 100% attention most of the time. you have to be there in the present. when a team member -i had a safe gap pf maybe 50 dogs, 18 memembers amd you could rely on other people. the problem there for myself and on major expeditions that i have done is the responsibility part of it -i always have to think about the others -the dogs -and only small percentage of my time is actually present orientated. not as much as i would want. and as a solo you don't have that responsibility. in fact your whole -your responsibility if you want to survive is to be in the present. so really it is the journey -moment by moment doing it for myself rather than a goal. you have to sometimes state a goal. what was difficult for me, starting in 1985, '86, when i starting doing my first major expeditions when i needed sponsors, i had to say: i am going to do this, and this is how i am going to do it. and i had to say it to sponsor, to people who invested in the project to the media, to the media ¬and then you had all the· pressure on you -you had to go out and do it. where as prior to that time i just basicaly back up and do it and maybe talk about a little bit when i get home. but what i have been into has been goal oriented in the way in terms of the organization, but the actual doing of the expedition has to be for myself moment to memento
29:50 PB -but this expedition you are about to embark on -it's going to be your first one solo and wlo dogs.
WS -yeah, yeah. first time ...alone. i have traveled alone with dogs which is almost like not being alone, but this is the first time alone wlo dogs, wlo anyone around.
30:09 PB -and what special joys and ...
WS -the problems would be if you fall in the ice you have to be able to get yourseld out -you have to be totally aware of bears. i would say the biggest concern i have would be polar bears. bc when you have a group of people, especially with dogs around, you have early warning systems, usually if a bear comes in. but here you have to take on being alert all the time in your sleep for bears and if you get into problems you get yourself out. the
plus side is you are only responsibly for yourself. responsibility is a really heavy ticket when you are responsible for others lives and security. but the learning experience when you are solo is so much more concentrated and intense bc you are there all the time -moment to moment -you have to deal with what is going on with yourself. and for me it is almost like a retreat. when i was a young person in my 20s i spent sometime in a zen monestary. it was very strict discipline, but a very aware time for myself. it is almost like being in a monestary. that type of retreat that is well disciplined but yet you are really really aware of what is going on. you have the simplified routine that you live w/in this routine but yet you have tremendous freedom w/in your mind. that you can put your mind where ever you want to put it yet you keep your mind pretty oncentrated on the present. 31:37
PB -... is there anything left unknown for you in the polar region -is there something more for you to learn?
31:50 WS -there is for myself in the artic ocean. the solo to the polar from the pole -no one has really traveled over the artic ocean in the summer time. i actually think that is probably a good time to travel on it. i think i have a system with a canoe sled and a dry suit that will keep me alive if i fall in the water. and i have been working on for the last 10 years the idea of crossing the artic ocean unsupported -from russia to canada -w/o any type of resupply -a min. of a 90 day trip. and winter time i am not sure -i know i couldn't do it in the winter time leaving in march that is, bc the amount of weight you have to pull for extra fuel, and the friction on your sled when you are leaving in the winter time, with 40 below the friction is really the key problem more than the weight. and if you are leaving in march you almost need sometime of floatation which is impossible to pull in that cold weather. so i think the crossing of the arctic ocean is possible in the summer time -and that is what i am checking out this time around. this is my final test. if i see if it is possible i will probably just turn around next summer and attempt to do it unsupported. but who
PB -so explain this journey for us -you are going to get off this freighter and then what is going to happen?
33:31 WS -well, on the journey i will be dropped off by a russian ice breaker at the north pole july 12. this is bascially a tourist group -there are about 100 people on this tourist chartered ice breaker thats going to the pole and going to come back. i am going to piggy back a ride to the north pole and i am going to be dropped off it will be the beginning of summer actually. temperatures will be 34, 35 degrees the snow will hopefully be melting pretty quickly. the first challenge i will have when i am dropped off there is the current. the ice moves
about 6, 7, 8 miles a day to the east, so it is cutting across my direction. it is pulling me away from my route. and if i have very slow conditions, snow and that -where i can't make much progress i will actually be in a tred mill loosing ground. so i am hoping that my systems and the conditions are right that i will at least be able to make 10 miles a day starting off. i will be very heavy. 275 of weight including the canoe. of that 275, 140 would be food and fuel. so almost half the pay load is expendable, in other words i am getting lighter as i travel on. 40 pounds of my gear would be telecommunications and batteries. but what the terrian will look like is basically a frozen, shifting moving, ocean. it maybe 90% of ice, 10% of water -not like lakes of water but lanes. there will be lots of cracks and fractures. i may have to make 30 to 40 to 50 crossing a day with this canoe sled that i have in lanes anywhere from a meter to a quarter of a mile. i have a cavalar bell canoe. it is very light weight 13 foot canoe that has runners at the bottom. so esentially i am amphibious. i am pulling that on the ice and through the snow and then paddling on the open water. and then with the gortex dry suit if i fall into the cold water i can survive for a long period of time, probably 15, 20 mins. where as if you fall in w/o a dry suit you have maybe 2, 3 mins before you die. 35:47
PB -so you are pulling this canoe, say you fall in , the canoe is going to just stay in he water
WS -well if i fall in -it depends -i could fall through the ice into the water where i am all of the sudden in the water. the canoe is up on the ice, but i might fall through a crack in the ice, but i drop down 3 feet before i am in the water, so i am almost in a cravass. that type of situation can happen -where you could tip over in a canoe where you and a canoe could fall over. or maybe you just might fall in the water getting in and out of the canoe. different situations like this you are always aware of. you are always aware of every action and every response to that action. you are basically 2 or 3 steps always ahead of yourself. it is not really taxing. at first i am usually pretty nervous, i am not too relaxed but once i get into the rhythm you are very relaxed and very comfortable. and this anticipation of your action is just a very natural survival thing
(chainsaw in bg). 36:53
36:54 PB -but if you fall into a cravass type thing with water in the bottom and it's 3 or 4 feet on the side what do you do?
WS -Well, first of all you should be very carefull that that doesn't happen (PB laughter). i have a knife on -a dagger type knofe that is connected to my harness, and along with a knife in my pocket. so i have the ability there for getting out of slick ice, or maybe even the climbing 3 or 4 feet of ice. bc mainly the problem when you fall in the ice the problem is getting out of the hole, you keep slipping back in. but if you have
something like a knife or 2 knives ideally for traction you can dig it in and pull yourself up. so, i do have a few tools so to speak that i carryon my body that could be used to extract myself from the ice. 37:40
37:41 PB -does it ever get monotonous?
WS -it does, yes. boredom is one of the big challenges, especially on one of the long dog sled expeditions. this will probably be less monotonous bc of the fact that i have to take on the responsibility if navigating everyday. the routines keep me busy and watching and aware. while on an expedition if someone is out front navigating and breaking the trail and you are on the back sled you are not doing much for many hours of the day and boredom is your big challenge. but boredom will be -a little bit of the monotony -i enjoy a little bit of the simplicity of the day. like my routines here at the homestead. the carrying of the wood is a physical exercise but also it is almost an exercise for getting into a simple rhythm. at first it is just hard to carry those logs one at a time, but i find when i am 15 logs into the carry i am starting to enjoy the day, i am looking around -so i am -i really enjoy the structure of a simple rhythm. basically what it does is it frees my mind up so i don't have to be involved with everyday thinking i had all the time.
38:58 PB -does the fact that you have had to switch your journey from south to north to north to south -does that diminsh things at all?
39:12 WS -originally I was going to go from canada to the pole, leaving canada in july ariving at the pole hopefully in september. but i had a very difficult time getting any of the airplane charter companies picking me up at the pole. in fact noone wanted to fly out there. the russians were willing to do it for a large sun of money but that was still unreliable. and that to me was a concern. and then about a month ago i had the idea -why not get off with the ice breaker at the pole and go to land, and it worked out well. in terms of the adventure -i liked the idea of being dropped off at the pole and this absolute commitment and i have this image of waving goodbye and seeing this ice breaker disappear over the horizon and all of the sudden ok -you are here now -and you are in an area where there isnot much hope for rescue. i like that -that is really adventurous to me. and the idea of coming back to land is a little bit more of a solid target. for myself it hasn't dimished the adventure -actually it is a little bit more exciting. i like the idea for myself that is a little bit more novel rather than the other 2 expeditions where you start from land and going back. but it is the commitment of being dropped off that really draws me. i think that's quite interesting. 40:30
40:35 PB -probably i the public's mind when they think of the expedition, the original one south to north, they probably think
that it gets more difficult as you get further north. so is the converse true? does it get easier as you go south?
WS it probably is. i think at the beginning of any expedition when you are heavy and unsupported it is always hard in the beginning. definately if i was leaving from land and going to the pole it would be difficult at the very beginning. but at the very beginning there the ice isn't moving much and it gives me time to get in shape get in very good condition before i get into the current. the problem here is hopefully the conditions are going to be easier to travel. i am banking that they will be easier than if i was leaving from shore, but i have this strong current that is working against me so if i screw up and make a mistake my judgements here and the conditions are harder than i think. i can immediately be in a real problem situation. but the disadvantage of changing my route from leaving from land to leaving from the pole is -the big disadvantgae to me for making that change is that i don't have that time in the beginning that i would in the beginning that i would if if i left land of getting in shape -of being in really good conditioning and being really sure of my systems. 41:56
42:04 PB -what -isn't there a problem with darkness encroaching?
WS -yeah, the challenge here is that getting in through the beginning of september the sun is getting lower, darkness i starting to come -darkness doesn't really start to set in until the 15th of september, but once it comes it comes very fast. so i am moving into the winter season -a winter season that will rapidly change in september. so i need to be off the ice by hopefully that first week of september. keep in mind i am not bringing a lot of winter clothing -flashlights, if i get stuck out there in the winter i am in some difficulties. so the motivation there is to get back to land in 50 days -i have 50 days of food by the way that could probably stretch -but i am planning to be back by labor day -43:00
PB -how close is the margin for error on these things?
WS -on this the margin for error is sometimes real tight. sometimes there is no margin for error -that is the nice thing about a solo of this sort. there is a little bit more of a margin here bc the weather is warm -meaning it is 30 above. whereas i soloed with dogs at 60 below there was no margin there. bc if you made a mistake you start freezing immediately. your fingers get cold, you couldn't move your fingers, you couldn't zip up your jacket and like the jack london story -to build a fire -it is that type of situation where things immediately get to you if you make a mistake. there is a little bit of margin of error there but not much.
43:48 PB -so, are polar bears the biggest danger?
WS -i would say so. bears are the biggest danger bc they are the biggest unknown. of course the ice and falling in the water the cold water is the biggest danger, but that should be predictable. you should -if i am on and being aware i should know where to put my feet and where i should be traveling and not traveing. that is w/in my program, my intuition and i should have that knowledge. whereas a bear can all of the sudden walk into the picture. all of the sudden you are around the corner and here it is, right in front of you and it is charging you.
PB -so what do you do?
44:29 WS -depending on your situation. depending on where you are at -but my tendancy with a bear if it looks dangerous is i get aggressive. to turn around and run and to have fear -I don't think that is the direction to go with a bear. but i have a gun along with me. it is on the canoe and i sleep next to it so i am w/in reach usually. but when i am pulling the sled or i leave the sled behind to check a route and all of the sudden there is a bear. there is that unknown. i am always keeping track of tracks. you know they are around, but where ...sometimes there maybe signs of foxes sometimes on the ice. and if you see a fox you know that there is a seal kill, and if there is a sea kill then there's a bear. there are little signs like that that you are always watching for too. but they aren't always an indicator of bear problems.
45:32 PB -have you confronted a bear before?
WS -I have had a problem before with white bear. i have more of a problem with the brown grizzly bears. i find them more aggressive. the problem i have found with the polar bear is that they are curious. they will come into your camp. start poking around, swat your tent, swat this and that. and each swat is deadly. if they ruin your equipment you are finished. and maybe if you can't be rescued it is serious. so the best thing if you see a bear is is to take some action right away. don't allow it to come in. don't photograph it -and then at that time expect to chase it off. i have a smoke flares, i have a large fire cracker type thing, that's what i think is the best. if you can get it lit. and the explosion, and the noise and the smell of the powder will generally scare them away. you can always shoot some warning shots. the problem that i have is that i really love the polar bear. it is such an incredible animal and i would think most of the time when a bear comes in i give it too many chances. at a certain point you may have to shoot. but give it every chance i can to try and get it out of therw -bc you don't want to shoot a bear. but in most cases if you know what you are doing with bears -how to repel them and how to avoid them -and that comes from not cooking meat and just being cautious. you won't get yourself in a situation where you are ¬where you have to shoot the bear. but it usually through ignorance where you allow the bear to come in. they kind of bait the bear in -it is ok to be here -and before you know it the
bear is charging you. so there are certain amount of caution that you can use to get the bear out of there so you don't have to shoot it.
47:30 PB -what kind of gun do you have?
WS -on this trip i bring a 30 odd 6 (?) and the reason i use a riffle bc it is a duel purpose. i can use it for a heavier grain bullet for protection with the bear and then if i have to a lighter grain bullet for surviving out the ice for seal. i don't intend to hunt seal, but you should always in the arctic polar regions, the north polar regions have the ability to live off the land. if you can't live off the land you eally shouldn't be traveling in that area. so i could use the gun potentially to survive the hunt or to protect myself. whereas if i brought a shot gun which is ideal for bears, but it is not very good for hunting. and since weight is a major issue, and the riffle
itself weighs a little over 7 lbs with bullets and everything. you are using 10 lbs up on a riffle which is a -which 3 or 4 % of your load is into that and that is a lot of weight that you
have to consider. 48:37
PB -so what is the most difficult situation you have had to face on one of your journeys. is there one that kind of stands out ¬either physically of decision-wise?
48:51 WS -yeah -hardships i almost take for granted -if you have to work 16 hours a day or if you are not eating. i don't really give that a lot of thought or energy. it was most difficult in 198 when we were with IEp team of 4 men and 2 women and 30 dogs and the ice broke up on us. that was really difficult bc it was life threatening. also i had one of the team members that quit. that was probably the hardest things that ever happened to me, that he quit. it was just demoralizing. brought the energy down of the group. all of this in the context of danger and seeing the expedition start to go bottom up and you have had all of these people invest in you and you have promised everyone everything and that was really very extremely difficult. we did get the expedition back together after that, it took us about 3 weeks, but facing a dangerous situation where you have to back down is really very difficult. but there is a point where common snese will tell you ... it is fine to back down, your life is in danger. quit. i would never take a risk with a person's life or with my life. there is a point there where you see it and then youback down. if i didn't back down i wouldn't be here talking with you. there are several expeditions that i had to basically abandon. a couple of yrs of work and you have to just walk away from it and try again at another time. and you have to know when to go and when not to go.
50:43 PB -this is sort of related -is there a way to describe maybe the edge of endurance -it seems like osmeone like you can always keep going -i mena in the worst possible situations. have read some accounts of your trips but it seems some point
when the physical is no longer that relevant and it is a total mental thing and you seem to just be able to keep moving.
51:13 WS -indurance is probably 75 to 80% mental. physically your body has to be able to keep up, so you have to be in good shape -oylmpic type shape -but there is a wisdom there of knowing when to stop also. when to rest. how to pace yourself. the pacing and traveling realistically. not trying to burn yourself out. looking on the long run. of maybe in this case 50 days, or in antarctica 230 days of pacing over that long period of time. it is really, really mental but there is a lot of skill. alot of intuition. intuition is the 6th sense. it is not all mind/thought -you look at this logically and ABC ok ... it is not really a lot of logical thought. your intuition is basically what drives the logical thinking. so ...there is a lot of logic involved in it. in the tune of intuition in a sense -a 6th sense. this native intuition was the indians and eskimos have had what is basically what we have lost. we live mainly through our mind and through our thought process and as a result we loose track of a lot feeling -of a lot of sense of what is going on around us. whereas especially on a solo you live on this realm of intuition. and that is what i am challenging more than anything -is for example my knowledge of weather and also my knowledge of the ice. to understand the ice you have to have a pretty workable knowledge of weather. bc it interacts w/weather. so my decision here i am making a edcision both on weather my knowledge (chainsaw in bg) -of weather and ice. me decision is more or less intuitive. so there is a data base that you work with. and the challenge is -as long as your body keeps up and you pace yourself properly. bc there are always a lot of hardships. it is not the mental hardships though that we face in everyday life -of relationships, fighteing rush hour traffic and check book that doesn't balance off and a visa card that's overdrawn. it's not that kind of mental stress, it is physical stress which is very easy to cope with. 53:46 for some reason too people think of the physical part of it as being something that is significant when it really isn't that much. physical discomfort -maybe we are too comfortable these days, but if you are cold or you are hungry, as Ion as it is not life or limb threatening it really doesn't matter if it is just for a short period of time.
PB -you are 52 now?
54:11 WS -yeah. i will be 53 in August.
PB -has age started to factor in to your trips and how you do them or is the knowledge that you gain sort of able to keep you gaining as perhaps as maybe you get older and you are not quite as what you were when you were 20 yrs younger.
54:33 WS -being 52 now i don't feel any slow down physically. i compare to myself let's say when i was in my 20s, i have a tremendous energy and knowledge base that i didn't have at that
time. also attitude. barriers. i can do many things now w/o even a thought. whereas the barriers i would set up mentally when i was young i couldn't do them. physically though i have to take the conditioning on this trip really serious bc i don't have dogs to pull the gear. and even if i was 20 yrs old i would be taking this pretty seriously bc when i am dropped off at the pole on july 12 i have to be up and running really fast. ihave to moving at a pretty fair clip there. i don't have a safe guard of starting off at a slow pace bc of the current. but i haven't felt any difference physically of age. you know i feel a lot better mentally. bc of the backlog of experience and intuition l have built over the yrs makes it a lot easier to do things w a
lot less effort. 55:43
PB -so is polar exploration one of those places you can keep doing it when you are older?
WS -no -there is definately -if i banged up my knee for example that would be allover with. you need to be in almost perfect tone. one injury and you are out. and i have always been cautious with injuries and that is why i am still doing it l think. but no it depends on your -what i am doing right now with solos -it depends on 100% physically in good shape. 56:21
PB -could you describe for us what you see out there -what is the beauty of this place that keeps bringing you back.
56:32 WS -the beauty in the artic ocean is actually very subtle. it is almost monotonous if you were to first look at it -it is very simple, it is just sky and ice. but it is real dynamic. it's all moving. all of the ice forms. all of the conditions. there are hundreds and thousands different ice forms and that ¬today just walking around in this thaw i like to see the changing conditions that always fascinates me. where as on the artic ocean there is never a boring day. antarctic is very boring. from day to day it is always the same. where as on the arctic ocean you get up in the morning and never know what the day is going to bring. it is an adventure everyday (faint crow? in bg). so it is a real active dynamic place. and it is a different type of wilderness. there is very little wildlife. it is an ocean -it is hard to believe it is an ocean bc it is 10 to 15,000 feet underneath you, but it is a wilderness. a very large, vast, unpeopled area and traveling there alone where you are i will probably be 700-800 miles from the nearest person is really very peacefull. you are not bombarded by anything like we are constantly bombarded in our civilized life. so you have the freedom of doing whatever you want w/o something hassling it.
58:09 PB -well, what goes through your mind. are you concentrating on your breathing and your next step, or you singing a rolling stone song?
58:18 WS -it varies. a lot of times i am concentrating, but in the concentration of your next step you are aware of everything
that is going on around you that's a very beautiful state of mind to be in -it is really a very hard state of mind to achieve actually. and where you are aware of just the presence of everything. just the beauty around you. but then there are other times when things are going well, when you have the luxury to be able to day dream. sometimes you get a song stuck in your head; you definately appreciate your love ones and you think -i think a little bit of the good life back here. but for the most part, most of the time i am pretty much present orientated ¬where i am at. and i am very comfortable with myself, or in the new york city where i was last week -it is the same thing. your surroundings is bascially a context and to be alone, you are alone any were if you look at it that way. so i don't really get that lonely out there. i don't get lonely in the big city or anywhere else so i am comfortable. i am at peace with myself and it is great to be in that type of situation in that type of surroundings. it also, for myself, like i have mentioned before, it is a retreat, it clears out your mind. you see your vision a lot clearer. you see where you are with your life. directions that you are going. and anyone that is familiar with the retreat process where you g into isolation ideally i nthe wilderness your creative process starts coming back again and that is a good state to be in. 1:00:07
PB-is there a singular moment -you know when somebody sys something and it conjures up a trip to you -is there a great moment, some day everything was working .... that comes to mind, or is it the whole aggrigate experience?
WS -when i reflect back?
PB -yeah -or just some ephinany day when -god -this is the best place in the world, i wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
1:00:42 WS -just reflecting back on the last couple of yrs a couple of memories ...one is the comradery of a team when a team is really in sinc. antarctica ......it's like having 5 other brothers ....but i often think when i soloed with the dogs which was over 12, 13 yrs ago ...that was the most remarkable experience i have had in my life was soloing. and i always wanted to come back to that. i always wanted to simplify my life again so i could return and solo. and it is just being in those incredibly precious moments and just handling what is out there and just seeing life clearer that ever before.
PB -were was that trip?
1:01:43 WS -I soloed on the Mcinzey river in 1982 and '85. that was about 6, 7 weeks. it was different -it was about 60 below zero. a very very intense cold. and i was with the dogs, so i had the companionship of the dogs. somebody to talk to. but it was a very -extremely intimate time to myself.
PB -is there -do you allow yourself one indulgence on this
1:02:22 WS -i bring chocolate, chocolate is good for that. and bc of the weight restrictions i have my lemon drink every morning. so i allow myself one ounce of squeezed lemon juice and unfortunately bc of weight you can't bring a lot. you can't bring that much jack daniels. maybe 4 or 6 ounces i bring. you know, enough for one evening. but you know you get used to the simple pleasures. a simple pleasure might be your cup of tea at the end of the day. you know you look forward to that. or it might be at 10:00 you break to have part of your chocolate bar. it tastes so good to have something like that again. and i am disciplined, but with other times in my life i will just let go. i am not totally disciplined all the time. and on a solo like this you have to be disciplined on what you bring along. there is not a lot of extra things that you can indulge in. but everything is magnified. a simple cup of tea that you might take for granted in the rush of your everyday life is really an ultimate pleasure of that day. and it is a moment that you might even remember. so the pleasures are really magnified and simplified. 1:03:40
PB -what is it like then to come back? you are kind of in this hyper-vigilant, hyper-sensitive state for this period of months on end. is it dissapointing to come back to a world where everything is kind of laid out for you?
1:03:54 WS -for myself it is always great to come back. coem abck to life again. usually i would travel in the winter and come back maybe in the summer time and be hit suddenly with flowers and the smell of grass, keeping in the mind when you travel in the summer time it is 24 hour light. and you come back and you see the night sky and it is always quite beautiful. and with sponsor commitments there is always press engagments and a lot of travel. so i am immersed into the cities, which i like to. the problems i have are mainly sleeping in hotel rooms in confinement with bad air, noises -bc i am listening all the time for the bear or the dog and i hear the heat or the air condition.... things that people normally don't hear... (talk about noises of the night) it is only the night time that i have a hard time adjusting to.
1:05:13 PB -is there wildlife for the entire length of the journey?
WS -there is -the wildlife on the arctic ocean would be a few random bears the bears are normally near open water by land where basically there is a lot of wildlife. basically there is the seal, walrus, bears conjugate in one area. but since the bears migrate and roam there's occasional bears anywhere on the ocean. and then there is sporadic seals. in fact, in the winter time it is hard to see the seals bc they are underneath the snow. so on this 500 mile walk i am going to take i am going to get a very good take on how many seals. i think there is a lot more seals
than people realize in the ice. and that is pretty much the extent of it -seal and bear on the polar ice. you may find an occassional bird might fly over. whales aren't usually in the polar sea -polar sea being the frozen ocean. and in terms of surviving out the land ... if it is just a question of surviving out the land or the ice, seal would be your meat that you would eat if you really were surviving. seal are almost like -dear that live in the ocean in the sea ice. we have an idea that they are an endangered species, but the seal in the arctic regions are just enormously plentiful.
PB -so, what do you bring with you?
1:06:50 WS -i bring withme standard camping gear. a 4 lb sleeping bag, 2 1/2 lb tent -stevenson tent -i have a small little MSR stove. the usual camping gear. and then light weight clothing, a coulpe of pairs of boots. i wear logging boots; spiked boots. boots have to have spikes on them bc he ice is so -the bare minimal -you have to watch every ounce. i have a scale in my cabin and i have gear there and i continually weigh it and check it and then debate with myself. bc it is easy to just say -oh, an extra ounce, and extra lb ... it all amounts up ¬....weight is of the essence. i may bring part of a book. i am not sure if i can afford even the weight. i do have my writing. in my free time i write. that's my expression and time off. i figure if i want something to read i have to write it first in the morning and read it in the evening. but there is telecommunications gear and food. it is just bare bones. 1:08:37
PB -and how many hours a day are you working?
1:08:42 WS -i am hauling -it will vary. probably 7 hours to start with and as i work in better shape and the canoe gets lighter i imagine at the end i will be doing 16 hour days
1:08:54 PB -and the sunlight will last -24 hours light until the beginning of sept. and then the sun will start dipping. and as the sun dips the temp. drops rapidly. so i am just bringing a small little flashlight. i am not even intending to have an intentions of using it, but in case i get stuck out in later in sept. it seems strange to travel 2 months and not need a flashlight but it's 24 hour light -as bright as it is in mid day in the summer time in the us.
PB -does that make it difficult to sleep?
1:09:25 WS -no. you are tired first of all but i always cover my eyes with a shirt or something so i am not that light sensitive then.
1:09:35 PB what do you think the future of polare exploration is? is it these firsts that people still seem able to find even though we think they must be all done with, or is it more in the scientific realm, or both?
1:09:55 WS -i think in polar exploration, polar region, our knowledge of the regions are just so minuet scientifically, and how the polar regions factor into our weather quite significantly and the change. and as we are going 0 find out in the next decade or 2 that the whole earth is like an organism and everything is interconnected. and the polar regions are almost like the small little watch spring, when you wind your watch it controls all of the wheels. that is how important the arctic regions are. that there is a tremendous ampunt of discovery, knowledge to be had yet in the polar regions. in terms of geographic exploration there is really not much. i mean realistic everything has been done -solo, backwards, and so forth. the only thing that hasn't been done with any significance is no one has been able to cross the arctic ocean from shore to shore. from russia to canada and visa versa w/o resupply. that is really a significant journey if it is possibel to do it. but everything else has been done really.... there are 6 or 7 groups out there that left for the pole. various assortments of people, unsupported, supported, etc.
1:11:23 PB -is the spirit of adventure and the nature of adventure -is it the same now as when Cook and Perry where battling for the pole?
1:11:38 WS -well, the human spirit or the spirit of adventure is always i think it the same as it was but geographically i think everything has been discovered. if it is was 100 yrs ago there would still be unknown white spots on the globe to discover and find out what there is. and that is a great adventure. but i think the spirit of adventure is w/in the beholder, like you could take off someone from nyc and canoe north of here for 100 miles. that would be an incredible spirit of adventure and that adventure and that spirit that they generate in that person who knows? it is probablly greater than cook or perry or scott at that time, so the spirit of adventure is something that we carry w/in ourselves but then it is defines by i guess the present time and the geography or whatever. 1:12:33
PB -is there a modern convience that would help with exploration that you draw the line at that you just -you don't care how light they make it you are not going to bring it w/you on your trip?
1:12:53 WS -not that i can think of bc if there was something......1:13:01 physically if you are on the arctic ocean it is really a physical challenge -you still have to get there on your own legs. i wouldn't ride a snow mobile, but i am not against anyone that rides a snow mobile, but that is just not the way 0 would travel out there for example. and i wouldn't have anything to do with moterized travel in that area bc is not the reason i am up there. i want to physically experience it. that is the choice i have made for myself
1:13:35 PB -is there any danger of that region getting crudded
up -the way everest is w/everyone leaving their stuff ¬
WS -it is very unlikely that the north pole areas will be polluted with garbage from expeditions. it's not even possible ....
1:14:08 PB -so this trip will help you determine if you to do this trans-polar/arctic?
1:14:16 WS yeah. this trip will deternmine for me if it's possible to traverse the arctic ocean unsupported.
PB -and what do you think? youjust have no idea right now, right?
WS -ii have no idea. i would like to think that i am going to be very successful this summer adn hope i come back and say i am come back next summer again. but who knows, bc the reality out there w/in 5 mins you can be in a situation where you can think all of the sudden your life is threatening and this is totally impossible. so you can face something like that, which is part of the adventure. that's the neat part about this -that it is so unknown. but i think i have worked out a system to travel on the arctic ocean w/ reasonable ease, a method that will work. you can travel 15 maybe 20 miles a day under good conditions. and i am going to test it out again this yr. to see if my theories are right
PB -is it just a regular canoe that has been outfitted with
WS -yeah. it is a reinforced Kevlar (?) it small little company called Bell .. .. it is a simple boat with an antenna for the communications is incorp. w/in the canoe. so i basically plug into the canoe and the canoe radiates the message it is technical that way. it is alight way kevale reinforced with runners on it. half of it will be decked over. it weighs 50 lbs. and it is really tough, and i think it is going to survive the test.
PB -so do you ever get to the point on these trips where absolutely everything is screwing up and youjust can not believe at your age you are still doing this stuff. -this is it. forget it, i am not going out again
1:16:19 WS i have never been in a -fortunately yet -situation yet where i have said -what are you doing out here, and very fortunately, except for this one guy who quit on me in 1995 i have never had any team members question why are we doing this. and i have bene lucky that way. i think partly bc i have planned out these expeditions and i know to a degree what i am up against, and i am expecting that to be challenged and ah -to this point -actually, i had a near miss though -about a weekagao when i was -10 degrees below zero ... (story about being on his bobcat, on the ice, the ice breaking, and he started sinking...stuck in a cage ... ) that was really the scariest thing that ever happened to me and i have been situations in climbing and kayaking ...but there you are in a situation to move, you are not in a metal cage and sinking, and watching the water go in ...that was really the onlytime i said -what is happening here? why am i here?
PB -and yourea11y don't want the obit to say -arctic explorer will steger died plowing his lake in the back of his house
1:18:30 WS -i had another mishap yrs ago on the ice and i fell through when i was doing photography so probably the most dangerous area to me is my front yard! (laughter) ...here you can afford to let your guard down a lot and you are not thinking 2 steps ahead. where as up there you are cautious, you are geared up for it... (makes analogy to a heart surgeon ... ) it is similar in some ways the arctic -you are prepared, you are aware, you are in that state of mind. so that has a tendancy .. to keep it safe.
PB -does living here as oppossed to say Minneapolis help a bit to keep you in that intuitive tone when you are away from an expedition? it keeps you in physical tone ...but living this kind of back country exsistance -does it help to keep the intuitions up?
1:19:43 WS my choice is to live an intuitive life which to me is the high quality life which is why i live here where i live. and it does keep me tuned. i am in touch. it is hard to seperate your mind and body sometimes bc here as you saw -carrying the sauna water, hauling the wood, everything is physical here. and you are naturally bc of that in better shape. and your mind goes along with it. your mind is in better shape. it is fresher, it is working, it is quiet in the morning. and the body/mind system is a lot easier to keep together here. so it healthier being here -so i would say then the healthier you are mentally when you start off on these expeditions, mentally, physically and spiritually, the better off you are going to be. so it does help me -i do have an edge for living in the wilderness. 1:29:39
PB -have you ever been hurt on any of your expeditions?
WS -no, i never have. small injuries -knees, legs, wounds that healed up ....but nothing serious ....
1:20:58 -end of long interview
1:21:12-1:22:50 ambi of area of interview, after that there are people in the room ¬
WS -this is something really portable and it pushes your limits really. it was developed by the famous steadmen clinic in vail
for sports injuries ....
1:24:16-1:24:29 will breathing hard as he stretches
1:24:30 WS -sometimes getting in shape is just painful (deep breaths ... ) youwant a foot here ... i use these streches to warm up for the canoe bc the canoe is pretty demanding -(more deep breathing) the only part of my body that concerns me all of the time is knees that is a vulnerable joint. i run some, but i don't run a lot. i don't like the pounding on the pavement ...depending on the condition of the road here i will run ...
1:26;22-1:28:00 ambi of ws stretching....a couple of II snapping sounds II
1:28:28 WS -ok, i will get on my spiked boots
he has a neoprine support -also keeps knee warm -wears it on the expedition....
WS -...especially pulling these big loads it would be easy to pull the knee out.
1:30:10 -1:30:18 ambi -will putting on his socks
1:30:19 PB -TALK ABOUT THE SOCKS AND BOOTS ....
1:31:18 PB -will these be the boots that you wear?
WS -yeah -these will be the boots that i will wear -timberland boots -we work with them. last couple of yrs -they esigned this boot for us which i wore last -2 yrs ago onthe arctic ocean .....good traction on the ice -it is real important to have good tration bc if your foot slips it is easy to throw your back off ...but if you have depndable traction you can put a hundred percent of your weight on there ...w/o the spiked boots this trip would be impossible you just couldn't do it ... the boot is very light too -the totaly weight of both boots is 2 1/2 lbs ...TALK ABOUT A SECOND PAIR ... i will be in the water a lot. you are ankle deep, knee deep in water basically. in and out. you are on solid ice sometimes and then you are in puddles and pools of water. i will also wear a dry suit bottom wear basically it is a gortex pants with a sealed off booty on the bottom. so you can walk up almost to your waist and youare completelt dry .... if i am doing a lot of open water crossings i will get into my dry suit itself and a life preserver, so if i go over i have at least a chance to get out. and i have this harness here which is a really good (he goes to get harness -1:34:13 snaps into harness ?) this harness allows you -you see it pulls off the back,and there is a waist band there are some straps that go off under the legs and through the croch... and a shoulder harness. normally when you are hauling a sled you use just a waist band which cuts into your diapragm and your breathing. but withe combo waist
band/shoulder harness you can pull both from your waist and your shoulders ...when you are pulling the weight of the canoe it pulls evenly from the top of your knees to your neck ...
1:36;00 beginning the canoe haul -sounds a bit distant
1:37:37 changing positions ....
1:38:01 new position 1:40:06-1:40:45 distant bird calls
1:40:46 -footsteps ...
1:40:56 PB -can you ride it down like a sled?
WS ....yeah ...these are the type of conditions thati will hopefully avoid by starting on july 12 G 1:41:16-1:41:37 sled moving through wet snow G 1:41:48 -1:44:03 loading wood into canoe ... (some
talk) ...pulling sled off with wood
1:44:13 -sled approaching, footsteps,
** VG 1;44:57 -loading wood and chipping wood? throwing it into canoe
1:45:50 PB -well, i don't know why but i think about watching youdo this and i thinking about watching a chain gang
WS -yeah, it is your own chain gang -i wouldn't want to be doing this work for anyone else! ...each one of these logs represents a week's worth of food, i should probably have 275 lbs in here now! (bg -loading wood) VG
1:46:37 PB -...could you tell me abut the harness?
WS -this is a special harnes that we designed the last 4 yrs.
most harness ...THIS IS GOOD -he is kind of huffing while he
talks -DESCRIPTION OF HARNESS ... it is essential to have a good
harness like this bc it is the main work of the day -7 to 16
hours a day -i will be pulling with this thing..
PB -and how similar is this canoe to the one that you will use?
1:47:47 WS -it is very similar, except for the one i will use will be kavalar and this one is fiberglass and it is the same type of canoe basically that is going to be cut off in the back so it will be more of a square stern. it 50% will be covered with a deck and there will be actually runners on it ...
PB -and the runners will be like those runners over there/
1:48:11 WS -...the runner on these wil be very sleek almost like a skate blade ... like a skate blade that is an 1 1/2 high and a quarter inch thick and right on that skate blade when you are on the ice itslef .....but when you are on the snow the canoe itself will act like a tobagan
PB -and it really won't inhibit you when you are paddling in the water?
WS -actually the skate blade will give me almost a like a keel, inable me to paddle the canoe a lot straighter.
PB -and you are bringing a regualer canoe paddle?
WS -actually i am experimenting here -either a canoe or a kayak paddle ....i think the kayak paddle is the way to go -a lot of times you are pushing in and out of the canoe many times and there a canoe balde works well ...... (describes paddle more)
1:49:40 PB -and you mentioned that the canoe will actually help in your communication system
WS -yeah the canoe ... the antenna will be embedded w/in the structure of the canoe -so the canoe is the antenna. and each evening i plug in my computer into the canoe alittle faset into the end of the canoe and then it radiates out the communications ... it just simplifies the arrangement ...this way it is right in the canoe
PB -this load that you are about to haul up the hill of cut logs they represent the weight of approx. what you will be hauling?
WS -yeah, i figure it is about 275 lbs here and i am on snow shoes -it is the worst conditions here. i hope 1 don't have many days like this. i hope the snow has melted down. although keep in mind the snow accumulatin in the arctic ocean is much
less ...the melt off on the arctic ocean is a lot aslower -you bearly see anything above 38 degrees .. also testing snow
shoes ... (talk about snow shoes ... ) 1:51:46 -talking about the BOOTS -(this is good) 1:52:26
1:52:49-1:54:13 walking around in wet snow -pulling canoe
1:55:10 end of DAT