Duluth, Minnesota

February 8, 2009 9:27pm

It is difficult to pin point the beginning of this journey.
Was it the childhood  dream to follow in the steps of the supermen who
chartered the maps of our world with their bravery, instinct and
natural connection with the land? Was it the day the thought entered my
mind that to make the poles could in fact be within my reach? Was it a
year ago when I began articulating the thought, first mentally, then
vocally, that I would undertake the Everest of polar expeditions—one of
the toughest on Earth? Was it six months ago when I stepped up both my
training and diet to increase strength and mass so that I could endure
the brutal cold and harsh conditions of six to eight weeks on the ice?
Was it when, low and behold, amidst a failing economy, minimal funding
came through to green light a two-member expedition to the North Pole
to commemorate the centennial of Robert Peary’s reach in 1909?  Or is
it just now, as I sit in the middle row of a fully booked flight to
Minnesota to undergo a week of “shakedown” training to test the
equipment, the systems and my capabilities.

Conditions here can simulate the arctic environment, and spending a
week on a frozen lake, sleeping in snow and dropping into a hole in the
ice for survival tests can wake you to the realities ahead.

I do not know what Duluth, Minnesota looks like any other time of the
year. But in early February it probably does not figure on many top ten
destinations, short of dogsled and Outward Bound training programs. The
approach by plane spelled out the grey, grim and frigid environment.
What kind of individual volunteers to fly from sunny California to this
dull outpost near the Canadian border at this time of the year?

Part of me came here to find out.

On the taxi drive from the airport to the Econolodge, where I will be
spending the rest of the night, my driver susses me out by assessing
the slew of sponsor badges that adorn my expedition jacket and
concludes accurately that I am not from these parts. After I share with
him the purpose of my trip, he tells me that two months ago, he saw the
coldest temperatures ever recorded here: minus fifty degrees! Minus
fifty? To this he adds that an ice storm will come in the morning…

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