Here on 2-20-20, another fine odometer moment, I delved into a little Finder clean-up/re-org and found this piece I’d written some time ago. Given all the skiing we’ve been doing this winter and given our soon to be departure to points North, I’ve been finding myself dreaming of Polar expeditions. This piece was written in 2009 (can’t believe a decade has past) soon after attending my first polar training course and expedition (Thank goodness my carpal tunnel is fixed now-see previous link). Given that in writing the piece below, I reflected on Bob Bartlett’s departure and my recently being named to a same list as him as well as Matty McNair-the teacher of our training, I thought I would share it. The picture above is from our 2012 ski expedition across a piece of Greenland and up its highest peak, Gunnbjørn Fjeld–a huge expedition where I put all of the learning from the above training into practice in a super-remote location. I seem to be very attached to the word “given” this morning–a good context setter.
One hundred years to the day after Captain Bob Bartlett started out from Cape Columbia across the ice with a team of 3 Inuit, a sledge and dogs, to break trail for Robert Peary, I set off from Iqaluit. I was pulling a 200-pound sled across Frobisher Bay as part of a polar training program. Though more often known for my mountainous endeavours, this time I was in Canada’s Eastern Arctic to learn the skills necessary for self-propelled expeditions to the earth’s poles.
Whenever and wherever I adventure, I am aware than I am following in the footsteps, ski tracks, and paddle strokes of generations of folks/explorers who have gone before. I am grateful to my friend, Leslie Grattan, who pointed out the anniversary date on which I began my polar expedition for it charged me with a sense of connection to both past and future. Even though our world has become much smaller with the use of jet aircraft and the Internet, I think it is still possible to be an explorer today. In fact, I think we are in dire need of explorers who inspire us to give up our “comfortable lives” and seek the learning of the hills.
In 1571 AD, Peter Severinus, a Danish physician and philosopher wrote:
Go my children, burn your books,
Buy yourselves stout shoes.
Get away to the mountains, the deserts
And the deepest recesses of the earth.
In this way and no other will you gain
A true knowledge of things and of their properties.
After hearing that I often train for twelve months for each of my mountain climbs and then, if I am lucky, get to spend about thirty minutes on the summit, many people ask me, “Is it worth it?” I answer with an exuberant, “Absolutely,” and often follow with another of my favourite quotes by Rene Daumal,
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.
Even though I must always come down from the summit, there is so much that I see and learn along the way. This “true knowledge” of my self, my teammates, the environments and cultures in which I travel, and the deep potentials of human exploration keep me climbing for new heights of challenge and understanding. It also fuels my passion for teaching in the outdoors.
I aim, not to have my students truly burn their books, but instead, to have them don stout shoes and go outside to read, experience, and learn in an environment without walls. By getting out of the traditional classroom and climbing the Southside Hills for a new view of the city, I hope my students will also gain a new view of themselves and the concepts we are covering in the course. As winter transforms into spring, I invite you to explore the outside world and see where the path takes you.