Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bigger Journeys

Sometimes I've wondered throughout this semester about the justification of the expeditions we've read about. They're all intensely personal and have motivations of escape, proving oneself, being the first, or defying gender stereotypes. However, Bancroft and Arnesen's story, seems more justifiable to me because of its global scale, how it had a "bigger journey" (198) than the physical crossing of Antarctica. That's not to say that the other expeditions didn't have a worldwide audience, as they certainly did inspire people around the globe. However, I admire Bancroft and Arnesen's primary goal to not only "break the way for women who would come after [them]" (42), but also to inspire "kids, especially young girls...[that] it is okay to risk, to take adventures, to aspire to something so unimaginable that no one but you can see it" (47). Their online education program is such an innovative concept, and, to me, really justifies what they did in Antarctica. In addition to just sharing their stories and inspiring people, they directly reached out to kids and encouraged physical activity, gender equality, and not giving up on dreams. Even though they didn't complete their expedition, it still was an "overwhelming success" because it was a "historic first" and "more than 3 million kids in 116 countries had followed their trek via the Web site" (195). As the editorial in the Minnesota Star Tribune said, "The Bancroft Arnesen Expedition isn't about spots on a map, or historic firsts, or even about proving women's capability. It's about realizing personal dreams, as the trekkers point out at every opportunity" (200).

It's easy to compare the texts that we've studied throughout the semester, and it's difficult to view this one separate from the rest. While reading this book, I inevitably (and understandably) found myself relating this Antarctic expedition to previous Himalayan and Alaskan ones. This book had a much more personal feel than the others did, which was evident through the many stories about each of the women's individual lives and quirks. Instead of focusing primarily on details of the technical aspects of the journey, this book has chapters on the women learning to play the mouth harp and calling people back at home. These fun moments are juxtaposed with injuries and worries of not completing their journey on time. After reading this book, I feel like I know these women as people, not just as adventurers.

The connection that the women had with the rest of the world was markedly different from the other expeditions we've read about, ones where the climbers had minimal mail and radio contact or none at all. These women spoke with the media often, and received updates from their friends and family about (for example, updates about Stan's health). It's hard to believe such technology works in such a removed location. As Bancroft said, "Once again, the clarity of the phone belied the distance of the call, as well as the effort it took to make it" (150). They also had contact with a research station in the middle of their expedition, another instance where they were connected to society even during such an isolated experience. Yet the women didn't desire civilization (it was quite a drastic change from their two months only being with each other). As Arnesen said when she left the South Pole Station, "They had no idea how happy I was to escape civilization and go back to the solace of my red tunnel tent!" (160) These women are connected to other people when they make their decision to not complete the entire journey. As Bancroft said, "we had lots of other lives and investments to consider. It wasn't 'my' or 'her' trip, really. We had a responsibility to the people we'd involved - the kids, the base camp crew, our sponsors, ANI" (193-4).

Bancroft and Arnesen drew inspiration from the support that the children and teachers around the world gave them. As Bancroft said when she heard about how kids continued to follow their expedition, "Hell, I could hold out for months on the rodeo if these were the results we were getting!" (139) The elementary schooler Logan's comment to Bancroft and Arnesen that they changed his life was one of the cutest things I've read in a while. I admire the sense of perspective in this expedition, that the journey was more for other people than it was for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Heather I agree with you about this book presenting a more personal account of an adventure. Although, I’m a little bit baffled about why I think it was more personal than Blum’s book, which was admittedly a very intimate look into Blum’s journey. Bancroft and Arnesen, though, took turns telling their two sides of the events in the book, casually including mention of their fears and struggles, but without dwelling on them. I was also elated about the purpose, so to speak, of this adventure. I love that these women left behind a company with a noble purpose, and that they took the time and energy to give their expedition to the world instead of reveling in it totally. I often had the impression that I would have been exasperated and frustrated by those demands on my energy and time, but the two women’s unselfishness was striking.