The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Trek to the North Pole With Mark Andresen: Is Your Hero Up for the Adventure?

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Mark Andresen is second from the right
Would your character go to the ends of the Earth to save the day?

There are certain personalities that crave excitement and adventure, who want to push themselves to see what they are capable of accomplishing. Today, I have a wonderful treat for you. Mark Andresen, freshly back and defrosted from his trip to the North Pole, is here to tell us about his adventure and to provide a character template for your no-holds-barred, up-for-anything-anywhere, let's-get-to-it hero or heroine.


Fiona -
So if we could begin with an introduction and maybe an explanation of why someone in their right mind would hoof it to the North Pole?

Mark -
Well, that is a good question. I think the idea started to germinate in 2007. It was then that I went to Antarctica to run a marathon. We did this to raise money for the leukemia society after my dad died.

While there, we witnessed an explorer come into camp after being rescued off the ice. After listening to his stories, we decided then that we needed to do something like that.

Fiona -
That seems extreme - the marathoning in Antarctica I mean - people do run marathons in America on nice sunny days. How did you pick Antarctica?

Mark -
It is one of the seven continents and running a marathon there was on my so called bucket list.

Fiona -

Ha! I'd love to see what else is on your bucket list. So about this guy... Who saved him from the ice? How long was he there, and more to the point, why would you want to put yourself in the same position?
Operation Deep Freeze
Operation Deep Freeze (Photo credit: The National Guard)


Mark -
He was rescued by the people at our camp. They would regularly fly people to the south pole for 'Champagne' trips. Where they fly to the pole, drink champagne and say they were on a great adventure.

They had planes with ski's and he called them when he ran out of food for a rescue. They do that often as the only company that supports south pole expeditions


Moet champagne and glass.
Moet champagne and glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiona -
What? LOL! I can't imagine
the narcissism behind doing
something like that - the
champagne sipper that is.

Mark -
I know, I saw much of that at the north pole also. I try not to put them down, but it is insulting for anyone that really works to achieve that goal. But to each their own, as long as they are honest about the champagne flight.


Fiona -
Amen.
Let's talk about the work. How does one prepare for such an adventure?

Mark -
Well, it is tough. We obviously did a lot of running etc. (which I always do regardless of anything being planned), but there was a lot of other things needed for this. We had to be proficient on ski's, and have a working knowledge of the tents etc that we would be using.

We spent 5 days in northern Minnesota earlier in the year working with dogs and mushing over the lakes up there, sleeping in tents in the snow.


Fiona -
How many people were on your team?

Mark -
We started the expedition with 5 of us. But one of our members, Robert, was evacuated 2 days in due to severe frostbite.

Fiona -
I'm sorry to hear that. He must have been very disappointing.
What about medical training - what did you learn in preparation? What equipment did you have on hand? or medical emergencies And is Robert okay?

Mark -
In regards to medical gear? We each had our own personal first aid kit with enough supplies to last our individual needs. We also had a group first aid kit with extra supplies. But we did not have anything for major events like heart attacks etc. We would have been on our own I guess if something tragic like that happened.

Yes, Robert is okay. He is a doctor from Austria who had climbed all seven summits, so he knew what he was doing when he pulled himself out.

Of course, it left us without a doctor, but it seems it worked out. Keep in mind, our main guide, Chris Maher has been to the pole 6 times, so he was very experienced with all sorts of cold weather injuries. I had the highest confidence that he could help us stay healthy.

Fiona -
What is your career and that of the other four?

Mark -
I own a staffing company as well as a software development company which includes side projects like ImaStory.com

Mike, another member is an Attorney. He is a friend of mine that also has the bug to push the limits of what we do. We share the same gene that forces us to push our limits and see what we are capable of. Chris Maher, our main guide, lives in Alaska and raises dogs and is a professional guide. Chris Paulsen (CP) our other member, is a student and part time guide. He was brought on as extra help which he brought in spades. He was always out front scouting out our path through the ice.

Fiona -
So you all met, decided you trusted each other and could be a team.... Let's say that our hero is a limit pusher as well and is headed off into the wilds to tempt fate. What were some of the obstacles that you faced and overcame in order to be successful? I assume some were physical in nature and some were psychological?

Mark -
Yes, we met them through a company called Polar Explorers. This company is a logistics company that helps people like Mike and I do things like this. They would arrange the flights with the Russians, they would provide the needed food, sleds and hook us up with competent guides. We knew right off when we trained with them in Minnesota that we would like them and work well as a team


In regards to obstacles, there were more than I could count. We were always coming across open ocean, or 20 foot pressure ridges that would run from horizon to horizon. But honestly, the biggest thing we overcame, in my mind, was the cold. The biting, un-relenting, painful cold. In fact, my two big toes are still numb to the touch from minor frost damage.

Fiona -
Vocabulary check - what is a pressure ridge and how does one conquer it? And what do you do with open ocean? Walk around?


Mark -
A pressure ridge is very similar, in a smaller scale, to how mountains are made. As we know, the ice up north is all floating on open ocean, unlike Antarctica where a vast majority is on land. So, when two or more sheets of ice hit each other, going opposite directions due to wind or tides, one will go up, the other will usually go down.

I remember days out there where I would be thinking while wrapped in my cocoon of coats, hats, pants and layers, "What the heck am I doing this for?" But every single night, while laying down to sleep, I would think, "This was one of the best days of my life." Doesn't make sense, I know, but the challenge, and the fact that we overcame it and pushed on is something I think makes life interesting.

Fiona -
Absolutely!

Mark -
I have some video of these pressure ridges being made, they are immensely powerful and scary when such vast amounts of ice being pushed around.

We would have to chop our way through with axes and build ramps with snow. It was not easy and a lot of work.

In regards to the open ocean. We would do one of three things to cross that. If it was too wide and if the ice was too fresh, we would either look for a way around it or wait for it to float back together. There was one occasion that the we just camped next to it and slept while we waited for it to freeze more. That was a scary crossing.

Other times, if the crack was less than 6 foot across, we would fill it in with ice chunks and snow and go across it very fast.Needless to say, every single day we crossed across open ocean. The ice is cracked everywhere so it was not uncommon to cross over 1-2 foot cracks every half hour or so.

Fiona -
So you were basically hopping on an ice float? And praying for the temps to stay low? How did the dogs and sled do with these cracks?

Mark -
The first few days it was scary, but after that we were old pro's at it and didn't give it much thought after that. The dogs did great, they love pulling. They would jump across and once they were across things were good. We would just worry about getting the front of the sled across then momentum from the dogs and us pushing would get the rest of the sled across.They were the true workers of the expedition though. By the end of the trip we would let them run around camp before we took off. They trusted us enough, and knew who fed them, that they would simply run around our temporary camp playing with each other.

Fiona -
What event was the most frightening of this adventure?

Mark -
I think there were several things that had me worried. The first was Robert being evacuated. He was a real pro and a mountain guide with an extreme resume of mountains and expeditions that he did. When we saw his black toes on day two, it really brought on the severity of the cold. From that point on I was tuned into the cold, and my gear.




The other thing that made me concerned was one night when we were in our tent and heard a huge crashing noise that went on for a minute or so, followed by the sound of rushing water. Basically, what we heard was an open lead forming where the ice split apart, and the ocean was rushing in to fill the gap. That made me realize that the north polar icecap is very dynamic, and it was always in the back of my mind every night that I went to sleep, hoping we picked a solid piece of ice to put our tents up in.

Fiona -
HOLY MOLY that would be hard to deal with especially in the dark.

I'm sure Robert's leaving was a huge psychological blow.
What gear does one use to prevent frostbite to the extremities?

Mark -
I used boots rated to -148. But, the biggest key is to dry your gear nightly and to layer your clothing. We were literally traveling on the ocean so the cold is much different there than anywhere else due to the humidity.

Fiona -
How do you dry your gear in high humidity?

Mark -
We would dry our gear above a tiny little stove we had in our tent. We would put anything damp into our sleeping bag each night and the heat from our body would dry it.

Fiona -
Are there any "how to" books that you would suggest a writer read if they have an extreme frozen scene such as you experienced?

Mark -
No, I read a few books about some of the earlier explorers, but those don't have a lot of relevance for modern day trips with modern equipment. To be honest, I learned more from Maher and CP than I would have from any book. There is something to be said for experience. I will call them my oral books

Fiona -
Since I'm hungry, can we skip to the food? What did you eat and drink? How many calories did you portion per day? How did you prepare it?

Mark -
Every morning we would eat oatmeal and some little breakfast delights that CP would make. They were simply tortillas with sausage and cheese in them cooked over the stove. Lunches were always protein bars, chocolate, beef jerky or anything that would provide some fast burning calories. We would eat this throughout the day as we were always on the move. All of us carried our lunch food in our inside pockets to keep it somewhat thawed. Dinner was where we would load up on calories. Our main meal was freeze dried and would contain upwards of 2500 calories we would also have soup, peanuts and anything left over from lunch. The choices for dinner were varied. I liked all of them except for the Beef Stew. For some reason nobody liked that. We would spend hours each evening and morning warming snow for our water and to hydrate our freeze dried meals.

We would also drink upwards of 2 liters of water a day. We would be pretty serious about this and would watch each other to make sure hydration was occurring.

Fiona - 
I know what dehydration looks like it hot weather what does it look like in cold weather?

Mark -
Dehydration looks exactly the same in cold weather. I can remember one night where Mike had to roll out of the tent due to a very, very severe cramp he experienced.

Fiona-
Tell me one frozen-weather life hack that you learned and think everyone should know.

Mark -
Hmmm, that is tough. Off the top of my head it would be the vapor barrier socks. Basically, you would wear an inside sock, then a plastic bag, then an outer sock. This would keep the outer sock and boots dry from your sweat. Then you would only have to dry your inner sock each night.

Fiona - 
Dog questions! How long were you gone? How many dogs were there? what was the name of you favorite? Did you sleep with the dogs to keep warm?



Mark - 
We were gone close to a month, including all the travel time. There were 8 great dogs on the team and my favorite was called Stephe. A male Greenland Husky. And in regards to sleeping with the dogs, not really, they preferred being outside. There was one exception to this however as one of the dogs, Ayra, was losing his winter coat a little early, so would tend to get colder, so we let him spend the coldest nights in the tents with us.

Fiona- 
Are you writing a book or memoir about your experiences?

Mark - 
In regards to memoir, yes, kind of. I am capturing all of this on ImaStory.com - including stories that I want to remain private for a few years yet. While up there, I also recorded some time-capsules for my kids that will be released to them in a dozen years or so. These were recorded on ImaStory.com also

Fiona - 
Oh! Very special.
At this point I ask our traditional question - Please tell me about your favorite scar or harrowing story.




Mark - 
Honestly, I would still say that the entire North Pole expedition, even as a whole was my favorite harrowing experience. Every single day was a challenge. I am not just saying that, it was truly one of those experiences that just making it through the day was a relief. I don't mean every day, there were actually some pretty easy and fun days when the wind was elsewhere, but on the whole, accomplishing this expedition in record time under such bad conditions is probably my favorite harrowing experience.

Fiona - 
Already planning your next death-defying adventure? What happens when you've done it all?

Mark - 
Funny thing is, I was a cop back in the early nineties, and my job was to buy drugs from the bad guys. Yet, most of those stories don't make me feel the same as accomplishing this.

I promised my wife I would not plan anything for a while..... However, this does not stop me from thinking about my next thing.

Fiona - 
I'd like to thank you Mark for sharing your experience and the new concept of ImaStory.com The very best of luck with that. I'm sure there are lots of writers who will now be checking that site out.


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English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
PS. For you little ones who are curious, Mark said that no, Santa was not at home when he got there. Santa was out doing reindeer games with his team. Also, sadly, he was not able to get the elves to remove my name from the naughty list.



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2 comments:

  1. Fabulous interview ... I know a guy who climbed Everest with his daughter... the story of their trip is also fascinating .. greatest respect to those who are driven to achieve these life goals ...LUVVED IT.

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