For 117 days, ending July 3, a team of adventurers braved frigid cold, biting winds and incredible fatigue to become the first known humans to cross the Arctic Ocean by dog.
At night, they chatted with schoolchildren via computer.
The twinning of old technology - dog sleds - and new - laptop computers - was highlighted here recently when explorer Will Steger of Ely, Minn., met with dozens of the schoolchildren who had logged on to receive daily trip reports and chat with the adventurers.
Karen Batezel, 11, a fifth-grader at Walter Miller School in Levittown, Pa., was one of them. She said it was hard to wait until after school, when she could use her personal computer to read what the explorers had written.
“It was really cool,” she said. “It was fun to see where they were and how far they had gone.”
Hundreds of thousands of people followed the 1,200-mile trip through America Online, the organizers said.
Steger’s talk was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, one of the many corporate sponsors of the $1-million-plus project.
With him were the other explorers: Julie Hanson, 42, also of Ely; Victor Boyarsky, 44, of Russia; Martin Hignell, 34, of England; Paul Pregnot, 33, of Minnesota; and Takako Takano, 32, of Japan. Rex, one of the 22 polar husky dogs, also was on hand.
Steger is an experienced explorer. In 1986, he was co-leader of a successful expedition to the North Pole. Three years later, he led a dog sled expedition across Antarctica.
On this trip, Steger’s team set out from the coast of Siberia on March 8 and arrived at Ward Hunt Island in northwestern Canada on July 3.
In Washington, they recounted what it was like to go from the bustle of society to a place where quiet and stark beauty reign.
“Beauty is easy to see when it’s dripping all around you,” said Steger, 50, a true wilderness man who lives in a log cabin with no electricity. “The only sounds you hear are the sounds you make and the wind echoing in the trees.”
For eight or nine hours a day, they walked, ran, sledded and canoed. The dogs were used for most of the trip but were flown out to the home base toward the end when the team switched to canoes.
The two women and four men lived off a special high-carbohydrate diet which included energy bars, sports drinks, freeze-dried vegetables and buckwheat noodles.
When they weren’t traveling, they were making camp and sending e-mail.
As they told it, the trek was filled with adventure and danger. The temperature ranged from 50 below to just above freezing with no darkness.
The team overcame blizzards and strong currents in the sea ice, which opened up huge spaces of icy ocean water, to reach the North Pole.
One of the initial team members dropped out after plunging into frigid waters and suffering hypothermia. Pregnot, an alternate, was called in.
Along the way, the team learned how to gauge when the ice they were traveling on was about to break. The adventurers became adept at forecasting dry and wet snowfalls. And they learned to be patient with the elements.
By day, they mushed. By evening, they pitched their tents, fed the dogs and themselves and wrote their Internet messages, which were transmitted by satellites provided by two private companies.
Several team members acknowledged that the journey was difficult to get used to at first. But even more difficult, they said, was adjusting to being back home.
“Right now, the heat is pretty hard to take,” said Takano. “The noise is striking. It’s all pretty annoying.”
Even Rex had a hard time being back at home. During a stopover in New York City, Hignell described how the dog, disoriented, walked into a park bench.
Steger, an adventurer since age 15 when he and his brother built a small boat and sailed down the Mississippi River Huck Finn-style, said he never had intended the Arctic expedition to be so popular.
Just a few months ago, Steger said, he was contemplating retiring. Now, he’s not so sure.
“The technology and the ability we had to educate on this expedition was fascinating,” said Steger. “I want to do it again.”