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Santa Rosa Press Democrat - March 17, 2004  Global SchoolNet
 Mar 18, 2004 14:33 PST 

Santa Rosa Press Democrat - March 17, 2004

Ex-Ukiah man heads to North Pole
Wave Vidmar trying to be first American to make trek alone

March 17, 2004


It's 44 degrees below zero in the Arctic, and former Ukiah resident Wave
Vidmar is musing about his bid to become the first American to make an
unassisted solo trek to the North Pole.

It's "cold, dangerous and unpleasant," Vidmar said Tuesday in an interview
over his satellite phone, huddled in a sleeping bag on a floating hunk of
polar ice.

Vidmar started his 600-mile trek -- which requires him to walk, ski and even
swim between ice sheets while pulling two boat-like sleds that together
weigh 350 pounds -- on March 5 from Cape Arctichevsy, about 2,200 miles
northeast of Moscow.

To reach his goal, Vidmar must survive an eight-week journey through one of
the harshest environments on Earth, under his own power and without any
outside assistance. It is a feat that many consider to be tougher than
climbing Mount Everest.

Only two other people have ever made it to the North Pole solo and
unsupported, according to WorldWideLearn.com, an educational Web site that
is the primary sponsor of Vidmar's $150,000 expedition. A Norwegian, BÝrge
Ousland, completed the journey in April 1994 after 52 days on the ice, and a
British adventurer, Pen Hadow, finished last May after a 63-day trip.

Four other people are currently attempting similar treks. One, Dominick
Arduin, 43, of Finland, has been missing for more than a week and is feared

Vidmar, 39, is optimistic about his chances but does have some doubts about
making it to the Pole by May 1, when the nearest airfield closes because the
ice underneath melts. Pilots will pick him up at that point, no matter how
close Vidmar is to his ultimate destination.

Plenty to worry about

Vidmar's adventure is fraught with danger.

The ice under his feet could crack and he could be swallowed by the ocean.
On Sunday morning, the ice split suddenly just 25 yards away from his tent,
he said, leaving open water lapping against the ice.

The polar ice cap consists of a jigsaw-like series of ice sheets in constant
motion, floating in the Arctic Ocean. The depth of the ice can vary from
just a centimeter or two to 17 feet at its thickest.

Then there is the cold. Temperatures range from minus 10 degrees during warm
spells to minus 55 degrees. At the average temperature of minus 30 degrees,
it takes less than 10 seconds to get frostbite on exposed skin.

Or a polar bear might take him for a tasty treat. Vidmar has seen some polar
bear tracks, but so far has seen no bears.

"I hope it stays that way," he said.

More imminent dangers are the less visible killers, Vidmar said. They
include tent poles that break when they become brittle from the cold. Even
with spares, if that happens too many times, Vidmar would be left without

"With no shelter and no way to stay warm, my life expectancy goes down
pretty quickly," he said.

Bulked up, but losing weight

Vidmar, who added 50 pounds to his 152-pound frame to build up his muscle
and fat reserves for the grueling trip, is staying relatively healthy so

But his eyebrows and eyelashes are falling off in the cold. He said he is
suffering from frost nip on several fingers and is worried he could lose one
fingertip. He's e-mailed a doctor a photo of his finger and may start taking
antibiotics to try to keep the skin from dying.

To fuel his body, Vidmar is eating about 7,000 calories a day -- three times
the typical daily diet -- gobbling down mostly freeze-dried backpacking
foods. Even so, he said he's already lost about 25 pounds from his 6-foot-2
frame from trekking across the ice and the exertion required simply to stay

Progress is grueling. On Monday, Vidmar traveled seven miles across the ice,
but strong headwinds pushed the floating ice sheet away from the North Pole,
eating up half of his hard-won distance.

Vidmar escapes the cruel reality of living in the Arctic only at night, when
he's asleep.

"My dreams are pretty nice. They take me away from here," he said. "Then I
wake up, and I'm here freezing my butt off."

He takes time each day to update his Web site, using a PDA to write a daily
journal and uploading the report, along with digital photos, over his
satellite phone.

During his waking hours, Vidmar thinks about taking a hot shower and
imagines how nice it will be to sit in a chair after being hunched in a
sleeping bag or pulling his sleds for weeks.

His senses, including his ability to smell, are heightened because of the
lack of stimulus in his frozen world.

"If I open a box of matches, I can smell the chemicals, the sticks, the
box," Vidmar said.

And that's not necessarily a good thing.

"I definitely know I could use a shower," he said.

The experience so far is making him doubt whether he'll take on a solo
expedition to the South Pole, as planned, in November.

Open to adventure

On the other hand, once life gets easy again, he's sure he'll start looking
for a new adventure. He always has in the past, said Vidmar, who spent most
of his youth in Ukiah.

Those adventures have included cross-country bicycle trips, skydiving and

But perhaps one of the more daring things he's done is shed a corporate job
and his possessions to pursue an unfettered life.

When he was in his late 20s, Vidmar said, he lived in the Bay Area and
worked for a handbag and belt export and manufacturing firm, but came to
despise the materialistic life he and his acquaintances were living.

He described himself as "an uptight yuppie" who owned a Porsche and a yacht.

"I decided to become an artist," said Vidmar, who was known as Dave -- not
Wave -- when he lived in Ukiah.

Vidmar, who now lives in Fremont, paints, takes photos and creates metal
sculptures, among other things.

Vidmar said he simply abandoned his Porsche, with the keys inside, and his
yacht before buying a one-way ticket to Europe.

"I didn't want the money," he said.

Vidmar bought a bicycle with the $98 he had left and began touring Europe.

Not one for sheltered life

Vidmar swears his adventures are not indications of a death wish. But they
do indicate he's less afraid of dying than of living a sheltered life, he

That fear stems from being diagnosed as a boy with a faulty heart valve, he

"I never thought I'd be around that long. I've always been taking big bites
out of life," he said.

But he denies being a daredevil and downplays the danger and difficulty of
his North Pole quest.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat - March 17, 2004
∑ Ex-Ukiah man heads to North Pole

Ukiah resident Dave Cooper, a childhood friend of Vidmar's, said he's awed
but not surprised his buddy turned into such an adventurer.

"He's a pretty free-spirit sort of a dude," Cooper said.

Their former Boy Scout leader, Jim Wilson of Ukiah, said he was surprised
and pleased by Vidmar's accomplishments.

"I wouldn't have thought it was going to happen," Wilson said of Vidmar's
extraordinary attempt. "Something must have washed over him. I hope I
contributed a little bit."

Despite what appears to be fearlessness, Vidmar said there is one thing he's
afraid of -- parenthood.

"I'm more afraid of having children than jumping out of a plane, by far," he
said. "I'm probably still a kid myself. I feel like I'm stuck at 17."
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