Sacramento Bee - Bay Area trekker strains to keep North Pole pace
Apr 21, 2004 12:36 PDT
Bay Area trekker strains to keep North Pole pace
By Alison apRoberts -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Wave Vidmar is on top of the world. Almost.
He's 295 miles from the North Pole when he checks in via satellite
"I'm in my sleeping bag in my tent on a big piece of ice," he reports.
That's as cozy as it gets in the terra infirma of this Arctic desert.
It's 14 degrees outside Vidmar's tent; it's 60 degrees in his hometown
of Fremont. It's 11:30 a.m. in Fremont - 12:30 a.m. for Vidmar. Despite
the hour, there is still light in the sky outside his tent.
It's April 15, Day 42 of Vidmar's expedition, solo and without supply
drops, propelled only by his own power as he attempts to travel to the
North Pole from the ice mass off Cape Arctichevsky in northern Siberia.
He would be the the third person - and the first American - to make the
Vidmar, 39, was featured in The Bee on Feb. 23 as he prepared for his
expedition. It seemed a good time to check in, now that he is about
halfway through his 575-mile trek.
When he calls, he says it has been a good day - he covered 14 miles.
What he has to show for his achievement so far is not pretty.
"I'm pretty beat up," he says, laughing. He has a fresh batch of
frostbite on his face. He is bruised, and he is missing a lot of
eyelashes. (When his lids freeze shut during a blink, opening them often
plucks out a few hairs.) He sprained, perhaps broke, his ankle. The duct
tape he has lashed around it keeps him going.
The day he spoke, he had awakened at about 5 a.m. and hit the ice by 9
He has a global positioning monitor, but he usually navigates by using
his shadow; it leads him at the beginning of the day and follows him by
He skis or walks, pulling a sledge loaded with supplies. If necessary,
he even swims across patches of open water in a bulky dry suit. The
surface has gotten a little smoother, but much of the terrain is covered
by rubble created by ice masses jamming together.
He keeps moving - which invariably involves lots of falling down - for
about an hour at time, then stops for a few minutes to eat some trail
mix, take a drink or have a cup of noodles.
"I'm wearing very thin layers of clothing, so if I stop for too long I
get too cold," he says.
This goes on for 10 to 12 hours a day before he sets up camp. He boils
water and makes dinner. This night, he had freeze-dried mashed potatoes
Then he gets in his sleeping bag and reaches the world - checking
e-mail, using a laptop to update a daily blog on his major sponsor's Web
site - worldwidelearn.com - and occasionally making calls on a satellite
phone. You can track his progress at www.worldwidelearn.com (click on
the North Pole Solo banner on the top right of the home page).
Among those following his progress are schoolchildren, including those
in a ninth-grade English class taught by Julia Jonas at Luther Burbank
High School. The class recently sent an e-mail wishing him well. On
Sunday, Vidmar dedicated his daily blog to the class.
After the multitasking is completed, Vidmar sleeps. When he called, he
had logged 281 miles, with 295 to go. As of Monday morning, he had
logged 330 miles, with 246 to go.
His biggest enemy now is not the elements - or hungry polar bears - but
time. His pickup location, an ice camp with an aircraft runway, will
close early in May. It is hard to imagine that he can cover the distance
quickly enough. He is running low on food, and he needs a lot, about
6,000 calories a day. He is trying to arrange a new pickup plan and a
drop-off of supplies, which means abandoning his goal of making the trek
On Monday, he was further delayed for a rest day, because his vision has
been blurry and his eyelids swollen. In his blog for that day, he wrote
of possibly cutting the expedition short, perhaps this weekend.
"Will he make it? I think so, maybe," says Tom Sjogren, who has made the
same trek with his wife, Tina Sjogren. The couple are Vidmar's base-camp
managers and communicate with him frequently.
"It's now the real test has started," Sjogren says by phone from New
York, where he lives and runs a Web site dedicated to such adventures,
"In the beginning, if he encountered bad weather, he tended to go to the
tent and wait; now, it's head on all the time," Sjogren says. "In the
Arctic, you need to go brutal. It's almost like being a hockey player."
Vidmar sounds determined to stay in the game.
"I'm making better time," he says. "I'm not giving up."
He seems to have achieved a sang-froid that freezes out fear. This
served him well when he encountered a polar bear with her two cubs.
"I was excited; for some reason I just knew everything was OK," he says.
"I just let her know I wasn't going to be eaten." He did so by letting
out a few whoops as he wielded a video camera.
As he trudges on, he spends many hard hours thinking about one of the
five solo pole trekkers who started out when he did - Dominique Arduin,
a 43-year-old adventurer from Finland and France. She hasn't been heard
from since the day she left. Vidmar says she must be dead.
"She's gone," he says. "It was really hard in the beginning, now I guess
I oscillate on how I think about it; it's kind of surreal."
It's easy to imagine that wandering out in this strange wilderness would
lead to spiritual discoveries, but Vidmar says not.
"No personal spiritual discoveries," he says. "This was a personal
challenge; I wasn't coming up here to find myself."
That doesn't quite mean it's fun.
"I'm glad I'm doing it but I wouldn't use the word 'enjoyment,' " he
says. "But lately I've really been enjoying the scenery and shooting
His only regret: "I should have brought music," he says. "I have music
in my head all the time." The problem is in the programming, and it can
get hard to kick songs off the mental sound loop. Lately, he has tired
of the endless playing of "Love Will Keep Us Together," the bouncy '70s
hit by the Captain & Tennille, in his head.
"It's not a song I necessarily like," he says.
A more satisfying entertainment comes with sleep, and the vivid dreams
this trip somehow induces.
"My brain is making up movies for me," he says. "I rarely ever dream
about being up here. I'm usually taken away. Italy is nice."
He sounds tired and ready for dreaming.
"Take care," he says as he hangs up.
About the Writer
The Bee's Alison apRoberts can be reached at (916) 321-1113 or