Chin Up There's Always Next Year

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, November 1997

Chin Up — There's Always Next Year

The latest on a not-so-successful expeditionary season
By Andrew Tilin

Since explorers typically utter "uncle" about as often as Jackie Chan, one has to wonder what dark cosmic forces were at work on the world's far northern margins this year. How else can one explain the abrupt endings of the summer's most high-profile expeditions, three waterborne adventures backed by years of planning, snazzy Web sites, and of course, budgets that reached as high as six figures? Mere coincidence? Judge for yourself.

  • "It was the rudder that got us," says W. Hodding Carter, of the snafu that cut short his attempt to retrace Leif Eriksson's thousand-year-old, 1,900-mile jaunt from Greenland to the New World in an exact replica of the type of boat used by that most formidable of Vikings. The 34-year-old Carter and the rest of the 12-man crew were plucked from the Davis Strait between Baffin Island and Greenland — four weeks and 450 miles from their starting point — by the Canadian Coast Guard after their rudder snapped. Carter debated continuing the even-more-old-fashioned way, "but it would take us two hours of paddling to go just half a mile," a rate that would have meant reaching Newfoundland sometime around year's end. "I guess you could call the trip a failure," says Carter, who says he'll try again next July, "but it was a failure only in the most macho way."
  • "It was the ice that stopped me," says Bill DeVaney, a 45-year-old boatbuilder and school-bus driver from Alaska's Kodiak Island, of his Arctic-exploration debut, an attempt to become the first person ever to kayak the Northwest Passage. "If it gets tight enough, you simply don't get through." Though an expeditionary novice, DeVaney landed backing from Sector Sport Watches, which to date has chipped in nearly $50,000. DeVaney set out from Prudhoe Bay twice last summer, aiming for Boston. His first attempt ended just three days out, a helicopter plucking him from the path of a fast-approaching storm; the second time he was stopped by iceberg-choked waters along Alaska's northern coast some 200 miles east of Prudhoe. But despite the setbacks, "the expedition is still current," insists Sector marketing director Jonathan Nettelfield, explaining that DeVaney will resume the trip next summer from his stopping point at the town of Kaktovik.
  • "It was the icebreaker that did me in," says 53-year-old Will Steger, the most storied polar explorer of modern times, of the vessel upon which he hitched a ride to the North Pole last July. Steger was attempting to become the first to traverse the 500 miles from the Pole to Ellesmere Island, but says his trip was essentially over before it began, the result of a stomach-churning cruise aboard what he now calls "the floating freight train from hell." Weakened by the roiling journey to the Pole and then hampered by five days of impenetrable Arctic fog, Steger decided to call it quits — not exactly the return expected by the Shaklee Corporation for its $250,000 investment. "Ultimately I didn't care about the press, my sponsors, or failure," Steger says. "I won't try it again, and it won't haunt me."

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