September 1st, 2001

You're going where? Oh my god. Couldn't you get out of it?
- A co-worker upon hearing I was going to Antarctica the coming winter.

Where do you start explaining this? How far back do you go in the examination of conscience before you're talking about inanities such as the circumstances of your birth, walking to kindergarten up to your knees in snow, or growing up on hot dogs and warm soda? What if the answer isn't clear? What if it's something so vague you question your own motives the way someone suffering in the grasp of a horrible psychosis must wonder why he's compelled to paint himself with catsup and stand outside McDonald's claiming to "have a beef" with the whole "fast food thing"?

What if I don't know? What does that say?

My problem is if I subtract all that from my thinking I'm left with the same question you have--why in the name of everything holy would a perfectly sane individual endeavor to travel to Antarctica? In a world where bikinis and pina-coladas are well within reach of anyone with 5 hours to spend flying and a ticket, why would you go somewhere the insides of your lungs could get frostbitten if you breathe too hard?

Rule: Answer any way you want, just don't say: "Because it's there," or the world will hate you.

If that's what you want, then I'll have to say I'm as clueless as you are. I don't know why I want to go. I just do.

Let's see where we can go with this, though, just for the sake of having something to write.

First of all: this diary. Like most of you I'm lousy at keeping diaries. This is somewhat oxymoronic against the feature of my character that requires me to write to stay alive. I write stories and sometimes entire books. Some of the stories have been published. The Virginia Kidd literary agency represents me and has sold some of my short stories, but neither of the two books I wrote. I now have a contract to write a novel for Hampton Roads publishing. It will be based in part on this trip, which is why it's not done yet.

It will be based on other things, too.

This diary will not be one of them, because usually I start keeping a diary and then stop abruptly. The futility of keeping a diary is what usually stops me from keeping them. Writing is a mode of communication, and not being schizophrenic writing to the alter ego doesn't appeal to me. It requires much less energy simply to mutter to one's self under one's breath, or to talk to nobody. These activities are best practiced in the shower or in other private situations and not on the grammar school playground where grown men muttering under their breath are scoffed up by the authorities and placed in situations where Thorazine makes it difficult to explain yourself.

"I was talking to myself because I didn't want to have to keep a diary..." Weak excuse to be sure, which is why I don't talk to myself, either.

About wanting to go, I've spent a lot of time examining why that could be. My earliest memory of being interested in polar exploration comes from seeing John Glenn's spaceship lift from the launch pad and having my mother tell me he was going into outer space. I knew I wanted to go into space. When I was in first-grade, I remember seeing a program on television. It was a National Geographic special. Some people were trudging through the snow in the dark. As an adult, looking back, I believe these guys were trying to get to the north pole during winter for some reason. They didn't make it to the pole, but they did discover there was a lot more dry land at the top of Greenland than anyone had previously thought. I remember the graphic showing all the new land at Greenland's northern extremity they'd discovered. Immediately, I defaced the family's "Grolier Atlas of the World" by drawing in the extra piece of Greenland in brick-red crayon.

It had to be done.

Now I had somewhere else to go. Just like outer space. You had to wear a suit and it was dark like space. People didn't usually go there. The top of Greenland.

When I got a little older my ideas of being an astronaut started dwindling with the accuracy of my eyesight. When I got into fifth grade I learned that pilots didn't wear glasses, and you couldn't be an astronaut, at least in those days, without having been a plane pilot first.

Well, at least there was the poles.

I absorbed everything I could find on polar travel. I did most of my written reports on 18th and 19th century expeditions. I wrote about poor Lady Franklin spending all her money and celebrity trying to bring her oldish, over-weightish, icon of a husband back from the Canadian Arctic where he'd disappeared with the Erebus and Terror and a few hundred souls.

I borrowed a book from the grammar school library on Edward Wilson's travels, taken from his diary. I renewed it every two weeks for the entire school year, and stared at his watercolors for hours.

In high school I debated the feasibility of Greely and crew having survived without cannibalism and defended the conclusion they hadn't gnawed on each other to survive (this year I found the book that proves beyond doubt they did). I did "compare-and-contrast" essays on the character of Amundsen and Scott, and why one won and the other died and concluded that Amundsen was just "smarter", only to conclude with the added perspective of a few decades that one lived within the physical and mental restraint of his time and the other was more likely to make his own rules.

Poor Endurance sinks below the ice in a poster on the wall of my office. Shackelton forever enshrined in my heart, I wonder almost perpetually how one develops the courage to be the type of leader he was, or is one simply born to it?

And Mawson poisons himself with dog's livers.

And Matthew Henson puts his foot on the pole before Peary revises history. Was Dr. Cook a charlatan, a magician, or the victim of his own ego and popular opinion?

And Nansen alienates everyone but Johanssen who might as well be mute, diving into an open lead to save his hand-made kayak, and becoming an international hero and statesman.

Why did they do it? What is it about that endless white death that draws us inside? Is it for the few moments we can stare into God's eye and shout, "I'm not dead yet!" Is it to test ourselves in a nearly futile, aimless, suicidal gesture?

I remember the first time I flew from the Europe back home to the west coast of the U.S. and the pilot canted the plane because for the first time in modern history there were no clouds over Greenland. And for nearly a half an hour I sat with my nose plastered against the plexiglass airplane window watching the ice and the nunitaks drift by below me, wondering what it would be like to stand there amid the crevasses and calving glaciers.

Surely bungee jumping would be quicker and less painful. And I assure you I enjoy the white sands of a tropical island on a sunny day as much as the next human.Thousands have been to Antarctica before me and I do not seek to tread upon lands so dangerous to approach no man has been there before, because those places are now so few and so dangerous one may as well throw himself into the steaming maw of an active volcano. I am no particular adventurer. My travel inspired celebrity will be much shorter than my fifteen Warhol-allocated minutes.

Had you watched, you could have seen the seeds of this mania in my behavior. Fifteen years ago I was on a businesstrip. Two friends and I drove a rented Lincoln Town Car thirty miles off-road to get to the horizon. I don't think we got there. During that same time I was in a rock and roll band for eight years. It was a lot of fun, but it never amounted to much professionally.

Then why?

I don't know.