The act of flipping a page on a calendar does little to change one's mindset or alter a personal goal. But, using the new year as a clean slate and a mental pole to guide actions for the coming months makes sense. We build Jan. 1 into the day when the avalanche of change takes place in our patterned lives, and that's a good thing. Any chance to shake off the ice that's formed on our wings is good.
I picked up a great book last month titled Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, written in 1959 by Alfred Lansing. He tells the true story of Ernest Shackleton who sought to be the first to cross Antarctica from sea to sea through the South Pole. At the outset of World War I, Shackleton came up with a remarkable plan to do so, though the world's attention increasingly focused elsewhere. His plan was simple enough: His team would sail into the Weddell Sea and find a place on shore to begin the crossing. Another team would sail into the waters on the opposite side of the continent and set up supply drops across the intended path. That way, Shackleton and his men stood a good chance of conquering the harshest elements in the world.
I started reading the book while another adventurer began a similar trek. American Colin O'Brady set out on Nov. 3, 2018, to be the first person to cross Antarctica solo and unsupported. That means O'Brady had to sled every bit of food and supplies he would need for the 1,000-mile trip. To make it more interesting, he raced against friend Lou Rudd, an Englishman. The two set out at the same time but O'Brady quickly pulled away.
The mood onboard Shackleton's Endurance was optimistic at the prospect of conquering Antarctica with a handful of men and dozens of sled dogs. He sought fame and the fortune that came from it, but he also sought the energy that comes from steering oneself into the unknown. He was competent, tough, and confident. With the knowledge that the expedition would be highly reported, Shackleton encouraged his crew to keep journals. Lansing was privy to several of those journals and his descriptions of polar skies are breathtaking. I found myself getting cold as I read them.
O'Brady carried a satellite modem with him which was easily solar-charged because of the long days in the Southern Hemisphere. He kept followers up to speed with his progress by updating his Twitter account daily. Though abbreviated compared to the journals of old, it's fascinating to read O'Brady's thoughts as his expedition plodded through the first few days. He pulled his sled weighed down with 400 pounds of gear. At times blinded by the immense sea of white in front of him, he allows hints of discouragement to creep into his otherwise optimistic reports.
The Endurance faced danger off the coast of Antarctica in January 1915. Packed ice in the Weddell Sea eventually trapped the ship. After weathering for months, the ship buckled from ice floes pushing her in tangled directions, and Shackleton ordered his crew to abandon Endurance. From the floe, the crew watched the ship collapse as the ice finally tore it apart. Then, the expedition changed from adventure to survival. The men endured hunger, frostbite, and sea leopards stalking them.
O'Brady suffered ice beards, white-outs, and the constant threat of falling through crevasses. Thanks to modern technology and his state-of-the-art emergency gear, he knew a rescue was only a finger-press away. Still, the time alone on the ice pulling a sled with wind and cold in his face took a toll on the spirit.
When the ice finally opened enough, Shackleton led his men on lifeboats to Elephant Island, a desolate piece of land subject to harsh winds and a slapping sea. After a few days, he gathered a small crew into the most seaworthy of the lifeboats and set off to find help for the others who stayed behind. After sailing 800 miles, Shackleton found the coastline again. With the help of the Chilean government, he accompanied a rescue ship back to Elephant Island where the remaining crew had sheltered for over four months. Not one man had been lost.
O'Brady made his final push for completion on Christmas Day. Covering 80 miles in one continuous slog of 32 hours, O'Brady laid claim to being the first person to cross Antarctica solo and unsupported. The slogan for his expedition had been a concise dictate for living life: The Impossible First. Lou Rudd followed a couple of days later. His expedition sponsor was a British clothing and equipment company. The company's name? Shackleton.
Ernest Shackleton is a study in leadership. He kept his men focused and away from the desolation of depression. Colin O'Brady had the luxury of good gear and an even mind. He was able to stave off loneliness and the temptation to quit in the face of harsh conditions. Both men approached their time with heroic values. We have much to gain by studying them.
This new year will undoubtedly present challenges to us. We will naturally find ourselves in wildernesses frozen and raw and we will be unsure of pushing forward or allowing the temptation to backtrack. Setting out for any adventure has its obstacles and it's through those obstacles that we find our greatest rewards. As the calendar changes, there is only one direction that we must force our minds, our bodies, our souls. Only one direction we must look.
Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at [email protected]
Editorial on 01/12/2019
Print Headline: STEVE STRAESSLE: On endurance