Monday, March 24, 2008

Antartica

Having completed Apsley Cherry-Garrard's masterpiece of adventure, The Worst Journey in the World, I have many different thoughts raging through my head. First, is it not amazing that I could hyperlink in the actual book on that Google book share thing. Is this copyright lawbreaking by Google? No, they would never do that. Actually, my first thought is just how far we as human civilization have come in the fields of science, medicine, nutrition, transportation, dog handling, and countless other fields. It truly is amazing that we have the common knowledge that a lack of vitamin C causes scurvy, yet many scientists and doctors of that day did not know vitamin c or know that deficiency in it is what caused scurvy. Scurvy killed some of these guys. There are so many simple wonders that we take for granted. Maybe it is that some many small miracles happen that we see them as commonplace and fail to see them for what they truly are. That should not distract me from analyzing the actual predicament of adventuring in the Southern Polar region in 1910.

One of my raging thoughts is how in the world did the British government put up money for this, but did not require Scott to outline his ideas and at least map out some details of his plans. This might have fixed some of his transportation issues. Scott is often criticzed for how he muddled up the transportation on their journeys by bringing different forms, that when you read about them, even you, the reader on the warm couch, know it is a stupid idea. Someone would have called him on that. The food rations would have been called into question, because the government never wants one of its folks to die. Think of the national tragedy that this caused when these guys did die. The government gave him some money and trusted him. I like that idea, but bouncing ideas off other people never hurts.
Another thought I have is how in the world do you decide to use ponies as your mode of transport and then do not send a horse expert to buy your ponies, which means you get substandard and old ponies?
One more is how do you pack rations for your meals and pack a lot of chocolate and cocoa? Besides Gramma's house, when has chocolate been a part of a balanced diet?
If I were to trim down the list of bad decisions by Scott, I would make the following list:
5. Seriously, why bring so much chocolate? I can understand wanting a lot of calories in a food item that can keep, but why not nuts of some sort? This seemed like a waste of space on their boat and in their packs.
4. Using ponies for transport and not having the horse expert select them. I would have stuck with dogs because I don't know, dogs have thick fur! Jesus, for hundreds of years Northern peoples have used dogsledding to travel over snow and ice. How many use ponies?!?!?! Is their an Idiot-arod for pony-sledding.
3. The rations seemed a bit lean. Worse yet is when you look at what 12 oz. of this (biscuits) or that (pemmican) equals on your plate. This was a daily allowance. When you read the book, you see their rations and then think about the miles they haul equipment over through blizzards and wonder how they did not die sooner. I read this book under the assumption that biscuits mean biscuits like Americans envision and not "cookies" like they mean to Brits. If all this time I was reading about British explorers eating cookies and chocolate on their exploration of the South Pole, I would ask if their provision purchaser were a 5 year old.
2. When they laid out the depots the first year, Scott did not travel the extra 35 miles like he intended and set up the "One Ton Depot". He shortened theur trip to save more ponies. They lost 6 of the 8 ponies anyway by the time they got back. So for two ponies, he sacrificed 35 miles. In the end, he and the remaining 2 polar explorers died 11 miles from their "One Ton Depot". They would have had plenty of miles to spare.
1. For the final leg of the journey, Scott had provisioned everything for 4 men to go to the pole. There were 4 sets of skis, a sledge for 4 men to haul, and most importantly, rations for 4 men. He decided at the last moment to bring 5 men. This messed with the rations big time. Even worse, the idiot selected a man who hurt his hand badly just prior to the decision. Scott selected a gimpy man to be a useless 5th person. This blows my mind. How do you set up logistics to the pole for years (even if you flub them), envision the trip in your mind for years (yet come up with the plan the winter before it), select 65 men out of thousands who apply, and on the edge of reaching the goal on the final leg, radically change your trip by adding a 5th man to the final polar party?
I will wrap this up with how this ties into my dreams. Antartica seems like an awesome place. I would love to visit it someday. I would never want to go to the North Pole though. No land. There is no land at the North Pole, which freaks me out a bit. I have always had dreams of being on the ice, then the ice breaks, and I am then struggling to find a piece of ice big enough to keep me afloat. Then I yell to myself "wake up wake up", and wake up violently. I hate these dreams. I love to go out on boats, but there is something about the deep ocean, the cold, the thousands of feet below you of nothing. I don't care for cruises.

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