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On March 5, 36-year-old Evanstonian John Huston trained in “mild” weather – 32 degrees (“real feel;” 25) and blowing snow at the lakefront of South Boulevard beach. Compared to the -40 and -50 degree temps he will likely experience later this month as he leads an expedition of four to Ellesmere Island, Mr. Huston told reporters this was a “good day.”
Ellesmere is the most northerly Arctic island, part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. It is said to be one of the last untouched wildernesses on the planet.
Mr. Huston says the four plan to leave on March 28 for their 72-day, 630-mile journey. “Polar expeditions to the Arctic are always in the spring, so there’s enough light – and still enough ice,” he says. Before March there is little sun, and the ice subsides or disappears later in the year. On the trip he says he expects the daily routine to include 12 hours of cross-country skiing in sub-zero temperatures “pulling very heavy loads.”
The training is both physical and mental – “training muscles and mind,” he says. With four dogs and on skis, the expedition will require intense teamwork as well as physical exertion.
“How we work together as a team is the most important thing. You have to know that it’s not always going to be fun and easy but that’s part of the work of a team. We have to maintain a belief in ourselves and our team. That we’re going to succeed we know.”
He says he works “very hard to cultivate a positive team. … The expedition is 75 percent mental.” He says he has known one of his team members for a year, another for five years and the third for more than a decade.
The Ellesmere Island trip will not be Mr. Huston’s first sojourn to the Arctic wilderness. In April of 2009, he and his expedition partner, Tyler Fish, became the first Americans to travel to the North Pole unsupported from land. This 55-day, 475-mile journey, three years in planning, has been accomplished by only 13 expeditions and has been called the “toughest expedition on the planet.” Their book “Forward” details their journey.
A motivational speaker when not training in the polar wilderness, Mr. Huston says he will use this expedition and the lessons learned to tell “positive, motivating stories.”
Goals of this expedition include filming and documenting the journey for distribution and advocating for climate-change education.
On this morning in early March, Mr. Huston climbed the sand-and-ice mounds at South Boulevard beach and found a somewhat level training spot in a wind-made “valley.” With his dog Maybe at his side, he hitched on a rope and, poles in hand, began to pull two tires behind him for an hour or more of daily training. The snow poured down and ice chunks formed in the lake and ground slowly along the shore.