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The Arctic has some of the most dangerous weather conditions in the world. In this interview with National Geographic News, explorer Benedict Allen describes his attempt to cross the Bering Strait with only a dogsled team.
Ice Dogs Explorer on Siberia-to-U.S. Dogsled Attempt
for National Geographic Ultimate Explorer November 7, 2003
01 National Geographic News (NGN): You have a long background in exploration, but this was something new. What drew you to the Arctic?
02 Benedict Allen: My technique is to live with local people and learn their skills, because the places others see as exotic or scary they see as home. In the Gobi, I learned to travel with camels and had an extraordinary amount of freedom in a place which should have perhaps killed me. I thought, ‘Can I carry it further? Can I go to perhaps the most extreme place, the Arctic, and survive there with the help of dogs?’
03 NGN: You spent months living and traveling with local Chukchi people in Siberia who taught you about handling a dog team and surviving the Arctic. What was life like among people who herd reindeer and hunt walrus and seals?
04 Allen: I was trying to hone in immediately on their ability with dogs, but I was also struck with how they seemed to read the landscape so easily. It can be terribly disorienting in a blizzard that’s come from nowhere. Yet the local people had grown up in this place where the line between life and death is so fine. They knew when bad winds were coming and so on. That’s what struck me first.
05 But perhaps above all I was struck by their ability to deal mentally with harsh conditions. They were always making jokes. There is a danger when you’re stuck in a blizzard, when you don’t know where you are and it’s minus 40° Fahrenheit, . . . that you can sort of turn in on yourself. You can begin feeling sorry for yourself, and you just want to go to sleep and forget the numbing cold. The Chukchi were always getting me to jump about and have a good laugh. They made me keep moving, keep thinking and be positive. For example, they once started lighting distress flares during a blizzard, and I was thinking, ‘My God, I’m trusting them as guides and they are firing flares where we have no hope of being rescued.’ But it was all about having fun, just a bit of fireworks to keep things light.
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