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North Pole hopeful talks to St. Anne's students

Tyler Fish, one of the two Americans who hope to ski unassisted to the North Pole this March, visited St. Anne's School to talk about polar exploration.

The North Pole was on the students' minds at St. Anne's school on Dec. 4. -- and not just because of Santa Claus.

Tyler Fish, who has traveled Hudson Bay by dogsled and spent 13 years in Outward Bound expeditions, came to St. Anne's to talk of his newest adventure. He and his skiing partner, John Huston, are preparing to be the first Americans to ski to the North Pole unassisted in March 2009.

"We're doing it because it will be a fun trip," Fish said in his presentation. "It will also be a challenge, but mostly because it's a fun trip."

Their trip, Victorinox North Pole '09 Expedition, will cover 475 miles in 55 days. Huston has already skied to the South Pole and been on other polar expeditions, but Fish admits this is his first.

"My dad, Steve Fish, always enjoyed being outdoors," Fish said of his inspiration. "We did many canoe trips." His wife has also participated in an arctic expedition with four other women by dogsled as well.

Fish began his presentation by tracing his proposed route for the students in his slide show. Dressed in his polar outfit to survive the 50-below-zero weather, he took the microphone and explained what going on a polar expedition would be like.

"For one day a year, the sun never sets in the Arctic, and for one day it never rises," Fish told the crowd. "The trees literally get smaller and smaller until they are just gone. All you see is ice."

He showed slides of animals they may encounter: walruses, arctic wolves, arctic foxes, seals, reindeer - but no penguins as they only live at the south pole. The slide of the polar bears elicited the biggest reaction.

"Hope we don't run into them," Fish said. "They are very curious, but it is their home. They are the kings and queens of the arctic."

The men will start their trip in March, packing their supplies for the 55-day trip on their backs and on "pulks" - short, plastic sleds that may have to double as a "barely one-man" boat if needed. The men will each pull two pulks, adding 265 pounds to their load.

As part of their training, the men have dragged five SUV tires for hours on end to simulate the packed pulks.

Although Fish said many people think of the arctic as a flat sheet of snow, many times they will encounter rough patches.

"It's a frozen ocean so it floats around, like a bunch of puzzle pieces comes together," Fish said. "Sometimes when they come together, it can make an ice ridge 1-2 stories tall."

Another hazard of the continually moving ice pieces is "ice drift." Fish said they could lose all the distance they travel in one day when they stop to sleep if the current is strong.

He also described the provisions they prepared for the trip. Since they will not have any outside reinforcements, Fish said they must pack as many calories in as small a space as they could.

In one example, a slide showed Fish cooking fat, meat, vegetables and rice into what looks like chicken soup. He said they compress the food into dense packed blocks that they will thaw for meals.

"We have to have about 7,000 calories a day," Fish told the students. "That would be like eating nine school lunches, even the jello."

Since they will be burning a lot of calories during the day, they will pack special cookies to eat for breakfast, and allow themselves a daily chocolate truffle. This revelation garnered a positive reaction from the students.

Fish also brought along some of the equipment they will be using, such as the tea kettle for melting snow, GPS unit, pulk and laptop. The laptop will allow them to write their blog each day on their Web site

The trip is an exercise in faith as well. They were inspired by Caring Bridge, the Web site that allows people in medical circumstances to keep their family and friends updated via the Internet. It is their hope to plant a Caring Bridge flag at the North Pole.

"We believe in optimism," Fish told the crowd. "It is important to test yourself and Caring Bridge inspires us."

Their trip will also have a scientific purpose. They will be able to see the climate change and effects of global warming firsthand. Their observations will be recorded for study.

"The world is a fascinating and wonderful place," Fish concluded. "Go out there and explore it."