Monday, October 4, 2010

Remembering the 1986 Polar Sewer Pipe, er, "Capsule"

Polar explorer Paul Schurke turned on the Wayback Machine and recounted this story from 1986, and the fortuitous recovery of the so-called Polar Capsule. You can also see the entire story here:

Luck o’ the Irish finds the “Polar Time Capsule”

The 1986 dogsled trek that Will Steger & I (Paul Schurke) led to the North Pole was oddly fraught with inexplicable curiosities and encounters. Perhaps the most unlikely upshot involved a humble piece of plumbing pipe. Enjoy this bonified ‘believe it or not’ tale!

Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge photo

Standing on Top of the World

National Geographic deemed our epic 1986 dogsled trek to the North Pole “a landmark in polar exploration” because we did it WITHOUT resupply. Everything needed to sustain our 50 dogs & 8 team members in temps that reached 75 below zero, was carried with us — some 7,000 pounds of food, fuel and gear. When we reached our goal, all but a few pounds of that food (oatmeal!) had been consumed. As we awaited our ski plane pick-up at the Pole, we had only one thing to leave behind at the top of the world: a “polar time capsule.”

It stemmed from a whimsical idea Will Steger & I had months before. While training with our team in Ely, MN, we took a 4″ x 2′ section of plastic plumbing pipe, painted it blaze orange, affixed screw caps to both ends, and invited each team member to place a memento in it. If we reached the Pole, we’d leave the capsule behind for posterity.

It’s contents included a Boy Scout scarf, a beaded Indian belt, a letter to Santa Claus that a school child had given us, a small lace prayer circle, a 10 Kroner bill and a scroll with the story of our journey and the names of our team members and our hundreds of volunteer & sponsors.

On May 1, after a 2-month, 1,000-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean, we reached the Pole — frostbitten and battered but giddy with excitement. Our celebrations included a little dance around the top of the world during which I ceremoniously pitched the time capsule over my shoulder into a jumbled heap of ice. “Well,” laughed Will, “there’s something we’ll never see again!”

Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge photoUpon our return home, our expedition sponsor, Du Pont company, had a whimsical idea as well. To capitalize on the international media fanfare prompted by our success, they posted a press release offering a $5,000 reward for recovery of the capsule. Considering that it been set adrift among 5 million square miles of ice at the most remote spot on the planet, it was a safe bet.

But a funny thing happened. Nearly three years later, in February 1989, Irish carpenter Peadar Gallagher was on a Sunday stroll along the Atlantic Ocean beach in County Donegal. He spotted an odd bit of flotsam. Curious as to what it contained, he took it home and cracked it open. Unbeknownst to him, he’d found the time capsule. The one item inside that remained legible, was a Polaroid photo of our team bearing the words “National Geographic Society.” He reported the find to the American Embassy in Dublin which in turn helped put in touch with NGS and Du Pont officials in Washington D.C. “We were shocked,” said Du Pont’s Robert Slavin upon learning that the capsule had survived a 2,100 mile ocean journey. “After three years, we had simply forgot about it.”

Will with battered capsule

Then expedition marketing wizard Jeff Blumenfeld had another whimsical idea. To generate more media fanfare, plans were made to offer Gallagher an all-expense-paid first class vacation to New York City if he’d appear at an international media event to receive his check. But when Blumenfeld phoned Gallagher to alert him to the significance of his discovery and his reward, he got an unexpected response. No way, no how, said Gallagher. He had no interest in going to New York. He wouldn’t budge. So a forlorn Du Pont exec schlepped to Gallagher’s home to present the check and retrieve the capsule.

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