I grew up in the country — it’s not country anymore, but Mendota Heights used to be. We grew up without neighbors, so the outdoors was our playground. As a kid, your imagination was the best friend you could have.
The first time I went winter camping, I was 10, just in the backyard. I remember my siblings didn’t take to it, and it was kind of miserable for me too. I must have been burning green wood. Back then, sleeping bags were made out of flannel, there wasn’t down or synthetic. But I stuck it out with our family dog.
My nose was always pointed North. I think, growing up in Minnesota, you’re so close to Canada. It’s where your mind goes, naturally. To this day, it’s still where I go — to the Boundary Waters, especially.
People think that it’s just black and white up there in the Arctic Circle, but it’s so much more beautiful than that. There’s something about the quality of light that makes everything more dynamic, the blues and greens and yellows. You learn to appreciate the small things.
I think Northerners are really ingenious and creative when it comes to finding solutions. You can look at it two ways, and I always choose to figure out how to make the best of something and move through it.
It became very important to me that every trip, after that first expedition, be about something larger than myself. Back then, we didn’t have all the technology to be communicating while we were out, but classrooms could still follow us through our planned route. When I would come across an obstacle, I would think to myself, I can’t let these kids down.
Now when I speak to kids about this dream to reach the North Pole that I had when I was eight years old, I look at the eight-year-old girls listening to me and think, they can’t have that dream. They physically can’t do what we do anymore because of the changes in climate. I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced what I have. Now I’m ready to listen to those kids. To help when I can, but let the next generation lead.