We are living the knowledge economy. We sit and ponder about narrower and narrower topics, neurons within a superb yet spiralingly complex lattice of sensors, sense-makers, and deciders. With that backdrop, it is a welcome change of pace to work with my hands, modifying sleds, building cooking tables, labeling equipment bags, folding a large and complex tent. All this work and attention will pay big dividends. Small inefficiencies in an Arctic expedition rather than the usual suspects – storms and bears – are the source of disappointment and failure: death by a thousand small cuts. Every action takes energy; every inefficiency is an added tax. When operating at the edge of the envelope, there is no room for inefficiency.
Tending to the thousand details of an expedition, no matter how small, is an act of love toward expedition members. It is a defiant challenge to the ill-conceived notion that an expedition has to be hard. Let’s not feed our egos with the notion that we are doing something very hard. Let’s be proud, instead, that we figured out how to thrive where our physiology never had a chance to adapt; where we depend entirely on the knowledge those who went first passed on to us, and on our own ingenuity. The ability to frame a challenging situation into an engaging one, the ability to solve these challenges in a satisfying way, the pleasure of thriving at the edge of the envelope – these are the rewards of traveling and seeking knowledge in the Arctic.
So I build my little cooking tables, using a rubber strap to hold the fuel bottle, using an aluminum sheet to reflect stove heat back up into the pot, ringed with a heat exchanger and surrounded by a heat reflector. I screw brackets on the front of the sleds to mount rigid poles and maintain control of the heavy beasts on our descent from the ice cap. I install rope loops at the back of the sleds to make them part of our roped team on the glaciers. Every small detail and modification will free us to meet and exceed our central goals: science, and the telling of a terrific endeavor.
In eleven days, we will start enjoying the fruits of our labor.