Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hey-Ho I'm Going To Idaho

Icebergs near Palmer Station, Antarctica - photo by Kelly Jacques, National Science Foundation, used with permission via

In the span of three hours on Saturday, this happened:

  • Reading the preface, I discover the book was written as an accompaniment to a museum exhibit called Race to the End of the Earth.
  • An exhibit?! Ooh, I wonder if it's still open.
  • I Google the exhibit and find that it started in New York and received wonderful reviews.
  • I breeze through the exhibit photographs, details and YouTube walkthrough.
  • I Google where the exhibit is now and find that is at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls.
  • Idaho?! Sweet.
  • I realize the exhibit ends Sept. 1 and recognize there probably isn't enough time to get there before then.
  • I call the Museum of Idaho to find out where it is going next; the operator tells me, "I think it's going to France."
  • I go outside to tell Ray that there is an exhibit on the race to the the Sole Pole featuring Scott and Amundson and depending on where in France, we should maybe go see it when we go to Paris in October.
  • "Wouldn't it be easier to go to Idaho," he wants to know. I tell him about the time crunch.
    (Ray was mowing the lawn; our tiny lawn looks like a very tiny golf course when he's done.)
  • I go back inside and email the author of the book and curator of the exhibit, Dr. Ross MacPhee, of the American Museum of National History, to ask where - exactly - the exhibit is going in France.
  • I look at a map of Idaho Falls and notice the exhibit is currently driving distance from Yellowstone.
  • Ooh… I've never been to Yellowstone.
  • I Google "how much are flights to Idaho Falls."
  • Those prices seem reasonable, I think.
  • I go back outside to show Ray calendar dates of when we could make this trip to Idaho work. Then I tell him how much flights are to Idaho Falls.
  • I casually remind him that we didn't go on vacation this summer.
  • "No way. That's too expensive," he says.
  • [Ray is covered in sweat from mowing and he's wearing his little clear safety glasses that he got so that he doesn't get a stick in his eye. He looks adorable in those glasses.]

    I push aside my feelings of his adorableness and respond firmly:
  • "It's not that expensive because it's all the way across the country. It seems like a pretty reasonable price for a flight to IDAHO."
  • I tell him there are only four flights left at that price. "And Yellowstone is right there."
  • "You in or out? Come on, let's go… We'll see the Scott and Amundson exhibit and go to Yellowstone!"
  • That's in three weeks and it's peak vacation season, he reminds me.
  • "Oh my god, you're right, I'll go book it right now!"
  • "At least call a travel agent," he says. "Everything will be booked in Yellowstone. We'll get out there and have to camp, and I'm not camping unless it's at a Marriott."  
  • I call a travel agent who tells me that National Park Service bookings go through Xanterra.
    "Go to their website and see if there is anything left. Call me back if you can't get anything in Yellowstone and we'll try to get you somewhere nearby. Good luck!" the lady says.
  • I call the National Park Service and say we need hotel rooms in Yellowstone in three weeks. The guy actually laughs at me. When he's done he offers to look to see if there are any cancellations. They have one room available for each date, but the rooms are in different spots each night.
  • "Great! I'll reserve them."
  • "There are 38 other agents on the system looking at rooms," he tells me.
  • "We've got to hurry then!"
  • We bond over our winning the race to the rooms and he tells me he went to some training at Milacron way back in the day in Cincinnati. 
  • He emails me the confirmation and I tell him, "I guess I better book the flights now, eh." He says, "Probably."
  • I go outside and tell Ray that I reserved us some rooms at Yellowstone and that they have a fun looking bus that will drive you around to the big sights.
  • "Oh, and by the way," I add this as if it's such a non-event it's hardly worth mentioning, "the rooms in Yellowstone do not have Internet, radios, telephones, TVs or air conditioning."
  • So basically, it's not like the Marriott at all. (But I don't say that.)
  • Ray is painting a portion of the privacy fence in the back and says, "Well, it's a National Park. What can you expect. I'm sure it's fine. Plus, we've never been to Yellowstone."
  • Hmm... don't even know who this person is who just said this to me, but I'm running with it.
  • By 8 pm I've booked the rooms, the flights, a rental car and researched and planned our entire itinerary, complete with must-sees, hikes and an excursion through Grand Teton National Park.

In sum: That beautiful, $20 book cost us about $2,000 by the time we go to Idaho for the exhibit and go on to Yellowstone.

But! This is actually much cheaper than the cruises I was originally looking into at Antarctica itself, which between flights to Buenos Aires to get to the boat plus the cruise itself, the price was astronomical.

The way I see it, I just saved us about $15,000. (I'm not kidding.) I mean, just the coats and boots and thick socks you'd have to buy to make it through the cruise and not freeze to death would probably be $2,000. 

Meanwhile, Ray has essentially been widowed the entire summer because I am gripped by the book The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Gerrard, which is what started this whole preoccupation with Antarctica in the first place, and how I ended up ordering Race to the End.

I've spent the last several months completely transfixed by Cherry-Gerrard's account of the Scott expedition to the South Pole - the men, their science, the horrible conditions, the penguins, the fate of the ponies, the dogs, the entire exploration team.

Adélie penguins, Antarctica  - photo by Sean Bonnette, National Science Foundation, used with permission via

I recount details of the book to Ray as though it just happened, and the journey ended in 1913. I make these "news announcements" while he's trying to fall asleep, or when he's painting a fence, or making dinner.

(I would help do these things but... I'm reading.)

"Ray, are you awake? Two of the ponies fell off of an ice floe and they couldn't get it back onto the ice; they had to shoot them. I'm sorry to tell you this."

"Ray, the dog sledge team fell into a crevasse. They were able to rescue 8 of the dogs with an Alpine rope and the other two Scott fished out of the crevasse after being lowered 60 feet down. Only two of the dogs died, so that's good news. But a few of them probably have internal injuries from hanging for over an hour in their harnesses into a crevasse. It's very sad."

"Oh. No... Ray, you're not going to believe this... The depot crew woke up with their tent having broken away from the ice barrier, so now they are floating out to the sea on an ice floe and killer orcas are surrounding them and conniving to eat them."

"Hey, what are you cooking? Is it pemmican? Just fyi, the Winter Journey to the penguin rookery is bad, really bad… the temperature is -60º and the tent just blew away in a horrific blizzard. They're singing hymns to stay awake and trying to not freeze to death. They're pretty certain they're going to die. Things are grim in Antarctica right now."

I even cried got a little upset the night they had to shoot the two ponies who fell into the Ross Sea.

When I'm not reading the book I'm marveling at the photography of the expedition's photographer, Herbert Ponting. (You can see all of his photographs of the journey thanks to the Scott Polar Research Institute's website.) And I spend my free time absorbed with more books about Captain Scott, his rival Amundson, Antarctica, Emperor and Adélie penguins and ice floes. 

If you haven't read The Worst Journey in the World, start on it immediately. We can live the summer of 2014 in Antarctica together. It's truly riveting and deserves it's status as National Geographic's best adventure book of all time. And I cannot wait to see the exhibit.

[I am still waiting to hear back from the exhibit curator and author to see where it is actually going after Idaho. If he tells me Greater Cincinnati, I'm just going to keep that information to myself.]

UPDATE: Dr. MacPhee (author, curator, professor) wrote back thanking me for my charming note and stated: "The show goes next to Lyons, France, for an October opening at the Musee des Confluences. There are, sadly, no other venues on the horizon at the moment."

So basically, we've all got until September 1 to get to Idaho!

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