Ann Bancroft's book reveals the struggle of a South Pole expedition

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Many stories have been told about Ann Bancroft's physically rigorous journeys to the North and South Poles.

Now, the Twin Citian, whose adventures have made headlines across the globe, reveals another aspect of her story -- the emotional side. In ''Four to the Pole!,'' her new book released this month, Bancroft and three other women who trekked to the South Pole eight years ago tell of their gripping inner journeys.

The book tells of the exhaustion and despair that led Anne Dal Vera to tell Bancroft she couldn't finish the expedition's scheduled trek. Of Sue Giller's secret wish at times that she wasn't there. Of the injuries and pain that threatened to crush Sunniva Sorby's spirit. And of Bancroft's heartache as she, the expedition leader, weighed the odds and chose to relinquish the team's goal of forging past the pole to cross Antarctica.

The book's emotions complete the story of an adventure, says Bancroft, 45, clad in running clothes as she sits at a conference table in her Minneapolis office.

''So much of these journeys is also an internal journey,'' she says. ''Most of the challenges are emotional ones. How do we get along together as a team? How do we work through our disagreements? I think that's a huge part of who we are and what the journey is.''

That piece of the trip jumped out at Nancy Loewen when she heard Bancroft give a public talk. A Prior Lake mom and author of 40 children's books, Loewen joined forces with Bancroft to co-author the 85-page book, geared to readers 11 and older.

''In their journals, the women addressed their emotions,'' Loewen says. ''That's something women typically do more than men. And most explorers have been men. It seemed to be new territory in that respect.''

She suspects the book might also appeal to adult readers with its universal themes: a blurring of lines between success and failure and the drive to achieve a dream, even when circumstances lead the dreamer to recognize she must give it up.

For Bancroft, Antarctica is synonymous with bittersweet victories. Her South Pole expeditions have twice brought success and international acclaim but have fallen short of their ultimate goals. She and Norwegian explorer Liv Arnesen returned to Antarctica in late 2000 and, in March of this year, attained Bancroft's earlier hope to span Antarctica's land mass. But delays because of uncooperative weather forced Bancroft to again change expedition plans. While already en route, she weighed risky options and called off the duo's trek across the Ross Ice Shelf, which would have met their ocean-to-ocean goal.

Giving up is not familiar turf for Bancroft. She has struggled with dyslexia and acceptance that she is a lesbian. School was hard for her, and tutoring sessions that took her out of art, music and recess robbed her of its fun. But she was ''a stubborn kid,'' she says, and now credits discipline imposed by her learning disability for a doggedness that has helped her to realize big dreams.

''I think the learning difference gave me the bedrock to put one foot in front of the other and stick with it,'' she says. ''I had to find the carrots that would keep me going.''

Her parents, Richard and Debbie Bancroft of Sunfish Lake, helped. So did teachers such as Pat McCart, who arranged for Bancroft, then a seventh-grader at Summit School, to occasionally escape the campus for Buck Hill to give ski lessons to another teacher. Bancroft recalls that experience as a turning point.

''It was a huge thing for me. I felt I had something to offer. It kept me hanging in there.''

She considers graduating from college her proudest accomplishment. Afterward, she took a job as a physical education teacher and coached high-school sports.

At age 30, Bancroft made her first mark as an adventurer as the only female member of Minnesota explorer Will Steger's 1986 dogsled expedition to the North Pole. She is the first woman to travel on foot to both the North and South poles.

Though she struggled to gain the kind of financial backing she saw male adventurers attract, she rallied support and volunteers to organize her own polar adventures. At the same time, she found a way to marry her two loves -- exploring and teaching. During her 2000-2001 Antarctica adventure, her business Web site linked 3 million students in 146 countries to her journey.

Her business, now called yourexpedition, provides curriculum guides and other educational materials, resources and ideas to schools, and encompasses Bancroft Arnesen Explore, which supports women explorers. Primarily supported by corporate sponsorship, it once operated out of a tiny rented office with two part-time workers. Now, 12 full-time staff members occupy a roomy suite in Minneapolis' Warehouse District. Kids' colorful messages of support cover the walls, along with framed media accounts of Bancroft's adventures, some clipped from such publications as Ms., Sports Illustrated and Time.

Most days, Bancroft makes the hour-long commute to the office from her Scandia acreage, where she lives with two Huskies and her partner, Pam Arnold, a graphic artist.

''The people here draw me in,'' she says. ''It's a company that grew out of achieving dreams. That's a pretty good feeling.''

She and Antarctica expedition partner Liv Arnesen are working on a book about their recent adventure. They're plotting another trek, too, for May 2002. Bancroft won't yet reveal its destination, dropping only this hint: ''It will have some cold moments and heavy interaction with kids.''

Will she return to Antarctica to revive the goal of traversing the Ross Ice Shelf? No, she says definitively. She and Arnesen have decided that's a goal they don't need to revisit. Some of her favorite people, she says, helped her to feel OK about that choice.

''It was the kids who told us, 'You don't get your dreams all of the time.'''


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(Distributed by The Associated Press)


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