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They Walked from Russia to Canada


On a personal note, one of my other careers as a young man was working on a construction site 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle. It was 1955, Canada was building the Dew Line and as a Prairie farm boy I thought it would be fun and adventurous to work in the Arctic. Plus, the money was great. I soon learned that fun it wasn't-adventurous it was.

I quickly developed profound respect for the dangers of the Arctic. That's why I find this story of achievement so incredible: In 1988, four Canadians and nine Russians walked across the Arctic. In 91 days they walked and skied from the most northerly point in Soviet Siberia over the North Pole to Ellesmere Island in Canada.

They bridged the Polar Arctic enduring bone-chilling temperatures as low as minus 50 Celsius with 80 kilometer per hour winds. The four Canadians were Richard Weber, a mechanical engineer from

Chelsea, Quebec; Laurie Dexter, an Anglican Minister from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories; Max Buxton, a doctor from Calabogie, Ontario and Chris Holloway, a computer consultant from Chelsea, Quebec. The four authored a book about their adventures: "POLAR BRIDGE: An Arctic Odyssey". (Key Porter Books, 1990)

Richard Weber had been skiing competitively since he was six years old and was on Canada's National Cross Country Ski Team for seven years. His Swiss-born father was an avid skiier in the mountains of his former country and his enthusiasm was passed on to his son.

Another incentive to ski across the top of the world came because his father, a geophysicist, had been three times to the North Pole on expeditions.

"I'm sure we are the only father and son who have been to the North Pole!"

In 1985 Richard heard some Americans were looking for a Canadian to join them in an expedition walking to the Pole. A year later they went from Ellesmere Island by dogsled to the Pole without any air support.

"Then in 1987 the Soviets came to Ottawa looking for me and I was very keen to go with them. This time we would go from Soviet soil to Canadian soil across the Arctic Ocean, again without any outside supply system. It was a thrilling and sometimes boring and exasperating trip. It's not like climbing a mountain because there's no high peak to look down from. The thrill was in that we went from land in the Soviet Union across a sea of ice to the Pole and then to land again in Canada. That was the only thing you could reach out and grab.

"You can't even leave a marker because the Ocean ice moves at about five kilometers a day. In 1968 my father left a bottle with a message in it at the North Pole and a year and half later it turned up in Iceland. On another expedition we left a time capsule with a reward of $5000 for the finder from one of our sponsors, Dupont, and it was recovered by fishermen two years later in Ireland!"

What was the worst part of the trip?

"The cold was expectable. It was the fog and the white-outs. You can't see where you are going and staring ahead you fall over pressure ridges, snow drifts and into holes. I found it very depressing and difficult to deal with. When the sun's out and it's 25 below, it's a nice place to travel in.

"Dealing with the Soviets was challenging. They spoke only Russian and we spoke only English. No one spoke both. But we managed. But it was obvious we came from very different cultures. While we spoke of working with and alongside Nature, they talked about victory over the ice, conquering the Arctic.

"And our equipment was different. We had wood skis; they had fiberglass. We used synthetic clothing; they had wool and cotton. We ate high fat and they had a lot more sugar and salt. It was tricky but it worked out well in the end."

Sadly, they found the Arctic landscape no longer pristine. Traces of pollution from industry from others parts of the world were everywhere to be found.

On a happier note, the four Canadians were flown to the Kremlin where they were presented with the Order of Friendship of Nations, the highest honour the Soviets can bestow on a foreigner.

What advice does Robert Weber have for other young adventurers whether it's crossing the frigid Arctic or getting to the top in a job or business?

"Set short goals. Don't make the North Pole your goal. That's two months away. You don't even think about that. Think about today. Concentrate on what you are doing this hour, now. Don't look too far ahead. It may discourage you.

"In my talks to young people I always say you can do anything you choose to do. If you think you can do it, and it's a logical thing, you can really do anything you want to do. Chase your dreams. It's true."

Does being physically adventurous help a person in a career or business life?

"It means you have all the energy and stamina to do all the other things. It gives you discipline, drive and ambition. It gives you all the attributes to take into your business or family life."

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