On Trail in Minnesota

Cool Ruler: Q&A with Paul Schurke
  |  Gorp.com

Paul Schurke lacks the shaggy beard, missing digits, discolored ears, and other obvious scars of Arctic exploration. But while his physical demeanor may not outwardly scream “record-breaking polar explorer,” Schurke has accumulated a string of nicknames—King of Cool, Iceman, the [expletive] Energizer Bunny—not to mention accomplishments, that hint at something approaching superhuman behind that aloof Nordic wit and those ice-blue eyes. How else could anyone put himself through the psychological torment of traveling to a frozen, ever-shifting spot on the globe—not once, but five times? And while it's true that Schurke and his partner Will Steger went down in history books with their successful 1986 unsupported dogsled trek to the North Pole, Schurke would argue that it's not about the record books—or the destination. It's all about the journey.

GORP: What is your attraction to the North Pole?

P.S.: It's what I have come to call the “Gift of the Pole.” The North Pole exists only as a mathematical concept. It looks exactly like every other Arctic piece of ice for miles around. There's really no “there” there. The beauty is that the Pole obliges you to focus on the journey, and not the destination. In that sense, it's a sustained reward. To get there, to have gone every step of the way, is a bigger-than-life experience. The Polar Sea is as close as I'll ever come to being an astronaut—it's like the dark side of Pluto. Plus, it's changing hourly. You're traveling over a moving surface toward an invisible target. Plus, nowadays, it helps me with life's other challenges. I think back to the fact that if I can tackle something as big as the pole, I can pull off the next personal challenge as well. That thought gets tapped routinely.

GORP: So, what's with your affinity for the cold?

P.S.: I'll admit to a pretty high metabolism. But it's mostly, well hugely, a matter of mind over matter. If you're feeling anxious, all of your capillaries squeeze shut. Fear is your worst enemy. We try to present the winter environment as, not an exercise in survival, but as a recreational alternative—make it fun and establish that attitude, then guests immediately gain the attitude of comfort and warmth. The cold is something to be embraced, rather than feared.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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