Explorer Bancroft visits Salem Hills

Being stalked by hungry polar bears and followed by more than a dozen friendly penguins?

It’s all in a day’s work for arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, who spoke to the student body at Salem Hills Elementary April 11.

Bancroft, who was born in Mendota Heights and graduated from Sibley High School, joined Norwegian Liv Arnesen in November 2000 to travel 1,700 miles across the land mass of Antarctica. The former schoolteachers and world-renowned polar explorers made the trip with 250-pound sleds harnessed to their waists.

For over three months, they skied and ski-sailed (using large sails and the wind to propel them across the snow and ice). They raced to complete the expedition before the harsh Antarctic winter set in and the 24 hours of daylight they enjoyed became 24 hours of complete darkness. Web-site transmissions and satellite phone calls allowed people in more than 150 countries, including more than three million schoolchildren, to follow the trek through www.yourexpedition.com.

Last year, Bancroft and Arnesen began their next journey, one that began at Cape Arktichesky, Russia, and would end more than 1,000 miles later. The women would need to ski, sail and swim across the Arctic Ocean. They endured cold that sometimes reached to -50 degrees Fahrenheit, winds up to 50 miles an hour, blizzards and large breaks in the ice that required them to swim across.

But they couldn’t beat a helicopter that came to get them only 19 days and 200 miles into the expedition. Their sudden evacuation was due to a business dispute between two competitive logistics companies that transport scientists, tourists and expedition teams to the Arctic region from Russia.

Bancroft and Arenesen were deeply disappointed, most by the fact that millions of kids had been tracking their trip through www.BancroftArnesenExplore.com.

The explorers talked to school kids via their satellite telephone. They spoke to dozens of children, who lifted their spirits considerably. Bancroft remembers that a fifth-grader told her, “You taught us if you get through your bad days, we know we can get through ours.”

During her Salem Hills presentation, Bancroft regaled students with stories about a polar bear who hunted them for two days. Despite the women firing firecrackers at the bear’s feet, he never ran far, and then would sneak back up behind them, coming only yards away before they realized it. Polar bears are easily masked by the Arctic snows.

“He didn’t care that we weren’t a seal,” Bancroft said. “He thought we were maybe dinner.”

A more carefree experience occurred when 20 curious and friendly penguins followed in a row behind Bancroft. “I felt like a teacher again, and we were going to the restroom,” she joked.

After her presentation, Bancroft answered questions from her eager audience. One student asked, “Did you have to go on that trip?”

“That’s what I like to do,” Bancroft explained. “The hard things, you really have to want to do and then it’s fun to do them.”

Another student asked the question that Bancroft says is the number-one question she is asked: “How did you go to the bathroom?”

“The adults want to know, too,” Bancroft laughed. “They’re just not brave enough to ask.”

Bancroft noted that, when answering the call of nature, there are no trees to hide behind in the Arctic.

Furthermore, she noted, “You always check the direction of the wind.”

Comment Here