Reflections from Life at 90° North

Amelia Tockston & Leslie Holgate

Reflections from Life at 90° North

Amelia Tockston & Leslie Holgate

Aug 2011

Sharing the Journey: Giovanni Savaglio Returns from the North Pole

Earlier this year, we caught up with past ET traveler Giovanni Savaglio before he embarked on a trip of a lifetime to the North Pole. Giovanni has since returned from his North Pole expedition where he was the official blogger and winner of a competition to “Blog Your Way to the North Pole.” As Giovanni said when we interviewed him, blogging extended his two-week trip into a more than eight-month expedition; in some ways, it continues today as he shares his stories and reflects on life at 90 degrees north. As with many things, “you get out of a trip what you put into it.”

Giovanni wrote in his entry, A Defining Moment: “The bow deck became Time Square for our celebration as the ships horn, shortly after midnight, announced the moment when we reached 90 degrees North. With a loud repeated blast of the ships horn, we joined an exclusive fraternity of people who have made it to the North Pole. …Standing atop of the world was a life-defining moment. I realized I was ever so happy to be defined in my life now as a father and a husband. Having met my wife Kerrie in Antarctica, I turned to her to say I'd follow her to the ends of the world. In ways I've already done that. ...Our relationship has spanned great distances on this earth and we are both looking forward to an equal measure of time together.”

View a photo slideshow of Giovanni’s North Pole expedition here.

1) 90° North: What were the surprises, highlights and experiences of traveling to the North Pole?

A trip to the North Pole is one of those expeditions that leaves you numb. It’s a trip you’ll remember and reflect upon long after you’ve returned. That’s a sign of a successful trip—one that resonates.

There is no land mass or landmark at the North Pole. You’re standing on top of the Arctic Ocean, which is unlike Antarctica where there are mountains. There’s a spiritual solitude at the North Pole. It’s an ice floe that changes and moves. If you stand in the same place for an hour, you’ll be in a different spot.

“…The Arctic is not a barren wasteland of ice. There is life on the pack ice as we have seen through witnessing the creatures that inhabit it. I leave this region of the planet satisfied in knowing that for now there is still a place where on this earth mans’ footprint is minimal. Its extraordinary how a simple coming upon the footprint of an arctic fox on land, or seeing polar bear tracks on the sea ice, can still stir a child-like fascination.”

Making new friends along the way was one of the highlights. Many people on the expedition had been to Antarctica; they were well-read, well-traveled and more than willing to share. I made friends from Los Angeles to New York to Ireland.

Another highlight was the ship itself,
50 Years of Victory. You almost get some identity from the ship; you become friends and develop a relationship with the ship. The ship is an impressive piece of machinery, and I appreciated and marveled at the human engineering.

Having met my wife on an Antarctica expedition, it was very positive to have her join the North Pole trip to validate and share the experience. Travel is the best way to test and evaluate relationship. You’re together 24/7.

In the blog post, Last Night...Tasting History, Giovanni wrote: “I've learned a lot on this trip. There have been enjoyable, informative lectures... A highlight was the lecture by Laurie Dexter, our expedition leader, who recounted and shared his first-hand account of skiing for 91 days from Russia to Canada through the Geographic North Pole. We were fortunate to have Brian Anderson, and award-winning photographer, in residence on board. Brian's talks on photography were of benefit not only to the serious photographer but as well to the novice.”

2) From Pole to Pole: Now that you’ve been to the far north and far south, why would you recommend a trip to the Arctic to those who’ve visited Antarctica?

A sense of completion comes from visiting Antarctica and the Arctic. There are different animals and different people in Antarctica and the Arctic. On an Antarctica expedition, people are at the top of the pecking order on land because there are not really any land mammals. There’s a sense of peace. You can fall asleep peacefully and be awoken by penguins. Polar bears reign supreme in the Arctic. They are kings. You can’t wander off aimlessly, so there’s a certain amount of vulnerability.

One’s blessed to go to any of the poles. I feel fortunate to have had an opportunity to visit these places. Tourism has grown, but there is still something magical about the poles. They are not places where people often go. If you tell people you’ve been there, not only is it a trophy, but people define you by it in a good way.

Giovanni wrote in his blog post, All in a Day: “The sighting of polar bear footprints on the ice ultimately led us to come upon a mother polar bear and its cub. The cub was estimated to be roughly 6 months of age by our on board marine mammal expert Lynn Woodworth. You could not have scripted a better viewing of this pair as they inquisitively approached our ship and made several passes on both sides of the ship. The situation allowed us a lengthy witness of the mother bear's care and teaching to her young cub.”

3) Blogging, technology and sharing the journey: As the official blogger and winner of “Blog your way to the North Pole,” how did blogging and sharing the journey impact the experience?

To think 100 years ago, people were gone for months and years. Now, we can keep up with friends and upload photos instantly. The world is getting smaller. My wife and I are blessed to have a four-year-old son, Jovi Ernest Savaglio, and we were able to keep in touch with Jovi using a satellite phone.

It was my first time as a blogger. Blogging enriched the experience and made it more of a special trip and made me more engaged and engrossed; I lived and breathed it, and took time to do additional reading on explorers and Arctic wildlife. I worked out a schedule to attend lectures, paid more attention in lectures, and put aside time to put together thoughts to feed to readers. Friends and family were reading—I hoped they were entertained and got enjoyment out of it!

(There was no online access onboard. I did have access to email though, so for blogging I wrote each blog post in an email and sent it off.)

Giovanni wrote in his blog post, Exchanging brick and mortar for water and ice: “The ability to be able to share with Jovi, for my lifetime, through stories, photos and video of his parents’ tale of going to the North Pole eases the time apart.”

4) Travel Tips: Now that you’ve been to the far north and far south, what advice do you have for aspiring travelers?

I would say, the more you prepare, the more you get out of it. When you research, it becomes more than just a two-week expedition; it expands the trip. Evaluate what’s drawing you to a place—such as Ernest Shackleton’s story, Arctic terns, etc—and explore it further. There are so many more facets to these trips, than explorers, birds, and cultures. Go to websites like ExpeditionTrips.com, read about others’ trips and follow up.

Travel isn’t necessary, it doesn’t feed you; but without it you don’t self-actualize and feel all that you can. Learn your place in the world, learn about other cultures, and make new friends.

Travel is a gift you give to yourself that keeps giving. A good trip sustains you long after the trip has ended. Since my return, I’ve given a presentation on Antarctica and the North Pole to my niece’s 6-8th graders, and I’ve presented a flag at a Chicago Fire’s game in thanks for supporting my goal to reach the North Pole.

Whether you like it warm or cool, populated or unpopulated, go find out about the world; you’re a part of it. With things like photos, travel keeps giving long after the journey.

5) Polar Travel and Beyond: Where do you want to travel next? What draws you to certain destinations?

The next big trip I want to take is to Easter Island. I would like to read up on it more and stay on the island for a week. It’d be a trip to find solitude and let thoughts enter me more.

Easter Island reminds me of a microcosm of planet earth. The island was given its name by a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, who was the first westerner to encounter the island in 1722, on Easter Sunday. People were doing well...but, Easter Island exhausted its resources, there was infighting, explorers took some islanders as slaves, and it got burned out. It’s like earth: we need to be part of the balance and take care of it. At the end, we’re just people.

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Giovanni and his wife, Kerrie, traveled aboard the 50 Years of Victory with Quark Expeditions from June 23 to July 7, 2011.

“My experience was surreal with the full day light in the early morning hours. I paced in a circle around the North Pole post. By my walk, I managed to cross all of the earth’s 24 hour time zones. For a moment, I was sharing the same time as those of my family and friends in America, Italy, England, and Australia.” - Giovanni Savaglio