“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goals: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.”-Louis Pasteur
Well I broke one of my golden rules today. It wasn’t the biggest golden rule. I didn’t hop on an airplane or anything crazy like that, but it’s almost just as bad.
I turned to Google for travel advice.
I told myself I’d never do this, but since I don’t know anyone who has ever gone to Antarctica or knows the first thing about how one would get there, I broke down and begrudgingly typed in, How would one go about getting to Antarctica?
Up until now I’ve been trying to avoid searching the Internet for travel tips and travel ideas, and I’m pretty proud of myself for never turning to it for help. I prefer to get my information about where to go and how to get there by asking people I’ve met along the way. For example, when I was in Shanghai, I sat down with Mrs. Xu, manager of the Yangtze Hotel I bartered a room with. We looked at a map together and I asked her to point out a couple of areas of interest, which is how I ended up in places I’d never heard of like Guilin and Maoming. There’s also the time, for example, when I was in Uganda. I asked Ronald, the owner of City Blue Hotel in Kampala, where to go and he recommended that I head west to Mbarara.
Then, once I have a rough idea of the direction I’m headed, I’ll start emailing all the hotels along that route in hopes that one will take me up on my standard offer, a short film and photos promoting the hotel in exchange for a room. The second a hotel accepts, I head to the bus or train station and book my transportation accordingly.
But instead of holding up my end of the agreement here in Chicago today and doing the photos I’d promised Hotel Felix, I’ve asked them if we could postpone our photo shoot until tomorrow.
Thankfully this wasn’t an issue for them. I’m spending my entire day with the blinds drawn and my eyes locked on my computer screen. I’ve been searching for as much information as I can find about traveling to Antarctica.
So far all that’s come back is bad news. It’s damn near impossible to get there.
I spent the morning tracking down all the companies that take passengers to Antarctica, which is twelve in total. I then began comparing their rates, some of which are charging as much as $25,000 for just a one-week cruise! The cheapest ticket that I could find was for a ten-day trip that Antarpply Expeditions offers, but even that was astronomically expensive (for me).
It was close to $10,000, which I clearly can’t afford.
Money’s become an issue again. Since I’ve been traveling across the United States during the summer months, most hotels along the way have been fully occupied. Since schools are out for the summer, families of four have been taking up the empty rooms that I’d normally be given in exchange for my work. I’ve had to scratch and claw just to get hotels to agree to let me stay for two or three nights and I had to use my last remaining Marriott points in South Dakota earlier this week because I couldn’t get a single hotel there to take me up on my offer. I can barely barter for a room now, so I don’t even think about asking for money on top of it. Since the money isn’t rolling in like it was in Australia, I’ve had to nervously dip back into my life savings again.
Needless to say, shelling out $10,000 for a ten-day cruise, no matter how amazing the cruise looks, is completely out of the question. Let’s hypothetically say that I did decide to splurge and pay for one of the cruises to Antarctica. Then I wouldn’t have enough money left to make it the rest of the way around the world, so either way I’m screwed.
I must admit though, I thought it was really cool when I saw that National Geographic is one of the companies that sails to Antarctica. They have two ships, The Orion and The Explorer that sail there every ten days or so. As I sit in front of my computer screen and look at the iconic yellow National Geographic logo painted on the blue stern of The Explorer, I can’t help but to fantasize about being on that ship one day. As I continue to let my thoughts run wild and daydream about walking alongside penguins and spotting orca whales from the bow of the ship, my heart starts beating faster and my palms begin to sweat. My desperation to get to Antarctica creeps up under my skin until it’s roaring inside me again. I take this as a cue, because I’ve learned that anything that fills me (or us) with enthusiasm like this is a sign that I (or we) have the ability to pursue it.
And pursue it, I shall!
I stand up and kick my desk chair out, and enthusiastically pace around my hotel room while pumping myself up. I blast some music and dance like no one’s watching (because no one is watching) and I let out all of the excited energy that’s built up over the morning. I slide across the hardwood floor in my socks like I’m Tom Cruise in Risky Business and I end up nearly out of breath and in front of my bathroom mirror as the song dies down. As I look deep into my own eyes I remind myself to go the distance. If I’m ever going to truly say that I’ve made it around the world, then I’ve got to get to Antarctica somehow, someway.
With blood pumping through me like my hearts sprung a leak, I sit back down and begin to hatch a plan.
It dawns on me that if hotels have been willing to accept my film and photography work for a free room, and if tour companies have also been willing to accept my film and photography work for a free tour, then why wouldn’t a cruise company do the same?
A cruise is just a hotel and a tour company combined into one!
After a little more digging online I find that all the cruise companies set sail from Ushuaia, which is the southern most point in Argentina, and that they all sail during the southern hemisphere’s summer months, which is November to February. But that in and of itself poses a problem. It’s already late September and I’m smack dab in the middle of the United States. Ushuaia is some 10,000 miles away. Even if I did somehow magically get a free ticket on one of these Antarctica cruise liners it would be next to impossible to get myself there in time.
Although maybe not!
Back when I was in California earlier this summer I was close to booking a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Valparaiso, Chile. I’ve got to return my Mother’s car to her in Florida in October and when I saw an advertisement for this cruise I thought that it would be a good way for me to get from Florida to South America over land. Another reason I almost booked the cruise back in California was because of its price; it was super cheap. It sails the two weeks before Christmas, which isn’t exactly a window of time that people tend to pack up and go on big international vacations.
I can’t remember the whole itinerary, but I do remember that the cruise arrived in Valparaiso on December 25th because the fact that it ended on Christmas Day struck me as strange. If I could just book myself on that cruise, I’d just need to get from Northern Chile to the southern most point in Argentina before the Antarctica summer cruising season comes to an end.
My shoulders slump forward when I think about all the things that would have to break exactly right in order to make this actually materialize.
This happens so often. I think of a grandiose idea and then I get all excited and run around my room like it’s already happened, and then when I sit back down, reality sets in and it begins to feel so impossible that I might as well not even try. But I’m buoyed by one thing. If my travels around the world have taught me anything it’s that I’d much rather fail at this than succeed at anything else.
I heard some great advice when I was watching a documentary about the comedian Chris Farley’s life the other day. Ironically enough, he got his comedic start in Chicago at an improv studio just down the street called The Second City. Del Close was his acting coach back then. Del’s also credited with teaching comedy legends such as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi. His advice to all of his students was to go out and fail on stage as often as possible, which is the opposite of what we were told growing up.
When I think about what he said, it’s truly great advice. Let’s say I get twelve no’s from all of the companies that sail to Antarctica. I’m sure that within that failure I’m going to learn something about myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I mean, I’m trying to get to Antarctica for God’s sake. What a wonderful thing to have failed at! And who knows, maybe just maybe, one of these companies might just take me up on my offer. So I might as well go for it. I might as well ask these cruise companies if I can tag along to Antarctica for free. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
So I decide to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
I begin by searching for all of the contact information I can find online for each of the twelve companies. I scour their websites and social media accounts like I’m a detective working the beat. I look for names, emails, addresses and phone numbers of anyone who has ever worked there. I’m not one for spreadsheets. In fact, I couldn’t stand them when I worked at my old corporate job, but I decide to put my ill will towards them to the side and I put one together with all the information I’m finding.
The companies I’m tracking down are located all around the world. Some are based in the United States, a few are in Europe and a handful are South American.
Then, as day turns to night, I begin to draft an email of all the things I can offer in exchange for a cabin on one of the cruises to Antarctica. I promise 100 on board photos, 100 excursion photos, a 3-minute film, 5 30-second films, and also a two-thousand-word story. All which they will own and can use any way they see fit, such as on their website and/or social media accounts. I also tack on a 2-minute episode about my own personal experience in Antarctica and 2 chapters that I’ll put up on my website in an effort to promote them to the people following my journey.
Now believe me, I know that my offer isn’t anywhere close to $10,000 in value and to be totally honest, I’m not even completely sure if I can deliver on all the promises I’m making. I’ve never offered a hotel or tour company this much and I have no idea if I even have the right kind of equipment needed to film in harsh Antarctic conditions, but I do know how hard I work and how much pressure I put on myself to create great photos and films for the hotels and tour companies that I’ve already worked with. So I’d like to think that if I were given the opportunity, that I’d somehow find a way to rise to the occasion.
At the risk of sounding desperate, I decide to include one final offer in the email.
I say that I’d be willing to be considered part of the crew and that I’d be happy to share a cabin with any number of crewmembers if my offer were to be accepted. I hope this last line doesn’t reek of desperation, but instead it shows my burning desire to get to Antarctica and that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to turn my dream into reality.
Just before bed I send out a personalized email to each one of the contacts on my list. I pull my bed sheets down and turn off the lights around midnight, feeling pretty good about myself. Even if no one responds I know that I’ve left no stone unturned.
But instead of climbing into bed right away, I walk over to the window of my room. Chicago’s energy is palpable tonight. I can feel it all the way up here on the fourteenth floor of the Felix Hotel. It’s Friday night and the Cubs must have won. They’re in the playoffs and are the favorites to win the World Series this year. Music is thumping against my window from the bars and clubs that line the street below. I think of how much fun it would be to throw some clothes on and head out on the town for a wild night in the Windy City, but I know that I need to stay focused instead. The second I start doing that kind of thing is the second I’ll start taking my eye off the prize and begin making mistakes. I want to keep a clear head, so I tell myself that I’ll celebrate with a bottle of champagne if I ever do actually make it to Antarctica one day.
I press my finger up against the condensation that’s built up in the center of the window and draw the numbers 444 into it. I know that for this plan to work, I’m going to need a miracle.