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Daily Journals

September 2, 2006

This ship is full of fascinating people from around the world — world-renowned scientists, educators, crew members and support staff — and they all have stories to tell. Today's journal will be one of those stories.

Timo PaloAfter only a couple of days, I knew that Timo Palo and I would be friends. Every time I was on the bow looking at the ice, Timo was there. He'd ask about my camera gear and about the birds we were seeing. We'd talk about nature photography, the incredible sights around us and our wish to see the Polar Bear. As we talked I could tell that he has the passion, the something he says is within many of us that drives us to do the things we love. Timo told me one day, tapping his heart with his fist, that he has two passions in life: his family (he is married with a young son) and polar exploration.

Timo is a 27-year-old graduate student from the University of Tartu in Estonia. He studies snow conditions, snow physics and snow distribution modeling. Timo was born and raised in rural Estonia. His playground was the woodlands, marshlands, bogs, rivers and lakes that surrounded his home. His love of nature comes from his upbringing and confirms something we in the museum-world know to be true: childhood experiences can profoundly influence your views of nature.

Timo loves landscapes and nature in wintertime "when it's so white, so pure, such a silence. It's peaceful on the one hand; on the second hand, it calls to you, to come and explore." He loves cross-country skiing — the smooth gliding over the hills and winter landscapes — and competing in biathlons, a sport that combines cross-country skiing with target shooting.

Although he had heard of some of the great polar explorers as a child, he began to learn more at university. When the opportunity to come on this expedition arose, he said, "Yes, I am ready. Tomorrow? No problem."

Timo has proven himself to be a tough and determined worker. When the ship arrived at the first ice station, it looked for awhile like only the scientists would be allowed on the ice — a painfully frustrating thought for all of us, especially for Timo. When we were finally allowed on the ice, Timo joined one of the science teams in their efforts to set up some equipment. You may remember, they had problems at that first installation and several team members remained on the ice for almost 14 hours until their insturments were successfully deployed. Timo was one of those hearty few who remained, and it was "no problem." He says he is "not afraid of hard work, not afraid to explore the Arctic. It is a challenge, and I love a challenge."

In one of our early conversations about his love of the Arctic, Timo mentioned, rather matter-of-factly, his future plans. In the next year or two, he intends to ski by himself across the Greenland ice sheet, which is about 600 km wide. He then hopes to do an expedition to Antarctica and reach the South Pole. His last quest, the one he says will be the most difficult, is an expedition to the North Pole. The difficulty lies in not knowing what type of surface, sea ice or open water, he will encounter along the way, so he must be able to cross both. When I asked how he would cross any leads (open water channels in the sea ice), he said he would swim. A special float suit will be part of the gear he will carry on his sled.

While I might doubt the sincerity, or at least the ability, of most if they told me about plans to reach both poles, I do not doubt Timo’s. His calm manner of speaking, his careful choice of words and the look in his eyes all seem to connect to the past, to the time of early polar exploration. One statement he made to us seemed to sum it all up. "My motto is there is no impossible dream. What we dream we can do. What the spirit can dream, your body can do".

This evening he told Art and me that if he can get the sponsors, he might give us a call to cover his polar crossings as many modern-day explorers have had photographers along to document their journey. Listening to Timo, seeing his passion for this place, I think we might just get that call some day.

—Mike Dunn


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