"Victory awaits him who has
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A hundred years have passed since Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole, and it is a centenary worthy of a celebratory book. But how can something meaningful be set in print when so much has already been written? One answer: Find a modern-day adventurer to tell the story, someone who is attracted to extremes, someone who understands calculated risk. Most of all, find someone who appreciates heroes like Amundsen not only for staking out new points on the map but also for offering personal inspiration, for being what we mere mortals will never be. In short, find an author like Lynne Cox.
Cox, for those who need to be reminded, is the woman who set two records for swimming the English Channel, who became the first person to swim around the Cape of Good Hope, who swam the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia in 1987, and who swam a mile in Antarctic waters in 25 minutes. She is also the author of the award-winning book "Swimming to Antarctica." And for those who have not heard of Cox at all, who might be quick to dismiss her efforts in this age of form-fitting wetsuits and insulating fabrics, bear this in mind: When Cox swims, she wears nothing but a bathing suit.
Cox's "South With the Sun," despite its subtitle, is not a biography. Other books offer detailed accounts of Amundsen's life and explorations, including his own memoirs, but Cox's book offers something else. It offers Cox herself drawing strength from Amundsen, thinking of him when she hits the water in Greenland, and again in Canada, and again, far to the south.
That strength is not always of the sort required to survive devastating cold and bitter hardships. Some of it is the strength needed to meet challenges of a more mundane kind. Cox describes Amundsen, early in his career, sailing as a second lieutenant aboard the Belgica. In the Southern Ocean, the ship was immobilized by ice. Amundsen watched as the ship's company faded with scurvy, offering help where he could. A meeting was called at which Amundsen discovered that the expedition's sponsors had issued orders undermining the authority of his position. Specifically, the ship's orders denied his place in the chain of command because he was Norwegian and not, like the majority of the officers, Belgian.
There was drama here that Cox could have exploited, but instead she focused on the way in which Amundsen managed what must have been almost devastating frustration. She offers a passage from Amundsen's diary that renders the frustration palpable but ends with resignation, with Amundsen's acceptance of a situation that he could not change. "I will continue my work as if nothing has happened," the diary passage says. "I will do my duty as a human being."
This is just one case of many in which Cox, writing about Amundsen, finds lessons that she can use and that might interest readers. Some are related to the standard fare of extreme exploration - the Norwegian youth sleeping with open windows to toughen himself for the life of his dreams, apprenticeship journeys in which he learned the tricks of survival, near disasters with hypothermia and starvation, perseverance. Others are related to the practicalities of extreme adventure - for example, the challenge of attracting support for expeditions entirely devoid of potential for profit, and the reality of the networking required to make expeditions possible not only for Amundsen but also for Cox herself.
Cox understands that Amundsen did not evolve in a vacuum. She realizes that he, too, found inspiration in his predecessors. He, too, had mentors. Cox shows how Fridtjof Nansen and Ernest Shackleton and Frederick Cook helped make Amundsen into the superman that he became, just as she shows that Amundsen, though long dead before she was born, contributed to making her what she is today.
This is not a lyrical book. It is a book written for the most part in plain language. But occasionally Cox finds words that border on the poetic to describe the world that Amundsen found. "The shimmering silver and white world of Antarctica," she writes, "opened and rose gently before them."
In the end, this book is as autobiographical as it is biographical, with a word count balanced between stories of the author's life and of Amundsen's life. It is a book that juxtaposes two adventurers, one with her own challenges still unfolding and the other with his position fixed in history. Indirectly, discreetly, it is a book in which Cox asks, "What can I learn from Amundsen?" And in sharing the answers, Cox gives readers a book worthy of the centenary celebration of Amundsen's trek to the South Pole.
A modern-day record holder pays
Review by Annie Lubinsky
“South With the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery” by Lynne Cox
When Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen and his team believed they had reached the South Pole in 1911, Amundsen wanted to be absolutely sure of their achievement. Instead of relying on the meter on the dogsled, Amundsen sent his team out in a 12-mile radius to take sun sightings with a sextant until they could confirm their position without question. Doing so meant adding a total of six days to their journey and increasing the chances they’d never make it back.
Amundsen had learned from the experiences of those who attempted to be the first to reach the North Pole. Two men, Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, claimed to have reached it, but their claims caused controversy rather than celebration. Cook, a friend of Amundsen’s, advised him not to go north because that would just bring Amundsen into the turmoil.
Amundsen went south instead, not telling anyone until his ship was out on the Atlantic Ocean.
“South With the Sun: Roald Amundsen, His Polar Explorations, and the Quest for Discovery” by Lynne Cox celebrates Amundsen’s accomplishments and outlines the painstaking preparations that led to his success. Cox will appear at Pages bookstore in Manhattan Beach next Thursday to meet readers and talk about polar explorers and adventurers. Cox, a long-distance open-water swimmer, was the first person to complete a 1.2-mile swim in Antarctica in 2002. In 2007, Cox swam the bodies of water in the Northwest Passage, an area that Amundsen explored.
Cox said she first became interested in Amundsen when she was 14 years old, training to swim the English Channel. The mother of one of her teammates, who was from Norway, told her about Amundsen, the first to reach the South Pole.
“But he had done more than that,” Cox said. “I started asking what did he achieve, how did he do it, and it stuck in my head.”
Years later, she and a friend were discussing a book called “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” about Ernest Shackleton, a man who attempted but did not reach the North Pole.
“He got within 93 miles of the pole, but he never made it,” Cox said. She told her friend, “The real hero is Amundsen.”
After doing some research, Cox realized that Shackleton had inspired Amundsen. She found that explorers’ successes were based on the successes and failures of those who attempted the goal before them.
As a record-breaking swimmer, Cox knew firsthand how important her support team was and how often she had succeeded by talking to other athletes and receiving their wisdom.
“We’re exploring like they were, looking at who came before and going further,” Cox said. “One great person inspires the next. I studied history in college. I wanted to know how do people create change in the world. That was my whole focus: How do people do something better, learn and inspire others to go on their own path and do what they want to do?”
She continued, “In order for explorers to succeed, they need to go outside their realm, learn from each other and use that knowledge. I see these great mentors help each other to do what they want, like I did with swims.”
Cox hopes to travel to the South Pole this December with a group of people who have supported Antarctic exploration. To do so, she’ll need support from the White House, and getting that support is one of her current projects. The expedition, if it takes place, will honor the 100th anniversary of Amundsen’s successful journey to the South Pole in December 1911.
When doing research, Cox was fortunate to connect with a family that allowed her to stay with them in Norway while she read Amundsen’s letters and journals. One family member knew the old Norwegian that Amundsen spoke and could read his letters to her.
PRESS TELEGRAM Long Beach, CA
Los Alamitos' amazing Lynne Cox tells an adventurer's tale
Iconic swimmer's new book traces exploits of explorer Roald Amundsen.
Lynne Cox is an American long-distance open-water swimmer and writer from Los Alamitos who's just finished writing another book called South with the Sun on a Norwegian adventurer named Roald Amundsen. ( Stephen Carr / Staff Photographer)
Lynne Cox is an aquatic adventurer, a best-selling author, and an anatomical phenomenon whose tolerance to frigid ocean water has resulted in her being the subject of research by those in the medical profession.
She swam across the Catalina Channel when she was 14, swam across the English Channel when she was 15, and did the latter again when she was 16, eclipsing her own record she had established the year before by covering the distance in nine hours and 57 minutes.
She became the first person to swim across the Strait of Magellan, to swim between three of the Aleutian Islands, to swim across Lake Titicaca from Bolivia to Peru, to swim across the Beagle Channel between Argentina and Chile, to swim eight miles around the Cape of Good Hope, to swim across the Bering Strait, and to complete a 1.2-mile swim in the Antarctica.
She has been featured on "60 Minutes," has received laudatory e-mails from Robert Duvall, Bob Dylan and Garrison Keillor, and has been critically acclaimed for her literary works by such types as primatologist Jane Goodall and novelist Anne Rice.
A NATURAL ICON
They have an organization in Long Beach celebrating the area's storied link to the waterways called the Aquatic Capital of America, and no one personifies such a heritage more than Lynne Cox, a 1975 Los Alamitos High graduate who is in the Swimming Hall of Fame for her many daredevil achievements in incredibly harsh conditions.
And I didn't mention perhaps her most astounding feat when in 2007 she followed the Northwest Passage routes first navigated by the famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen with swims in Greenland (1/2 miles, 31 minutes, 30 degrees) and Chukchi Sea also in Alaska (1 mile, 20 minutes, 42 degrees).
It turns out that the 54-year-old Cox has not only been an open water swimmer extraordinaire, but also is quite adept at putting words together as she showed in her previous well-received books, "Grayson" and "Swimming To Antarctica," both of which sold more than 90,000 copies.
"From the time I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a swimmer and a writer," she says. "My professor in college encouraged me to write a book, and I started it in my senior year. It took me 21 years to get it published, and I had to swim in Antarctica for that to happen."
Cox manages an amused smile, and this sweet lady with a self-deprecating sense of humor is seated at a table at Naples Gourmet Grocer on a recent afternoon expounding on historic figures like Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, Andree, Robert F. Scott, Richard Byrd, as well as her matchless open water career and inhuman defiance of hypothermia.
"Never got it," says Cox, who's 5-foot-6 and powerfully built.
"Obviously, the fact that's I'm not small helps. But cold water just has never bothered me. I remember as a 9-year-old kid swimming at Raco-Theodore Pool in Manchester, New Hampshire. Other kids would get out because they were too tired or too cold. I was neither, and always was the last kid out of the pool."
An acknowledged world-renowned expert on hypothermia, the late Dr. William Keating of the University of London, took an interest in Cox's ability to avert it.
"Dr. Keating put me through a series of tests for nearly a quarter of a century," she says. "I remember my father told me when I was training for the English Channel swim that my body had to get used to the cold water, and it would help to keep the bedroom window open during winter nights when the temperatures around here could get down into the 40 s."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Her parents--her late father Albert was a radiologist and mother Estelle an artist--moved the family to California when she was 12.
"We settled in Los Alamitos, and we definitely were a swim-oriented household," she says. "My brother David was a terrific swimmer who once held the Catalina Channel record, and my two younger sisters, Ruth and Laura, both were on the U.S. National Water Polo team for several years. And, of course, I also swam and played water polo, even on the high school's men's team."
During her early teens when she trained in the ocean near Belmont Shore for her English Channel excursions, her mother would walk along the beach with a friend named Helen Olsen, a Norwegian native who talked about the exploits of Amundsen.
"That's when I first heard about Roald Amundsen doing what other explorers had been trying to do for 400 years -- make it through the Northwest Passage," she says. "I became intrigued what he was able to do that eluded his predecessors in such a quest, and found out he learned a lot from Nansen, another Norwegian explorer who also had done studies on ocean currents.
"I found this to be a recurring development among these great people. They pass on their knowledge to others, much like Amundsen did to Richard Byrd."
Cox evinces an evangelical fervor when she discusses Amundsen and those other daring seafarers able to overcome daunting obstacles.
"They went outside the boundaries of human endeavors for unimaginable achievements," she says. "The gift of knowledge they passed on is a veritable treasure trove. They took chances, yet they carefully planned their journeys where no one else before had ventured. They also got themselves in great condition with different exercises, and you can say they were the ultimate cross trainers."
So has been Cox, who says the only time she feared for her safety in all her harrowing ventures came during her three hour and three minute swim around the Cape of Good Hope in 1977.
"I felt very vulnerable because I was being tracked closely by a 17-foot bronze-whaler shark that is very dangerous," she says. "I had a group of South African Special Force members accompanying me, and one of them shot the shark with a spear gun in the fin to make him go away. The soldier told me the shark would survive the shot."
While Cox no longer engages in her dangerous open water endeavors as often, she has in recent weeks resumed training seriously, swimming daily in the backyard pool at her Los Alamitos residence and lifting weights at the local 24-Hour Fitness.
She's hoping to visit the South Pole in mid December on the 100 th anniversary of Amundsen's discovery, and has sent a letter to President Barack Obama seeking his approval for such a trip.
"We need President Obama to give his OK to cut through red tape," she says. "What we'd like to do -- eight of us are set to go -- is make it to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station that is operated by the U.S. Air Force and National Science Foundation.
"I've been working out pretty hard in case we're allowed to go because you have to be in tremendous shape just to be able to walk around the South Pole at an elevation of 10,000-feet. I've already contacted the Air Force people, and they told me they fly planes down there all the time. I think it would be great to be able to be at the South Pole honoring Amundsen's great achievement."
If Lynn Cox doesn't hear from the White House in the next few weeks, she will send off another letter.
"I'll keep trying to get President Obama's approval right to the end," says Cox, flashing the same fierce resilience that she has in so many chilly waterways around the world across the decades.
A World Of Exploration In "South With The Sun"
Amundsen was the first man to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Northwest Passage and the first man to reach the South Pole. Cox presents the exciting details of Amundsen's many achievements and places them in the context of other endeavors.
Cox is an adventurer in her own right. She is a long-distance swimmer who has set world records for open-water swimming. Her expeditions include swims across the Cook Strait of New Zealand, the Bering Strait, and a 1988 swim in the Soviet Union across Lake Baikal.
She was inspired by Amundsen and other explorers who attempted what was deemed impossible: "I knew I needed to look at others to see how they had found their way across uncharted waters, unexplored continents, unknown skies."
Through the stories of Amundsen and other adventurers, Cox finds some consistent elements in the world of exploration. Successful explorers learn from previous missions. Even a failed attempt contributes to future success.
Successful explorers also are willing to try a different approach to the same problem and to ignore those who say that it can't be done. The struggle for financial support and the spirit of competition between men and nations are also constant challenges.
Cox weaves the story of her own achievements throughout the narrative of Amundsen's adventures. Because Amundsen inspired her to attempt what had not been done, she follows in Amundsen's footsteps, swimming off the coast of Greenland and on Baffin Island not far from where Amundsen spent two winters in his Northwest Passage expedition.
The story of polar exploration is gripping. Cox begins with an 1879 voyage made by George Washington DeLong. Although the attempt to reach the North Pole was unsuccessful, much was learned from the expedition.
Explorer Fridtjof Nansen studied the wreckage from DeLong's ship Jeannette and concluded that drifting ice floes could be used to further exploration. Rather than working to avoid the ice, he would drift with it across the Arctic Ocean. Nansen's achievements in turn inspired Amundsen, who built on what Nansen accomplished.
Several factors contributed to Amundsen's success. By studying Nansen and other expeditions and signing on as a crewman on a Belgian voyage to Antarctica, Amundsen identified several areas of concern. He noted that conflict often arose between the commander of the expedition and the ship's captain. He also found that the need to bring provisions for the entire trip made the journey more difficult. He observed that nationalistic feeling interfered with the mission.
Amundsen applied these lessons well. In navigating the Northwest Passage, Amundsen lived closely with the Eskimos and adopted many of their techniques for living in a cold climate. On his South Pole expedition, Amundsen brought dogs to serve as both transportation and food.
One personal quality that contributed to Amundsen's success was his facility for stealth. Although Amundsen had a thirst for exploration from his boyhood, he kept his hopes secret to avoid confrontations with his mother, who had planned a medical career for him.
In his 1903 attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, Amundsen and his crew sailed out of Norway at midnight in a rainstorm to avoid a creditor who threatened to cancel the voyage.
In August of 1910, Amundsen sailed from Norway with a crew that believed they were headed around Cape Horn toward the Bering Strait and the North Pole. Amundsen informed his crew en route that they would be continuing south to attempt to reach the South Pole. Many believed that his secrecy allowed him to reach the South Pole first.
"South with the Sun" is a wonderfully entertaining book that offers insight into the life of Roald Amundsen and the qualities that led to his great success in polar exploration. Cox also connects Amundsen's efforts with more recent achievements in aviation and earlier ocean voyages. She effectively illustrates how human attempts to redefine what is possible lead to further achievement.
Lynne Cox will discuss and sign "South with the Sun" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26 at the Downtown Left Bank Books, 321 N. 10th Street. Call 436-3049 for more information.
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