Intro: An intrepid lesbian adventurer braves
the cold shoulders of the white continent.
By Lucy Jane Bledsoe
January/February 2005 issue of
The Out Traveler
“Antarctica is a place that demands all of you,” says longtime polar explorer Ann Bancroft. “You can’t fake it out. You have to be willing to back off. It’s a place that can be benign one moment and life-threatening the next.”
Bancroft pauses and decides she can share this too: “I have a love affair with Antarctica that’s hard to explain to people.”
“Oh, yeah,” I say, as if we were discussing a woman with whom we’d both had an unforgettable affair. Three years ago Bancroft and
her Norwegian expedition partner, Liv Arnesen, became the first women in history to ski across the Antarctic landmass–from one edge of the continent to the other. They pulled 250-pound sleds, completing the 1,717-mile trek in 94 grueling days. Bancroft accomplished this feat as an out lesbian, which means nothing to the continent of Antarctica but a lot to the corporate sponsors upon whom she’s dependent. “You win them over by who you are,” she explains. “They get over it.”
On the other hand, her lesbian audience, she says, “has been with me through thick and thin all these years, rooting me on, even when I wasn’t that popular. They’ve always been right there with me, saying ‘Go!’ I need those voices.”
Bancroft and Arnesen, who is straight, recently published an extraordinary book about their expedition, ‘No Horizon Is So Far’, groundbreaking not only in the narration of their all-women trek but also in their willingness to discuss their family lives, lesbian and straight, as part of the adventure.
My own adventures in the Southern hemisphere, though perhaps less illustrious, have been no less life-changing. Traveling to Antarctica is like having an affair with an inappropriate lover. A famous
inappropriate lover. Cold. Dangerous. Unaccommodating. She makes you do some crazy shit. But she’s oh, so gorgeous. You’ve got to have more.
The first time, I flew to the continent in a combat plane, an LC-130, courtesy of the Air Force. Sitting in the cockpit with the pilot, I watched as we approached the coldest, driest, southernmost continent. The American station, McMurdo, which houses about 2,000 workers each austral summer, is located on Ross Island, which is really two big volcanoes, Mount Terror and Mount Erebus. A plume of steam curls out of the latter’s caldera.
I soon learned that my writer identity was a lot more suspect among this community of scientists than my lesbian identity. The National Science Foundation “in-briefed” me the minute I landed on the Ice, basically telling me which behaviors would put me “on the next plane back to Cheech,” a.k.a. Christchurch,
I agreed to everything, then hit the galley in time for dinner. No sooner had I set my tray down on a table and introduced myself when a guy leaned forward and asked me, “How do you get a woman in Antarctica?”
Was this a test? I’d just sworn to the NSF that I’d be no trouble during my three months on the Ice. I looked at my plate of food and mumbled as convincingly as possible, “I don’t know.” My new friend slapped the table and crowed, “Be one!”
“Get it?” someone else at the table helpfully asked. Yeah, I got it. All the women here, according to my new friends, were lesbians. This wasn’t true, of course, but there were lots of out girls. In fact, a lesbian couple taught McMurdo’s ballroom dancing class.
Staying out of trouble wasn’t as easy as I thought. By the
end of the season I’d heard the phrase “No, Lucy, no!” so many times that a friend of mine engraved the words on a plaque for me.
But I wasn’t alone. Flirting with the edge of trouble is a favorite pastime of many Antarcticans. In December a small group of us skied out to see Pegasus, a plane that had crashed about 15 miles from McMurdo many years ago. The day was so hot–35 degrees Fahrenheit, a good 20 to 40 degrees above the norm–that we couldn’t resist the temptation to strip and take a series of pictures of ourselves skiing naked in Antarctica.
The next day the photos were e-mailed to me. I’d never imagined myself available–undressed–on the Internet. This woman Antarctica, she’ll wreck you.
Somehow I never did get put on the next plane back to Cheech. In fact, I was offered the crown jewel of any Antarctica trip: a shot at the pole. Probably just a turnaround flight, I was told, but bring your duffel.
I got to stay a week.
See other Antarctica stories by gay author Clark Harding:
Aug 15, 2013 by Clark Harding, Out Traveler’s resident adventurer.
Aug 26, 2013
Oct 30, 2013