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Ann Bancroft Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Ann Bancroft

Ann Bancroft

An interview with Ann Bancroft

Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen discuss their historic trek across the Antarctic, what they hope the three million children who followed their trek via the web will learn from their experience, and much else.

What drove you to write No Horizon Is So Far?

We wrote it because we believe in the power of stories. Our Antarctic expedition reinforced this belief as millions of people followed our trek. We received more than 20,000 messages from people worldwide through the expedition Website. Many people wrote about how the expedition inspired them to pursue their own dreams. We hope that by sharing our story with a broader audience, even more people will be inspired to consider their goals and dreams and take action toward achieving them.

Why did you want to cross Antarctica?

As young girls, we read Alfred Lansing's Endurance, a recount of Sir Ernest Shackleton's legendary attempt to cross Antarctica. It stirred our imaginations. Despite being completely unaware of one another, we both declared the same childhood dream: to ski across Antarctica. In 1998, we met for the first time, discovered we were kindred spirits, and prepared to achieve that dream together. But for us, even more important than crossing Antarctica was to share the journey with others. Through the Website and satellite phone calls, we were able to show people the power of passion and fortitude.

What's the significance of the book title?

Throughout our Antarctic trek, Ann kept a detailed journal. In it, she scrawled one of her favorite quotes by Beryl Markham, who in 1936 made history as the first pilot to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic: "I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know—that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it." Markham wrote this in her memoir West With the Night, which was first published in 1942. The quote provided us with inspiration as we pursued our childhood dream of crossing Antarctica.

In what way did you make history when you crossed Antarctica?

On February 11, 2001 we became the first women to cross Antarctica's landmass, skiing and sailing across the frozen continent. Prior to our crossing, only one team of two men had completed the same trek. We're former schoolteachers, and during the expedition we used the Internet and a satellite phone to communicate with people in more than 150 countries, including more than three million schoolchildren. The expedition Website, received more than twenty-three million hits during the traverse.

What new discoveries will people who followed the expedition find in this book?

The book is the first time we've publicly recounted many of the intimate details of our literal and figurative journey—how the expedition affected us physically and emotionally, how we overcame extreme obstacles, and how we interacted with one another.

Any parallels between writing a book and trekking across Antarctica?

Like crossing Antarctica, writing a book requires great discipline. It was a long process, it required us to put one foot in front of the other, and it had its highs and lows. In many respects, writing a book was more difficult than crossing Antarctica because we're both introverts. And, to help our readers get to know us, we shared many intimate details about the journey and ourselves. This was important to us so that the book doesn't simply recount the expedition, but allows our readers to really get to know us.

Do you think of yourself as women who crossed the Antarctic or people who crossed the Antarctic?

We think of ourselves first as people, but we are acutely aware of the fact that we were writing women into history. We always wanted to make history in that way, but it was very bittersweet. It frustrated us that in the year 2001, we were still breaking barriers for women.

Was your Antarctic expedition more grueling emotionally or physically? Did you ever think you wouldn't make it?

The trek was definitely more grueling emotionally than physically. We knew how to physically train for Antarctica, but we couldn't have prepared ourselves for the enormous time pressure we felt. Antarctica, known for its intense winds, had an abnormal lack of wind that summer. Day after day of no wind was emotionally taxing because we desperately needed wind to propel our sails so we could reach our daily mileage goals. And, with every expedition there are those fleeting moments of doubt; Antarctica was no exception.

How did your family and friends react when you told them you were going to attempt to cross Antarctica?

Our friends and families weren't surprised. At this point in our careers they expect it from us. Instead they ask, "What's next?"

How did you prepare physically for your journey across Antarctica?

We had an intense training regime—up to six hours a day—that some might consider, frankly, a little odd. We cross-country skied on gravel roads while pulling three car tires harnessed to our waists. This helped us simulate pulling 250-pound (113-kg) sleds over rough Antarctic terrain and built our leg and back muscles. Another unusual thing we did was run up and down steep bluffs while carrying kitty litter in a backpack, which added the resistance needed to simulate pulling heavy sleds. We also trained by doing activities we enjoy that build strength and endurance, and utilize a full range of body movements, such as running, hiking, and kayaking.

Because we live so far apart, most of our training was done alone, which helped us mentally prepare for the solitude of Antarctica. But we did take a couple of training trips together to test the durability and reliability of our equipment, such as our windsails, tent, and cooking gear.

Tell us about the gear you used on your expedition. What did you bring, and how much did it weigh—and how on earth did you carry it?

Deciding what to pack for our 94-day journey was mind-boggling, but even more challenging was fitting all of our food, gear, and technology equipment into a sled that couldn't weigh more than 250 lbs (113 kg). Creativity was key in order to pack the things we wanted. For example, Ann cut her toothbrush in half to reduce weight so she could bring a family photo. We packed a three-person pop-up tent (just big enough to live in and easy to set up) and used gear that was "rigged," or easy to construct. We had to carry everything—our camping gear, cooking supplies (including food), first aid equipment, a repair kit, navigation, safety, and communications equipment, skiing and sailing equipment, glacier equipment, and personal items.

Just how cold did it get on your journey?

We crossed the continent during the "summer" season (November through the middle to end of February), so we experienced twenty-four hours of daylight and temperatures that dipped to -35 degrees Fahrenheit (-37 degrees Celsius), and -70 degrees Fahrenheit (-57 degrees Celsius) with windchill.

How did the temperature influence what you wore?

Antarctica's high winds and frigid temperatures drove all of our decisions related to what we wore. We wore protective clothing that covered every inch of our bodies, and we either shed or added layers depending on our level of activity. For example, while windsailing, we wore mittens instead of gloves, an extra down vest, another layer of wind clothes, and an extra jacket. During breaks, we often added a down parka on top of our ski gear. We were also careful of the sun's rays because the hole in the ozone is above Antarctica; we wore forty-five level sunblock twenty-four hours a day.

What did you eat?

To maintain high energy levels and keep warm, we ate and drank foods that were high in nutrients, calories, and fat. We also had to melt ice for water. It took about four hours to melt enough ice for one day and prepare water for two. For breakfast, we often ate oatmeal with lots of oil. Dinner consisted of a quick dehydrated dinner, such as fish and potatoes. Because they're high in calories and fat, we also ate vacuum-packed potato chips and lots of Norwegian chocolate. Chocolate was the only food left toward the end of our journey, so we actually got sick of it!

You both live in chilly places, Ann in Minneapolis and Liv in Norway. Is there something that draws you to the cold?

We both grew up pursuing cold-weather activities, like skiing, because of where we live. But neither of us are big fans of being cold; we've just learned to dress appropriately for it. More than the cold, we're both drawn to remote, wide-open spaces that, in Antarctica, are incomparable to anywhere else on earth.

The two of you have been called "soul sisters." Will you attempt to make history together again?

Definitely! At forty-eight (Ann) and fifty (Liv), we share a very unique partnership in the explorer community. We've remained close friends since the Antarctica expedition and work extremely well together. We're passionate about pursuing many more individual and shared dreams. So stay tuned!

What are the two of you doing now?

We help lead Your Expedition, a thirteen-person company sparked by our Antarctica expedition. It offers organizations and individuals inspiration and guidance to succeed in life's expeditions through multi-media presentations, short films, interactive tools, workshops, and lectures. The company's offerings are designed around our stories and include lessons on everything from self-motivation, perseverance, and ingenuity to personal integrity, goal setting, and calculated risk. You can find out more about it at

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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All the books below are recommended as read-alikes for Ann Bancroft but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
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    Elizabeth Becker

    Elizabeth Becker is an award winning author and former correspondent for The New York Times who reported from Europe, Asia, and South America. As the Senior Foreign Editor at National Public Radio, she oversaw all the network... (more)

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