“Mick, this is Neil Armstrong” crackled the radio, my faint signal reaching two tired and thoroughly frosted men trying to be the first to reach the North Pole across the Arctic Ocean on foot – sans dogs or snowmobiles.
“Come on Andy, give us a break” team leader Mick McGuire responded. “We’re out here busting our butts and you’re giving us a hard time.”
This radio argument continued for a few more clicks before I grabbed the mike from the famous lunar explorer and said “Mike, this really is Neil Armstrong, show him some respect please!”
Armstrong and just slightly less earth-bound explorer Sir Edmund Hillary were fairly easy to approach when they showed up in tiny Resolute Bay, (then) Northwest Territories in early spring 1983 on a long layover on the North Pole tourist flight route. Admittedly Hillary was my first choice to deliver a pep-talk to my two-man team about 40 miles off the coast of Canada’s Ellesmere Island, I’ve had a long-time fascination with the highest point on the planet.
Both men seemed to share the suppression of ego which can help keep one safe when operating on the edge. Armstrong might have shared Hillary’s humble pledge concerning “who’s on first”; he never told anyone who was on top of Everest first – he or his climbing partner Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The video age made this impossible for Armstrong on the celestial stage he shared with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
In July 1969 I was hunkered down in a Juneau Icefield field cabin on a moon-like elevation-effected mountain side which was colder than the North Pole – lashed by frosty winds even on that summer date. Our rustic domicile was secured by cables anchored to boulders locked together by permafrost. Ridgetop winds sometimes lifted our large plywood building up to strain against these constraints. Searching for lunar news, we listened intently through atmospheric static to the only short-wave radio station we could receive relatively clearly – Moscow’s version of Radio Free Europe.
The announcer’s color commentary went somewhat along the lines of the “Imperialists claim they are on the lunar surface” – sharing with us the news an American had become the literal man on the moon. Through the propaganda laced narrative we could tell even our Russian compatriot shared the excitement felt by every earth bound human that day.
Many continue to argue, as some did then, we need to solve earth bound problems before we worry about venturing into the heavens. I believe these two pursuits go hand in hand. We can’t solve terrestrial problems if we aren’t fueled by creative energy.
The years bracketing the lunar landing where some of the most troubled in our nation’s history. I both marched every weekend to end the Viet Nam war and sat transfixed, sharing in the exciting flights leading up to Armstrong’s first boot print in the lunar dust.
The Apollo 8 astronauts’ photo of our fragile blue orb – rising above the lifeless grey lunar surface and enveloped by the incredibly inhospitable inky void of space was arguably a catalyst which ignited the environmental movement. This Mona Lisa of photos helped my generation, and those following, to keep an eye on the blue-green prize as we work daily on efforts to curtail the fouling of our planetary nest.
I’ve been lucky to lead a scattered life – teacher, contractor, writer, miner, carpenter, dishwasher – enough work experiences to fill a book length resume. My focus has been “adventuring”, beginning with family travels and coming to fruition with four teen-age summers spent on the Juneau Icefield.
I’ve been privileged to share in local community improvement projects with many wonderful friends designed to enhance to our mountain playground where locals and visitors can refuel. Armstrong’s first lunar step helped rekindle the human spirit across the earth. His first step into the nearly limitless heavens hopefully began our human journey to the nearly infinite far flung corners of the universe.
The Fraser Valley is our own version of the lunar Sea of Tranquility. I hope we continue to find ways to share our source of our mountain inspiration with those who might be mired in the challenges of the current age.
Humans should continue to venture toward the stars. Every step we take outward gets us a step closer to home.