for National Geographic News
It began on an airplane: A long, exhausting human-powered odyssey over hundreds of miles of ice was born in the relative comfort of a commercial airplane seat.
Years ago, Tina and Thomas Sjogren were flying across the North Atlantic en route to Europe. Tina opened her window shade and was dazzled by the immense expanse of Greenland. "The sky burst in a brilliant dance of colors," she remembers. "Auroras soared all around us, like vibrant ghosts thrown at earth by the sun.
"I imagined what it would be like to step down there and start walking endlessly, all alone in such a majestic place. What would it be likeand what would I be like in it? If this is what Iceland and Greenland are likehow marvelous then must the arctic [regions] be?"
She turned to her husband Thomas, shook him awake, and said: "Honey, let's go to the Poles!"
Tina's idea would not be the couple's first demanding adventure; they had already summited Mount Everest on Tina's birthday in 1999. With that accomplishment under their belts, the pair soon concocted a plan to visit both the North and South Poles on skis, traveling totally unsupported by outside aid.
They also planned to do the two trips back-to-back.
On February 2 of this year, the couple reached the South Pole after 63 exhausting days of skiing. Their journey covered 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers). After allowing just 35 days for recovery and preparation, they set out again on their quest to reach the North Pole.
If they succeed, Tina will become the first woman to reach all three of Earth's poles (Mount Everest is sometimes referred to as the "Third Pole").
"We're very tired, as you always are toward the end of an expedition, but we're doing OK and we have no doubts that we can make it," Thomas said May 15 via satellite phone from the shifting icepack near the North Pole. If all goes well the pair expects to reach its goal in another week.
The obstacles they face are typical for a polar journey: polar bears, thin ice, rubble, tricky navigation, and bitter cold temperatures. The Sjogrens were prepared for the cold, having seen temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius) on their recent South Pole journey. That valuable experience did not come without a price, however. Thomas actually began the journey to the North Pole with a small bit of frostbite on his toe, a holdover from the South Pole trip.
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