BY NOLAN PETERSON
Swimmers approach the finish of the 2012 Hellespont swim.
I stopped swimming to poke my head above the waves. I tried to figure out where I was. As I tread water, I was met with a horrifying site — nothing. Through the spray of the 30 knot winds coming off the water, I could make out a cell-phone tower on the opposite shore, but that was it. No boats were in sight. I couldn’t see another swimmer.
This was the point of no return. If I continued only I could get myself to safety. My fate was in my hands. The lifeline was gone and now it was all on me. I was alone.
I looked back as I floated to the crest of a wave and I could see the starting line and the crowds of people cheering for us. They disappeared behind another one of the six foot waves.
“What the hell,” I thought. I swam on.
At the Hellespont, four miles of water separate Europe from Asia. Last month my challenge was to swim it.
“America doesn’t know its military and the United States military doesn’t know America” — Adm. Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Journalists have a unique and solemn duty to perform in democracies that field all-volunteer military forces. Decisions on when to engage military units are based on the appetite of the citizenry for the costs to blood and treasure associated with the application of hard power. The role of journalists in a democracy is critical — we have to educate citizens about the costs of war to maintain societal hesitations to the application of deadly force.
BY NOLAN PETERSON
The ultimate test: Huebner has completed two Ironman triathlons — one before her cancer diagnosis, and one after.
Breast cancer, bleeding in the brain and a broken collarbone.
Lying in her hospital bed in July, 2008, Tasha Huebner thought she was going to die. One year later she was standing on the starting line of the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon facing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike race and a full 26.2 mile marathon- all on the same day. Huebner’s body is not indestructible, and her mind is not immune from fear or dark imaginings, but she will never speak the words: “I can’t.”
From my journal. 21 Sept 2011/ Haridwar, India
What a place. A complicated mess of humanity and religion on the banks of the Ganges. The city is a chaotic cluster flanking the river as it first emerges from the Himalayas. The streets are a collection of Hindu pilgrims, sadhus, spiritual men, vendors, beggars, and lost souls. Lining the banks of the river are numerous ghats, or quays, of long steps into the swiftly flowing waters. It is a religious tradition for the Hindus to bathe here, and there is a collection of people in various states of undress, accomplishing their religious devotions. I changed hotels this morning and am lingering in my new room for a bit to have some food and let it cool down outside before setting out to take a look.
After lunch I explored Haridwar for a few hours. It was an encounter with an unknown and exotic place. I walked along the water’s edge and watched the pilgrims bathe in the Ganges. The city itself is a heap of crowded streets, impossibly busy markets and winding medieval alleys filled with Hindu religious items and dhabas baking sweet breads and naan. I took a few hours to try and soak it in and photograph it well. I’m much more comfortable now, and skillful, with brushing aside the unwelcome attention of touts on the street so it feels more pleasant walking around here than it did in Delhi. Even though this place is equally as dense with people and the mess of urban activity.
At sunset I wandered down to the main ghat along the Ganges and witnessed the Gangaa Aatri, which is a ceremony performed by the Hindu faithful at the water’s edge. There was chanting, ringing bells, huge offerings lit ablaze and floating offerings of flower petals adrift on the water. Thousands of people were clustered along the shore on the steps of the ghat, pressing forward to place their offerings on the water. It was an impressive sight, and for me this is the epitome of what India is.
It is a mess of humanity that somehow works. The crowds are enormous, but the individuals are remarkable. For all the anonymity of such a vast population, the faces of the people indicate an individuality that although subdued, is not lost. They are engulfed in the mass of their nation, yet each face retains a presence. This makes the streets of India all the more overwhelming. Crowds are easier to endure when the faces that flow past are easily overlooked, but not here. The quantity is in itself overwhelming, yet I find myself trying to process and appreciate the people within the crowds. I don’t feel capable. I can’t just relegate their faces to an anonymous blur of humanity. I register their existence as individuals, and therefore am much more deeply affected by the enormous human presence that has engulfed me.
2 Oct 2011/Manang, Nepal
[...] About an hour or so out of Gyerhu I came to a village high on the valley’s slopes called Ngawal. I stopped at a teahouse for some chapatti bread with honey and another black coffee. From Ngawal the trail began a long, steady descent back to the valley floor where my path paralleled the main trail on the opposite side of the river. My path was still a bit higher up the valley wall, and I had some great views of the Annapurna peaks as the clouds continued to part. The terrain was gorgeous, with strange, contorted rock shapes twisted by erosion lining the sides of the valley, and huge snow-capped peaks and glaciers suspended overhead.
There is a silence to these high places that further retreats your thoughts and sense of self to an inner sanctuary. The vistas and panoramas are so vast that you feel incapable of mentally processing the scale of the land around you. Visually, you are over-stimulated. Yet the only sounds are the flow of the wind, your breath and your footsteps. It’s as if the scope of your audible universe extends no further than your immediate self. There are no birds chirping, no leaves rustling, no other voices, car engines… nothing for the ears except for what is within an arm’s length.
The most common question I get asked when I tell people about the North Pole marathon is: “What do you wear?!”
Nolan running in the Antarctic Ice Marathon — 2010. I was about 13 miles in at this point, and starting to get hot!
The truth is, dressing for polar running is a unique challenge. Balancing protection from the extreme cold and winds with the need for clothing that allows for a high level exertion, for a long time, without sweating.
At the North Pole temperatures will likely hover around -20C, but with winds blowing at a steady 10-20 knots it will feel a lot colder. So obviously the cold is an issue. But the hours of hard physical work that come from running through snowdrifts and over ice will cause our core temperatures to rise, increasing the likelihood that — of all things — we might actually start to overheat and sweat if we wear too much insulation. This weird paradox is amplified by the intense radiation of the sunlight that is reflected back up at your face by the uniform whiteness of the ice cap.
BY NOLAN PETERSON
The silence heightens the senses. Footsteps on the stone floors seem to echo louder than usual. Air feels a little cooler against the skin. And the incredible colors of Marc Chagall’s stained glass masterpiece, Windows on America, glow with a vibrancy heightened by the sensitivity of silence.
If Chicago were a war zone, it would be a deadlier one for Americans than Afghanistan.
In fact, according to the Department of Defense and FBI data, the number of Chicagoans murdered is two and a half times U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
With NATO in the rear-view mirror, area law enforcement officials and politicians will turn their attention away from unruly protestors and visiting heads of state and back to the city’s rising murder rate – up 54 percent from last year, according to police data.
It has been almost one year since my last great adventure — an epic few months of trekking and climbing in the Nepal and Indian Himalaya. This year I’ve decided to challenge myself again, but in an altogether different way. On August 30, I will be competing in a swim race across the Hellespont in Turkey. The Hellespont is the strait of water separating Europe and Asia, and the historic spot where Xerxes crossed his army into Europe and Alexander marched his army into Asia. The race begins in Gallipoli, the site of a bloody WWI battle, and ends on the beaches of Troy, the fabled city of the Iliad. It will be a great adventure, a true physical challenge and a rare opportunity to physically experience a location so pivotal to the history of the world. I’ll post updates about the race if you’re curious about my performance. I’m certainly no Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte, but I will represent my country as best I can and bring it strong for the old red, white and blue. Go USA!