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In The Pipeline: A beautiful prize: Antarctica

November 03, 2010|By Chris Epting

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

So goes one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, and one my 14-year-old daughter, Claire, and I applied full force recently. In August, Claire heard about an essay contest. Quark Expeditions, a leading polar expedition company, had teamed up with SeaWorld to offer the chance for two to go on a spectacular Antarctic expedition to Snow Hill Island to see the emperor penguins aboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov, the historic Russian icebreaker.

The essay asked entrants 21 or older to write about their efforts to help preserve wildlife, and so I wrote about Claire's volunteer efforts at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center and some of the columns I've written about the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

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Shortly after the contest closed Aug. 31, perhaps a day later, we received the phone call — we'd won.

With little more than a month to plan, we prepared for the journey. Thanks to my wife, everything we needed done was planned to a T, and about three weeks ago, off we went.

Claire and I arrived in Ushuaia ("the world's southernmost city") at the bottom tip of Argentina about 36 hours after leaving our house. We toured the gorgeous Tierra del Fuego National Park and the next day boarded the venerable ship along with about 90 other passengers, including celebrity guest Julie Scardina, animal ambassador for SeaWorld.

From there, well, it's hard to contain in one column. It feels more like a book, which I am thinking of writing. That said, soon after leaving the port city of Ushuaia, we were crossing the Drake Passage, called the roughest stretch of sea in the world.

For 48 hours, we rolled and bounced about our cabin ("Price of admission to Antarctica," a British passenger chuckled over an abbreviated dinner one evening) before we entered the Antarctic Sound. Passing gorgeous blue icebergs and glaciers, we soon arrived at Snow Hill Island, and the Kapitan created a parking space for itself by cutting into the ice. We took an ice walk after arrival for about an hour and saw lots of emperor penguins in the distance checking us out — as if they sensed that the aliens had arrived.

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