Thursday, June 14, 2007

90° N 0° W

(All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to any person, dead or alive is purely co-incidental)

As the vessel glided northwards, in the tranquil waters of the Arctic, the number of icebergs in sight, began to increase steadily. Ryan Marcus Whitman stood on the deck of Christopher 2, peering through his 120 diopter powerful binoculars, admiring the unbridled beauty of the ice caps in the distance. As his wife, Paula came and stood alongside him, he lowered them and turned around and looked into her eyes. Words failed him. But Paula could see the tremendous sense of exhilaration he felt, in those small bright eyes of his, set deep in his face, among wrinkles. She gave him a hug, and said "You've done it, honey... you've done it!!" He held her close, and two huge drops of tears from his eyes fell on her shoulders. "No… WE have done it… My childhood dream...” He couldn't say any more.


In 52 years of his years of his life, Ryan Whitman had seen, and done, almost everything, he had always wanted to. From being a malnourished child, who was brought up by his single mother, after the early death of his father, on the farms of Kansas, to being one of the most influential men in the world today, as the head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), for Global Warming, he had come a long long way. The story of his life was the stuff legends were made of, and had inspired millions, the world over, in the form of his best selling autobiography. He was hard-work, resilience, business acumen, diplomacy - all virtues personified, and was known for his brilliant oratory and persuasive skills and an uncanny ability to win over people to his line of thought. As the top guy of the UNEP (GW), he played a major role in the formulation of the policies of the UN to control the menace of global warming.

The other half of Whitman, which made him such an interesting individual, was his avid love for adventure and travel. He had been an adventure freak - taking risks and chasing thrills - ever since his childhood. Many attributed his phenomenal success as a businessman and diplomat, to this attitude of his. He religiously followed the practice of taking a few weeks off, every year, from his busy life, to go on a new adventure, in a new part of the world, different from the one he had undertaken previously in his life. And both as a cause and effect of this hobby of his, he was very strong and healthy, and had undertaken several arduous ventures, which, many people, even half his age, wouldn’t dare to, or be fit enough for. In fact, he had met his wife, as a youngster, during one such adventure. They both were a part of the team that had gone cycling in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and since then, been on all adventures together, as man and wife.

Among his most coveted adventures, walking the Poles of the Earth was something which had been a long-standing dream of his. He wanted to achieve the rare feat of having traveled from one 'end' of the globe to the other - Literally! And despite having gone on numerous such escapades, to various corners of the earth, the poles had eluded him for one reason or the other. Now finally, the time had come. He had planned to celebrate his 53rd birthday, on the North Pole, and started his voyage to the part of the earth, where every direction, pointed south – The North Pole 90° N 0° W.

On 16 September 2017, he and his team were seen off from Point Barrow, Alaska, (71°18 N, 156°44 W) by his adopted son William, and a group of friends and well-wishers. His team included his wife, six other adventurers headed by ace Arctic explorer Evgeny Mikhalov who had already walked the North Pole thrice before, and Captain Donald Crowell and his crew of 18 people, on board Christopher 2. Their plan was to sail from Barrow, through the Beaufort Sea, into the Arctic Ocean, and reach the North Pole from the West, covering approximately 1150 miles along the way. Out of this, they expected the last - approximately - 160 miles to be covered by ice, which they planned to cover on skis and sledges.


Whitman’s walkie talkie cackled. It was Evgeny Mikhalov on the line.

“Mr. Whitman, we’d hit the ice within an hour. You wanna come in here, into the control room? – over!”

“We’re coming Eve – over and out!”

Whitman and his wife went into the control room of the ship, where Captain Donald and Mikhalov were sitting, staring at the computers.

“How’s it going, champions?!” Whitman called, as he entered the cabin.

“We should have already been on land – ice – by now, Mr. Whitman… The ice has receded far beyond last time, when I’d been year couple of years back” Mikhalov shrugged.

“That’d mean…”

“That means that the green house gases have eaten up a lot of the ice caps… And logically, it’d be fair to assume that the thickness of the ones still there, would have also reduced… That would make skiing more risky, than you’d be comfortable with…” Mikhalov said, with a slight concern on his face, his brows, furrowed in thought.

He turned back to the computers. Whitman came and leaned over his shoulder, and began studying the computers. Suddenly he saw a huge ice mountain emerge, on the left side of the display, and exclaimed “WOW! That’s huge!!”

Captain Donald, Evgeny and Paula looked at what Whitman was pointing at. It was a huge ice mountain – lying about 1800 m to left of their navigation passage.

“True…” Evgeny said, peering at the display monitor closely, “that’s one of the biggest I too have ever seen”

“What say Captain…?” Whitman turned to Captain Donald, with a sparkle in his eye “you think we can go slightly closer to that mountain to get a better look?”

Captain Donald was thoughtful for a few moments, and said… “Probably, we can… provided the path is clear. If the radars detect any huge mass of ice beneath the water, along way, we’ll have to retreat…” he finished, looking questioningly, at the three.

Whitman gave him a thumbs-up. “Cool!” said Evgeny. Paula smiled brightly.

Captain Donald turned to the navigator, and said “Mike, Lets go towards that mountain…” He turned back to the control console and continued “… and I’ll have to make sure, that everything along the way is safe”

Mike turned the ship 200 to the left, away from their planned path, and the ship headed for the ice mountain. Whitman, Evgeny and Paula went out, on to the deck. Their eyes were all fixed on the mesmerizing beauty of the mammoth ice structure.

“Loving it, Mr. Whitman?” Evgeny asked.

“Every single bit of it” Whitman replied, without taking his eyes off the magnificent sight in front of him.

Evgeny smiled. “This is just the beginning…” he said, and then went to a slightly higher point on the deck, a little further, took out his camera, and began shooting pictures. The winds started getting colder and more intense.

When they were around 300 yards from the mountain, the ship slowly began changing its direction, so as to align itself to get back on to its main path, and slowed down, about 180 yards from the mountain.

Whitman’s walkie-talkie cackled again. It was Captain Donald. “Folks… that’s as close as we can get. Now we get back on to our path - Over!”.

“Okay Captain… And thanks for the favor - Over!”

“My pleasure, Mr. Whitman - Over and out!”

As the ship just began to gather speed, there was a loud crunching noise. Whitman, Evgeny and Paula looked up from the LCD display of the camera, on which, the three were admiring the pictures of the ice mountain, Evgeny had just shot.

The noise was emanating from the ice mountain they’d just visited. Evgeny rushed towards the rails of the deck of the ship, closest to the mountain, craning his neck, and straining his eyes, to see what was happening. He was blinded partially because the sun had moved into a position that caused the ice mountain to reflect the rays from its surface. When his eyes got used to the light, and he could see better, his jaw dropped. “SH*T!!” he screamed. He backed off, and made a dash for the control room.

From the sound, and Evgeny’s reaction, Whitman guessed that the worst nightmare they had ever expected to see, had come alive. He grabbed Paula by her hand and ran after Evgeny.

As Whitman and Paula entered the cabin, the emergency alarm went off and began blaring loudly. The control room was in a commotion.

“Mike… FLOOR THE THROTTLE! FAST!!” Captain Donald was yelling at his navigator. “I’m doing my best Captain…” Mike cried, clenching his teeth hard.

Noises of steps hurrying towards the cabin were heard. Within seconds, all the members were in the cabin. The noise from the mountain had now become a roar, and everyone was looking outside, through the window, at the giant creaking bulk of ice.

Captain Donald commanded “Guys… Look here. Listen to me!! Get into your life jackets and get the life boats ready! NOWWW!” Even before he completed his sentence, his voice was drowned by the deafening roar outside. Everyone looked outside, aghast!

The huge ice mountain broke, at about three fourths of its size from left, and slid down from the mass of ice still standing. This brought into view, the full breadth of the mountain – which now showed up to be about quarter a mile wide. It fell into the ocean, with a thunderous sound.

The crew on Christopher looked at it wide-eyed, too panicked to move an inch. The sound of the splash was so loud, that it felt like they were standing on an airport runway, when a plane was taking off right above their head. “Christopher calling… Christopher calling… We have an EMERGENCY!” Mike was yelling over the radio.

As they stared, terror-struck, they could see a huge wave welling up from the point, the ice mountain had sunk. “Jesus save us” someone mumbled. And before they could even realize, the huge wall of water rose like a giant in front of them, lifted the ship from underneath, and capsized it, drowning the shrieks of those in it.


The cold waters of the Arctic hit Whitman heavily on his face. Paula’s hands were in his, for a few seconds, and then he lost her. His entire body went frigid, and the water had entered his nose and ears. Something hard hit him on his legs. He felt a surge of pain, which made him shudder. He opened his mouth to scream, but the arctic waters gushed into his lungs.

For a moment, his mind failed him. But the expert swimmer in him, quickly brought him back to his senses. He was finding it difficult to hold on, now having lost the oxygen in his lungs to the injury on his legs. He began flapping his arms, trying to get to the surface.

“Com’on, Com’on Com’on Com’on ….” He kept urging himself. Just when he felt that his time was up, he broke through the surface. He coughed hard a couple of times, and took a few huge gasps of air in. His injured legs, which now felt like two huge blocks of ice, dangling from his hips, were beginning to fail him.

He looked around. No one! There wasn’t a trace of anyone else. He turned around, and started searching desperately for something from the wrecked ship, to float on. He found a piece of tarpaulin, a few yards away. He summoned every bit of courage and strength remaining in him, and began swimming towards the tarpaulin, constantly telling himself “Com’on, Com’on… you can do it… Com’on, COM’ON…”

He caught on to the tarpaulin in some time. When he touched it, the frost that had bitten his hands, made him feel, as if they weren’t his own. He gave a huge grunt of effort, trying to get on to the tarpaulin. The rest of his body refused to join him. He stopped, took a deep breath again, and heaved himself up again, giving out a wail. The tarpaulin wobbled, and threatened to overturn, but he managed to hold on his balance and get on to the tarpaulin. Once on the tarpaulin, he gave a huge sigh of relief, balanced himself properly, and slumped on it, utterly exhausted.


Six years back… June 2011 … He had been a part of the G10 (Earlier, the G8, it had been rechristened G10, with the addition two of the largest growing economies of the world – India and China) summit, for the Global Warming discussions, for the first time when a separate organization was created by the UNEP, to combat the evil of Global Warming on a war footing, and come up with drastic measures to curb it.

Whitman, like many other officials, and heads of states of the G10 nations at the meet, had his hands tied by the powerful industrial lobbies from their countries. The writing on the wall was very clear to them - They had to do more… much more than they had been doing over the previous years, to bring the situation on to the radar of control, let alone into hand!!

The warnings of Global Warming which were becoming increasingly manifested in bizarre climate changes all over the world and the pressure from Green Peace and scores of other organizations around the world weighed increasingly on them. Protests against the summit were assuming larger proportions, and becoming difficult to ignore. Add to it, the additional arm of authority created by the UN for this purpose – all these factors notwithstanding, the policies adopted at the end of the summit, left a lot to be desired. It was plain evident, that business sense was out-weighing common sense, despite the threat looming large over the life of Earth.

Year after year they kept adding more stringent measures as action points for the G10 nations, the major contributor of the Green House gases – the main culprit behind Global Warming. Despite this, the gap between the steps taken and the menace, had just kept widening…


Ryan Whitman opened his eyes… the memories that were haunting his subconscious had rudely woken him up, from his exhaustion-induced sleep. He took a few moments to realize where he was. His entire body had crumpled and the muscles of his stomach and hands had developed spasms. As for his legs, he couldn’t even feel them now. He raised his head with lot of effort, and looked around. There was nothing, but a few icebergs in the distance, and blue waters all around. There was no sight of any of his companions… no sight of Paula… He cringed. His mind wept, but the eyes were too weary to give out any tears…

If the harbor control room had known of their ship wreck immediately, and had flown a chopper to their rescue, it would still take a couple of hours to reach him, Too long!! I would be stone dead by then… he thought…

The flashback of his entire life, appeared in front of his eyes…The demon, which he and the world had tried to ignore for long, and fight from the back, rather than take head on, had engulfed him today… He wished from the core of his heart, to go back alive, so that he could make a difference henceforth atleast… but he knew, he had lost his chance…“I’m sorry, people of the world...” he said, looking up into the skies.

With one final attempt, he heaved his body around, and slid off the tarpaulin, into the Arctic Ocean.