Spencer Luczak shares what he went through to travel where few have ever gone before.
When I tell someone I went to Antarctica, they usually ask, “Why?” But for me the question was always, “Why not?” Antarctica may not seem like the most sought-out vacation destination in the world, but this vastly uncharted continent had been on my bucket list for many years. It wasn’t the ice or animal life that most attracted me to the idea — it was the challenge of getting there and being in a place where few, if any, people had been before.
For years, the thought of visiting Antarctica would surface in my mind every couple of months, but wasn’t until I was living in India that the reality started to coming together. I was there on a study abroad when I overheard one of my companions talking about her plans to conquer her final continent: Antarctica. I politely interrupted and asked how and when she planned to leave. Although we’d been complete strangers only days before, that night we quickly went to work figuring out logistics, cost and timing for a trip to Antarctica.
After a bit of research, we realized it would be a couple years before we could make our Antarctic journey. We needed better gear and a well thought-out plan to accomplish our goal. To make the excursion slightly more affordable and to add support mentally and physically, we enlisted another friend I knew from years back that had always wanted to venture where few had ever been before.
Fulling acknowledging the trip would cost more than a quality used car, and that we would be stuck on open water with 30 foot waves for two days crossing Drake’s Passage (one of the deadliest and most tumultuous bodies of water on the planet) we submitted our down payments for this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
A Wrench in the Spokes
After nearly two years of planning, saving and sacrificing other experiences, the three of us finally had our gear and logistics figured out to a T. Advised to pack light, I knew my tried-and-tested NOMATIC travel bag and travel pack would be up to the task. I packed both bags with all the items I needed for the extreme conditions. Everything was packed, planned and ready to go, when a wrench was thrown in the spokes.
I was coaching private ski lessons on New Year’s Eve when suddenly I was taken out by an out-of-control skier. My rotator cuff, labrum and bicep were torn from their usual mounting spots and left me motionless on my left side. It wasn’t my worst injury, but with emergency surgery five days before the I was supposed to board the plane, I was unsure if I could go on the trip to Antarctica. I didn’t know what to do, but the thought of missing out on something I’d sacrificed for and desired for so long was more unbearable than the physical pain my body was going through.
However, my travel companions promised they would help with the heavy lifting and get me from place to place with my bags. With very little time to think of alternative options, I boarded the plane in Salt Lake City with my gigantic sling on one arm, my travel backpack on the other and an unbearable headache.
The Journey Begins
With several plane rides and a few bus transfers, we made it through Central and South America all the way to the edge of Patagonia and onto a boat headed towards Antarctica. I was enjoying my new surroundings and making new friends on board, but the pain in my body was excruciating. Everything, including changing into winter clothes and bathing in a miniature shower was harder than I anticipated. I even remember laughing so hard that it shook my body and my arm hurt even more. That first day at sea, I was so exhausted I fell asleep.
The next thing I remember was being airborne. We’d encountered mildly rough water for a portion of the journey towards the Antarctic Peninsula causing me to fly out of bed into the doorway. I stumbled around a bit until I got my bearings and went up to the sight deck.
The Antarctic Peninsula
When I emerged, everything was blue for miles around as giant sperm whales and large birds tagged alongside the ship. It was the first time in many years I felt completely separate from the modern world as I ventured into unknown territory.
It was another day and a half of sea travel before jagged ice and storybook-white crusted mountains came into view. Land. There was solid land ahead and I was ready to be motionless for a minute.
As we pulled into the first anchoring point of the excursion, my pain receded temporarily. I carefully unpacked my snow gear and someone helped me get my boots on. Gingerly, the crew lowered me into a motorized raft that took us on shore for hikes. With limited mobility and a body full of medicine, I stepped foot on the continent claimed by nobody but the millions of penguins surrounding us. It was a humbling experience to see nature so raw and untouched.
Life on the Move
As I made my way up the snow bank to a lookout point over the icy bay, I realized I’d finally made it. I accomplished a goal I had thought about since I was a kid. After years of planning and saving, I conquered my fear of open water and reached a place so few people before me had ever been. I could describe the spectacular ice monuments and incredible marine animals for days, but the most memorable part of Antarctica was feeling a resurgence for life and exploration.
The real souvenir was my soul connecting with people and the environment we were apart of. We all shared the struggle of getting to Antarctica as well as the wonder and amazement that such a place still exists in a technologically-dependent world full of hustle and bustle. Without solid friends and equipment to survive the vicissitudes of such a venture, this trip would not have been possible.
One might say I went to great lengths to reach the bottom of the Earth. I just say it was simply another chapter in the life I’ve created, ensuring I am constantly finding purpose in my passions. What started out as a youthful dream 20 years ago only became a reality because I refused to stop moving — moving forward into personal lands unknown. I accomplished something intrinsically monumental that reaffirmed this very important principle: Dreams do not work until you do.