“Every expedition has a reckoning point, the moment when an adventurer must navigate her own inner tumult and find the strength to continue. Sometimes, discovering the will to go on is not a single event, but an equation that must be calculated with each footfall on a given trek. The true journey of any expedition is the journey of the mind. Navigating that terrain depends not on physical skill or muscle but character. Where one finds that hidden reserve of motivation is a litmus test of human nature. Does it come from the thirst for fame? Love of family or competition? Or, form the beauty of the very terrain that might prove deadly? Because the will to continue isn’t about choosing reasons to take the next one hundred steps; it’s about connecting with the forces that give one’s life meaning, that which one values above all else. Success on an expedition (as in life) isn’t about brute strength, or even endurance, but resilience, the ability to remind oneself, over and over, of the joy of living, even amid the greatest hardship.”
Those are the opening lines of No Horizon is So Far, a chronicle of the first two women to cross Antarctica on foot. I’m not normally particularly into adventure memoirs — I loved Into the Wild, but that’s not quite your typical adventure chronicle. This book, however, grabbed me from the opening lines. I repeated those lines to myself so, so many times throughout my incarceration. In solitary, I repeated them again and again, like a mantra that would save me from my own neon white hell. Could I find the desire to live? With no discernible joy in life, should I try to construct a noose? Or could I count myself among the resilient, those who could make it through prison and again awaken to the joy living?
From where I sat, in a 6 x 9 cell, it was completely unfathomable to me why people would voluntarily put themselves in such a solitary environment. Fortunately, though, the tale of their solitary environment transported me from my own. American Ann Bancroft and Norwegian Liv Arnesan had never met before they decided to make the first female-only trans-Antarctic crossing on foot in 2001. They faced all manner of unexpected obstacles along the way, including a major shoulder injury during the journey. Just as compelling as their expedition, though, is their individual backstories, which we learn were replete with their own obstacles. It’s an excellent read but, frankly, for me it was worth purchasing the book just for that opening paragraph. Those words resonated with me in a way that life itself couldn’t at that point. Now, every time I read those lines I am transported to a painful memory of what my life was like at that time — and then as I return to reality I am flooded with relief that today I did not wake up alone in a cell.