The wisdom of the wind.
The wind was howling across the stark landscape. With gusts reaching over 60 miles per hour, it sounded like the wailing of lonely banshees--tortured souls of the past. The three of us paused on the edge of the vast Lake Sakakawea for a moment and listened. Our shared glimpses said it all. For the first time since we'd started the expedition nearly a week earlier, we felt connected. Not just connected to each other, or the wind, or the land, but connected to the past--and the spirit of exploration.
Someone made a comment that Lewis and Clark were the last people to stand in this very spot, looking out over the North Dakota horizon, listening to the wisdom and secrets of the wind. Our expedition was following a similar path, and we stood for a moment contemplating the truth of the statement, until Paul (at age 19, the expedition's youngest member, and a recent high school graduate) said, "If I remember right, they traveled in summer."
True, the fact that it was February and nearly 40 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) was a big difference. But it was not the only one. Two hundred years earlier, Lewis and Clark explored in an effort to open new frontiers for industrial and human (specifically Euro-caucasian) expansion. The expedition numbered more than 25, with native guides, pack animals, weapons, and over 12 tons of supplies. They traveled more than 7,000 miles by foot, animal, and boat for more than two years. On our "To Cross the Moon" expedition (2XtM), we traveled on skis and snowboards, and used the wind (and giant kites) to pull ourselves across the snow.We carried only 150 pounds among the three of us, traveled for 19 days, and covered nearly 400 miles.
We were certain that our physical goal--to cross the entire state in winter, unsupported and using the wind--was possible. The obstacles, however, were daunting. As we traversed the inhospitable landscape, we battled barbed wire, power lines, pressure ridges of jagged ice, and frostbite. But the mental battles we faced were far greater. As the temperatures dropped to minus-30 (with windchills of minus-50), motivation and morale were difficult to maintain. The questions, "Why are we doing this?" and "Will it make any difference?" were constantly nagging us. The answer to these questions almost always came in the form of howling wind.
In 2005, one of our climbing sponsors, prAna, a manufacturer of yoga and climbing clothes, inadvertently changed our lives. Long a proponent of wind energy, prAna launched the Natural Power Initiative, effectively supplying all the power for their 250 retail locations, warehouses, offices, and the homes of every full-time employee from the wind. This so inspired us that we formed a small group of eco-conscious yogi-athlete-acrobats that has since become known as the YogaSlackers. Our goal was to push the limits of human potential--not just physical potential, but the potential for a small group to create significant social or environmental change. We began doing races, expeditions, and workshops based on the slogan "Extreme Living with Awareness. "We stepped away from our then-current sponsors and took on new sponsors based on their sustainability practices--not how much money they offered us. The only sponsor that we kept through this transition was prAna.
In 2006, team member Sam Salwei learned that North Dakota had the potential to supply 32 percent of the country's electrical needs if wind farms were developed. The state ranked first in potential, but 15th and falling in production. The same year, Sam was teaching himself the basics of snow-kiting. Most North Dakotans would list the cold and wind as the state's two biggest drawbacks. To Sam and his new love of snowkiting, the wind and snow became huge assets. It didn't take long before the idea of an educational expedition was born.
Over the course of the expedition, educators Anna Holden, Chelsea Hummon, Jason Schaefer, and Kathryn Joyce traveled to over 40 communities. They spoke at school assemblies, classrooms, churches and community groups, and conducted free snowkiting clinics, presenting to over 10,000 people. The team delivered thousands of letters to Governor John Hoeven from people across North Dakota calling on him to make wind development a priority.
We were (are) concerned about what the climate crises will mean for our world, and we were disheartened by our state's lack of leadership. In the 2007 legislative session, a $20 million renewable energy fund was slashed to $3 million after intense pressure from the coal and oil industries. Meanwhile, neighboring Minnesota passed the most aggressive renewable energy and global warming legislation in the country. Our leaders' response was to allocate $2 million to sue the state of Minnesota for threatening the coal industry. Ironically, North Dakotans, with our enormous wind energy potential, could benefit the most from Minnesota's policies. Clearly, a new vision is needed.
The name To Cross the Moon (2XtM) was suggested by Tad Erickson of T-Phy Productions. Not only is North Dakota a beautiful moonscape in the winter, but more importantly, 2XtM draws from President Kennedy's bold vision for America to be the first to land on the moon. He rallied a nation in an age when the technology did not exist to accomplish the goal. Climate change provides us with a challenge even more daunting than reaching the moon. The difference is that today we have the technology to rise to the challenge. What we lack is the political will. A power shift is needed to change the political climate instead of the climate of our planet--a power shift to a clean, renewable energy economy and a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.
Hundreds of years ago, the idea of living sustainably didn't really exist. Or rather, the idea of living unsustainably did not exist. In time of Lewis and Clark, when resources somewhere became limited, expansion was the solution. Looking at research over the past 40 years, it is evident that expansion is no longer a viable solution.
In some small way, Lewis and Clark (and other explorers) started all of this over 200 years ago. They made room for humanity to grow into. Now it is necessary for humanity to grow up. The physical exploration of the world's land is essentially done, but people everywhere still respond to explorations of human capacity. Through that appreciation for adventure, 2XtM hopes to help promote a better future.
Jason Magness is a member of team YogaSlackers. Visit www.2xtm.com, www.yogaslackers.com, and www.prana.com for more information.
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|Title Annotation:||expeditions to cross North Dakoto in cold weather for the cause of sustainable living|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2008|
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