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The first step is always like this

Explorers will tell you that—in an extreme wilderness like the Arctic Ocean, which is still among the least explored places on Earth—your life is in danger from the moment you take your first step, and after that it's only a matter of how much in danger. Such was the case with Børge's and Mike's first steps in and around Cape Arkticheskiy in the pitch dark of polar winter.

They tried to get going right after the helicopter dropped them off there but encountered a wall of ice at the coast, moving past them sideways in the wrong direction. So they spent the night, scared in their tent but happy that at least there were two of them. Then Børge heard something.

"Mike, is that you?"

"Yeah, I'm chewing on a piece of chocolate."

Then came a ripping sound—fwaap!—followed by the head of a polar bear. Mike and Børge lurched backward, which scared the bear; it ran off with some food, and they had to chase after it firing the flare gun, to get the food back.

When it came time for bed, Mike assured Børge that he was alert, jungle savvy from previous expeditions, months kickboarding down the Amazon, and walking around the Equator; he knew all the sounds. That said, he immediately fell fast asleep and started snoring. Børge was wide awake all night.

"Mike, how can you sleep?"

"Børge, if you worry, you die. If you don't worry, you also die. So why worry?"

The next night, the tent was flapping so noisily in the wind that they didn't hear a polar bear dragging away their rubber boat. They found it the next morning, a hundred yards (91 meters) away, all chewed up, and had to spend hours repairing it. Two nights, two bears.

They took a walk to check out the ice. Hans was telling them that the ice, based on the satellite images he was analyzing back in Switzerland, appeared to be drifting fast to the southeast—the wrong way—at a rate of half a mile an hour. But they were already so tired of polar bears that when they found a good crossing off the cape and the drift seemed to calm down, they decided to get the hell out of there.

They had to use the patched rubber boat to cross some treacherous leads and get away from the coast and ended up camping for the night a couple of miles out. When they woke up, they found they had drifted nine miles (14 kilometers) backward.

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