Book Review: Pole to Pole and Extreme South
By David Rutter
Quite by coincidence, I was given two books with similar themes for my birthday. Both were accounts of expeditions that achieved world firsts, both involved Antarctica, and both teams met briefly in the snow and ice in Antarctica.
“Extreme South” by James Castrission and “Pole to Pole” by Pat Farmer are chronological accounts of efforts by Australians to better the world by the means they know best – pushing themselves beyond what is believed to be possible to achieve their goals. The books are similar in this way, and in others, as they present blow-by-blow accounts of the physical and emotional trials these men went through to achieve their goals.
The books have their own strengths and weaknesses – Castrission’s book is the easier read, and gives a better account of the costs, the preparation involved, and the complex and evolving relationship between Castrission and his partner in adventure, Justin Jones as they battle the elements, their bodies, and the clock.
Pat Farmer shows us the size of his heart and the strength of his determination as he runs from the North Pole to the South Pole, all while trying to be back home for his daughter’s birthday. His goal is not really about being the first to run from Pole to Pole, it is about raising funds for a clean water project for the Red Cross. In his account, Pat delves into his mind, and as a study in determination, and ultimately inspiration, it is a great read.
These qualities aside, the adventurers show great differences in their preparation. Castrission and Jones appear to be much better prepared than Farmer – they embark on a rigorous physical training programme prior to starting. Their dietary requirements are analysed, prepared and packaged. In some sense, Farmer seems to be winging it – he does in the end have the luxury of getting food along the way, but even so a little more preparation might have slowed the degradation of his body, and ultimately his performance.
This attention to detail also shows somewhat in the dry prose that Farmer has written – he passes through a large part of our planet, through many different landscapes, peoples and cultures, and he leaves the reader having barely described what he experiences along his route. As he himself admits, the book, like the run itself, becomes monotonous – it somehow reflects the journey in it prose, and ultimately tests the reader’s patience. Castrission on the other hand, is demonstrably awed by the landscape in which he finds himself, and gives the reader a great sense of this landscape through his writing.
Perhaps then, the great difference between the two books is that one is a description of the adventure through the landscape, and the other adventure through the mind.