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All Expeditions Share These Three Phases - Expeditionary Phase

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

It's an incredible feeling to watch the vehicle that drops you off at the start of an expedition (whether it's a plane, helicopter, Superjeep or Zodiac) turn around and disappear over the horizon. It's a defining moment on any adventure. One that marks the transition from dependency on others to self reliance. Suddenly the world both shrinks and expands at the same time. It shrinks to the size of your team and it expands to the limitless horizons that surround you. It's hard not to feel some emotion at that moment. How much you invested in the Preparatory Phase of your expedition can mean the difference between thinking "Hell yes! " or "Oh shit!"

Getting dropped off is a defining moment on any expedition. The Polar Plateau, Antarctica.

This newsletter is about the second phase of an expedition, the aptly named "Expeditionary Phase". This is the phase you've been waiting and planning for. It's time to show up and take those first nerve-wrecking and exciting steps. Importantly, "showing up" means a lot more than simply getting to the starting point. It means arriving physically and organizationally prepared so that you can be mentally present. It means having an "Expedition Mindset," and that means being adaptable to changing circumstances and looking for the positive during difficult times.

Writing in journal inside tent near South Pole
Arriving physically and organizationally prepared means you can be emotionally present. Near 87º S in Antarctica.

Science tells us that there is a strong link between mindset and achievement. You may have heard of the phrase "Growth Mindset" which is frequently taught in schools. It refers to the ability to increase intelligence by learning to rebound from failure and thinking of challenges as opportunities. Expedition Mindset is similar to Growth Mindset except it covers all aspects of expedition life including relationships, self care, and the need for humor and hope. It has a tremendous impact on your ability to achieve individual and team goals. It's a skill that we consider as important as being able to properly set up a tent or efficiently use a stove. Probably more important.

Having a good Expedition Mindset goes beyond being positive and adaptable. It includes an awareness of all the relationships within the group and a commitment to being attentive to those relationships in a positive way. It means asking for help when you need it and offering help to others on a regular basis. It involves thinking of your team as a POD (and if that doesn't mean anything to you click here to learn more.)

Team of skiers on Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland
Being attentive to relationships in a positive way is a big part of the Expedition Mindset. Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland.

There is little that's easy about the Expeditionary Phase but almost everything is simple. Questions like "Have I had enough water today?" and "How long am I going to let my finger stay cold before I stop and fix it?" dominate your decision making. All the noise from front country living falls away as you connect with the things that truly matter. There will be no shortage of hard work which makes the physical and mental relief of laughter (at yourself, at situations) all the more important. Here are a few other tips for the Expeditionary Phase of your adventure:

  • Comfort is really important when you are on a multi-day or multi-week expedition. Your ability to thrive rather than survive has a lot to do with how comfortable you are. What will you do to feel relaxed and content in the extreme cold? If you're looking for suggestions read this.

  • When skiing for hours everyday it can be easy to focus solely on your ski tips or the backend of the sled in front of you. Every so often lift your head and scan the horizon. Breathe deep. Take it all in. Even if it's a whiteout. Etch the moment and the place into your memory. Ski tips and backends of sleds can exist anywhere. The vast ocean of snow that surrounds you and the colors that your eyes absorb only exist at that instant and in that place.

  • Very little about your life will be static. Your routine, your pace, the weight of your sled, how you feel everyday, how much you can contribute or how much help you need... it's all influenced by highly dynamic circumstances. You can (and should) get into a routine, but always be ready to adapt your routine to meet the needs of the minute, hour or day.

  • When the going gets tough make yourself an imaginary cocktail of acceptance, optimism and resilience, and pound it back like a stiff shot of whiskey. The visualization of consuming these moral muscles on an as-needed basis can help!

  • Documenting your experiences can be a challenge simply because you're so busy eating, sleeping and moving. Get in the habit of taking a few photos every day and recording, whether on paper or in voice memos, your thoughts even if it's only a few words. The raw emotions you experience on a daily basis cannot be accurately recounted later no matter how hard you try.

Remembering the raw emotions of your expedition can be hard once you're at home. Near 85ºN, Polar Sea.

The Expeditionary Phase is all about the journey, not the destination. Every day offers small pleasures and simple rewards. As you learn to recognize them your days will pass with more meaning and satisfaction and this is important. If you focus too far into the future you'll miss everything that makes the journey so amazing. As the author Robert M. Pirsig writes in The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, "To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top." What are some of your tips and tricks to adventures easier, more enjoyable and more rewarding? We'd love to hear about them! Next up in our series is the third phase of every expedition. What will it be? Keep your eyes on your inbox to find out.

Read about the Growth Phase here.

Read about the Preparatory Phase here.


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