Entertainment

An Antarctic Road Trip

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

Gilford author Eric Whitehead, with his latest book - an expedition cruise to Antarctica. He will be in Bradford for CarrotFest, August 19, 2017. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

Gilford author Eric Whitehead, with his latest book - an expedition cruise to Antarctica. He will be in Bradford for CarrotFest, August 19, 2017. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

Eric Whitehead and his wife Karen have been working their way around the planet — building on their initial “road trips” with their kids, across North America, to now travel on their own to countries as diverse as Vietnam, and Peru.

And everywhere they’ve gone, Eric has taken photos and kept a journal, transforming the experience into a book — something more personal than the usual travel guide, and much more inspiring.

His latest has just been released — Antarctica: An Expedition Cruise.

Antarctica was their sixth continent, but that wasn’t the primary reason for taking the journey. “It really is truly a wilderness,” says Eric — an opportunity to see one of the last wild places on earth, a place without people, except for the odd scientific outpost, and cruise ships.

The Whiteheads opted for an expedition ship, rather than a cruise, because there would be only 80 passengers onboard.

Unfortunately, the smaller ship lacked the ballast and stability of a larger vessel — as they discovered on the crossing from Argentina to Antarctica. “It’s notorious for being one of the roughest passages on earth, and it didn’t disappoint,” says Eric.

During the two-day crossing, both Eric who is “somewhat susceptible” and Karen, who is “very susceptible” to sea-sickness had a tough time. In fact, “it was wicked.” Both were impressed by the crew, who were unfazed by the ship’s rolling.

“They literally walk down the passageways at a 45 degree angle ... We never handled it,” Eric admits. The return passage was even wilder, with the ship pitching up and down as well as rolling from side to side. On that voyage, one third of the crew succumbed to seasickness.

“You wonder, why am I doing this? But the 12 days in between were fantastic.”

For 12 days, the group explored the iceberg-filled waters surrounding Antarctica, observing penguins, whales and seals, and the rugged coastline in their zodiaks.
“We were in Newfoundland two years before and we saw hundreds of icebergs for the first time ... We saw thousands of icebergs a day in Antarctica,” he said. It was also an “eye-opener,” as to the impact of global climate change.

Warming temperatures are causing the ice sheets to “calve,” creating the growing flotilla of icebergs. And scientists blamed changes in water temperature for the death of hundreds of penguins in Neko Harbour.

At the penguin colony, the visitors found that 1 in 10 penguins had died. Biologists aboard the ship explained that the deaths were likely due to starvation: warmer water temperatures killed off the krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures on which penguin feed.

“That was very disheartening,” Whitehead says. That said, “every day was different, each place had something unique about it.” The visitors even had an opportunity to take a “polar bear dip” in the frigid waters of the Antarctic.

The book is filled with Eric’s observations and experiences, and brilliant colour photos, for anyone thinking of making the voyage to the south polar region. It was a big expense, especially since the trip was in U.S. dollars, but he says, “It was a real eye-opener, just to see something that spectacularly beautiful.”

Antarctica: an expedition cruise can be purchased for $25 on Whitehead’s website, thatroadtripbook.com, under “Related Reading” — or catch him at Bradford’s Carrotfest on Aug. 19, for a signed copy.

There’s only one continent remaining for the Whiteheads to explore, and that’s Australia — but that’s a story for another book.