The temperature was thirty below zero. Waves slammed against the hull of the ship. The frozen winds had been carrying the seventy-five foot vessel for weeks and today was the first it carried them quickly. Gray and black clouds swirled around them; they were nearly on top of the world.
“Man the starboard side!” Yelled Nansen. “Grab the sails and pull you yellow bellies!”
Only one more day’s travel at this rate would bring them to the harsh shores of Greenland’s coast. It was one of only a few places they could land, but Nansen hadn’t been one to shirk adventure. Fridtjof Nansen was his actual name but his friends, even crew, called him Nansen. His ship sailed from Oslo and had taken a month to reach where they were now. They were making good time. As harsh as it was on the ship, things were about to liven up. Leaving the ship for the glory of being the first.
Nansen didn’t know it but soon would be lost the ability to be first. Part of it would be his fault. He had never known anything other than striving for excellence. His father had been absent from his life but his mother made up for it. Nansen, his brothers and sisters hated to disappoint her. Nansen was the oldest of five. As soon as he was able he helped to support his siblings he did. He worked on a road crew and did manual labor in the frigid cold of Oslo. While older men shrunk from the cold, Nansen embraced it. He greeted it like an old friend. There was something terrible and beautiful in the cold. A furnace boiled inside of him and only ever seemed calm in the frigid air. Every weekend off Nansen would hike and snowshoe into the forest, sometimes going as far as fifty miles in the weekend. When he found his love for cross-country skiing his distances doubled. It was not long at all before his siblings were looked after and Nansen started sailing as a means. Money and fame were the carrot and conquering Greenland was where it led him. Some scoffed but he knew what he was capable of and his friends had been what his family could not be. Twenty and four more hours and he’d be able to stretch his legs. The gear that came along was exclusively survival gear. The thousand mile trek would take twice as long as the voyage across the sea and would be ten times as dangerous.
Frost clung to his visage; his walrus like mustache was almost completely frozen. Of his face, only his eyes moved freely and that was only under goggles. A fur-lined, leather like cap kept his head from freezing through. Leather gloves protected his hands and a mixture of wool and cotton the rest of his body. His garb was representative of his crew.
“Joules! Respite!” Nansen shouted as his skipper came up and took over. His voice cracked over the wind. “Thank you kindly,” he said as he patted Joules on the shoulder.
Ready to be out of the cold, he wasted no time going down the steps into the hull of the boat. The heart of the boat warmed him. He shed the exoskeleton that protected him and let the warmth in.
“Let’s have us a cup of coffee.”
“O Harbinger, how many more days at sea do we have? Can we see the end?” A large man said, handing a cup to Nansen.
“Tomorrow’s sup will be on land,” Nansen smiled.
“And then it’s a walk home!” Nansen shouted.
“Here here!” Could be heard all around the table with a laugh.
Nansen was sitting near the head of a table. The ship rocked back and forth but his practice at sea kept him from spilling any black nectar. Men had perked up as their captain came down and were now listening. Only Joules stayed above deck.
The other four men, Dram, Jorm, Fredriche, and Corus were men he could truly count on. Their ages ranged from twenty to twenty-five. In these years, nearly every man is invincible. Once man crosses into his late twenties and thirties his morality is realized. If any man should learn this before that age it is called maturity. None of these men possessed that kind of maturity. These men consisted of friendships that had lasted nearly since the dawn of their lives. Friendships inherited from their parents, though their parents could not have ever surmised this trip being the result.
No other man on this crew would gain the fame that Nansen would one day gain. Consultant to the U.N. Tens of millions lives would be saved through food policy in Russia and eastern European countries. He would fight in the First World War and would be Norway’s representative in almost all foreign affairs. But for now, he was an adventurer. There was no way for him to know, but passed through his line was the men of renown. In his past were men like Saul, Goliath, and Nimrod who was the very first man of renown. The men of renown were a conglomeration of muscle, courage, and height.
Nansen stood up and leaned over the table and unfurled a map but looked around at eye level, “Men, tonight will be the last night on the ship so enjoy it. While out in the tundra, and we will be there at least a full month, we will not except for rare occasion be able to have fire. Tonight will be the last night where we will truly be comfortable for some time. Soak it in. Fill your bellies with soup and bread. Play cards and drink.
Now I’m sure that I’ll make it with you. I’m sure of it but, should something happen to me I want each of you to know where I am planning on taking us, just in case. I would hate for any of you to out survive me, only to die in the cold for lack of knowledge.”
With that he pointed out and explained several landmarks and where he planned to reenter Norway, eventually making it to Oslo. He closed by saying, “Any and all of us that make it to Oslo will be greeted as heroes and conquerors. Twenty miles north of the capital is a man whom the king knows and will herald our entry into fame. It is important to let him know when we arrive.
“One day we’ll drink to this and say, Remember when we died!”
But for now drinks all ‘round!”
The next morning the clouds had broiled over; thunder and lightning danced around the mast of the ship, teasing Nansen. He felt like they were saying, “It is only by God’s grace that your ship is not irreparably damaged.” That’s because they were.
It was difficult to exactly say where the coast started and the sea ended. Everything was white, gray, and blue. Everything faded into itself and out of itself. Boundaries were blurred to the point of indistinguishable painted hues. Nansen had taken over only a couple of hours before but he called Joules to him and explained his idea.
Joules gave him a nod and guffawed along with Nansen.
Nansen nearly skipped down the stairs to tell his brothers. Everyone gave a similar reaction to Joules. Merriment was made.
Sun set as the ship neared shore, even as the men knew it the pace hardly slowed. They passed over the threshold for slowing the ship down safely. Every man was braced as they closed in, 300 meters, 150, less than a hundred. A horrible screech sounded as ice and rock ripped apart the bottom of their vessel. Their ship cried, “Why!? Have I not done exactly as you asked? How could you treat me this way?!”
It glided on rock and ice and slowed to where they were neatly on land, except two stories up. Their dogs howled and whined, confused and afraid. The men unloaded nearly everything except one barrel of kerosene. They set their tents and shelters up fifty meters away from the ship, the sound sounding in their ears. They drew sticks to see who would have the honors. Corus was chosen.
The rest grabbed a seat as he man handled the last drum of kerosene and poured it over the deck. He saluted the men, grabbed a rope and lit a match and didn’t to see the explosion he set off. The flame traveled alone with the trail of kerosene to the barrel.
As Corus swung down from the ship he landed hard in a pile of snow several feet deep, nearly unharmed. Then the flame reached the barrel and blew out glass windows and set the rest of the ship aflame. The men whooped and hollered like little boys seeing a rock thrown off of a cliff, because most men do not grow out of boyhood ever. There is, in each man, a vestige of boyhood which can never be destroyed. Not by ‘maturity’ nor by parenting nor by responsibilities. It can be buried, but also unearthed.
The last thing we will say about Nansen before ending this narrative will be that two men would come from his line; both would find the light that uncovers darkness. One, whom you, dear reader know quite well, his name, is Charles William Norris. Of him there is a narrative known by the name of “Walker Texas Ranger.” Some have mistaken this for a fictional account of a Texan sheriff, but after delving into research personally, I have ascertained that its validity.
The second, I will only briefly mention and is a cousin very distantly related to Charles. His given name was, Matthew Gordon Hannan. Until his twenties, he wouldn’t find the light. His account is its own story and deserves it own telling. Perhaps it will one day be undertaken.
In their own ways, they would be world renown. Should they ever team up, their valor and influence would not only match their ancestor, Nansen, it would supersede it.