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To the ends of the earth and back: Minnesota native Ann Bancroft has visited both North, South Poles

Sleeping in subzero temperatures, being hunted by polar bears, traversing icy crevasses as wide as a football field... at 62 years of age, Minnesota native Ann Bancroft has the kind of accomplishments under her belt that very few women have even attempted, let alone achieved.

In 1993, she became the first woman in history to stand on both the North and South Poles, having first reached the North Pole as part of an expedition led by famed explorer Will Steger in 1986; she was the only woman on that trip, but would end up leading a five-woman expedition to the South Pole seven years later.

Bancroft spoke of her adventures Monday night during an hour-long presentation at the Historic Holmes Theatre. She started out by saying that her visit to the community being sponsored by the local library was particularly apropos, as it was her love of the stories and photos from explorer Ernest Shackleton's heroic Endurance expedition to the South Pole that would inspire her desire to reach the same destination decades later.

"Books fueled my imagination," Bancroft said — despite the fact that she struggled with dyslexia.

She noted that Shackleton's stories "caught my sense of adventure" and showed her the kind of person she wanted to be. Originally a teacher by trade, Bancroft said that she quickly decided to use her polar adventures as a platform for teaching lessons about the world around us.

"I could merge both my passion and my purpose — education and the outdoors," she added.

Bancroft talked about the differences between the Arctic — which is where polar bears live — and the Antarctic, which is where penguins can be found. The differences between the two extend much farther than the type of wildlife to be discovered, she added, as the North Pole is located in the midst of frozen seas, while Antarctica, where the South Pole is located, is actually a huge continent covered by ice and snow.

Though she is most famous for her trips to the North and South Poles, and treks across both Antarctica and Greenland, Bancroft says that not all of her adventures have been of the Arctic, or Antarctic, persuasion.

In December of 2015, she and an all-woman crew of eight finished the first source-to-sea Access Water expedition on India's Ganges River. The crew plans one expedition per continent, designed to draw attention to water issues by focusing on kids, ending in 2026 in Antarctica.

Next up, Bancroft says, is a fall 2018 trip down the Mississippi. So how did she get involved with a project that was so different from her previous adventures?

"I think the world is magical... it doesn't always have to be about ice," she said. "A river is just water in its liquid form (rather than ice)."

Bancroft's final words of advice to her audience? "It's a great world — so keep exploring."

Monday's presentation was just one of several activities planned as part of Detroit Lakes' 2018 Polar Fest celebration. Still to come:

• Thursday, Feb. 15: Taekwondo Break-A-Thon, Washington Square Mall, 4 p.m.; Aquavit Social and Grand Opening of Prohibition Exhibit, Becker County Museum, 5 p.m.

• Friday, Feb. 16: Ice Tee Golf, Holiday Inn Lakeside, noon; Helicopter Rides, Detroit Lake, 3 p.m.; PolarPalooza Tubing Races, Detroit Mountain, 6 p.m.; Tuxes & Tails Fundraiser for Humane Society of the Lakes, 6 p.m., Hoilday Inn.

• Saturday, Feb. 17: ULTRA Snowmobile Rally & Swap Meet, 8 a.m., Little Detroit Lake and City Beach; Freeze Your Buns Run, 9 a.m., Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center; "History of Ice Harvesting" exhibit, Detroit Lakes Pavilion, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Helicopter Rides, Detroit Lake, noon; Fat Bike Demonstrations, City Park, 11 a.m.; Youth Fishing Derby, Rossman Avenue Access, Little Detroit Lake, 11 am.; Polar Fest Plunge, City Beach and Little Detroit Lake, 1 p.m.; Angel of Remembrance Snow Angels, 2:30 p.m., City Park; Frozen Fireworks, Little Detroit Lake, 7 p.m.; Gear Daddies Concert, Historic Holmes Theatre, 8 p.m.; Polaritaville Dance, Hub 41, 8 p.m.

• Sunday, Feb. 18: Live Music at Lodge on the Lake, 5 p.m.; Sunday Funday Tubing, Detroit Mountain, 5 p.m.

Ongoing events include the viewing of King Isbits's Ice Palace & Palatial Playground, City Park & Beach, now through Feb. 18; "Blind Date with a Book," Detroit Lakes Public Library, now through Feb. 21; and Ice Drags Racing, Feb. 17-18, Holiday Inn Lakeside. For a complete schedule, including details about registration and/or purchasing tickets, please visit www.polarfestdl.com.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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