Welcome to the Expedition Cruises web log. My name is Joe Griffith and I am the captain of this ship, as it were. This site will be a blog, naturally, but more appropriately a log, in the traditional sense of a ship’s log (hopefully not a “slog”) recording my journey to the North Pole, which will commence on July 23, 2011, and end on Aug. 6, 2011. I will tell you many things over the course of the next few months: about the trip itself, how I came to be on it, the people I meet along the way, the experience of traveling via land, sea and air to the Pole, more than a few literary references, and about myself. I hope you will enjoy the journey with me.

The statue of Yuri Gagarin on Leninsky Prospekt in Moscow.

I think it is fitting that I am launching this blog on April 12, 2011. Today is the 50th anniversary of the first trip into space by a human being, Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union. Now you may ask, what does a flight into space 50 years ago by a Russian cosmonaut have to do with a modern-day trip via ship to the North Pole by an American traveler?

I remember, as a young boy, marveling at Gagarin’s achievement. Americans had a mixture of envy, at our own astronauts having been beaten to space by the Soviets, and awe, that any human being could do it at all. Years later, I married my wife, Dina, a Russian citizen who is now an American, and for a time we had an apartment in Moscow near Leninsky Prospekt. One of the most striking landmarks on that long, wide boulevard is a soaring, stainless-steel sculpture of Gagarin. A large globe with a legend commemorating his flight stands at the base, and a striated column towers over it into the sky, eventually forming his powerful figure, surveying the earth and the cosmos, which he has conquered. It’s a great, impressive statue, and I would often take the long walk from our apartment just to see it.

So this blog honors not only Yuri Gagarin, but also the spirit of adventure that so many explorers, famous and everyday, have possessed, which propelled them to discover new lands and worlds, and, in the process, themselves.

And so, the journey. On July 23, I will be one of 128 people who will converge on Helsinki, Finland, for a night of excitement prior to departing the next day for Murmansk, Russia. There we will board the Russian nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, which will take us through the Barents Sea to the North Pole, the top of the world. There we will fly from the ship via helicopter to the actual Pole, 90 degrees north, where we will join hands in a communal dance, “walk around the world,” eat and drink (and, for the intrepid, swim in the Arctic waters) and celebrate the most momentous occasion that some of us will ever experience.

On the way back, we will stop at the archipelagoes of Franz Josef Land and Spitsbergen; view rock formations seen nowhere else on earth, Arctic birds and wildlife; and record those experiences for posterity.

There are so many aspects and surprises to this journey that I can’t reveal them all now. Suffice it to say that I am thrilled to be on it; the goosebumps rise on my back just writing about it. I will tell you more about it in the coming weeks and months. (And since I’m a blogging neophyte, and an old-school newspaper guy, things may proceed slowly and with difficulty, and stuff will show up that’s not supposed to be there. Bear with me, I’ll eventually fix it. Check back often to find out the latest.)

Thanks for reading.