Professor has traveled to earth's outer edges

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

There are plenty of jokes about lawyers and sharks.

Not so many about lawyers and polar bears.

But as attorney Sue Carter will tell you, when a polar bear is after your group, you don’t have to be the fastest to escape — just don’t be the slowest.
How did this professor in the School of Journalism at Michigan State University, where her courses include media law and constitutional law, get familiar with Ursus Maritimus?

Carter, director of the nonprofit WomenQuest Foundation, led the organization’s Polar Trek expedition, spearheading an international team of 12 women from a variety of backgrounds. They traveled on skis, in sub-zero conditions, across the frozen Arctic Ocean to the top of the planet at True North. 

“We traveled under 100 miles from our designated drop-off to get to the North Pole,” Carter says. “A wise decision as it turned out for there were substantial breaks in the ice that year.”

The team was met by a group from NASA, led by Dr. Kathryn Clark, chief NASA scientist for Human Exploration and Development Sciences. Together they conducted the first student-directed live webcast from the top of the world, and were featured in a segment on “Good Morning America.”

The trek, the first time an all-women group reached the North Pole from a Russian-based departure, supported the mission of WomenQuest to challenge women physically, intellectually, and emotionally. The crew battled exhaustion, frostbite, and hypothermia, while field-testing clothing, navigation, shelter, arctic gear, and satellite telephones provided by the U.S. Navy, under extreme conditions. Every step was documented on tape, becoming the TV documentary, “Women at the Top.”

When her fingers thawed out, Carter wrote a book, “Ordinary Women, An Arctic Adventure,” in which she joked that there apparently had been side bets as to whether her team would survive — “and the smart money was against us.”

“The Arctic proved to be the beginning of an important spiritual journey for me, one that has led to the priesthood,” she says. “It was impossible for me to be in a location so vast and beautiful, where nothing comes from human hands, and not to grasp the work of the Creator.”

Carter inherited her wanderlust from her mother, who inspired her three children with a joy of travel, adventure, and exploration.

“She borrowed from Auntie Mame, who famously said to Patrick, ‘The water buffalo are waiting at the gate’— meaning, let’s go!”

Water buffaloes and more certainly were waiting for Carter — if not at the gate, then in the African jungle. Sheheaded there to make a documentary about the effort by MSU Distinguished Professor Terrie Taylor’s team to understand childhood malaria.

“Malawi, in the central band of African countries, calls itself ‘The Warm Heart of Africa.’ To be sure, it is,” Carter says. “The generosity of a people who live in one of the very poorest countries on earth is astounding. And in the heat of the tropics, they produce good food and fine music. We have much we can learn from Malawians.”

Awakening in a tent in the jungle was a remarkable feeling, she wrote in her blog from Malawi.

“It is warm and rich with the closeness of the natural sub-Saharan world.”

She now worried about the appetites of local hippos she could hear snorting in the Shire River and Lake Malawi, a half-mile from her tent, and wondered how quickly she could outrun them. A canoe ride took her up close and personal with a dozen female hippos and a lone male wallowing in the reeds.

“Huge and lumbering, though surprisingly graceful in the water, they can submerge for six minutes to pop up in different locations,” she wrote.

The trip was no Disney Jungle Cruise. Crocs in the water were real, and Carter – not wishing to emulate Captain Hook – kept her hands well inside the canoe.

A safari thrilled her with waterbucks, yellow baboons, wart hogs, impalas, kudus, eagles, great white egrets and open billed storks — but sadly, one animal avoided the safari trekkers. 

“We stalked elephants, spotting footprints and dung and marks made by their dragging trunks, but they eluded us,” she wrote. “There was no elephant in the room.”

A scuba diver, motorcyclist, skydiver, and pilot of single-engine planes, Carter has garnered passport stamps from many countries around the world and enjoyed a recent scuba diving trip to Belize.

“A dive off the Great Barrier Reef near Belize was a reminder that four-fifths of our planet contains life that is remarkable, colorful, and very different from us land-critters,” she says. “There, we are merely visitors, and not owners.”

The is a reprint of an article that ran in the Winter 2012 editon of MOTION Magazine.