PolarExplorers answers to Pods, Polar Bears and Pandemic
By Annie Aggens, PolarExplorers Program Director
Recently my news feed has been filled with articles and stories about people creating "pods" or "bubbles" for social health and wellness. It refers to a small group of people with like-minded levels of social responsibility. Being a part of a pod allows for interpersonal contact and support while limiting your exposure to Coronavirus. Like a pod of whales traveling across a vast ocean people in "pods" can rely on each other for support, safety and a sense of community.
I'm a polar expedition guide by profession. I organize and guide ski and dogsled expeditions to the polar regions for a USA based company that specializes in the high latitudes. I'm also the Mom to two awesome school-aged daughters. In the last few months these two worlds have meshed more than normal as I shared stories with them about the forced "quarantines" on many early polar expeditions and the need for adaptability and patience when things go from plan A to plan B. They blended even further when their school district, along with hundreds of school districts across the country, announced that they will be using "pods" as a core component in returning to in-person learning.
The term PODS is not new to me or my colleagues at PolarExplorers. We've been using it for nearly two decades as a way to describe our small teams and as an important acronym to help us remember what it takes to be safe and successful on an expedition. PODS is a mantra for us - a backcountry mindset that also happens to have remarkable relevancy in the front country - especially during a pandemic. Here's what PODS stands for in our world.
P - Proactive
Stay on top of the game. On an expedition being proactive can mean eating even if you're not hungry or drinking even if you're not thirsty. We are always asking ourselves "what do I need to do right now to be functioning at a high level in six hours?" and then we work towards that goal. With Coronavirus staying proactive might look like washing your hands on a regular basis, even if you don't feel like you need to.
O - Organized
Being organized means having a home for all your essential items so the moment you need something you know exactly where to look. In the polar regions I might suddenly need a change of googles, or different gloves. In the urban jungle, surrounded by potential Coronavirus exposure, organization is just as important. Have a home for your mask, whether it's a backpack, purse, glove compartment or hook by the back door. Always know where it lives. The same goes for your back-up mask, hand sanitizer, and other items you might need to use on a regular basis.
D - Deliberate
On an expedition, we're deliberate about everything we do: the way we open and get into our tents, the way we make tea, the way we put on our boots and pack our sleds. Serious complications can occur from the simple act of being mindless. This couldn't be more true with Coronavirus. Rubbing your eyes with an unclean hand, coughing without wearing your mask, standing too close to another person. Being deliberate and thinking about your actions can go a long way toward helping you stay safe and healthy.
S - Safe and Successful
Why should we focus so much on being proactive, organized and deliberate every hour of every day? Because it's a simple recipe for staying safe and being successful. That rings true whether you're skiing across the Antarctic plateau or standing in your kitchen making an evening meal.
Since we came up with our PODS acronym almost 20 years ago it has helped us ski to the North and South Poles dozens of times. It's guided us as we traverse remote glaciers and thrive in conditions that seem uninhabitable. It helps us focus and remember what's important when things get crazy. And now, more than ever, we are using PODS to help us navigate our lives back home. Whether it's the supermarket, a school hallway, public transportation or a walk in the neighborhood, we can use PODS to remind us to be proactive, organized, deliberate and safe.
But the PODS mindset is more than an acronym. It's also an interpersonal commitment to your pod. We don't always get to choose who we are in a pod with, which means that it might take some work to make a pod feel like a community. In my profession we call this skill "Expedition Behavior." It's a term coined by Paul Petzoldt who founded the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Expedition Behavior is an awareness of all the relationships within the pod and a commitment to being attentive to those relationships in a positive way. We consider Expedition Behavior a skill that's as important as being able to set up a tent, or cook a decent meal.
As a guide, when my team reaches the North or South Pole there is always an incredible feeling of satisfaction. Sometimes there's also a collective sigh of relief to have the hard work behind us. One step at a time we have reached our goal together. The Coronavirus is not a destination and there might not be a finite end, but it's still a journey. If we can travel this path together while being attentive to our relationships, and being proactive, organized, deliberate and safe, we will all be better for it.