ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An arctic blizzard Monday grounded six Americans who plan to meet six Soviets in Siberia and then leave with them on a two-month, 1,200-mile trek by ski and sled dog across the Bering Strait.
'Welcome to life in the Far North,' exclaimed Paul Schurke, 33, the Ely, Minn. expedition co-leader when word came that the flight was delayed at least 24 hours by winds gusting to 69 mph, blowing snow and almost zero visibility.
The Americans rescheduled their flight for Tuesday aboard a chartered Alaska Airlines jet for Anadyr in eastern Siberia.
The Bering Bridge Expedition leaves from Anadyr later this week, traveling along the coast of the Chukotka Peninsula, reaching the Bering Strait border in about a month, and ending up back in Alaska, at the town of Kotzebue, at the end of April.
No one has ever done anything quite like it before, although Eskimos once traveled freely by boat back and forth across the U.S.-Soviet Bering Strait border until 1948 and elders still recall a mailman named Spike Milligrock who crossed the ice on foot in 1914. There have been a few unauthorized crossings, too.
Getting political permissions to make the trek may look easy compared to the challenge posed by the arctic winter, already hindering the trip. The expedition might face conditions like that on the trail, along with serious subzero weather. But, on the trail, the team can take refuge in any of 16 Soviet and 14 Alaska villages they pass through on the way.
They are equipped with special thermal clothes provided by an American corporate sponsor, Du Pont Thermax. And they plan to do field research on adapting to cold for an Alaska-Siberia medical research program.
But flying in such awful conditions is different. While Alaska Airlines toyed with the notion of making the flight in less than ideal weather, the Soviet navigator, who is a required part of the flight crew, said he was not particularly interested in going along until Anadyr's weather improved.
Once in Anadyr, most of Americans and Soviets will be meeting for the first time.
Schurke put the expedition together with Dmitry Shparo, 47, of Moscow, the foremost adventurer in the Soviet Union.
The 12-person team includes three women. Native people make up half the expedition, which seeks to form a kind of link between the native peoples and communities bordering the Bering Strait on opposite sides of the U.S.-Soviet border.
Schurke was co-leader of the first unassisted dog sled trek to the North Pole in 1986, and Shparo has reached the North Pole on skis twice.
The other American team members are Ginna Brelsford, 30, a specialist in the Alaska governor's office of international trade in Anchorage; Ernie Norton, 45, an Eskimo fisherman from Kotzebue; Darlene Apangalook, 25, an Alaska Siberian Yupik Eskimo from St. Lawrence Island who has relatives in Siberia; Robert Soolook, 23, a National Guardsman on Little Diomede Island, 2 miles from Soviet territory; and Lonnie Dupree, 27, a Coon Rapids, Minn. carpenter and skilled winter camper.
The Soviets are Alexander Belyayev, 30, another Moscow adventurer; Alexander Tenyakshev, 42, of Moscow, who will be the radio operator for the expedition, a task performed on other polar treks; Zoya Ivanova, 42, a Siberian Eskimo doctor from Lavrentiya; Vadim Krivolap, 25, a Chukchi reindeer herder and dog handler from Neshkan; and Nicholai Etitinya, 25, a Neshkan teacher.
The 12 speak five different languages and Schurke said, 'There should be some interesting conversations in the tents at night.'
Schurke originally sought permission to make the trek in 1990, but in the atmosphere of quickly thawing relations along the border between Alaska and the Soviet Far East, the Soviets approved the trip for this year.
'Anadyr looked like a wonderful place to start because it was the beginning of a long stretch of of settlements along the (Soviet) coast,' Schurke said. 'Kotzebue looked like an excellent place to end because it's the end of a long string of settlements.'
Both sides are bringing dogs and the American side is supplying dog food, sleeping bags, clothes, boots, skis and emergency locator beacons. The Soviets are supplying tents, stoves, communications equipment, emergency inflatable rafts, all the food -- and rifles, in case the expedition runs into polar bears.