Wilmette teen visits North Pole for birthday
Anna Sweitzer, who visited the North Pole as a birthday present, during her stay at base camp.
WHO: Anna Sweitzer
KNOWN FOR: Going to the North Pole for her birthday
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:15AM
Travel, it’s said, broadens the mind. It can also freeze unprotected sections of the body, as Anna Sweitzer has very good cause to know.
The Wilmette teen, who turned 16 April 4, celebrated that milestone by visiting the North Pole with dad Rick Sweitzer.
The unexpected journey – her father surprised her with news of it just two days before her birthday – took them from Chicago to Boston, from Boston to Frankfurt Germany, from Frankfurt to Oslo Norway, then north to the Arctic Circle village of Longyearbyen. From there, they traveled to a base camp, where a helicopter was waiting to take them to the pole.
“The day we were there it was sunny, with no overcast. It was just beautiful,” she said last week. “But it was completely flat, which was a little weird.”
The jaunt included a blessedly brief dip in the Arctic Ocean, which Anna insisted wasn’t nearly as cold as it might seem to traumatized listeners.
“You’re wearing a dry suit, and they do keep you warm. It’s like you’re not even in the water,” she said.
That’s good, because Anna is no fan of the cold. After her two hour visit to the pole, she was more than happy to retreat to the base camp she and her father shared with several other travelers, go to a heated tent and warm up.
But Anna, who has been a global traveler since she was a baby, would not have missed her hiemal vacation for the world: “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and when you’re presented with it, you’ve just got to take it.”
Not every father can present his daughter with a hyperborean adventure, but Rick Sweitzer is not every father.
An experienced and enthusiastic adventurer himself, Sweitzer in 1983 founded The Northwest Passage adventure travel business in Wilmette and 10 years later organized the first North Pole dogsled expedition for amateur explorers in the general public. Anna’s brothers Christopher, 20, and Taylor, 17, had already traveled to the pole with their dad. All three young people share their father’s wanderlust, Rick Sweitzer said last week.
Anna agreed: “I love traveling. I’ve seen some amazing places, seeing different people all around the world, seeing different cultures and meeting the people who live in them.”
Last summer she visited Ghana (“that was awesome”) and over the winter break she went to South Africa. Once her sophomore year at New Trier High School is completed, she plans to hike around Isle Royale in Lake Superior, spend a week home, then head to Thailand to take part in a service program.
Even when Anna is at home, she likes to stay mobile by dancing. And it doesn’t seem likely that her life will be less peripatetic in the future than it’s been up to now.
“I’m still too young to decide what I want to do with the rest of my life, but maybe after college I might join the Peace Corps,” she said.
If she does, she might opt for a slightly warmer clime than she shivered through last month. But it’s fair to say she won’t forget her 16th birthday.