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Go North, Young Man - And Just Keep Going

February 25, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Some people love New York, but Darryl Roberts, born and raised in Harlem, was ″sick of the asphalt, the concrete, the cars and the smoke.″ And so he decided to walk to the North Pole.

″The absolute extreme opposite of New York is the absolute wilderness,″ said Roberts, who departs March 5 as part of an international, eight-man team that will trek 480 miles over 65 days.

If successful, the team - known as Icewalk - would be the first to reach the top of the world on foot.

The trip will have additional significance for Roberts, who would become the first black American to reach the pole since Matthew Hensen arrived there 80 years ago with Commander Robert Peary.

″There’s a significance to following Hensen, but it’s not the reason I’m doing it,″ said Roberts. ″I’m doing it because I’ve always wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before.″

Roberts and the others face an arduous trip, lugging their provisions and lodging on sleds across the shifting ice, with whipping winds and temperatures of 70 below zero.

For Roberts, it’s the kind of thing he’s been looking for since growing up amid Manhattan’s urban landscape.

After working his way through two years of college, Roberts grew as tired of his job as he was of his hometown.

″I was searching for something different. I didn’t want to go to college, graduate, get a job, make money, and become a pillar of society,″ recalled Roberts. ″I wanted to do something different than be a lawyer or a doctor.″

Instead, Roberts became involved with the Outward Bound program, taking inner city youths camping, backpacking, rock-climbing and cross-country skiing. When he heard about the Icewalk expedition, Roberts immediately jumped at the opportunity despite two significant problems.

″I don’t like the cold,″ admitted Roberts. ″And I have what’s called Reignold’s condition, which is poor circulation in the fingertips and toes.″

The solution to problem one was an adjustment in attitude; for problem two (and possible frostbite), the answer was bit more bizarre: cayenne pepper.

″I was told if you sprinkle a bit of it in her boots and gloves, it really stimulates your circulation,″ said Roberts. ″So I won’t smell as bad as the others at the end of the trip. At least I’ll have the cayenne.″

The trip also has historical significance, coming a month before the 80th anniversary of Peary and Hensen’s 36-day excursion which reached the pole on April 6, 1909 - their third try at the feat.

That has spurred Roberts to research Hensen’s role in Peary’s explorations.

″What I’ve learned is he spent about 20 years of his life with Peary just exploring, breaking new ground,″ said Roberts. ″He was an incredibly strong force who never received recognition.

″He actually broke trail on the last leg of the polar expedition, the final assault when Peary didn’t have but two toes and couldn’t walk. He got them through.″

Roberts admits he’s getting nervous about Icewalk as the starting date looms; his friends and family are divided on whether he should even be going.

″My friends are gung ho, they’re like, ‘Go for it 3/8’ But I don’t think they know what 70 below is like,″ said Roberts, laughing. ″My family doesn’t understand. They think it’s kind of extreme - although my mother is warming to the idea.″

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