May 5, 2023

From Whitefish, Montana to Antarctica: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey

- By Jules Torti with Candi Stearns and Brooke Stearns Lawson

Continue reading From Whitefish, Montana to Antarctica: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey
In January, Candi Stearns and her daughter, Brooke Stearns Lawson, found themselves in Antarctica’s frozen embrace on Wild Women Expeditions’ Journey to the Antarctic Circle. Their family and friends couldn’t comprehend why they would choose to travel somewhere colder than Whitefish, Montana. In the winter!

Candi had walked the Camino de Santiago with WWE a few years ago and loved the energy and camaraderie of the group. When Candi asked if Brooke would be tempted by a small ship expedition to Antarctica with WWE, Brooke was skeptical. What was the “value-add” of travelling with Wild Women? She was a confident, independent traveller and wondered if the extra cost of organized travel was justified.

Brooke has travelled extensively and lived overseas in her international development role in natural resource management. When her mom mentioned that sea days involved lectures as entertainment, Brooke was quick to admit “I have a very cerebral job. I’m a serious person and have a small threshold for lectures and people talking. I actually downloaded dozens of rom-coms because I was so fearful of the lectures on sea days,” she confessed with a laugh.In the end, she only watched one, only to justify all the effort behind her downloads pre-trip.

Candid Confessions

“It was funny. My husband didn’t have a passport before we met,” Brooke said. “He only got one because I was moving to France, but that’s another tangent. In the first year that he had a passport, we went to seven countries! About a month before mom and I were leaving for Antarctica, my husband actually said, ‘I have no idea why I didn’t think that I shouldn’t go on this trip.’”

Both women lean back in laughter when Brooke said, “It’s not like he was asked in the first place!”

On the flip side, Candi was excited to be in the company of fellow Wild Women again. She had taken two of her granddaughters on international trips to celebrate their high school graduation. “It was a special bonding experience. You simply can’t recapture time,” she said.

Candi had always dreamed of the White Continent, but her husband had no desire to go. She loved Iceland and felt that the landscape of Antarctica would be just as captivating: “My husband died seven years ago and I thought, well, there’s no reason why I can’t go now.” Asking Brooke to accompany her was a natural choice. “She’s a seasoned traveler, she’s calm—and I knew she could handle the money and any language issues,” Candi explained.

Both women quickly discovered how valuable group travel can be when Candi lost her passport as they were leaving the hotel in Ushuaia to board the ship. Wild Women Expeditions’ Adventure Expert (and star photographer) Julie-Anne Davies was soon pulled into the frantic mix. Candi repeatedly shared her gratitude for Julie-Anne’s reassuring presence. The passport was found in Candi’s bag, but in the high-anxiety that led to that moment, Candi was happy to have both Julie-Anne and Caroline, Wild Women Expeditions’sCommunity Engagement Manager, on her side too.

Candi’s Oprah Aha Moment

She recounted the story sheepishly and for a moment the chatty duo were silent. “What was it that I always said that triggered you?” Candi asked.

“I need to figure out,” Brooke answered without hesitation. A helper by nature, in the past every time her mother habitually said she needed to figure something out, Brooke felt the need to do it for her.

“You know, I didn’t say that for three weeks,” Candi said in a total Oprah aha moment.

Candi and Brooke felt immediately integrated “into a little community within a community.” In a rapid-fire exchange, they reminisced about the solid women they were introduced to. There was no cattiness, no gossip. The spirit, the energy. Intelligence. Brooke piped up, “It was just the icing—when you learned what someone did for a living. It was like ‘oh, you do that? That’s cool. And it wasn’t like ‘I’m connecting with you because of what you do.’”

“There was such broad acceptance. Everyone was so positive—the camaraderie was so genuine and special,” Candi added. Brooke chirped in about the surprise of the galley staff preparing a birthday cake for her. “Everyone signed a birthday card—I mean, there were 26 women, I think, and everyone was so present. For mom and I, we really respected the time we had together and focussed on that. And still—if I were to say how this trip redefined me, it would be that reminder that I’m happiest when I’m present. Now, since we’ve returned home, I’ve clarified my priorities and make sure I protect that time now. Whether I’m playing with Maya (Brooke’s dog), spending time with my family or my mom.”

Brussels Sprouts and Beach Sausages

As they recount stories about Brussels sprouts, beach sausages (leopard seals sunning themselves) and calving icebergs, it’s clear that they were brought even closer by the profound experience of Antarctica.

“Everyone’s experience was so profound and it was this communal sharing of awe each night when we gathered for dinner,” Brooke said. “And the lectures, they were actually beyond entertaining! I had no idea I would care so much about penguin poop!”

“It was all about naturally falling into the rhythm of the environment,” Brooke proposed. Her mom agreed, remembering the humpback whale encounters, polar plunge and the explosive sound of an iceberg that actually rolled over in their presence.

“You just don’t know what’s left. Brooke and I were able to experience closeness in a totally different realm. We were able to enjoy each other and experience something really life changing,” Candi said.

Brooke, nodding along, said, “Exactly—you can change personally after an experience like this, but that individual change can create tension and change a relationship dynamic. Sharing this profound experience together strengthened our relationship with continued ripple effects.”

“Because my mom is widowed, traveling with Wild Women took that emphasis off her status as we were traveling with all women. And there were two other mother-daughter couples and it was neat to see the intergenerational relationships and connection,” Brooke said.

Feeling the Impact

Back in Whitefish, both Candi and Brooke feel the impact of experiencing Antarctica. “There was a CNN reporter on the ship who said, ‘It’s a place of peace and science.’ There’s no human population and only two apex predators. Seals and penguins coexist in the same place. There’s no generational trauma from whaling ships or seal hunts,” Brooke shared. 

“Since returning home, I’ve thought about where I can step up my game. I want to make concrete, practical, intelligent travel decisions. I was really impressed that Intrepid made double carbon offset donations for all the passengers. At home, I want to make the same impactful decisions. Where I live, we don’t have a recycling program and I want to start composting this summer.”

Candi said, “I just recently received a recycling bin and I’m making a greater effort to remember my reusable bags at the grocery store. And I look at the packaging differently now. This trip was a wake-up call, that’s for sure. You know, my husband was an engineer and after he retired he focused his research on pellet stoves and bio-energy.”

“We need to be better global citizens and more proactive,” Brooke said. While their time in Antarctica reminded them of being present, it’s clear that it was also a sharp reminder of how being present will influence our future.

Spoiler alert: Candi has already booked her next trip to the Galapagos Islands with Wild Women Expeditions and four other women from their Antarctica trip. Brooke says she can’t go to Antarctica AND Galapagos without her husband so she is plotting her own private trip with him.

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