May 18, 2023

An Unexpected Plunge: How Monique Ended up in Antarctica

- By Jules Torti with Monique Serna

Continue reading An Unexpected Plunge: How Monique Ended up in Antarctica

Monique’s friends were doubtful from the get-go. “You’re not a cold weather person–you wear a sweater in the summer!”
“How are you going to get there? You’re not an explorer or a scientist.”
“You’re going by yourself? You don’t know anyone that’s on this trip?”

Monique confidently shrugged it all off. “I can talk to anyone and really, I’m me. I’m very social and love fostering new relationships.”

Ironically, Monique was supposed to go to Antarctica with her sister-in-law, Tracie. Back in 2021, Tracie booked a spot on WWE’s Journey to the Circle and asked Monique if she would be interested in joining her. “I said I’d have to ask my husband because I’d be away for two and half weeks and we have two young boys. My husband shrugged and said, “Okay.” Just like that.

In the end, Tracie wasn’t able to go on the trip and though disappointed, Monique was grateful for the suddenly solo experience, one that wouldn’t have unfolded had she been in the reassuring company and security of family. “It was really unexpected–I made so many meaningful connections. There was a lack of pretense or ‘airs’ if you will, within the group. I was quite sad to leave them and the shared experience that we had.”

Toe Touching and Pedicures

Antarctica landscape with penguin

Antarctica had been on Monique’s bucket list for years for the simple pride in going to all seven continents. “There were some women who had been pining for Antarctica for years. I had such a low need to just touch a toe on the continent!”

Monique laughs recalling the rapid-fire questions of other Wild Women. “Did you read this? Did you watch this? I mean, I didn’t do any homework. No, I did not read Shackleton’s book! I have two boys, I work full time and I’m on the PTA. I’ve got a lot going on–the fact that I packed clean underwear says it all.”

Admittedly, Monique had few expectations–she had no time to form any. She breezed through the itinerary. “All I needed and wanted to do was put my foot on the ground. I know it sounds ridiculous that I didn’t have expectations given the price tag to be like, ‘meh, whatever’ but it’s not like going to see something specific like the Eiffel Tower. Or the Leaning Tower. Antarctica is a place you go to see. And be. You see the immensity of nature. That’s really it. I’m not one of those kind of people–I don’t forest bathe and I’ll be frank, I’m not a super attuned hippie. But, there’s something so pure and magnificent about being there.”

She had been on a traditional cruise before, out of Fort Lauderdale, for a friend’s destination wedding. “It was the typical huge cruise ship with elevators and 17 staircases to get lost on and a casino, pool, spa. Don’t get me wrong–I went to the spa on this ship too and had a pedicure!” Monique was impressed that there were so many things to learn about during the sea days from genuinely passionate experts. Her biggest lesson left her bent over in laughter as she retold it. “We were on the Zodiac and I asked Caroline (WWE’s host) if that was a log on the beach. She said, ‘do you think there are trees in Antarctica?’” Monique took pause, “It never registered in my head before that moment–there are no trees in Antarctica!”

Monique was on the same southbound flight as Julie-Anne, WWE’s star photographer and ship host. “I loved having her there pre-trip. We jokingly called her our chaperone–she had such a calm, nurturing presence but was still really fun.”

So, Why Can’t I?

Antarctica Landscape

The time formulating relationships and interpersonal connections was a highlight for Monique. “We had time to nurture these relationships. We were all sitting in this experience, together. Of course it wasn’t about doing anything physical, like other Wild Women trips. We weren’t kayaking in Baja or anything but it was the spirit of the group that was pivotal. I don’t identify as an adventure traveller. I’m not the fittest or tiniest but I did this. I didn’t know that I could or would do this–so, why can’t I?”

“I want to go everywhere now. I’m looking at the Wild Women Expeditions’ India Jungles and Jewels Adventure and wondering what will it be like? Would the connection be the same? I mean, here we were on this small ship. We were a concentrated group of people–around 200. We were all going for the same reason–to see this last frontier of places, in the spirit of adventure and adversity. As I said in a Facebook post, this trip ruined me for everything else.”

Monique’s Best Thing Moment

Monique selfie on Antarctica

The impact of Monique’s experience is palpable as she tries to explain the reality of “just being there.” She apologizes for the comparison but admits, “Everything felt like Christmas. I was gobsmacked. There were seals. Icebergs. It was so surreal. To finally do something that you’ve been thinking of for your entire rememberable–wait, is that even a word? (*Editor’s note: It should be! Especially in this context!). Anyway, to finally do something that you’ve been thinking of your entire rememberable life, that moment was the best thing.”

As a parent, Monique realizes that there’s a silent impact on her children too. “My boys will see that a trip like this is an attainable thing. Africa will actually now be my seventh continent–and it will be a piece of cake after Antarctica! I told my husband that maybe we should go for my 50th birthday which is six years from now. Our kids would be 11 and 13.” She launches into a sweet story that illuminates how her travels have left quiet imprints.

“Out of nowhere, when I was driving back from my mother-in-law’s house, my son Wyatt said, ‘Mommy?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Baby?’ He said, I want to go to Africa with you.’ So now we have to figure out a trip for the four of us! Of course I want to try and show our kids things that I never experienced but I also want them to see the opportunities they can have if they work for them. My other son, Max, said he wants to go to Antarctica with me and I told him it’s kind of a grown-up trip. Max corrected me and said, ‘No, I mean when I grow-up I want to go to Antarctica with you.”

Monique’s whole body seems to smile as she recounts the conversation, knowing that her children are learning that such wild dreams are actually attainable. “Places like Antarctica, they start to spark your imagination. On the ship we watched this documentary, Antarctica: A Year on the Ice, and I thought, ‘I could do that. You are bigger than who you are. Why not?”

On the Cusp

Polar plunge in Antarctica

Her same theory applied to the polar plunge south of the Antarctic Circle. “I am a one-toe-at-a-time into the lake kind of person but I thought if not there, where? There was no good reason other than I don’t want to.”

At lunch one day, Caroline spoke of the three zones that we experience as humans: comfort, growth and the panic zone. Monique recalls being on the cusp of a panic zone moment standing on the edge of the metal stairs as the choppy, freezing waters heaved the Zodiac up and down several feet. As she tried to time her entry, she thought, “Holy shit! This is not what I expected!” Her tell-tale face was noticed by a group member who commented, “your face totally said, what did I get myself into?”

“A lot of women had really vulnerable moments on this trip. The hugs were so good, heartfelt and necessary in these moments. There was a woman from Salem–and I’m from Seattle, so we’re kind of close. We just clicked so quickly. When we were disembarking and saying goodbye to other people, we were holding hands.” Monique tears up in conversation, remembering that comfort and closeness. “I’m a grown-ass woman and I didn’t want to leave that space.”

New friends

She apologizes and says, “I cry when I’m happy and sad! And as incredulous as I was, not having any expectations, this trip surpassed everything. Of course I cried the night before, leaving my boys and I bought an internet package to chat with them. But it was also nice to not have constant access and unplug.”

Now that she’s plugged back in again, Monique is considering the Arctic. “When I learned that the greatest difference between Antarctica and the Arctic is people, it triggered my latent interest in anthropology–to visit the Inuit communities and learn about the people–I’d love that.”

Certainly, Monique’s carefree, laissez-faire and trusting approach to everything from trip homework to taking the polar plunge to just “being” in a place is a sound lesson in simply being open to an experience. Being on the cusp of her panic zone didn’t deter her–instead, she’s wondering where next. And why not?

Monique’s boys are lucky to have a plucky mom who says “YES” to every opportunity, daunting or not. When it comes to her spontaneous invention of the word “rememberable”–even this makes total sense when hearing Monique’s story. She’s an inspiring, rememberable personality, at the ready for the unexpected magnificence that travel provides.

Thank you, Monique, for sharing your story, tears and warmth with our Wild Women community.

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