email a friend iconprinter friendly iconLifetime Achievement: Sir Richard Branson + Will Steger
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A few hours after arriving in Clyde River, Branson's been fitted in his dog-mushing gear: a one-piece Virgin-red suit, with fur-ruff hood, that bears a shoulder patch promoting the $25 million Virgin Earth Challenge—the largest philanthropic prize in history. During the sorting of gear he recounts how on one of his transoceanic balloon flights they'd run out of toilet paper, and he started eyeing the fax machine's freshly replaced roll.

Outside on a cold, clear night Sam Branson, Steger, and I are again walking to the community center—this time with SRB and Ed Viesturs. We've been invited to a send-off feast of raw caribou and halibut, which the local hunting committee has spent the afternoon sawing and heaping onto blue tarps in the middle of the gymnasium floor. As we walk, I ask Branson if he'd done any research on Arctic travel before arriving. "Not really," he admits. "But I have been reading about my relative, Sir Robert Scott. He was my grandfather's cousin. Of course everyone knows him for being the second to arrive at the South Pole, but did you know he died attempting to become the first man to walk to Antarctica?"

Inside the gym children swarm. "What's your name?" they ask Branson. "Are you the billionaire?"

Branson laughs and pulls out his empty pockets. "My name is Rich, that's true," he says. "But I have a big family, more than 50,000 people working for me, so I have a lot to take care of, I'm afraid."

Standing next to the compact Steger and Viesturs, the six-foot-one (about two meters) Branson looks most like a swashbuckling adventurer. The three men chat in the center of the gym, Steger explaining the frantic feast to come. He knows these scenes well from his years of Arctic travel and warns Branson to keep clear of the knees-and-elbows "race" for the meat that will begin in a few minutes. Amid the crowd Branson seems almost shy, an unusual thing for a man who recently hung from a crane in Times Square dressed in a nude suit, a cell phone covering his privates, to introduce Virgin Mobile to the U.S.

Before the meal, speeches are made. Steger and Qamanirq talk about the Global Warming 101 expedition. The mayor of Clyde River thanks everyone for coming and requests that the visitors carry back to Washington the message that putting polar bears on the Endangered Species list will ruin a vital piece of the local tourist economy. (Though threatened elsewhere, polar bears are still plentiful on Baffin Island and are often spotted during tours.) Branson and Steger thank their hosts for dinner and what Branson calls the opportunity "to see firsthand the impact of global warming on this part of the world." Steger promises to pass along the message on polar bears.

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