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John Kerry Heads To Antarctica And To A New Travel Record

This 2013 photo shows a survival shelter situated between McMurdo Station, a U.S. scientific research facility, and Castle Island on Ross Island, Antarctica. Secretary of State John Kerry is starting a visit to McMurdo Station and the South Pole on Tuesday.
Rod McGuirk

On this Election Day, Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling just about as far from Washington, D.C., as he can go. He's on his way to Antarctica, becoming the first secretary of state to visit all seven continents after logging well over a million miles while in office.

Kerry is visiting McMurdo Station, a U.S. research center in the Ross Sea — and, yes, the South Pole, too. His spokesman, John Kirby, says the purpose is to talk to researchers and scientists before he joins climate change talks in Morocco on Nov. 15.

Kirby bristled when a reporter asked if Kerry was just trying to knock Antarctica off his bucket list before his term ends, and while U.S. taxpayers still foot the bill for such trips.

"As an individual who has literally championed climate change research and awareness for decades now, the secretary is and will remain committed to increasing the awareness and education of the public about this," Kirby stressed. "It is important for him to see firsthand what we are learning about the environment down there on the South Pole."

Secretary of State John Kerry is making an Election Day visit to Antarctica.
Molly Riley / AP
Secretary of State John Kerry is making an Election Day visit to Antarctica.

The trip does set and add to a couple of records: Kerry is the first secretary of state to visit Antarctica and all seven continents. This around-the-world trip will also add many miles to his total, which, according to the State Department, exceeds 1.3 million miles since 2013. He has visited 90 countries and his flight-time hours add up to 118 days.

Kerry easily tops former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's travel record of 1.06 million miles. Hillary Clinton traveled 956,733 miles, though she tried to tally more, according to a newly released email that hints at her competitive nature to see who has traveled most.

"Here's what I don't understand regarding my travel," Clinton wrote to her aide Huma Abedin on Dec. 27, 2010. "In his 11/17 column, [ Washington Post reporter Al] Kamen said Rice had 163 days and 39 total trips and I had 150 days and 33 trips thru Nov 9. What's my total now?"

"We have 36 trips to date," Huma wrote back, saying Clinton would need four more to best Rice before the end of her term. She then listed the trips that were planned.

In 2012, another aide encouraged Clinton to consider traveling to more foreign countries to " run up the score," suggesting that "110 is a reasonable number."

Clinton exceeded that number and set a record of her own. She visited more countries — 112 — than any predecessor, a point of pride she brings up repeatedly on the campaign trail.

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Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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