Our last camp

From Alan….

Tonight we make camp for what should, barring any surprises, be our final night before we reach the South Pole. All members of the team will be deep in thought this evening.

For Hannah, this will be the sixth time reaching the pole. But, for Rich, Andrew, and me this will be the culmination of over two years of endevour.

From my perspective, the overriding emotion is probably relief. Not relief to be leaving Antarctica (although I think my wife may disagree), but rather relief that all of the various elements of the expedition meshed to allow us to succeed.

From fundraising to training to seemingly endless days of skiing, and the quiet prayers that our equipment will stand up to the fierce conditions – it looks like we are finally within inches of our goal.

Along with the relief, there is a sense of humility. Having the opportunity to be here, in such a special place with the knowledge that this challenge is of our own choosing – and how people supported by Sightsavers and Guide Dogs have a far greater challenge than skiing to the South Pole.

All of us are dreaming of a hot shower, a beer, and of course to see our loved ones. Thanks to all for the tremendous support! Onwards, for the last time, to the Pole!!

Some things we cannot change

From Andrew…

Recently, in the midst of a raging storm which lasted for three days, we crossed the invisible line which marks the last degree of latitude separating us from the South Pole.

As polar storms go, this one was spectacular. The winds shot up to a consistent 25 miles per hour. The clouds above us dropped the temperature to about 30 below without wind chill. Ice crystals hung in the air, causing a halo around the sun. We also witnessed a phenomenon called a “Sun Dog” — the appearance of a second sun on the horizon.

Meanwhile, we were subjected to rolling whiteouts. It reminded me of old black and white war movies I saw as a kid – where they didn’t have enough money for set design, so they surrounded the actors with smoke.

Life here slows down at 30 below. It takes considerably longer to set-up and breakdown camp while wearing boxing style gloves. Snow takes forever to melt in the stove, and electronics seize up and refuse to function. What doesn’t change, however, is the mileage we must make everyday to reach the pole. We need three more days of 15 miles a day. And as I write this, the weather has broken, and we have clear skies ahead.

One new concern has arisen; however, skiing today I felt a pop in my right binding. One of the two metal pieces which secure the boot to the ski snapped in the cold. We have no replacement binding and no way to repair it – should the other metal piece break.

I would prefer to ski rather than walk the remaining miles to the pole. Still, walking that distance is within the realm of possibility. My record for running 50 miles is about nine hours. I can make it. I am mainly mentioning this to reassure myself. Sure, I have done that running, but this is dragging a sled across snow, so the two things don’t really compare physically. It is the type of mental trick my brother and I would play while trying to will one another into some mischief – comparing what we were about to do to something we had seen on a cartoon.

The thing is, I didn’t come into ultrarunning on my own. I ran track as a freshman in high school and was absolutely terrible. I was usually last in all my races and quitting halfway through the season due to shin splints.

A friend of mine at the United States Military Academy, Dan Whitten, got me into ultra running. He learned about a local race started by John F. Kennedy as a test for military personnel in the 1960′s. I think he feel in love with the sheer lunacy of it.

Dan and I ran my first ultra-run together. He didn’t make it – something about needing to get a cheeseburger at mile 35, but it opened up something deep in me. I was subjected to a very rigid lifestyle at the Academy. For the first time, I felt like if I applied myself in a focused and disciplined way, my feet would carry me as far as I was willing to go.

Dan died in combat in Afghanistan in February 2010. This was about the same time I was decided whether to join Polar Vision.

I had just left the military six months before his death. What was the point of leaving? The stability of a civilian life which had seemed so important, suddenly didn’t matter. What could I do now that I had left?

Ultimately, I decided to go ahead with Polar Vision.

There are things we cannot control. Tomorrow, the team will wake up. My binding will still be broken. The terrain will still be atrocious. The weather will still be cold. Alan will still have lost most of his eyesight. Dan will still be dead.

But, I also know the sun will still be above us. I know we will divide the weight of the sleds among us in a way that works. I know we will find a way to smile and even laugh during the breaks. I know there are some things that are worth doing, and I know this is one of them.

I also know there are things we can do to make the world a better place. I can’t bring Dan back, but some of the help we bring Guide Dogs and Sightsavers will help people get a new grasp on life.

Those of you following the trek cannot row across the ocean or ski the the South Pole – but that is not necessarily what it takes. Please take some time to read the blogs by Guide Dogs and Sightsavers that we link to on the site. The help that they need is easier than you may think.

Meanwhile, thanks again for your support – happy new year- and onward to the pole!

After the Day of Rest

It is day 14 of the expedition, and we commenced skiing after a rest day. We hit our first milestone which was reaching the resupply. But, it was a pretty tough day today with a combination of strong head winds, lots of rain, and sleds which are laden with new food – that all made for tough going. We are looking forward to getting into our sleeping bags and resting up for tomorrow.
The rest day was great. It was nice to relax and get some more food into us as well as reorganize. But it was also great to link up with a few of the folks who were spoiling us.
Just a few shout outs – we have had some great questions from all the children Holy Well School and Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. Also, a big thanks to the guys at Union Glacier for supplying us some goodies in the resupply.
And finally, our guide Hannah – her father, Ian, is having his birthday today (10th of December), so a BIG SHOUT OUT FROM ANTARCTICA!!
Thanks for all the continued support, and we look forward to checking in with you soon. Cheers!

Rest Day

Post from Richard

Today was a rest day for the Polar Vision team. We spent most of the day in our tents, rarely leaving our sleeping bags. It has been kind of relaxing. We are ready and recharged to get going again tomorrow.

Some highlights of today; however were, we had a call with Holy Well Primary School in the UK and Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts.

We were really excited to talk to the kids at both of these schools. We were extremely heartened by their words of encouragement and their thoughtful and interesting questions. We were just delighted to speak with them.

Thank you very much for all of the questions that you have sent through to the website so far. We enjoy answering them and welcome any more in the future. Cheers!

Upping the Mileage

From Andrew

Last night the four of us sat in a small cluster in the tent looking at the dark blue glow of the GPS screen. We didn’t like what we saw. It said 36 miles to our first resupply point.

If you have been following us, you know we typically cover 16 miles a day. That meant we had two full days march and then four more miles to the resupply. We didn’t want to do that because we wanted to spend a full day at the resupply point – to repack the sleds, do some sewing of things that need mending, repair a couple of small holes in the tent, just some day to day things that protect us from the elements and keep us all strong.

So what we decided to do was up the mileage, rather than covering approximately 32 miles in two days we decided to do 36. So today, we set out and instead of doing six 75 minutes marches as we typically do, we did six 80 minute marches.

It wasn’t in exactly ideal terrain either. The soft snow we had the last two mornings continued this morning. It is really difficult going. Very strange shapes in the snow today as well, sort of random mounds about the size of a parked car covered with snow. They are spaced out every 100 to 200 meters. It was strange to see and think that the same wind that blows in our faces every day is powerful enough to shape these massive mounds.

We pushed into the afternoon and experienced another whiteout. This makes navigating very difficult. Usually what we do is look at the compass and then look out as far as we can to the horizon and pick a point to ski towards. Well, when the horizon is two arm’s lengths in front of you, it becomes very difficult to navigate. The person up front is kind of a comic site. They are basically staring at their belt loop with a compass attempting to push their way forward. We try for straight lines, but it doesn’t always happen.

In spite of all this, we made our mileage today. We are very happy, and we only have 16 miles to our resupply point. There is a rumor there might be some cake in there, so we are very pleased!

Also, thanks to everyone who has been follow us. We have been getting lots of great questions on the website. One that I found very poetic asked what absolute silence sounds like out here.

It is a true joy to wake up to those every morning and feel like we are connecting to our supporters from way out here. The team is in high spirits, and we will keep pushing through.