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!