‘A Cloudy Day…’

Day 39: S87° 23' 35", W051° 56' 35" Altitude: 2342m Daily distance: 14MI Distance to go: 563MI

‘…is no match for a sunny disposition.’ At least I think that’s how that saying goes. And my disposition was unusually sunny this morning, partly because the roaring, booming wind that had buffeted my tent as I tried to get to sleep the night before had died down to a gentle breeze, and partly as the sun was still shining at that stage.

An hour into the day’s travel and a giant bank of cloud reared up to my north, before stretching out over my head to the southern horizon and blocking out the sunlight completely, like the roof being closed on Centre Court at Wimbledon. For a while I had a tiny sliver of blue sky to ski towards, and the sky and the snow seemed to mirror each other’s texture (I’m not sure my photograph entirely does this justice). A little later and I was almost enveloped in a whiteout – and wishing I’d stayed in bed as I crashed and stumbled into invisible sastrugi – before enough sunlight started filtering through the cloud to give me enough contrast and definition to navigate by. The flat light made the day interesting: in previous days I’ve wrestled with whether to detour around the worst sastrugi, whereas today I couldn’t see it, and was forced to deal with whatever was underneath my skis. Or in front of my skis, as more than once I ran headlong into near-vertical walls of snow and ice.

You may be glad to hear that after a bit of measuring and cutting, my boots have brand spanking new laces in them. It turns out I had enough 3mm accessory cord (a sort of super-strong string that comes from the world of mountaineering and that is essentially a smaller diameter climbing rope with a core and an outer sheath) in my repair kit to replace both. I’m pretty sure the cord’s breaking strain is in the hundreds of kilograms, so I don’t forsee any more issues on the bootlace front…

A few rapid-fire answers:

1) I started following you after seeing you at the RGS with fellow nutters and Al Humphreys moderating. All for WWTW who I try my best to support. If that was one of your unpaid gigs then bravo because I can assure you it reminded me of the support they need. I’ve started reading these blog posts daily. I’m amazed you have the energy to write them, and, I am sure in the RGS discussion there was a general agreement that social media use during an expedition can be a demotivating distraction. How are you finding it? Also, can you tell me the mask of the face mask you are using?

Thank you! I’m one of Walking With the Wounded’s ambassadors and that was very much an unpaid gig! I don’t want to sound too sycophantic, but it’s a fantastic organisation and an honour to be able to support them like that. Re social media it definitely takes up time, but receiving and responding to comments and questions is something I’m enjoying, especially as I’m out here on my own. The mask is an Outdoor Research Gorilla (I’ve modified mine by sewing extra windproof fleece to the nose section, but I do have a sizeable nose…)

2) Who organizes all the notes you get from old friends in your nightly meals? Is it Pip? It seems like that would take a lot of effort before you leave, but also se ems to be something that really matters to you each day. Also, do you keep in touch with Tarka?

The notes were all Pip’s doing, and they’re a real highlight every day. Tarka and I have swapped emails out here, and I’ve had a note in my food bag from him. I miss his company out here a lot, and I was thinking of him yesterday when it was really windy; the occasional shared thumbs-up signal when the weather was bonkers and we were both hidden behind masks and goggles always did wonders for morale, and I miss that camaraderie.

3) Out of interest regarding your daily mileage and remaining distance to cover – with some basic maths (that doesn’t come naturally to an Old Stoic) it seems you will have to ramp up your daily progress if you are to not run out of food/fuel etc. Are you expecting the terrain to get easier resulting in increased daily distance covered? Or is there a resupply planned somewhere along your route? Keep up the good work!! We’re all routing for you!

Thank you! The terrain from the Pole to my finish on the Ross Ice Shelf should be a lot smoother and therefore faster, but the conditions so far mean that I’m behind the schedule I’d planned. All I can do is take each day at a time…

4) What do you miss most about the UK and why?

This is a hard one to answer as there are so many things. My fiancée, my dog, eating from a plate with a knife and fork, a hot shower, trees, sitting down on the loo, birdsong, clean clothes, a nice cup of tea, sunsets and sunrises (I haven’t seen either since early November), being able to walk around outside without a mask and mittens on, fresh croissants from the little bakery down the road, riding my bike around the Surrey Hills or the North Downs in Kent with my friend Mark, my mum’s stew and dumplings (she mentioned on the phone that she was cooking it the other night, and I’ve been dreaming about it since), watching a movie (I’m missing the new Star Wars!), medium-rare ribeye steak, lying under clean sheets and a duvet while it’s raining outside, a Five Guys burger (bacon and cheese, all the way), reading the Sunday newspaper, a hot bath, a decent glass of red wine…
It sounds cheesy but my honest answer is a person rather than a thing: Pip. We’re getting married a few months after I get home from this expedition, and I miss her terribly.

A few quick hellos and thank-yous: to Howard L (and Anna C!), Chris N and John R for your notes in recent days (John I’m sad to have missed Charlie’s talk but look forward to that dinner!)

And an extra-special thank you to (future sister-in-law!) Kate for keeping my Instagram account alive and updated while I’m out here.

 

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
16/12/17
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Comments

Kevin Wright

17/12/2017

Hi Ben, just picked my wife up from her works Christmas party in Bath and while waiting I was thinking about your festive meal on Christmas Day. All the earlier Polar Explorers done something special whether at the hut or on the ice. Will you take the day off and have some nice food and perhaps a glass of that red wine you missing? I guess there will be some festive surprises hidden in your ration pack. Hope that cloud moves away tomorrow and a better surface for you. Take care Kev

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Lucas Watkins

16/12/2017

Hi Ben, what is the most cool and interesting thing you’ve seen so far on the ice?
Lucas Watkins

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Kate

16/12/2017

P.P.S. I think Pip’s already told you but there’s a Five Guys coming to Richmond! If that’s not something to pick the speed up for, I don’t know what is!… I remember you saying that on your last journey you were craving that burger when you were off the ice. Are you at the craving stages yet? I wonder what it is this time…?

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Kate

16/12/2017

WOO I GOT A MENTION! Ben, it is with pleasure every day I update your Instagram account with pictures and comments (and rather too many emojis at times!!) My friends are always asking me how you’re getting on – I’ve given up responding with my own rendition of your journey, and instead encourage them to follow your progress here because, let’s be honest, I could never begin to be able to tell the story like you do! You write so captivatingly, even at the most difficult of times (blasted Sastrugi!) and I look forward to reading your new posts each morning with my coffee. Keep going, you’re doing incredibly! Miss you xx (p.s. I was very close to changing your insta name to Ben ‘Sastrugi’ Saunders – I thought it had a nice ring to it – but, alas, I abstained from doing so with your best interests at heart.

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Iron Lords

16/12/2017

I like the “Sastrugi Saunders” idea. I had never heard the word “sastrugi” before reading this blog. Now I read it everyday.

Another new term I learned recently was the “Southern Pole of Inaccessibility”. Are you going to be traversing anywhere near that?

Lynn Campbell

16/12/2017

Where are you and Pip going to go on honeymoon?

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