To paraphrase the rapper Snoop Dogg – and by paraphrase I mean remove all the swear words from one line -‘If it ain’t one thing, it’s the other’. I’m not sure what Snoop would make of Antarctica, but his epigram applies as well to manhauling at 84 degrees south as it does to hustling on the streets of Compton.
I slept unusually well last night, perhaps as there was no wind, and therefore no sound at all. The last thing I remember before I nodded off was imagining myself filmed from above – by a drone or a balloon, slowly ascending – and with the roof of my tent gone, so it was just me lying, half-curled on my side, a tiny speck of warmth in a massive expanse of ice, snoozing away. I marvelled at human ingenuity. Leave an ant, or a butterfly, or a chimpanzee out here overnight for a kip and they’d be dead by morning, yet I was comfy and cosy, thanks to two simple foam mats under my body, my sleeping bag, and the tent that keeps me out of the wind.
The sun was out when I woke up, and my mood lifted by several notches. It was chilly as well, which meant the surface ought to be improving. Sure enough, I flew along for the first hour, convinced that my luck had turned, and that a record mileage was in the bag. Thirty minutes later, I was in the middle of the worst sastrugi I’ve ever experienced, and it didn’t let up once in nine hours. Unlike the whiteout, sastrugi is something you can battle physically and overcome, so despite my pace slowing again, I relished getting my teeth (and most of my muscles) into the fight across the huge ridges of snow and ice. One section even looked like an Antony Gormley sculpture, though I’m not sure my photograph will do it justice.
A few quick answers:
1) Your post about that epic day of white-out conditions grabbed me…
I know it doesn’t compare, but I’ve been sailing my little wooden live-aboard sailboat on the west coast of Canada, and your post got me thinking…
Usually, my time and attention are consumed by making decisions about navigating and by taking in the beauty of the surroundings; the sense of independence (mixed with risk) can be intoxicating…
And then there are times when it feels like I’ve been sailing forever, and I’m not really moving ahead, I’m just at full-sails, maintaining my position against a current, and it feels like I’ll never get to my destination. My clothes are wet, my hands are numb, the wind is frigid, the waves won’t let me sit still… Those are the times when the morale can plummet drastically, when the fantasy of a warm, dry, unmoving bed is an uncountable number of miles away.
That’s the feeling that your post reminded me of, and I wanted to know: What is it that keeps you going in moments like that? Is there a voice inside your head to cheer you on? Do you have a mantra you hang onto? Do you rely on your experience to assure you that you will see it through?
I admire your strength of mind. Good luck down there today, Jessie
Thank you Jessie. In short, it’s probably the knowledge that whatever I’m going through won’t last forever. My last expedition here was 108 days and there were days then that seemed never-ending at the time, yet in hindsight that three and a half months went by in a flash. The other trick is not thinking too far ahead, and not wasting energy worrying about things I have zero control over (weather, wind, ice…)
2) How much weight do you think you shed from your sledge each day?
3) What type of food do you take to Antarctica? Is it nice?
I’ll write about food soon, but lots! 6,200 calories a day.
4) Hello Ben really enjoying keeping up with your adventure! How do you decide what needs a backup? You have many stoves, but only one tent?
Good question! I only have two stoves, so I can always use one in case the other needs servicing/repair. Without the means to create water I wouldn’t last very long out here. In a survival situation I could put my sleeping bag in my sledge and wait for a few days for an aircraft, but I wouldn’t survive long without a stove. Ditto two satellite phones, but only one pair of boots.
5) How many spare shoelaces do you have with you?
Um, none! But I do have a few metres of cord that would work well, and if the worst came to the worst I could probably steal a bit of guy line from my tent…
6) Did you bring a spare lens of a different colour for your goggles? Might help to look at the whiteout in a different hue for a few hours.
I didn’t, but I’m using Oakley‘s new Prizm Snow lenses in my goggles and sunglasses, which apear to have some kind of witch doctor magic going on, as they work brilliantly in all light conditions.
7) And thank you Jason for the passage from Amundsen on ‘whumping’! I only had this once or twice today…