I’m beginning to think yesterday’s glorious flat sections were either an early, one-off Christmas gift from Antarctica, or a glitch in the Matrix, as today was ten hours of horizon-to-horizon sastrugi again, with my ski poles generally used for balance as I clambered from one ridge to another, rather than to actually propel me southward. I had no idea Antarctic conditions could be like this.
There’s been a brutal – and brutally cold – headwind all day. Pip’s out for dinner with friends in London this evening so I can’t call her to Google the windchill, but the forecast said -24 C. ambient with 24 knots of wind (editor/Pip’s note: -40 C. windchill). Whatever that works out as, it certainly felt a bit nippy, and I spent much of the first hour debating whether I’d have been better off hiding in my tent today. Apologies for the rubbish photo of one of the larger bits of sastrugi I saw today – my fingers were very cold, so I was in a rush.
Rather than complaining any more about how tough it’s been (and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find today very hard indeed, especially after my other bootlace snapped this morning!) I’m going to change tack and have a bash at answering 11 questions Alastair Humphreys sent me, that in turn come from Tim Ferriss’ book, Tribe of Mentors:
1. What is your most gifted book or if you recommend one book what would it be?
The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Whenever I think I’m suffering (as I did today) I remember this story and remind myself that I’m only scratching the surface.
2. What is the best/most useful £100 you have spent?
Out here: my balaclava, an Outdoor Research Gorilla, without which I’m not sure there’d be much of my face left.
At home: an electric coffee grinder (I think it’s a Krup) that saved me from a wasteful and expensive habit of popping a certain brand of plastic capsule into a machine, that has vastly improved the quality of coffee that I drink, and that has turned making coffee (on a stovetop Italian espresso maker) into a ritual that also smells fantastic.
3. What failure has set you up in later life?
In 2001 I failed to reach the North Pole, on my first ever polar expedition. I came home physically and mentally crushed by the experience, broke, jobless and in tens of thousands of pounds of debt. I was 23 at the time, and it felt like the biggest mistake of my life. In hindsight it was a crucial two-month technical apprenticeship in polar skills, and a huge lesson in the importance of persistence and perseverance (and indeed in reframing ‘failure’).
4. If you had a giant advertising board on Oxford St. What & Why would you write on it?
Something about the average lifetime being just 650,000 hours. I find thinking about life as ‘hours remaining’ a useful yardstick when making day-to-day decisions, like ‘Should I let Facebook autoplay me another video?’
5. What is the best investment you’ve ever made? Could be Time? Money? Energy?
Time and energy (and some money) spent on training and physical fitness, which for me is usually running, cycling and lifting weights. The pursuit of fitness has taught me lessons about goal setting and focus and consistency and effort that I never learned at school, and lifting heavy weights is the closest I’ve found to meditation. I deadlifted 200kg (440lb) in October, before this expedition, and your mind can’t really be anywhere else but the present when you’re applying that amount of effort to a challenge.
6. What is an unusual habit or absurd thing you do?
The only thing that comes to mind is that when I’m running I avoid manhole covers in groups of threes, as I secretly think treading on them is bad luck (as opposed to paired manhole covers, which are good luck, like a power up in a computer game). I’ve never admitted that before.
7. In the last 5 years what is the most life changing habit/belief you have adopted?
Keeping some form of journal.
8. What advice would you give to a smart driven university graduate just starting out in the world?
If you haven’t travelled, then travel! And read Cal Newport’s ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’.
9. What bad recommendations do you hear in your profession or expertise?
As per the book recommendation above, I now think ‘Follow your dreams’ is terrible career – and life – advice.
10. What have you become better at saying No to?
Unpaid speaking engagements (unless it’s for a charity I want to support, or for a certain number of state schools that I speak for free at via the charity Speakers for Schools). I was asked to give a number of talks in a row on a cruise ship earlier this year. The only payment for the fortnight or so of my time would be ‘a free cruise’. I wondered if the people that cleaned the lavatories on the ship were doing it for the same reason, or if they were on a higher pay grade.
11. When you become unfocused or overwhelmed what do you do?
I think about David Allen’s concept of the ‘next action’. There were points today where the scale of the journey I’m on started to feel overwhelming, and even the thought of another week of this sort of effort was too much to bear. Out here my next action is usually taking a stride south, and by reframing/reducing my focus to deliberately taking one step at a time, things gradually felt more manageable again.
I’ll sign off by wishing happy Chanukah to Jess, who is currently in deepest Nepal – I hope this reaches you (probably via several satellites)…