Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 16: Freedom in Antarctica...'Simply Adventure' is alive and well...

85:21.743S 82:21.671W

Hey, ALL your comments are JUST amazing.... Thanks, and I can tell you it inspires me to share more in these postings.... I wish I could reply to each, but......!! Just know you are ABSOLUTELY here with me in my thoughts and mind in the middle of Antarctica. Solo but DEFINITELY not Alone!

If you see my course today on Google Earth, on 'The Diary', you may start wondering whether those compasses are playing games again...! My course today took a 'strange' veer almost direct west, not one for one trying to make it to the South Pole ASAP!

Well my wandering, adventurous, exploring side just took control away from the competitive racer! Absolute Freedom reigned:

I told you about my lovely 'campsite' (yeah, space 10a!) last night 'near' the best nunataks I've seen so far. Each time I've passed a nunatak, I've been curious, and almost tempted to detour to go and 'touch' one. Although simple in concept, they do fascinate me, and I wonder if there are crevasses around each peak, as the ice flows around the fixed moutain, on its way to the sea. Also, I have never been to a continent and not 'put my foot' on the ground! I've only been on the ice way above the 'ground'! So intrigue has been building!

This morning I woke to a perfect still, warm morning, and as I had my almost, pleasant today, daily pre breakfast loo experience, I gazed in awe at the nunataks, and thought: "You are good on 'schedule' for the Pole, you guys are all telling me to "Rest" and it's the perfect day to go and explore the nunataks." This is the strange mix I have within me, and my ,Simpy Adventure' life philosophy is designed to accommodate the fast, go-for-it stuff, but also the, hey it's not so serious, enjoy the now of exploring too... Freedom of choice... I like to think it maximises that, withoutt 'losing one's way! So....

Over breakfast I worked at my plan: I estimated it would take me 'about an hour' to get there, maybe two, a total off-course, but spiritually wonderful, deviation to route to the Pole. So, off I went, so happy I didn't have to sell the 'crazy' idea to anyone else, or explain why I stupidly, wanted to 'touch' them... I just made the decision based on what I FELT inside me I just HAD to do....! Solo... one of the real benefits, or maybe not... read more!

Initially, I was confused as I thought through how I'd pushed for every kilometre towards the Pole these last few days, and now I was 'wasting' them.Then I thought: "No, it's the TIME that those hard days have earned for me are now giving me the FREEDOM to explore as I want! This all felt good, and before long I was 'locked' on the nunataks, and how lucky I was to be going to 'touch them'!

As I skied along I felt so motivated, and alive, the power of Simply Adventure was pumping through my veins again. At one point I was just overcome by emotions, tears welled up, like a deep spiritual satisfaction. Well...

The further I skied, the more I committed to my goal and its dream I became, but at the same time the 'big mountain peaks' weren't getting closer at the rate I'd been used to with the little sastrugi beacons each day.... Hmm, these nunataks are further than I thought. Ok no problem, I REALLY want the experience, so relax, ski whatever it takes, and maybe just write off the day to 'fun and pleasure'! I'd even conjured up the dream of pitching my tent for 'lunch' right next to the cutest one, and stay there overnight... I'd already chosen it! Well...

I skied for 6.5 hours, 18.8 kilometres, and they hardly got closer! I have NEVER experienced anything like this total inability to judge distance... In fact at sea, which is also a vast 'nothingness', I pride myself on my ability to judge long distances. But this was new territory, and something had affected my gut feel!

Clearly they did get much closer, and became increasingly spectacular as they did, but my commitment to a worthy goal needed to be 'audited'. I'd skied all this 6.5 hours without ONE break... Excitement, and passion fueling me through all fatigue/mental barriers on a normal 'boring' day. Funny hey! My hands were so 'frozen' in clenching the poles that when I finally stopped on 'the auditors' instruction I could hardly undo my backpack clips, and release my ski bindings. Such was the power of my nunatak dream! I understand many may see this as madness, not understand the fascination, and yes, logically it doesn't make sense, but this is ME, and its about a strange and powerful fire within. Many will relate in your own passion areas to this same 'madness'....

So the meeting with the 'spoil sport' auditor didn't go well: I'd reached the point where although this detour hadn't actually added kilometres to the distance I still have to the Pole, going any further would start doing that, ie taking me backwards from yesterday. The views of the mountain range were spectacular, two groups of nunataks, spread over quite a few kilometres (?!). The first being iconic, easily recognisable rocky, but snow peppered, tops of jagged, mountain peaks. The other was more like a totally white ice encrusted table, seemingly standing on the surrounding ice, and almost part of it. Inside me the dream fire was still burning strong, but when the auditor asked me how far away they still were, I scarily, honestly could not answer! I estimated not more than 1/2 an hour ski away, but then I lost confidence and thought it maybe still another two hours, I REALLY don't know... Based on that, I decided to I had to 'park' the dream and set up tent, with a view to maybe exploring just on my own (no sled and gear) later... So, here I am with a really spectacular 'closeup' view of the best nunataks to date, and its 16h30, and I'm about to decide whether I set out on my own or not....

It's now 20h30, and I'm back from my ski to 'touch the nunataks'! I decided this was a once-off lifetime opportunity, and I had to give it all I've got to realise at least some of ths morning's dream. Well (again!)...

I did 4km and to my utter shock and amazement, I probably did about half the distance to the closest nunatak! This is astounding, there is something wrong! I did think that for two weeks now the highest thing I've seen is my tent! I've been focusing on small distant shimmeriing sastrugi, so maybe I just could no longer reference these significant height peak tops. Another contributor could be the very pure, clean atmosphere.... I'm almost embarrassed sharing this faux pax wit you!

Anyway, at the end of the 4km, it did feel real closeup and I could see one significant glacier squeezed between the two largest nunataks, which was special. In terms of achieving my original excursion goal, I have failed, but the day's experiences, including the freedom emotions and spiritual peace, plus the close-up views were together ALL worth it. As a bonus I also got to have a special 8km cross country ski, without 'my friend' the sled, in the world's biggest cross country ski park! Don't know where you pay, and why there was nobody else here! Gee, it was light and fast without 'my friend'!

In this account of my day's seemingly unachieved mission I have found many life lessons, and above all, an adventure into the unknown has risk, and deciding when one is a coward or when it's right to change direction and walk away from a heart-felt pursuit is one of the most diffficult decisions I find in life! The other thing is how we are naturally optimistic, and that gives us hope, dreams, and helps us off our butts, when well thought through 'auditor' rationality will probably keep us locked in our comfort zones!

Oh well, strange posting this one, butt I hope you get something out of it, because hey, this was one WHOLE day of my life!

I've just had my last course of my 7500 calorie (SP) day's food intake, and am off to bed, because:

Back to competitive production tomorrow...



  1. Howard, Great to hear about your adventure today! On Google Earth there are mountain peaks about 44km beyond where you camped today. Is it possible that is what you were skiing toward? Cheers, David

  2. Hi Howard, your adventures are making great reading. We so relate to your experience to distance perspective - when we were on the Antarctic peninsula we tried estimating distance to a peak - our visual guess 3 miles - actual distance was 11 miles! Sarah and Adam

  3. Howard, I meant to ask earlier, how do your recharge your computer and sat phone? Cheers, David

  4. Hi Howard
    Nunatuc crazy! Well it was a laugh reding about your inner debate. Nice to see you can be flexible and enjoy yourself!

  5. Wow, you really have experienced some sort of spiritual transformation to have been able to abandon the competitive nature and live for the moment. I suspect the competitive drive will take hold and drive you today. Stay warm,

    Bob N

  6. Fantastic Howard, today was a huge success in my humble opinion. One lesson I got was that if we are not indigenous to the environment, you cannot always trust your senses. I'm pretty sure the Inuit are much better judges of distance in artic/antartic environments, than we are. Humility in the face of the unknown, is what i learnt from your experiences today. Thank you!!
    Have a super day tomorrow.
    warmest wishes

  7. You create such great word pictures for us watching from afar! Glad you took advice and did the diversion to the nunataks


  8. Another insightful and inspirational posting Howard ... incredible life lessons indeed ... so glad you took the risk and experienced the day ... mission very much accomplished in my humble opinion .. stay strong .. Ali