Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 18: Half way and a good one

85:52.805S 82:25.801W

Elevation: 1616 metres, biggest single day climb today....

You probably picked up from yesterday's blog that I was struggling a bit.... I woke today a bit worried whether things would go further down or spiral upward back to the positive days prior to 'Nunatak day'. It was mainly my right foot issue that was affecting me, but also I find reaching halfway comes with mixed emotions... It's like Wednesday of the working / school week: You are halfway through, but is that a long way you have come or long way still to go?
Well, with a total route distance of 914 km, I now have 461 to go, so almost spot-on halfway. That feels pretty good, and it also means Christmas day at the South Pole is a very real possibility, but 'Mother Nature' will no doubt decide!

Back to the start of today.....

I'm not a pain killer person, never take them, but today I packed 4 in my wind pants pocket, JUST IN CASE. I put an extra sock on my right foot (now 5 socks, including vapour barrier layer!). For those that haven't dragged a sled, it's not just like normal walking: one's back and shoulders are being yanked back, so your toes have to constantly fight back to keep the front of your boot from lifting upwards. When one really pushes the pace or has a very heavy sled, the toes get quite stressed, and almost need like a grab rail in your boot to help them claw back. This is the problem I have, where my toes and ball of my foot are now traumatised.... Anyway enough detail...

The extra sock helped a lot, I had a great day, and forgot about thee painkillers. Not that it's all hunky dory, it will take a while, but a least now I can manage the situation by wiggling my toes, yesterday I could do zip...

The day started with a moderate head wind, and in a big sastrugi obstacle park. I felt good, and patiently made detours around all the big ones... Not good terrain for getting into the zone, but I somehow managed a good average speed. Two hours later I was in exactly opposite terrain, not a sastrugi in sight, not even the occasional one, but just smooth VAST open desert... With the cloud shadow giving it a strange brown tinge, it really looked like warm desert sands, This was the start of the big hill today, but also perfect for getting in the zone, and so I did... The kilometres flew by, and my mind lapsed into a huge philosophical journey! Gee, I missed you on the other side of the debates... (I'll come back to the content later below.)

The now, infamous nunataks are STILL with me, but believe you me, I haven't been seduced again! Two days later they are stlll clearly visible, but other than them, it's just vaste ice wilderness. Today, as I stopped a few times to take it all in, it really hit me how vast and awesome it really is... strange shadows, magnificent skies, deceiving virtual hills and valleys, and nobody around, no sounds, other than the wind when it blows. I take my camera out, but almost each time I realise you can't capture on camera or video what I am experiencing and seeing... Photos will be scorned as showing nothing and that would be tragic, because there is SO MUCH in the scale of things and the experience. I use the 'Mother Nature' thing quite a bit, but today I thought , I'm SO small, and instantaneous in her vast timeless wilderness that 'she' is probably indifferent to my presence.

I managed 28, largely, painfree kilometres, in 9 hours of marching. To try and minimise further damage to my foot, I've decided that provided I'm over 25 km for the day, I'll stop at 9 hours.

You may wonder why I never mention the actual temperatures out here? Well, I'd been warned about Antarctica: At this time of the year it's not the still air temperature that is really cold, probably only -10 to -15 C. It's when the devilish wind blows, the windchill is biting. It's hard out here to estimate the temperature with windchill, but at the headwind peaks it definitely feels like the minus 30s. The worst is that one gets caught out by the warmish still temperature, almost becoming casual and complacent. Two of my fingers have big white frost nip blisters from just that, and most of my fingers are sensitive to touch from minor cold damage... I need to be more careful!

As I went through my planning tonight, it seems it's going to be touch and go as to whether I get to the Pole on or before Christmas day? I'll be pushing to try and do it, but largely weather wiill determine it. I plan to dump (burn off!) quite a bit of fuel soon, I have far too much, and can save 3-4 kgs.

So, my philosophical excursion today....

Well, I've been living out here for 18 days now, I'm halfway, and I asked myself: "So what are you craving for, what are you missing or needing?" I honestly couldn't find one item, thing, activity, etc. I then thought, that's a bit strange, because this life is SO different to breakfast at Empire café, socialising with friends, hours on the laptop, reading the latest news, etc, etc.

I definitely don't miss shopping, going to gym, paying bills, doing laundry and kitchen dishes, spermarkets, traffic, garbage duty, etc, etc. I'm eating the same basic food each day, wearing the same clothes each day, not shaving nor brushing my hair, not showering, I have no idea what's going on in the world, I haven't seen or spoken to anyone yet there is NOTHING I feel I need or want?? Not even a hot bath! Why in that 'other world', do 'we' need so much variety, external stimulation, so much socialising, news, gadgets, material pleasures, etc,etc? Strange hey, but why is this I asked?

The answer appeared to be in: I'm doing what I REALLY enjoy (holisticly), in a very spiritual aand healthy environment, ALL my BASIC needs are well satisfied, and above all I have huge meaningful, and all consumng PURPOSE. A purpose that is linked to me gaining 'personal height', a concept my friend Imi introduced to me back on our Yukon trip. As he said the words, I knew "That's what it's all about!" A sense of inner spiritual development that is free of ratification or approval, or motivated by others. It may involve others, but doesn't have to, and once gained, nobody can ever take that personal height away from you... A good concept.

Out here I have no need for the so called luxuries, boredom distractors, pampering, etc, and my life is SO simple, and free of clutter that I can get within myself and live and feel me!

So if some of this is true, then maybe it's all about having that meaningful and consuming PURPOSE? That then leads to the big question: So, what is the PURPOSE OF LIFE?

This took me back to day 35 in my full-on North Pole expedition, where in the same mind space as today, I had a Damascus experience, where I discovered my response to the question...! I''ll leave you with these thoughts and share with you further in the coming days...

Since 2004 I have been trying to live what I call 'Simply Adventure', a way of life which is Simple, as outlined above bit. But one also centred 'Simply' around adventure, because in adventure Ii find In can find myself and my soul, while still having strong meaningful purpose.

In sharing this with you I'm not trying to say I know the answers, and have it all sorted, I know many of you are much further down your own tracks... All I'm trying to do is share my exploring of an alternate approach.... And maybe it triggers a few thoughts for your journey...!

Lastly, this Blog and your participation, whether active or passive, provides a very important social / human connection for me, one that enables me to not have a craving need to 'get out of here', and be with friends / thank you, it's a very special part of the 'not alone' part of 'Solo but not Alone'

Please feel free to post up your comments, disagreements, views, beliefs...It's all serious fun!

And you just thought this was a South Pole expedition, hey!

Off to bed, feeling very content... Bit of a wind outside, but nice and warm inside my little tent!


  1. Howard.
    Howzit! You sound amped :D.
    Empire cafe is satlking you on the internets - there is no escape!
    Stay strong buddy.

    See you very soon.

    Lazy Dave

  2. Howard:

    Hope you get lots of comments on today's blog. It has me up at 3 am thinking and writing about altered states of consciousness, spirituality, the purpose for our lives and the extent to which we walk the same paths at the level of the spirit or heart even though our physical lives may be dramatically different. Gives new depth of meaning to the John Donne poem "No Man Is An Island."

    Bob N

  3. Good morning Howard . . I can't tell you how much I look forward to your daily blog and what a bonus today . . . physical and philosophical content and you have managed to put into perspective this crazy crazy Christmas chaos which is surrounding me here on the outskirts of London . . . shops competing to seduce customers who are already in debt, Christmas lights blazing, carols blaring out of loudspeakers! No wonder you are content to be where you are and I have heard so many people this year saying they would like to hibernate and wake up after Christmas!!! Something I think everyone needs is time to think, to meditate, and in our modern-day life we rarely make time to do this. Always rushing. You are such an example to us all. Thank you, yet again, for sharing so much with us. And yes, do take extra care! Maggie

  4. Well Done Howie over half way, so loving your walk, both on a physical,spiritual and emotional level. Look after yourself and take care. Big Hug Lindy

  5. Graham,Siun and BenjaminDecember 10, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    Howard - as I drove back home from Surrey at 2300 after a 17 hour day and hellish evening meeting I spent much of the - icy - journey glad that I was inside a warm car! Then I thought about the blog entries and the purpose of life and wished I was there with you! Many thoughts and very best wishes from Graham, Siun and Ben.

  6. Hi Howard,
    great to hear you are making such good progress, do you have any anti inflammotories for your feet, could help! the image of you out there all alone on this enormous field of ice, pulling your sledge is mind boggling!! It takes a real special kind of person to enjoy that kind of adventure. The lack of clutter in your visual environment, sounds like a huge relief to me. Just closing my eyes and imagining it, makes me feel calmer and more at peace. I look forward to seeing some of the "empty" photographs. I will use them to meditate! In my humble opinion, the central purpose of life is nurturing the young and preparing them for life and hopefully leaving the world a tiny bit better than it was when one arrived! Take care and enjoy. patrick and brigitta

  7. Hi Howard
    Fascinating stuff. I follow all your blogs with interest, admiration and wonder. By coincidence I started to reread Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom about a week before you embarked on your quest and finished it just a couple of days ago. It made me think of your odyssey. Putting aside whether one agrees with the economic, political and philosophical arguments of the book, the one thing that comes through is the importance of individualism. I couldn't help thinking that if a tyrant forced onto somebody, as punishment, what you are putting yourself through, we would regard it as unusual and cruel punishment.....and here you are doing it and actually paying money for the privilige. It just highlights for me how important it is to be free to do what we want providing we don't harm others in the process (and also how different we are as individuals). Well done and I hope you make it there by Christmas. Paul

  8. Hey Howard - hard to think that not long ago you were dragging tyre's around the Cotswolds whilst trying to figure out the best 'route' South.
    You mentioned at the time that the commercial approach was not for you and that you were looking at doing things your own way. Geez have you put your money where your mouth is!
    I cannot imagine how a) difficult and b) rewarding your current journey is. Seriously inspiring stuff! Avidly following the blog and wish you all the best out there. Stay strong and just think how bad things could be if some company was telling you how far you were skiing each day and what to eat that night!!
    Cheers, Wade

  9. Howard, I am LOVING the philosophical musings, especially when I think about the fact that they are written right there at the coal face! It's not about whether I agree or not, it's about this gift that you're giving me of a really open and honest insight, which I can then choose to use or lose.
    I am as inspired by your emotional honesty as by your physical labour.