|File pic of Howard training on Muizenberg beach, Cape Town|
Elevation: 2251 metres. A new high for the day's elevation gain. Only 500 metres to go before I'm at 'Pole level', and the much-talked-about 'plateau'... I hope it's like a pancake!
Hey, cool, it's snowing lightly outside, whiteout, and I can just hear the snowflakes landing on my tent! I made it in just in time, saw the cloud slowly catching me from behind... Yeah first tail wind so far! Let's see what it brings!
Well a memorious day: 100 years ago today Amundsen reached the South Pole, as the first person to ever 'be there'. I must say my thoughts went to his expedition quite a bit today.... How different it must have been not knowing what to expect all the way and then having to use a sextant to tell him he was at 90 degrees South. It's all too easy to take this achievement for granted, but it was a HUGE one, and so professionally executed! I did also think about the anniversary party, just 'over the hill'. It seems quite strange from the white wilderness perspective I have now... Anyway, salute the man and his team!
What a day! An important one from the mind challenge!
As I always do, I'll share my REAL inner journey, warts and all, not all the superman Hollywood stuff. This expedition was always going to be a SERIOUS mental struggle for me... That's what I signed up for!
After yesterday's horrendous one, I wasn't sure how ready I was for today... In some ways I'd been partially broken, and my confidence dented, and on the other hand I wasn't sure whether it was mental fatigue and I need a break. The latter is a difficult call, as it's far too easy to just take the easy option: rest!
There were a few warning bells today:
- I didn't hear the alarm, overslept (10 mins only!)
- when pulling down the tent, I forgot two tent pegs, still in the ice, but fortunately they wouldn't let me pull the tent up to pack away, so I didn't lose them! I'm normally pedantic about ensuring this doesn't happen.
- then 'crime of the day', maybe the century, I somehow left my thermos flask (very conspicuous brown!) on the ice at one of the rest stops! It's gone - my only one, and the one I use for water on the day's march!
- Lastly, the day's low patch I went through, which I describe below, is also related.
Individually 'accidents', but I'm convinced that these simple 'mistakes' are all mental tiredness issues... I need to be aware that I'm in another mind space, and compensate for it.
We'll the day started with my thermometer showing -23 C, with no wind, so I sensed I was in for a 'cold one', particularly if the 'usual' headwind popped up. I took out the heavy duty layers just in case, but actually it warmed up during the day, and now it's just -16C. But this cold start contributed a bit of an edge to the whole mind picture.
I set out with yesterday's conditions still controlling my body movements, even though the terrain was better. Before I could relax and 'unlearn' the constant sled tugging and me anticipating a fall, I was faced with a long steep (relative) climb. And blow me down, with the hill came the return of the sastrugi army! As I weaved my way up the hill, the pace dropped and at the first 2hr break I was down below 3km/h and quite demoralised. I wasn't sure whether the terrain was as bad as I was making it to be, or I was just on a mental fatigue downward spiral... That's the tough thing being solo: no other reference points. All this negative info, and the constant attention to the terrain made it impossible to get near 'the zone', and so my mind went off into negative territory, making it all worse! Try as I might to convert things into a positive mindset, my mind JUST didn't want to go there. I thought about taking a rest day tomorrow, but that made it worse, as I started mentally experiencing 'heaven' of a day off, right then. The terrain deteriorated till it was as bad as yesterday, albeit different in the sastrugi specifics. And so the downward spiral continued, the next rest showed bad km/h average, and it was here that my tormented mind must have overlooked packing the thermos!
I'd sort of stabilised the situation by agreeing with myself that I need to JUST focus on the now of the next 1.5 hour march, and do it well... I can't do anything about the terrain but I can ski the best I can within it. So off I went, and I was dealing with a new, second level of capitulation. The going GENUINELY was difficult, and the motion quite violent and disjointed, and so in trying to make it more peaceful and soulful, I thought: "Maybe I should rather take the skis off and walk." The ice seemed hard enough, and I thought I'd try it at the next break stop. Well, backpack off, skis off, time to get food and flask..! "I can't believe it, the flask isn't here, I must have left it at the last stop, 4.5 km back! In denial, I searched the whole sled, desperately thinking it may have moved when the sled overturned! Nope, it's gone! No panic, sit down and think through the options! Fast 'gearless' ski back was tops, and I was just about to implement this when I thought, "No, it's probably two rest stops back, because I didn't drink at the last one! Hmmm, ok what substitutes can I use? Pee bottle (cleaned out, of course!!) or whisky bottle, wrapped in my down jacket, yeah one will be ok, no stress! You see the whole Robert Scott approach: I was actually quite excited about the problem I had to solve! It was solved, so now, how does the ice surface feel for walking? "Great, it's really firm, let's' go for it!"
This was an energising, motivating turnaround point for the day, and 5 hours into a miserable one! Energy was flowing again, just a trickle but it was positive and definitely flowing!
Well, the rest is history: as I walked much more relaxed and peacefully I found my soul again, and actually started enjoying it all again... I now marvelled at the previously evil sastrugi, stopped to take photos, and suddenly appreciated the TRULY magnificient landscape I was in... Today was all about hills and valleys, and with the sun angle wonderful shadows were created on the hills and valleys, accentuating the features. I TRULY mean it was beautiful. The first GPS check had me walking at 3.3 km/h, perfect, and good for my foot too... The change of muscles and motion was as good as lying in my tent resting, but I was again moving rapidly towards the Pole, but now soulfully too! I honestly believe that given the terrain I had, walking was the fastest option, as I could just walk in a straight line and power over ALL sastrugi in my way!
It all felt so good, I was back to being balanced and in sync with my environment. It was just like my training off Muizenberg beach, and at one point the shadows created a sea-like feature reminding me of the Indian Ocean next to the beach as I walked in training down there. Aah, but no breakfast and 'flat white' afterwards at Empire!
It was quite eerie as I walked on the ice, ski boots only: occasionally my heel would break through thin ice, and I'd stop and explore around the hole with my ski pole... Hmm, once the whole pole went down into this deep blue cavity underneath... Strange place this, there is lots happening underneath me! No fears, I'm not being reckless, I can sense the general integrity of the ice here. A while back I asked the question: "Why do people walk on skis to the Poles?" The main reason is that the ski provides so much more surface area that holds one up from sinking in soft snow or falling through thin ice / snow.
As my mental strength returned, I decided "Today WILL be a 30km day, and I'll walk till I achieve that... Well, 31.1 km done, in 10 hours. More importantly, I had an important mental victory, in a game that's just starting to get 'interesting'! There will be more battles ahead!
Lastly: I have to dump my whisky tonight. I never thought it, but the bottle now has a more valuable role!
I haven't forgotten the philosophical stuff, just full capacity at the moment!
Last few whiskies then, oh no, turf out the rest, fill the bottle with the morning's water, and then I'm off to bed!
I sense, it'll be a good day tomorrow...!