Monday, December 19, 2011

Day 27: This is starting to get REAL tough... I fought for every footstep today!

88:00.770S 82:00.450W

Hey this even surprised me: JUST popped over the 88th parallel. Man, that feels good. Particularly after today's struggle! I thought it would be tomorrow's celebration, so left Ruth's lattitude card in my backack... And I'm too cosy in my sleeping bag and the wind has just piped up half an hour ago, so it will have to wait till tomorrow... 'Something' to look forward to!

Elevation: 2 618m. Still climbing every day, and once again ups and downs to get UP, and today one of the big valleys put Sastrugi City of the early days to shame; these were monsters, and sort of terraced down to the valley low point! Funny how there are 'hurdles' on the downhills, so they are virtual uphills too... Man, this is a challenging place! One day (I guess not many left!) I'm hoping I get a downhill where I can sit on my sled and toboggan down! BTW, I checked my notes and South Pole is at 2833 metres, so a bit more UP to go than I had thought!

So today:

Well, I eventually struggled across the 'finish line' on skis exhausted but after having spent 11 hours 8 mins and 31 seconds out there today, I achieved my minimum goal 30.00 kilometres! Yeah, I made the finish line exactly where the GPS 'clicked over' to 30! Exhausted, physically and mentally. A very low productivity day, as my march time was 10 hours, giving me a disappointing 3km/h average... Gee, with a light sled, I was expecting to be averaging 3.6 to 3.8 now, but Antartica says otherwise. It was all about terrain: difficult terrain, and the difficult terrain contaminating my mind!

The day started right on wake up, with me REALLY having to dig me and my tent out of the sastrugi the wind made around us during the night. Much worse than rest day, yet we were there for 1/2 the time. Anyway, other than the biting wind, it was quite fun trying to find the tent pegs a metre under snow! My snow shovel had just the handle showing.

I left in clear blue skies, but the strong crosswind. Prepared for 11 hours of it, I had a new face protection solution. Maybe that frightened off the wind because by midday it was still, but a threat of fog was always present threatening on the horizon, but fortunately not quite engulfing me!

There was lots of sastrugi again, but somehow the ice was softer, so instead of walking ON the ice, each step saw me sink in 2-5 cm, and believe me that aint easy walking. Frustratingly for someone like me, who likes to put in bursts of speed now and again to break the boredom, as I went to accelerate all that happened is that I would sink further into the snow/ice. And it was tiring, and very slow! I needed my North Pole snowshoes, and today would have been 35km! Anyway, would haves, should haves and could haves don't help keep one's spirit in times like this!

I switched to skis three times, but each time the sastrugi rubble was so extensive that I was worse off! Oh well, another capitulation point to overcome, I was in a new 'go even slower' prison! I thought about changing weight loading from my backpack to my sled, but it all seemed pointless. At 90kg I was the fundamental problem, and I need to accept the new prison! So that's what today was about...

I haven't shared with you the scary mind abyss I look into each morning: Can you imagine setting out each day, on YOUR OWN, knowing you are going to spend 10-11 hours in the middle of very cold nothingness, JUST to accomplish 28-32 km of travel to the Pole? If you start thinking what you are going to think in those hours, and how you are going to 'occupy' yourself, you are essentially looking down into a deep mind abyss! You have to quickly 'turn away', and forget that that thought came up, otherwise the abyss will 'take you'. I've learnt now that each day brings a new 10-11 hours, and as someone said in their comment: each day is so different and full of new challenges that one gets consumed by the new 'differences', when the days are all very boring from the macro perspective... It's a strange thing, but the line between contentment and the abyss is so fine I'm too scared to even explore it!

Another area of 'broken spirit' fine line appears sometimes when one is walking along... Actually stumbling along because that's what it essentially is at 3km/h on varying softness, uneven ice. Literally each step has to be conciously managed, and the feedback to the brain (well my brain!) is: My God this is so slow and tiring! That's sort of ok, but every now and again either a step produces an extra deep footprint, or my friend the sled gives me a sharp tug and I come to an abrupt halt. Often mid step, that causes me to do a little cross-foot dance to stay on balance. At this point I see this 'broken spirit' line approach me, and it gets very close to being inside me, as I ponder for a split second how even slower I am now going! So far I have fended off the 'broken spirit' line but I can see it will continue to increase its torment as the Pole gets closer... The game is far from over yet!

I think it was Helen Keller who said: "In adventure we find ourselves." Well I thought by now there was nothing more to find, but yeah just like the last one, there IS more to discover, and I'm discovering it!

Just before starting this blog update to you I received probably the last 4-5 days of your comments 
from Dominique. Well, guys, it's TRULY overwhelming, and 'yes' we do have something very special going on... It's fantastic, and I want to thank each and every one of you for the sincerity, openess, and very motivating comments. I've said it before, but you won't believe how this helps me keep the 'broken spirit' line away....THANK YOU!

I really need some good sleep now... I need another 30 km and more day tomorrow...



  1. You remind me of Lord of the Rings. The ring got heavier as the hobbits got closer to Mordor and the place of the Ring's forging. Take extra car please. Lots of people are thinking of you.

    I walked up a short hill on Hampstead Heath yesterday and my nose began to get cold, while I got a little out of breath. What you are doing puts everythign lese into perspective.


  2. Hey Howard, All's well at Drivers, thinking of you,the sastruggis and the soft ice just a little different to Muizies. Keep strong boet you are amazing.
    Patrick and Phylly

  3. Hi Howard
    Just a few more days - seems your mind is still very strong. Great! This South Pole trek appears to be an extreme challange, both for body and spirit. You definitely are up for it.
    Keep well and focused

  4. hello Howard...when i read your musings i find myself examining my own day-to-day procedures and try and imagine what it must be like to be in 'survival mode' as you are. it's a daunting thought process and thanks for being so honest as this enables me to draw these valuable comparisons.I was telling Anne van Zyl about you over lunch earlier. She heads up the Oprah Winfrey Academy in Gauteng and the thought crossed my mind that the girls there would benefit from your insights as they prepare for the big wide world so when you get back we can set something up if you like. take care, peter and pat

  5. Hi Howard, if ever i need reminding that we are social animals, I will reread your blog and meditate on your struggles! A good laugh and tease from a friend along the way would ease a lot of your issues. Being part of a group, brings its own issues of course. In terms of dealing with the "mind abysses", that haunt you each morning, can i humbly suggest you bow down on your prayer mat and give thanks that you are alive, that lots of people care deeply for your well-being. Also, can i suggest you make up a story as you go along each day. There is a lovely story form Irish Folklore about a famous builder who sets out with his son to go to a king to build a new castle for him. Soon after they have left home the man says to his son "shorten the road". The son is confused as he reckons they are on the shortest route to their destination. A little later the father asks, "is this the best you can do?". When the son cannot suggest another route, the father says, we are returning home. This happens two days in a row, until the builders wife asks the son why it is that they keep returning home. Are they forgetting some tools or what. When the son explains what the father keeps asking, she laughs and whispers something in his ear. The next day they set out as usual and father asks his usual question. The son replies by asking the father had he heard the story about.... The father said no and the son started to tell the story. Two days later as they approached the kings fort, the son finished the story and the father exclaims well done! A story shortens the road. You need to keep yourself occupied with a good story, which you make up as you go along, and before you know it, you will be at the South Pole!! Warmest wishes.. Patrick and Brigitta

  6. Hey Howard,
    I posted one of you posts on salomonnordic skiing facebook page and you got lots of very positive comments. People are inspired by you!
    Keep it up!
    Good luck and I hope to get together at some point in the near future
    Alexei Sotskov

  7. Remarkable your accomplishment so far, remarkable your fortitude and determination, remarkable your resilience and focus; that broken spirit line doesn't stand a chance of crossing your path, and that mind abyss is so far below you that it will remain a distant depth. Safe and God speed Howard... you inspire me.

    And to Patrick and Brigitta for their earlier comment, thank you too for that special inspiration...

  8. Can't imagine that hell can be any worse. I was reminded of Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to have it roll down and then making things even worse for him by doing it in -25 weather. You honesty and comments are both interesting and challenging. I am impressed with your ability to confront a fear and to then somehow let it go.


  9. Once again, I've enjoyed my "walk" with you today, as you describe your incredible journey. The mind is such a powerful thing, and to keep it reigned in can be a very tiring task. I wish you well as you face the challenge of keeping your mind out of the abyss.
    On a lighter note: In Memorium
    With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person,
    which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote "The Hokey Pokey", died peacefully at age 93.
    The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin.
    They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started.

  10. Howard your blog is addictive and I look forward to 'reading you' each morning. You're doing keep pressing forward. When I read the part of your blog re your 'abyss thought' and 'broken spirit line' I instantly thought of Rumi.

    Here's a little Rumi for you to mull over:
    Patience is the key to joy (you'll be at the Pole before you know it!)
    What strikes the oyster shell does not damage the pearl (we know you can handle what ever the pole throws at're a tough cookie)

    OK...keep it moving
    hugs Janet and Chris xx

  11. Howard, when I read about your moment to moment struggles and your mind abyss, I say to myself, why was he doing this again? Then, I remember you said you need to experience the adventure by doing it, and you want to see what it takes to do it and you want to see if you can do it. Not your exact words, and hoping I got it right because I'm thinking the struggles and mind abyss are a big part of this experience, but just keep reminding your self they will pass. In six days it's over! I have immense admiration for you for taking on this adventure like you have. Yes, when you arrive at the South Pole you will be the first South African and oldest person to do it going solo, unsupported, and unassisted. BUT, let's add to that: doing it without an IPOD, books or MP3 and see who would even want to take on that mental challenge! Howard, I wish I could be at the South Pole when you arrive waving my arms in the air, YouuHoooing at the top of my voice and say, "Howard, I don't know any one like you! You are crazy! Crazy amazing! Sandy T.

  12. I look forward to your blog everyday, Howard!
    Today, I wanted to leave you with a joke, but I couldn't think of a good one. Charmaine made me laugh today though, and was glad, because I thought you did too! Sandy T.

  13. Howard I can see from the more recent blogs the mind has such powerful place in the challenge you are facing I know we all say the body says no but if you can sort the mental side you achieve the unbelievable
    Well this definitely proves it. You have brought in another element which I had not considered and that is mental illness in the way of depression re the Abyss but wow you have recognised this your self (no other options available) and able to write down in your blog.
    Here I am sat on a packed commuter train going into London thinking how cold it is this morning (3c!!)
    Keep safe you are truly inspiring
    Q' how long will you be resting until the kiting'

  14. Hi Howard,
    Good to see that there are rewards -card from Ruth!Well done on the time on the ice & the distance!Nature always has a habit of sorting man out.In deed I do feel guilty passing comments from sunny Kommetjie & great surf.Well done !!!It truly humbling how you keep to the purpose & the plan/goal.