Just 9.2 latitude minutes, about 9 nautical miles, and exactly 15 kilometres away from the South Pole... Gee, this has been a long time coming, and did I have to work today! Note how many degrees of longitude I moved from yesterday - almost 6 degrees - but because I'm right near the Pole, that represents a small distance, versus 6 degrees of longitude wherever you are... In fact, at the latitude I'm at now, it's a 108km 'walk around the world', crossing all lines of latitude! Also, I am spinning at less than 3% of someone at the equator. I'll be stationary... Imagine that!
Lastly: Today, and probably for the last week, I have been skiing precisely due South (true, not magnetic!), and tomorrow if I continue on that direction, as I will, I'll 'hit' the South Pole, and then instead of stopping, if I continue in exactly the same line of travel, I'll suddenly be going North! Where else in the world can I do that, hey! Haha, all stupid fun!
Elevation: 2806 metres. Don't be fooled by the virtual 'no change' - I was at 2835 at one point.
A day of lots of pain, emotion, and huge personal 'tests'...
On wakening, I could hear there was a strongish headwind outside, but with only two days and 42 km to go, Mr Invincible can deal with anything to get to the Pole! Well, the morning visit to the outside toilet and the time-consuming tent disestablishment process were chilling experiences to say the least!
Anyway off 'we' went, me dressed for maximum, cold, headwind protection. Hands were really aching as they tried to warm up inside my biggest mitts, but seemingly losing the battle. I had my full windsuit, face balaclava, goggles and full fur ruff creating a cosy little microworld if a stayed in a trance-like focus on the patch of ice 2 metres in front of me. Loose snow was being blown rapidly along the ice in waves coming from directly ahead, giving me a great course direction reference.
Eventually my fingers won their battle, and with no more to worry about, I settled into this new world of mine, basically never needing to look up. I must have been going an hour, and something made me suddenly look up, and there, like apparitions, all around me were 5 or 6 red kites in the air, with their pilots hanging on for the ride of their lives, sleds carving out neat telltale trails in the ice. They were heading North. Was I dreaming...? No, this was for real, my first humans again! One came up to chat, and it turned out to be the leader, a Norwegian, Christiaan Eide, who holds the record for the fastest solo, unsupported, unassisted coast-to-Pole trip. He had just completed an expedition from the Ross Ice shelf side, and they were now kiting back. We know each other, and after initial greetings, I guess as any encouraging 'friend' would have done, he said "Not far to go now!" I nearly pulled out my GPS, and said, "Oh, I wondered how far, my GPS is broken!" I must have been irritated by something... They had invaded 'MY' wilderness, and this was the first sign that it's all about to end! We had a brief chat, and then went our 180-degree different ways...
I continued on, trying to get back into my micro, fur-rimmed world, but couldn't help myself stopping every now and again to appreciate the wonder of these humans being towed away at rapid speed further and further into the distance.The contrast of the white ice, cloudless blue sky, and red kites making for a great scene.
I don't know whether it was my 2nd-to-last day 'release from prison' restlessness or not, but from here on I struggled:
The ice was soft: often as I tried to get on the glide, my pole would go through the surface down 30cm, having just the opposite effect. I seemed to always be skiing uphill towards 'a crest' that never seemed to crest. The wind continued relentlessly, the GPS confirmed I had no rhythm, and time seemed to really drag... All I could think about was getting to the Pole. Because of the bad headwind, I also decided to increase the time between breaks, and at the first break, I was really hungry so devoured the fruitcake, butter, and two chocolate truffles. I think the impact of all this cold, high fat food just hit my system, as I had the most difficult post-break recovery of the whole trip. My fingers pained, I had to stop and 'windmill' them many times to prevent them totally freezing, and for the first time my feet also started to feel the cold, and 'think about starting to freeze'... Hmm, why was this turning into such a difficult day...? I remembered my polar friend Dan's comment on the blog: Enjoy the last few days, the bad parts too... It made 100% sense, I had been there before, but I now needed to 'enjoy' these difficult times. Each time I started a positive, inspiring thought path, it went straight to a negative dead end!
Then, at 21.6 km to go...
...One of the crestless hills had a crest, and as I reached it, in front of me in the distance, right on course, lay what appeared to be some buildings / infrastructure... Was this the Pole? A few minutes of assessing things, and YES, it's the Pole!! Excitement levels rose, it looked like it was 3 or 4 km off, but the GPS doesn't lie, and Nunatak Day is still embarrassingly clear in my memory! No, I still had 21.6 km to go, and NO, I'm not there yet. But that's unfair, I can see it all clearly, I'm just as good as finished...! Hmmm, the torment!
Well, I'm dead on track with my plan for the final strait tomorrow... Little did I know how good this plan is! I was almost 'go for broke, and try and try make it today', but guaranteed, after my experience today, I'd still be out there and destined to become a broken man! Why?:
After 'complaining' so many times about the nothingness - the lack of 'beacons' - I now have 4 buildings clustered together, and another one who knows how far from the cluster, as never-getting-closer beacons to stare at for 5 hours tomorrow. Had I tried to do it today, I'd have destroyed myself!
I'm now ready for the 'big day': Forget the buildings, just head down, hour after hour, as if there was the usual nothingness. Get into relaxed mind space and soon 'You'll be in one of the buildings!' I can't wait, this is VERY special...
After seeing the buildings, my thoughts went to Amundsen and my North Pole expedition: With Amundsen, I thought about how he must have felt, searching within true nothingness for the something special point in it... there were no buildings, it wasn't a stop off destination like it is for me... He 'just' went to 'mark' the spot in the nothingness, confirm mission completed and then turn around and retrace his steps... Hmmm, this takes immense strength, character and deep motive.
Re: the North Pole: there is no beacon, nor building, the day 'you' arrive at the North Pole, it could be a pool of -1.8C sea water! I thought this strange and difficult at the time, but with 15km of staring at a never-getting-closer building, I think in the huge difficulty of the Arctic, the North Pole obscurity is easier for the mind. Maybe Amundsen felt the same!
The wind is still blowing, but for my last night out, it is a lovely sunny one, and I'm really savoring it...
Next one from the Pole... Hooray!!