Distance to go:
Ben and Tarka will cover 1800 miles starting from Scott's Terra Nova Hut at the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back to the coast again. That's equivalent to 69 back-to-back marathons hauling up to 200kg each (the weight of roughly two adult men) of kit and supplies necessary to survive.
Distances here are shown in statute miles.
I remember reading a line somewhere about the English “going native” more readily than any other nationality, though of course, out here without the internet or Wikipedia I can’t look it up so I’m going to sound scatterbrained rather than erudite. Either way, the manner and speed in which the three of us have switched into roughing it in expedition mode would lend some credence to the notion. The week before we arrived in Greenland I was jetting between the UK, Russia and Croatia for corporate speaking engagements, staying in swanky hotels, being shuttled and chauffeured around in black Mercs and sipping macchiatos as I read the Economist on my iPad in airport lounges and chandeliered lobbies.
A week later and we’re melting snow in a dented saucepan to get drinking water, sharing a pee bottle, wiping our noses on the back of our gloves and laughing at each other’s farts. Arctic tent life and sophistication are rarely found togther, though Martin did start a (short and surprising) conversation last night about interpreting Renaissance art. Once or twice a day we spot the tiny white belly of an airliner, forty thousand feet above our ski tracks, and discuss what films people are watching on board, or what nosh they’re serving up in Business Class.
The glorious flip-side of our simple existence, though, is that there’s not much room for pretence. The thin air, the sharp wind and the brilliant white glare seem to strip away a lot of what we normally surround ourselves with, and you get to see people as they really are. Thoughtfulness and decency count for a lot in such cramped quarters; Martin offered to melt the snow instead of me last night, a gesture that made my day. And I fear my blundering attempt at a joke this morning genuinely upset the usually stoic Al.
Our days are governed by routine. After breakfast, taking the tent down and packing our sleds, we set off for seven shifts, or “pulls”, with ten-minute rest breaks in between. In Antarctica these pulls will range between an hour and an hour-and-a-half, giving us between seven and ten-and-a-half total hours of travelling time. We take it in turns to lead, and at breaks we come togther, sit on our sledges, eat, drink and talk. Occassionaly, tentatively, our thoughts and our conversations turn to Antarctica. Not the nuts and bolts of logistics or communications or equipment or nutrition, mind you, as we discuss these things all the time, but what it might actually be like. Martin confessed yesterday to imagining how it will feel to spot the South Pole Station coming over the plateau’s never-ending horizon. It was a daydream that I plagiarised for the next hour-and-a-bit, as I leaned into my harness and scanned the long line where the sky meets the snow.