the Journey

  • Distance to go: 0 Mi

    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.

Whiteout, Granola and a Turning Point (Day 56)

Day 56: S87° 44' 56.87", E159° 21' 30.60"

Duration: 8 Hr 30 Min

Daily distance: 18.2 Mi

Distance to go: 1059.8 Mi

Temperature: -24 °C

Wind chill: -38 °C

Altitude: 10062 Ft

Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday. We overslept by 20 minutes, then the surface was terrible all day and we decided to test both of us pulling one sled vs. each pulling individual sleds (we're leaving our last depot tomorrow morning and were considering leaving one sled). The process entailed unpacking and repacking the sleds several times, which added a couple of hours to our day and we didn't finish until late in the evening.

We'll also be doing nine or ten hours per day starting tomorrow, so the alarm goes off at 5.30am from now on, which wasn't the nicest start to today. It was a bit nippy as well, and a complete whiteout all day (I've sent back the only photo I managed to get before my camera died in the cold), which made progress frustratingly slow over the sastrugi fields we're starting to find.

I've always disliked whiteouts intensely, and find them oppressive, claustrophobic and disorientating, but as I retreated into my mind to try to pass our eight-and-a-half hours of hauling, I realised that the less there is to see, the more your thoughts turn inwards. Antarctica finds you out pretty quickly, and it doesn't seem at all tolerant of bluster, swagger or pretence, and a whiteout is perhaps the ultimate blank canvas upon which your qualities, values, foibles and frailties are inevitably laid out for inspection.

Tarka was cooking this morning, and of the two foil breakfast bags (they have no labels, so it's pot luck) offered me the granola with pecans in rather than the honey and oat one we have most often. The breakfasts are all delicious -thanks Dorset Cereals!- but the berry, chocolate and nutty varieties are rare treats, and I jumped at the offer, only to feel guilty and selfish for hours that I hadn't given Tarka what I knew was his favourite.

What's more, I felt physically weak and drained all morning, I felt ashamed that I'd blogged about wanting an expensive suit and some handmade shoes, though in my defense when you haven't touched soap or deodorant in two months, and when you wipe your bottom every morning on chunks of snow at minus thirty degrees, your mind does occasionally miss a bit of luxury. I also felt bad to have heard that my girlfriend was upset she hadn't been mentioned in my list of things I missed (I'd mistakenly thought she wanted to be kept out of the public eye and I now wished I'd made it clear that I'd swap a dozen Saville Row suits and swanky restaurant meals for a home-cooked meal with her and the chance to hold hands as we walked my dog) and my thoughts spiralled negatively as I cursed myself along.

I had a real wobble in the early afternoon, lagging behind Tarka and feeling powerless to move at much more than a crawl as we headed south into the gloom. Things came to a head at our last break when, slumped on my sled, I said to Tarka that I was worried we'd gone too fast so far, and that I was exhausted from trying to hold his pace (Tarka's an internationally-ranked competitive ski mountaineer, he's an extremely skilled and experienced skier, and he's a good five or six inches taller than me, so has a giant stride that I can't hope to match).

Thankfully Tarka took my complaining and worrying and grumpiness in that same giant stride, and gave me a perfectly-pitched pep talk -mainly about the state Shackleton was in when he turned around not far from here more than a century ago, and that they made it back despite being infinitely less fit, well-equipped and well-fed than we are- that made me choke up.

As we sat on our sleds, ate our energy bars and downed our hot carbohydrate drinks, I pulled my hood down a little and turned away so he didn't see the tears welling in my eyes. Once again, he's proving the perfect team mate and I went from gazing into the abyss of self-pity to feeling stronger - in heart at least if not in legs - than I have this whole expedition. I suspect today may have been a more profound turning point than when we swing round the South Pole and start heading home in a few day's time, and I was reminded of something Jerry Colonna said to me once, about the fact that at every moment in our lives we always have the choice to be kind, both to others and to ourselves. So there's my Thought for the Day from nearly 88 degrees south: we can always be kind.


# Andrea, December 20th 2013

What a wonderful post! A gem in the whiteout. I’m speechless.

# chiara, December 20th 2013

Oh boys, be strong. Tarki i love you, be strong and get both of you through thia safely. Your missed so much xxz

# Rebecca, December 20th 2013

Ben, each step you take, your writing becomes more beautiful, more touching, more honest. You and Tarka are both doing an amazing job, putting your hearts and bodies fully into this challenge—and then somehow you’re able to muster the energy to share your thoughts so eloquently with us. We’re rooting for you every step of the way. I hope today the whiteout is gone, and the path and pulling are clear and easy!

# David Morris, December 20th 2013

Ben I remember when the two of us were on Rowallen Company at Sandhurst for three months and there were some points there that the both of us had, had enough.  We always found humour and banter was always the best cure and allowed us to do the next ridiculous activity they had planned for us.  Think back to some of the profound statements the Colour Sergeants used to shout at us as it always brings a smile onto my face.  Also on another positive side you are not having to wear red tracksuits and plus fours.

# CaninesCashews, December 20th 2013

Hi guys,
What a beautiful piece of writing Ben.
Not for the first time I find myself sitting in my comfy office chair contemplating your journey, both the physical foot in front of foot slog and your emotional path from Scott’s Hut to here, so near to your turning point.
Quite aptly something the late Nelson Mandela said comes to mind,
“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
We would know virtually nothing of this great journey if it wasn’t for your ’literate tongue or pen’ so thanks for bring us along and sharing your innermost thoughts, fears and joys.
Stay safe,

# Andrea , December 21st 2013

This “We would know virtually nothing of this great journey ” is the center of this expedition’s Blog, as the center of executing this expedition is its property of being among the virtuous things of the human spirit (with encouragement from the fact that the likeable things are not necessarily also virtuous). From this angle, you both are doing an honorific approach with this 1800 miles, and that, has characterised all the previous antarctic attemps.
It is highly possible that your velocity has been too fast, initiating the state observed by you today. No doubt, you both have the strong character needed,


# Minna R from Rovaniemi, Finland, December 20th 2013

I just hope here that you could see the southern lights on your way to the South Pole. People always talk about northern lights but southern lights are not so “famous”. Maybe they could lift your spirit a bit if you’re having a bad day. But they’re there for you though you can’t see them, nightless night will do their part to help you on your way to home! The strongest people are the kindest ones :) You will have plenty of better days ahead!


# Deacon Patrick, December 20th 2013

Och! What a wondrous day! What a gift to be so torn asunder by the journey and the white out and the mirror that gives. What a beautiful day!

In my struggles with brain injury I have had to learn how to receive people’s generosity, from my wondrous wife and children to perfect strangers I encounter on my adventures who offer a hand. One thing I’ve realized is that in receiving genuine generosity I somehow give a gift as well. In the wonderful economy of community I seek to help others as bumbling and well as I can as part of receiving that generosity. You’ll find something to offer Tarka when the time is right.

May God continue to startle you with joy!

# Charles, December 20th 2013

Hi Ben and Tarka.
We who read your blog every day, are in spirit and cheer for you guys every day at what you’re accomplishing.  Everyday, when I read about your day, the ups, downs, glooms, good and bad spirit, sastrugi, good and bad snow, weather, it reminds me of what I went thru and only brings back good overall memories.
Beaurifully written and touching, keep it up and be safe.

# Kat, December 20th 2013

I’ve started reading the posts before I go to work in the morning, instead of when I get home, and a very good thing I did today…I was so moved, am so moved by this post.  As many of us race around like crazy people, with year-end work deadlines and Christmas and holiday stress, your message of kindness and connection really struck me, and frankly, I had a good blubb just now.  I’m not accustomed to being so emotional in the morning!! Thank you always for your wonderful writing. 

It ‘s the most remarkable thing that your writing can bring me a little closer to the un-diaried thoughts and feelings that those extraordinary, brave explorers had.  I’m sure if you’re feeling it, others have felt it before. It’s wonderful to know that you both keep them close to your hearts too. Your lucky loved ones will have you back soon.

As all great endeavours and writing moves us, thank-you for sharing, Ben and Tarka!!

# Darren Moore, December 20th 2013

Hey Ben, (and Tarka)
I have been reading the blogs everyday and have so much respect for you guys… It has been cold on the bike when we’re out at the weekend in Richmond Park heading for the Surrey Hills… Then I say to myself, it’s not as cold as the boys en route to the South pole… Before long you will be back with us sharing the stories of how amazing a journey it has been…

Hang in there and keep your chin up… there’s nothing wrong with a few tears either chief… the strength you have doing what you’re doing is amazing…

I’m about to head south too… South Kensington tube to meet the boys for a coffee…

Look forward to that ride on the new road bike when you’re back…  Hi from all the guys too..


# wonderwoman, December 20th 2013

Thank you, Ben, opening your heart and mind to us like never before. We will treasure this moment. Antarctica is truly helping you find yourself out. And that helps us all find ourselves out. To see what this humanity is all about. Why do people do - or are able to do - things like this. What drives us.  I completely agree with Richard (once again!): We do think about you two, and these things, every moment. I wish there was a way you could feel our souls trying to ease the steps you’re taking.
We send you love from Finland and pray for you.

# Kathleen mccormack, December 20th 2013

What an amazing post. To be able to eloquently write such humbling and raw emotions is incredible. I can’t even see through my tears right now to type! Sending you strong thoughts from New York City!

Commenting is not available for this entry.