Thoughts, doubts and staying positive

The countdown has been on hold. I was meant to fly to Union Glacier on the 10th, then on the 12th… then possibly today but now hopefully tomorrow. As I mentioned in my last post, the conditions in Antarctica have made it hard for planes to fly into the ALE base there.

So if it works out, I will start five days later than planned, which certainly isn’t the end of the world. It just means a bit of hanging around here, and I can think of worse places to be!

That being said, while it is lovely being here, I arrived on 3rd November which seems like a long time ago now! It would be great to get going, especially after preparing for so long. Especially as while it might fly on the 15th, it could easily be pushed back even more. Furthermore, the extra time gives more chance for thoughts and doubts to creep into mind. Obviously, it is good to run through everything to make sure that all aspects are covered.

However, thinking too much about things can also be unhelpful, and can lead to nasty bouts of anxiety…

Unproductive thoughts?

With all this time on my hands (something that has rarely happened over the last two years) it is hard to stop thinking about the expedition and all the details. Some of the thoughts are good. Even after eight days here, thinking about navigation techniques, I remembered I needed to attach some ribbons to my ski poles to help show the wind direction. Keeping the (prevailing) wind at a consistent angle will help me to keep going in the direction I want.

Though then there are other questions and doubts, which sometimes just lead to increased insecurities and worry. Am I being too optimistic with my planned distances and timeframe? Is 46-50 days really enough? Should I pack for 51 days? 52? More? Have I got the right balance with my food? Are the stoves okay? And the pumps? Will they all work okay in the extreme cold?

Am I fit enough? It seems like ages since I took the tyres out and done proper training! Has my training been good enough? Am I capable enough? Is the tent okay? Am I going to manage alright in strong winds? Should I have more spare poles?! Am I sure that my gloves are okay? Do I remember how to navigate properly..?!

And many more…

Managing the Doubts

I try to put aside the thoughts that I can’t do much about. I have done what I have done with my training, and I can’t change that, so there is not much point thinking about it.

With all the spares and food, and whether I have budgeted enough time: There’s only so much I can carry. Every extra day means carrying another 1.5kg of food and gas. And every extra kilo will make progress that little bit harder and slower. So, it’s a balance. I have to stop somewhere and decide how much to take, and I have had to base the decision on my own experience as well as the experience of others on South Pole expeditions. Have I got it right? Do I really know my capabilities? We will find out soon enough!

With other thoughts I can do something about… Testing and double checking the equipment to make sure that everything came through the flights alright. Playing with the GPS units… reminding myself of their functionality, their quirks… checking the bearings to waypoints. Imagining navigating using the sun and wind as I walk along the streets here in Punta. Keeping up my fitness but not overdoing it: going for long walks, runs, and doing squats and lounges. It all helps, with the body and the mind. Running by the ocean. Letting the mind drift away in the sound of the waves and my footsteps, and relax.

Then of course, speaking with friends and family; speaking with the people at ALE who are so incredibly experienced with these expeditions, and other expedition teams. Always really helpful, and a good reminder that I will be solo, but not alone, so those negative thoughts can be cast to the back of the mind.

Meeting the Antarctic2023 team was fantastic – a great bunch with an amazing journey across Antarctica ahead of them

remember it’s a challenge

I am human, and I think that it is natural to get these thoughts, these anxieties and concerns. After all, this is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. Of course, I need to think about every aspect to make sure that I am ready to face these challenges.

Of course, it won’t be easy. The featureless landscape will be monotonous and present little obvious visual navigational aids, even on clear days. The inevitable whiteouts will make life hard and disorientating. Perhaps for days on end. I will be by myself out there and the isolation and the solitude will be hard: 50 days alone in that great white expanse in those extreme conditions is naturally daunting.

But then, it’s not meant to be easy, is it? That’s the whole point!

Getting the pulk…

The pulk (the sled) is pretty important for the entire journey. I will be pulling all my food, tent and equipment, fuel and clothes it and at the start of the South Pole journey, it will weigh around 110kg or so. So it’s got to be pretty sturdy!

In Greenland, where we were pulling around 80kg or so, we used two Paris Pulks each. These are decent in that they are not very expensive, though as they are quite short, it was impossible to put everything onto just one of them. One of the big disadvantages of the Paris Pulks is that they are quite shallow and it is easy for them to become top-heavy and topple over to the side. You also have to have separate bags with all your gear and food that you secure on top of them with bungees or some other means. If you don’t pack your bag properly each morning, then you’ll be in for an annoying day having to go back and forth to the sled to turn it the right way up over and over again. Also, when the wind gets very strong, it can simply push the pulks over, and in Greenland we had to put the two pulks parallel with each other for a few days to stop that from happening.

Everyone on the Greenland expedition used Paris Pulks. You can see how say with the person at the back, the green bag that has the bedding is leaning over to the side. This happens a lot when you’re securing all the bags to the sled by the bungees, and it all affects the balance of the sled and how you move along.

So for the South Pole journey, I have got myself a nice gigantic IceTrek Polyna sled. 210cm long, 68cm wide and 25cm deep (without the cover). Made by fantastically experienced polar explorer Eric Philips, they have a tremendous cargo volume and are designed to effectively float on soft snow and glide along nicely on the ice. Shouldn’t have any problems of overbalancing! I had arranged with Eric to pick the sled up in Svalbard (long story!)… quite an epic journey to get there and back… Inverness-London Luton–>London Heathrow-Oslo-Longyearbyen-Oslo-London Heathrow–>London Gatwick-Inverness… 6 planes, 6 different airports, 3 trains, 3 buses, 3 taxis, 2 days! Was kind of worried after collecting it that it might be too big for the airlines, and trying to cart it through the airport on the trolleys was pretty tricky given it’s length, but fortunately no real problems in the end! Tiring though.

Just a note: am (trying to!) raise funds for Cancer Research UK with these expeditions – please donate if you can, or share if you can’t!!! It would be amazing to have your support!