The vastness of Antarctica has played out before me for weeks now. The return journey from Dome Argus appears to have no end. Each horizon bleeds into the next, the terrain morphing and varying but only by small enough degrees that the human mind feels trapped as if on a huge white treadmill with no beginning and no end.
Today I thought of Scott, Bowers and Wilson on their doomed walk back to the coast from the South Pole in 1911. I am sure they had the very same feeling at some point. Does this terrain ever end? How can our feet carry us through this vastness back to safety? The hostility of the environment for anything living presses on you. Almost like skin trying to eject a thorn, so Antarctica presses upon you until you die or flee. It’s a continual weight, that combined with the vastness applies pressure. I thought of Scott, with his two mates in a small tent, Scott the last to die. He placed his hand on his best mate’s chest (Bower’s I think) took his last cold breath and slipped away. What a desolate, lonely way to go, with Antarctica watching on, impassive, uncaring, unblinking.
Deep morose thoughts circulated my mind as I carefully select my passage between the sastrugi, but it keeps me sharp, keeps me alert so that despite the fatigue I make good decisions and get home safe. Borrowing pain from a hero of mine has long been a tool I use to navigate safe passage through trial, hardship or even impossibility.
Another thought that struck me today (a day of mental wonderings) is that I have not seen any evidence of life in any way shape or form since day zero. No car track, no vapor trail in the sky even on the most distant horizon, no birds, no bacteria even, no human and no animal. My whole life since birth I have been surrounded by animals. The son of a vet and with an animal loving mother, my childhood was covered in slobber and fur. Happy tails and close canine boyhood friends. My career is dedicated to the reduction of sickness, pain and suffering in all creatures great and small. I realised that of all of Antarctica’s great hardships, for me the deepest cut is the lack of life. I look forward to rejoining humans, but I also yearn for the happy touch of fur, scale or feather once more.
My recovery overnight was astonishing. I crawled into my sleeping bag a broken man. Dreading the thought of “rolling the clock” as the last forecast was for an impending windless period. The new forecast was for continued good wind, so I reset the alarm and took the much needed eight hours sleep. Emerging from my cocoon reborn and ready to fight my way home. Restored miraculously overnight, the extreme miles I have been doing only really hit me as I pulled on the hard ski boots. My feet complained bitterly and I reminded them aloud that we only have 930 km to go to Thorshammer.
At days end that number has been nibbled to 770 km, my feet called the day after 164 km of difficult kite flying and less open terrain. I’ll work on my feet this evening and hope they regenerate as the rest of me did last night.
Taking caution from Scott, strength from Mawson, determination from Shackleton and wisdom from Nansen I press on towards Thorshammer tomorrow.