Monday, 2 June 2008

Finally, the Polar Plateau - Day 52

We have reached the Polar Plateau, the landscape has changed, no more hills or rough sastrugi, no more frozen statues of dinosaurs to weave our way around - just flat snow, perfectly level and even for as far as the eye can see. I'm leading this leg, out in front of our 4 man wagon train. I can only see two things, the top half of my view is a perfectly blue sky without clouds and it suddenly changes half way down to a pure white sea of snow, no other colours or objects, as if an artist had only two colours on his palette and painted one half of the canvass horizontally blue and the other pure brilliant white....it is an incredible sight.

I stop a while to let the others catch up, there isn't a breath of wind, and for a few moments there is the most incredible silence, as if I'm the only person on the planet, in fact it doesn't feel like I'm on this earth at all, at this altitude with the air so thin, and the temperature at minus 25 degrees Celsius, I could be in outerspace, rather than this icy desert.

I look round to see the others and can't believe what I'm looking at, 3 nomads, zombies or skeletons all shuffling towards me, heads bowed, lost in their thoughts, on autopilot, one foot sliding infront of the other, straining against the weight of their sledges as they sink into the soft snow.

We are moving so slowly, in order to make the pole by the 8th January, we have set a daily distance target of 23.4 km, we keep walking no matter how long it takes. This is different to what we've done the last 7 weeks, which is to stop and camp after 7 or 8 hours marching, currently it is taking us 9 hours to do the distance. If we don't make the Pole on the 8th then we might miss the Russian cargo flight off the continent from where we started 1000km ago. We would then be stuck on the ice for at least another week, and we don't have enough food for that, nor the stamina!

Looking at the strangers behind me, I know why we can't do more than 23.4km per day. Pat, previously a robust gentleman looks like a malnourished teenager, Shaun a lanky beanpole with gaunt deep set eyes, he could easily play lead role in a horror movie. Clare, well I can only see her when she is facing me, if she turns to the side then she disappears. These comrades have not just lost fat, but muscle and we just don't have the strength anymore, we have the energy, but our engine sizes have been reduced from 3.0 litres to 1.6 litres.

My 1.15 hours of penance is over and Clare takes over the lead and navigation responsibility. I slip to the back of the line and quickly slide into my trance like state, staring at the back of Pat's sledge and the words 'James Caird' inscribed on the transom (the name of the Scottish businessman that donated so generously to Shackleton's Endurance, and whom he named the famous lifeboat after, that saved their lives.)

I glance up at the 3 figures infront of me, I can't believe they are the same people I started with 50 days ago. I am blown away by their strength and tireless resolve, each step for Shaun is torture, the sole of his left foot has come away from the 'upper' and now just sloughs freely, bunching up around his heel. Pat's back is still in lots of pain, he stops every 10 steps or so to waggle his leg to relieve the pressure. Clare just looks exhausted, her sledge is twice the size of her and she has been hauling it it now for 7 weeks. I realise that physically there is not much left of us and so the last 6 days will be done on mental strength alone - these are the toughest people I have ever met and i'm proud to be here with them.

I look back down at my ski tips and slip into my trance, dreaming of someplace nice and warm and in a few days this will all be over and we will have achieved our goal.

19 comments:

Oretani Wildlife said...

Since I found your sites I have been following the journey. Best of luck in the last degree and may you all come back safe and sound.

Mike.

Anonymous said...

Best of luck each of you in reaching the Pole safe and sound. Say special hello to Clare - I was in school with her. Joan

Anonymous said...

JB. Fabulous progress so far; we are all thinking of you every day and full of admiration for all you have done. We all send you our love & prayers. Think of Gandhi who said'' there are people who do, and people who talk about doing. Try, if you can, to be amongst the first class for there is always less competition.''

ALl love
N & F & I

Anonymous said...

Following your journey with awe and pride. Hope you all experience the joy you deserve on Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Jon, i've been reading your blogs in total awe. I don't really understand how you're managing to remain so eloquent under such circumstances, even quoting poetry. You've done brilliantly - hang on in there for just a few more days! Linda

Caroline De BrĂșn said...

Jon, I agree with Linda, your blogs are so well-written. I am sitting here feeling very moved by the stories of your achievements and your camaraderie. It is clear that you are all supporting each other, but remember, we are all thinking of you and praying that you complete your trek in time to catch the cargo plane so that you can come home and be cosy with your loved ones. Be safe. Caroline and Padraig

Anonymous said...

From another inspirational man who understood a bit about undertaking allegedly impossible tasks, Mr Winston Churchill:

"If you are going through hell, keep going”
"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”

You have the latter in spades - so dig deeper than you ever thought possible for the final push over the last 48 hours and reap the reward that you so richly deserve on Tuesday January 8, 2008.

Black socks around the world are cheering you and rooting for you!

Anonymous said...

Jonny, we are so proud of you, but then you would expect Ma & Pa to say that would'nt you. The girl who said you had "attitude" is certainly right, I should know! Come back to us safely, everyone here is rooting for you even John our postie. Press on to the Pole, only 24 hours to go, if only so that we can have a 'burning' ceremony of your clothes! Seriously, you are almost there honey, give Saun a hug and a kiss from me and of course a huge hug to you.
love MandJ.

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo, you're nearly there, I can imagine the excitement the last leg of the journey must be bringing to you now. As they say when you're having a baby - One more push......:)

Anonymous said...

jon, we are all so proud of you, just keep on pushing forward tho i believe nothing wd stop you now. your blog is amazing, inspiring...so is your achievement. lots of love,
G and S and the three boys..

Anonymous said...

We've been following your journey with so much admiration. Sending you lots of love and prayers in these final hours. You have truly pushed the limits of endurance. Now you need to get home so Maria can fatten you up a bit! All our best to the four of you.
- Daragh, Mike & Anthea.

Anonymous said...

congrats on an amazing trip.nearly there -best wishes to all.especially clare.
liam,Gillian Crowley & Family Bandon

Anonymous said...

Well done Jon.
Great reports keep thinking warm thoughts.

Robert D & Helen M Dublin

Anonymous said...

Tremendous inspiration can be taken from these four souls who have braved the most inhospitable of conditions to live their 'dream'. You're doing all back home in Ireland great service and God bless on your final push to the pole... Hope you get the warm greeting you deserve on making Irish history. Thought, Kevin H - Cork

Caroline De BrĂșn said...

Congratulations!!! So completely well done! Feel really proud of you all and very excited about your achievement! C & P

Anonymous said...

Absolutely amazing and all black socks and orange jeans around the world doing an Irish jig to celebrate!! Trust that Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern are standing you all a few Guinnesses for your fabulous achievement ;-)

Anonymous said...

Great adventure Jon. I am bursting with pride for you, and for all the Irish gang. Give them my best. I wish I could have joined you there.

Anonymous said...

Hello my darling, so very well done! Can't wait to have you back, feel so very proud of yourself and of course the rest of the team. Just come back soonest.
emem

the66thparallel said...

well don jon, I'll give you a ring in a month or so, when you've got back home and put a few pounds back on. I will be pestering you for tips as i will be doing Greenland with Charlie in a few months. WELL DONE.
Darran.