It was snowing. A smile drifted upon my face. Maybe snow meant we wouldn’t get out today. My legs would thank me. The icebergs floated forbiddingly in the foggy and wind filled distance. I looked across the ocean I could see that our boat was still moving. We had not yet arrived. I unhurriedly dressed and walked, visibly pained, to the stairs. I climbed down as deliberately as someone picking mines in minesweeper. I arrived at breakfast and quickly lost interest. More of the same, and beginning to get old. I had little desire to eat anything but the beans, and the beans made me nervous because of the state of the Antarctic toilets.
Let me tell you about our on land use toilets. Take an average, everyday toilet and reduce it in size. Not by a lot, just 3/4th’s the size of a regular toilet. Now, attempt to sit down. Oh no! Wait, don’t sit down, that toilet seat has been sitting in a cold environment with snow all around, it’ll be way too cold to do anything but scare the poop back inside. So now, the decision is to squat. The problem is how sore your legs are. Imagine, you just spent 20 hours in the last two days on your feet, and now you have to bend into an isometric hold while simultaneously using the restroom and aiming into a smaller than average hole. Now, in the isometric hold, you look around for something to stabilize you, something to balance with, you suddenly realize that there are no walls and no door. The only stabilization you will be receiving is sitting on the toilet seat. So, against your better judgement, you decide to sit. But DANGIT! People have been peeing all over the toilet seat and now the pee is all over your behind. Attempting to alleviate the problem, you look around for toilet paper. To your right, you see toilet paper on a makeshift roll...completely wet from the wind and moisture around it. Reaching into your bag, you find that your personal supply suffers from the same issue. Uncomfortable and sad, the rest of the day is spent in misery. So, you can see, eating beans was not something I wanted to do during breakfast.
While eating my fruit and bread, I felt a sudden lack of movement. I looked outside and, to my chagrin, we had stopped and the snow had cleared. The day looked, once again, like the Lord decided to smile upon us. Sometimes, I really wish that guy kept his smile to himself. Before I knew it, I was climbing out of the zodiac and onto the land. I took a deep breath in order to calm myself and received a resounding response from the Antarctic mainland. Shit. The strong scent of penguin poo filled my nostrils. The response was clear for this day, there would be no calm.
I looked up at the course. And I mean looked up. From my vantage point at the starting line, there was a trail shooting straight uphill. Once on the top, the trail didn’t spend too much time on level ground before deciding enough was enough and going downhill. All in a 1.4 kilometer loop. It was the day before thanksgiving, but I was the furthest thing away from thankful on this first day on the cold mainland. The countdown rang out, and for the third day in a row, we sputtered to a beginning. The leaders had the unenviable task of breaking a snowy trail that bore more resemblance to a cross-country ski track than anything any sane human would ever run on. Even behind the leaders, it was slow going. Every step was a gamble on how deep my leg would sink. Sometimes it would stay gliding on the top, like some untouchable champion. Quickly though, that same foot would sink into a pile of snow almost deeper than my leg was long. After an exceedingly long time for a short track, I arrived at the top of the hill, which offered the idea of running. Gauging myself, I charged through the thick snow like a child. Passing a few as I kicked up the snow created from the new path I forged. And just like that, downhill again. Quickly, I was back at the start. Only to begin the uphill path again.
And again. I stared up at path, crestfallen. The 11th godforsaken time I have to go up this thing. And for what?! The anger had been building ever since I felt something incredibly wrong in my right leg. There was nothing so dramatic as a snap or pop, but rather a gradual stiffening into a pirate-like peg and an accompanying foul mood. I pulled aside one of the coordinators, “This is ridiculous! None of us signed up to run 3 long marches in a row. We are all on the brink of injury and you won’t let us stop just because no one has made it to 250 in years.” I shuffled off in a huff. Furious. Along with the fatigue-induced anger came two problems: My goggles, perfect up until this point, were constantly fogging up and impossible to see out of. Even with a good leg, my ability to move quickly was hampered by the lack of eyesight. If that wasn’t bad enough, the snow had begun to pick up and my slow pace was slowing my creation of body heat. I was in desperate need of some new clothing. As I got down, I was drawn in by a large collection of people on the tarp, and quickly learned that hot water had been brought in from the ship. I slipped into my unopened-and-unused all year until now Poncho for warmth, grabbed some instant mashed potatoes from my bag, and poured the hot water into the bowl. Ready and able to sit down, relax, and eat. Miserable, I looked around and noticed a familiar look on the faces of those around me. The face of suffering. An empty resignation in some, an indignant anger in many of the others. There were a few happy sufferers, but these were not the people sitting on the tarp with me. These were the ones not taking a long break on the tarp. The ones who didn’t have to put on extra clothes to stay warm. Personally, I had switched from anger to resignation. And with that resignation, I continued on.
By loop 30, I was out of it. I could put zero pressure on my leg and was mentally ready to break. But still, I moved forward. By the 33rd loop, I was just attempting to make it back with no permanent injury. Slowly avoiding precipitous drops in the trail and shuffling along as quickly as I could. On the bright side, the snow had stopped and the temperature felt much nicer than it had. On the downside, I was hot again, and had less than sufficient energy to take off my jacket. By loop 37, it was over. I came down, gingerly slipped into my rubber boots, and let out a silent prayer to the smiling God on high. Let me be able to run tomorrow.