RTP-Antarctica: Day 4

Thanksgiving day was here and I’d lost all hope. Gentle ice floes floated atop the ocean full of jutting mountains and hidden creatures. I slowly made my motions through the morning and took in the cold breeze which whipped across my face as the zodiac dodged ice and penguin to carry me to my base for the day. My thigh rankled and clacked as I put my first step on land. Immediately, I began to slip backwards. An unknown savior reached out and grabbed my flailing arm before I took a backward-dive. Cautiously, I crept toward the landing. Once there, I fetched the shoes out of my drybag, sat down, ripped off the boots and gently placed the shoes onto unwilling feet. There was no swelling to see, only pain to feel. The constant water and ice that sidled into my shoes through the days must have had an ice bag effect and allowed any swelling to go down, and possibly hid any serious injury. I finished buckling up my gaiters and heard the voice of an organizer,  “You can’t sit on this side.” I looked where I was sitting. The wrong side. The organizer said it twice more to two separate people. No one moved. We were all determined to expend as little energy as possible. THe clock ticked down and I was feeling better. The adrenaline was coursing through my veins and the tissue damage I had was caught in the moment. I mentally stretched over the prospect of the first lap, and then began like everyone else. Slowly falling through unbroken, thick, snow.

 

Steps are a drudgery while breaking snow. The terrain tilted uphill with drift occasionally beyond my knees. At the end of the first kilometer a gift was given: Perfect snow. My feet lifted and pounded through the snow, faster than was reasonable. Each step rudely crashed through the snow as if I was running only a mile. Quickly, the track turned downhill. Downhill enough to be playful and icy enough to keep me in check. I continued riding adrenaline downhill and realized that the group had already spread out. I was running a 3.9 kilometer loop and  felt blissfully alone within the white mystery of the Antarctic wilderness. As I looked upwards towards the towering mountaintop above,  the wind began kicking up wisps of snow. Directing my eyes forward, the flags of our beautiful little checkpoint waved me in.

 

The wind that had taken just a wisp of snow from the top was quickly rushing down. I couldn’t tell the difference between the top of the hill and the beginning of the snow swirl without sliding off my goggles. I powered towards the white wall. As I hit the top, the wind was cried out louder and bolder than before. The blowing white created a vast emptiness of blank canvas before me. I was a man in no-man’s land. I slowly picked up my speed and began the running course once more. Hoping that I could find my stride in the indelible wind conditions. I started with a quick walk which morphed into a shuffle and quickly a giddy skate. The wind disapproved and gushed straight into my whole body.. As my music, the wind, and my pain all vied for my attention I lifted my eyes and could see the checkpoint once more.

 

Looking up from the checkpoint, the wind had sustained its frenzy. There was no storm brewing, just a constant wind kicking up snow. I looked onward to continue my trek. Once getting to the top, the wind had decided to let me pass in relative peace. I checked behind my shoulder to get a look at the mountain. Visibility was returning, and my legs were still feeling pretty good. It was shaping up to be a good day. I coasted through my 3rd lap and looked down at the checkpoint where I noticed a collection of people around their drybags. Slightly confused, I raced down to the finish to check what was happening. I arrived and  was told to “Get my stuff out of my bag and get ready to reboard the ship.” I looked up at the mountain. It was no worse than when I went up the last two times, and did not look like it was going to work into a furious storm. Although I felt fairly fresh, I wouldn’t complain. If fate tells me I have a day off, then I will have a day off. I slowly slide off my shoes, get into my rubber boots, and wait. I grew cold as stood around and let the sweat underneath my jacket turn to ice. I moved my arms closer to my sides and used the bag to buffer the wind until the zodiac came.

 

I climbed back onto the ship and looked back at the mountain. The wind was receding and the visibility was returning. Confused but unconcerned, I started toward my room but changed course as my nose caught the sweet smell of food. Looking left towars my usual meeting place with my cookies, a large bowl of green soup drifted into my hands. Only knowing my hunger, I gobbled it up without hesitation. I sat there lapping up my few bowls of soup and sharing in the relaxed conversation of those around me before retiring to my room for a shower.


As I relaxed and let the warm water envelope me, I heard someone speaking on the loudspeaker. A second later  I heard our guide say, “My dear Polar Explorers, we have spotted Orcas outside on our port side. Please come up to the front of the ship if you can.” I quickly shut off the water, threw on all my clothes and ran up to the front of the ship in order to catch a glimpse. The group was popping up on all sides. The family frolicked and enjoyed our company for an hour before we continued onward through the ice field. The ice grandly cracked as our ship effortlessly passed through the ocean of invisible ocean. A calm, cold wind kissed my face as mountains peered out from the fog beyond and  Leopard and Crabeater Seals met our gaze as we thundered by. As I floated down to dinner, I realized that I really did have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.