Ahhhh. The open sea. Many die out here. And as I lean into my newly acquired trekking pole, I would be happy to join them. The wind ebbs and flows into the snow. The penguins curiously waddle to and fro, going nowhere in particular. I climb up and down, going nowhere at all. My pain is unsustainable. The “easier” terrain batters my legs with bullets. The uphills inject poison into my veins. I fall into the snow and laugh with friends. A painful laugh, but not without joy. The downhill has turned into my ice skating rink and I am not graceful. Each step gives me that sharp intake of breath only associated with injury. Each checkpoint laughs at me as I wave hello and quickly wave goodbye. We both know that in 20 minutes that I will be waving again. At least I’m never alone for too long. But it doesn’t mean I don’t feel lonely. Pain does that. I am separated from reality. I am alone while running in a group. While shuffling behind someone. While sliding alone. After a while, I don’t feel anything. No pain, no joy. Just emptiness. I know that I am not finished, and so I continue.
A quiet man has finished. The leader. He is done for the day. For the race. He greets me with the smile of someone who knows how much I am struggling, and is happy to be done with it himself. Empathetic and knowing. The image of the leader sticks in my head until another wriggles inside. A runner running as if from Marathon to Athens. The colors of his country fly behind him. He dives to the ground. He cries and shares his own victory with the rest of us, and then disappears. The ranks are thinning, the pain is building, and I have nothing but thoughts of warmth. Not the kind of warmth that comes from being bundled up in 3 flannels during winter. The kind of warmth experienced at a summer bonfire. I exit the current moment and dream of other things. And as I crest the top of the island for the 19th time, I stop. I take the headphone out of my ear. I feel the chill of the mild Antarctic spring. I listen. I hear the cracking of ice close and far. Out of sight, I hear the rumble caused only by an avalanche. On the ocean, the fog is building up around the icebergs. Majestic mountains cower in the distance, covered in fresh, unburdened snow. Muted by circling flurries. Rocks, dirt, and water. That is all it is. Things I try to keep out of my house. The stuff needed for being dirty and for cleaning up.
I travel without my headphones for a while. Up and down. My music is the constant bleating of the penguins. The ones experiencing the day just as they experience any other. Ripping through the glassy water, huddling up, and running those errands that only penguins run. I’ve been running for a while and look down to the checkpoint, they’ve stopped. I take a moment to look once more at the land which surrounds me.
It seems like more than just rocks, dirt, and water.