Excitement. And fear. Mostly excitement. A little dread. What is happening? Is it over? How can it be over when it just began? I’ve been living a dream for the past year, and it hasn’t sunk in that I am awake. The day starts as any other, but has the self-induced weight of something much more powerful. The sun brilliantly blazed on the playground of white. The rays laid over the land like a warm blanket, softening the hard exterior and allowing icy faults to appear as I ran through a minefield. Each step was a gamble. The softening of ice is not as immediately visible as the melting of snow. The ice had hollowed and allowed only the lightest to carry on. I watched the 5’1” man in front of me speed over the top of the ever hollowing ice while I continued to tumble into icy caverns alongside my unwieldy friends. There were brief periods of respite, but never for more than a tenth of a mile. It didn’t matter, it couldn’t matter. I moved forward and couldn’t help but smile. The sort of smile that only happens when you are finished with something you always wanted to finish but were actively realizing you never wanted to end.
My feet brushed against the rocks which lined that oft-wind-buffeted beach and drew my eye toward the cold, seemingly desolate arctic ocean. But looking closer, it was anything from desolate. A few penguins languished in the sun while the others dove in and out of the water. Large breasted brown skuas skulked around the outcropping, looking for penguin eggs to snatch up. Algae drifted along in the icy depths. This place wasn’t desolate. It was a place where animals can and do thrive. I continued on. Coming over the checkpoint for the first time this day was unlike the others. I had forgotten my punch card to track my laps, and didn’t really care. At this point it wasn’t about the race. It was about the moment. I was told that another punch card would be waiting at the end of the next lap. I continued. I was already flagging. My legs couldn’t hold up. An undeniable weakness overcame my left leg continuously. I looked ahead and saw another 250km finisher cross the finish under the softly beating Antarctic sun. I was now walking. I was tired. My leg was weak. But I walked because of where I was, not how I felt. The course neared the end and I met up with the finished leaders as they began their victory lap. This was the end. The very last lap. The Grand Slam complete. My triumph full. I took extra time this loop. There was nothing to be gained from going too quickly and everything to lose from savoring the experience too little. The rays of that sun led my eyes to a sea inlet disguised as a lake. A deep, mysterious blue that made me feel like I was staring into the soul of the island. Towering above was a mysterious but altogether friendly looking volcano under this calm sun. I changed focus and happily dawdled through the battle strewn minefield of ice and finally to the beach. In the distance stood the finish line filled with laughter and medals. But what caught my attention was a giant 6’4” tall waddling bow-tied penguin. Beckoning in a friend to end a yearlong journey.
Even now, as I write this, I realize that I haven’t let it go. I have postponed writing this for 3 months, because I didn’t want it to be over. I thought that if I never published this story, my story, that I could hold onto the magic I shared with these strangers for just a little bit longer. The races would never have to end if I allowed them to live on in my head. I’ve allowed the thought to creep into my life, letting my day to day events be grey and dull. Pitying myself for living such a comparably dull existence. But over time, I have realized that the magic was never held in the places. But the people in those places. The ones who shared in laughs by the night fires. The people who encouraged me to push on when I could only muster curses and grunts. The eternally happy. The incredibly driven. The idealists. The places I had been were meaningless without the people I shared them with. The people that had become some of my closest friends. The ones who made life just a little less dull.