Day 23–A Twenty four Hour Run

June 6, 2010 11:05pm

Sebastian cat naps on a short break from a 24 hour run

The recorded distance for the day

N74°45.233 W46°39.134 Elevation 8792 feet

Generally speaking, not many people have an understanding of GPS coordinates. For those who do, take a look at today’s, and compare them to yesterday’s… More on this in a bit.

Before leaving on this expedition, privately, I had mentioned that, provided the conditions were right, I might take a shot at the kite skiing world record for greatest distance covered in a 24 hour period. While I had said it half in jest, in my mind, I was determined to give it a go. Under promise, over deliver. But at 518 kilometers, I could see now that that new distance record was daunting. After all, our personal best of 260 kilometers in sixteen hours from the day prior is merely half that…

After that big day, and a 5 AM stop, the following day was spent resting. I struggled with staying in the sleeping bag as I could hear the wind outside which did not let up all day. But our sore bodies needed recovery. By 9:30 PM, the last items were packed in the sledges, the kites were laid out on the ice, the winds were moderate but still up, and we hit the trail. I had rigged the big Yakuzza on 75 meter lines, which was definitely big for the conditions. But after yesterday’s adrenaline rush, I was hungry for more. Besides, we were traveling on a broad reach–with the wind about 45 degrees to our back–and the pull in that direction is more forgiving when over powered. Eric started on his 12 meter Manta, but after half an hour, I encouraged him to switch as the difference in speed was too great. He went to the 14 meter. And the fun was on! Within the first hour and a half we had covered almost a hundred kilometers.

“Let’s go for it”, I told Eric. We had talked a bit about the record, and his attitude had been lukewarm. “Silly and dangerous mistakes happen when you subject your body and mind to this type of duress in a highly dynamic environment”, had been his response, even while he had had a go at it a couple of years back and posted a not shabby 412 kilometer day. But I have come to find him quite competitive, and tonight the conditions were there. “OK, we can give it a try”, he agreed.

The wind grew through the first part of the night. By 4 AM, snow drift covered the ice in all directions, and as we chased the midnight sun, we were motoring! At times we hit speeds of sixty kilometers an hour. It was intense! Luckily, the snow was quite soft, and the sastruga virtually non existent. It was cold, though, and we could definitely feel that we were traveling north. We had passed the thousand kilometer mark from our point of departure, crossed the Arctic circle, and were clearly headed into the cold. Frost was building over our face masks, and with the wind-chill, no skin can be exposed in these conditions. And we were flying! In five hours, we had done over two hundred and fifty kilometers! We took two hour runs and fifteen minute breaks for the first eight hours, (except for one period when the visuals were so spectacular, backlit from the sun, that I had to film!)
It is difficult to describe the feeling of unity you get with the elements when, fresh and in the zone, you are one amongst a blanket of snow flurries galloping over the ice at mach speed, using just nature’s energy. We felt the wind in our sail, the edges of our skis biting against the tight pull of the kite’s lines and slicing their mark in the ice behind us. Every now and then a gust propels us even faster as we accelerate downwind, the sledges erratically bouncing behind us. What a rush!

Eventually, the pull of the big kites was too great, and our legs were getting the workout of their life. We downsized to 10 meters, and settled to very reasonable speeds. The snow got noticeably softer, almost sand like in the dry cold, which was remarkably kinder on the knees. It literally felt like skiing over cotton! Ten hours in and we had covered 368 kilometers! At that rate, we were going to pulverize the record.

As the day rose, however, the winds began to falter, which is customary. For 48 hours, they had held strong; but as they pulled back, we were struggling to leave our mark on a vanishing legacy. From traveling at up to sixty kilometers an hour at our peak, we were now dropping to below twenty. As well, fatigue set in, and I started to doubt. By our next break, it was clear that the rising day would not work in our favor. “If this keeps up, we’re not going to make it”, I said. “Are we up to subjecting ourselves to a twenty four hour day if we’re not going to break the record?” I tested. “If we do it, it’s to push the edge of our own limits. But if we agree to do it, there is no turning back,” he replied. That was just what I had hope to hear, and an accurate reflection of my feeling, exactly. In for a penny, in for a pound! To hell with the record, we’ll push until twenty four hours, even if we have to drop by then. “That’s the spirit,” I said. “Let’s go!”

We had shifted our periods to ninety minutes of kiting between breaks, and were back on the big kites. But it had become debatable whether we would even be able to keep then in the air for twenty four hours. Besides, the monotony of the slow speed was reaping havoc on the mind, while our bodies were feeling the toll. Skiing essentially on the same tack for endless days places stress on certain areas of the body, and this long day was definitely going to add to it. Our left calve muscle was especially sore, as was the flat of the feet. Because holding the kite’s handles places the hands above the heart, they tend to go cold a lot, and after hours of gripping, fingers begin to feel numb. As to the thighs and knees, the first few hours of our rocket fueled travel had put serious strain on them, and they were worked! Imagine skiing downhill for so many hours… We kept chipping at it, and by hour fifteen, we had covered 450 kilometers, with nine more hours still to go. The winds were light, but if they kept where they were, we still had a real shot at it. By now, the snow cover on the ground had deepened and its odd, light and granular consistency added considerable drag to both the skis and the sledges–even if this was a God send on my sore knees! After fifteen hours we were at 470 kilometers, forty eight from the record…

We switched to one hour period with a fifteen minute break. The winds teased us, increasing and decreasing but, surprisingly, we managed to increase our pace. By the next period we were over 500 kilometers, with eight hours to go! At this stage, it would have been devastating if the wind had died, as the record was within reach. I gripped on the handles and felt each foot of distance glide below my skis, getting us closer to that 518 kilometer mark. An objective is a purpose, and this one justified the growing pain I felt in my limbs. It wasn’t just the one day; this was day 22 of a very physical expedition. But as the hour grew, I now knew we would make it.

We passed the record sometime during our seventeen hour. With five more to go, we switched to forty five minutes on, and fifteen minutes off. And agreed not to look at the GPS for distance until we were in the tent. The last three hours were agony. Upon unclipping from my ski bindings on the breaks, I could barely walk. My calve had seized up, both my feet were numb, my knees sore and I was so exhausted that I could barely eat the fuel so needed at this stage. I had finished the tea in my thermos, and my two half empty Nalgene bottles had frozen from the cold. There would be no liquid until the end. I was almost delirious in the last hour, each minute dragging on as I listened to the same music selection on the iPod that I had switched on for distraction: somehow I had pressed the repeat option, and the last three hour played the same tracks; but I was too tired to mind! In fact, I used the songs mostly as a rough estimate of time. Strangely, I kept thinking that at the term of this day would be a Russian masseuse and a bath house, only to realized that we would arrive at a point determined only by the clock, and that once that 24 hour bell rang, this would be our place of rest for the night! Because of the break periods, the final forty five minute section fell on 9:15, and we agreed that this would be our quitting time, fifteen minutes shy of the twenty four hours mark.

That last section was pure mind over matter, though I will admit that the final fifteen minutes dragged on forever. For the first time, I felt my 46 years of age, though Eric, at 25, admitted to his pains! I had been up for thirty one hours, and exerting for twenty four. When we landed our kites for the last time that day, I crawled to fold it up, and the seventy five meters of line took ten minutes to wrap!

We wobbled into the tent, made some food, and agreed it was time to check our distance. We have beaten the record by a whopping seventy seven kilometers! And are now, until proven differently, the world record holders for the longest distance traveled by kite on skis over a twenty four hour period with 595 kilometers!

This one day stretch represents just less than one fifth the distance of our a forty two day expedition!

I passed out once during dinner, and fell in a deep slumber that lasted thirteen hours! Not since I was a teenager have I slept this long. My young friend beat me by two hours, and may well hold some type of sleeping record. Here is where age serve you best: you sleep less! But today is a day of rest. No Russian masseuse to be seen on the premises, but a large grin of satisfaction on both our faces. Hard work has paid off!

We are 750 kilometers from our objective and have now covered 1550 kilometers. Our pick-up is in 16 days, but I have the feeling that the worst is behind us.

Outside is a complete whiteout, with snowfall. But we will reap the reward of our labor with a day off, a glass of electrolytes and a bowl of granola and water! Don’t be jealous, now!

3 Responses to “Day 23–A Twenty four Hour Run”

  1. Bryce says:

    Awesome! Congrats on a great accomplishment!

  2. Wow, that is the distance from Brighton to Edinburgh – incredible – bravo!!!

  3. Congratulations with the new world record!

    I was until recently the holder of the 24h record which btw was not 518 km but 507.5 km. (518 km was the total distance travelled and 507.5 was the straight line distance between camps.) Not that it really matters since you guys pulverized our record 🙂

    I would also like to thank you for writing such a detailed summary of the big day. When reading it I got the sensation that I was back on the ice cap with aching knees kiting with you 🙂 Best of luck with the rest of your trip and may the winds be favorable.


Leave a Reply