Day 21–Speed Demons

June 4, 2010 3:33pm

N69°25.922 W45°30.343 Elevation 6972 feet

There isn’t much room for error when moving at 45 km/h over the ice, pulling heavy sledges behind you, flying amongst the flurries of snow drift that gallop with the wind and cover the ground with a blanket of liquid smoke. Things happen very quickly–you catch an edge, and a wipeout can be spectacular; and dangerous. The adrenaline rush is intense. As is the workout. For that reason, I prefer to turn the music off and stay focused, which is what happened for the last few early morning hours of the yesterday’s marathon run.

Not so when moving under 10 km/h in wet snow, fighting hard to keep the kite in the air as it moves agonizingly, diving slowly to climb up again, back and forth, from the end of its very long lines. The effort is still surprisingly high, but is as exciting as pushing a car uphill. The music in that case is a saving grace; and kept me sane for the first ten hours of yesterday’s session.

I woke up around 8 AM to a mere whiff of wind. We were slow to get out, baking inside the tent as the sun beat down on the ice, softening it up by the hour. By 12:30, we left in very light wind, bracing ourselves for a long day of hard work. The sky was perfectly clear–no contrail today, as we have clearly passed one latitude used by pilots on their transatlantic flights. I would say that the air was still, but the 10 to 14 kilometers of wind was enough to get us moving, even if at at a snail’s pace! One technical error, and the kite depowers, folds in the air, and falls limp to the ground. Launching it back can be frustrating, and backbreaking. The heavy snow created extra drag, and I was not having a good day. Besides, I had some issues with breaking lines and then a breaking handle, camera batteries dying, protein powder leaking, and all sorts of fun stuff. Eric, who is thirty pounds lighter, and–it must be said–a better kiter, was typically way ahead of me in the distance. Light winds can create this type of drag. The temperature was just below freezing, but the sun made the air feel hot. This was work!

But the miles had to be done, and slowly, inexorably, we clocked them in. After ten hours, we had covered about seventy kilometers.

I cannot exactly tell when it happened–the night before was overcast, and DYE II sits atop a hill–but in the last couple of days but we have officially reached twenty four hour sunlight. Late through the night, the sun hugs the horizon, but never sets. The temperatures do cool down, however, and last night, with that, came the wind. It was building, and our speed rose along with it. We held on to the large kites, probably longer than we should have, and by midnight, the wind had reached over thirty kilometers an hour. The strain on the thighs, as you set your edges at that speed against the pull of a large kite is worth every hour of Stairmaster training: it’s intense! We were were now pushing 40 kilometers per hour, and flying!

And that’s when it happened. My right ski hit a piece of sastruga and flew off my foot. The thing is, I didn’t realize this for a few moments, until I looked down to my boot and saw…no ski! Needless to say, it wasn’t long after that that I exploded in air! Luckily, my moment of realization gave me time to jam on the brake line and save me some bouncing along the ground! No harm done, but we both agreed that downsizing was long over due! We went from the twelve and fourteen meters to the seven! The wind was still building, and pretty soon, the ice was covered with a blanket of silk, as the drift glowed in the golden back-light of the midnight sun. The visuals were remarkable. I had to stop and film which, in forty kilometers of subfreezing winds, always extols its price on your fingers. It was cold! But well worth it. After subjecting Eric to modeling work, we were back at it, again hitting speeds in excess of 45 kilometers an hour This time, however, things were much more manageable with the seven meter Frenzy’s. I can see where those got their names: these kites are twitchy! With the shorter lines, they take off like a rocket! But the smaller cloth makes them much easier to handle. By 4 AM, we were making great distance, racing each other at mach speed. The sledges bounced all over the ice behind us. So much so, that I realized upon looking back, that the center column of my tripod, strapped on my camera pack, itself on top of one sledge–had come off! Attached on the head of it was a mini HD stunt camera with two hours of footage from the trip! It was invaluable. Eric offered to backtrack to our last break point, no more than ten kilometers behind; I knew, for certain, that I had it then. We had already lost our backup ski that day to the bounce, but losing the footage on the camera, not to mention the hardware, made my heart sink. His is kite progressively disappeared in the distance as he retraced our visible tracks, pushing upwind in the very strong wind. Thirty minutes in, with a ball in my gut, I set up the tent. Eric has a dog hound quality about him, and on a sniff trail, is definitely the man for this type of work. But the drift was quickly covering our tracks and I was nervous. Soon, I saw his kite appear in the distance and make his was back to me. In his handheld like a trophy, was the gear! Only a tip of it had shown as it had gotten run over by my sledges. But the snow was soft, and there was no damage! This episode unfortunately put an end to a great run, which probably would have gone on for another few hours, as we had it in us to push forward. It was 5 AM, we had been kiting since 12:30 PM and we had covered 260 kilometers! We have done 952 kilometers in total so far. Here is to breaking 1000 today.

2 Responses to “Day 21–Speed Demons”

  1. Good going, really looking forward to seeing some of the footage.

    The LHR-LAX route is the most northerly crossing of the cap I’ve done, so I have a sense of how far up you’ve travelled now you’re beyond the contrails. The lower pix didn’t load up for some reason, but the top three did, looks amazing!!

  2. sophie says:

    Heart beating!!! You’re safe! And with great pictures … It looks like a really beautiful and unimaginable place.
    And 1000 km in 22 days? Is it good for you or below your expectations?
    Best wishes

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