Day 33–On The Moon

June 13, 2010 11:58am

N78°01.673 W65°28.754 Elevation 5212 Feet

The winds started timidly late in the evening. We made dinner and decided to make a run for it as they came up. By the time we stepped outside, the condensation that had built inside the tent coated the outer walls with a white powdery frost. The sky was clear of clouds, and the low white sun cast a frigid light on the hard ice. It was one AM and cold! Stepping out of the cozy tent to face the bite of night travel always requires a mental adjustment. It doesn’t last long but a little apprehensive voice in the back of your mind would wish the wind to simply die down until the morning, so you could go back inside the warm sleeping bag and resume travel at a more civilized–and warmer–time! The moment you step out, however, that thought vanishes and commitment accounts for another small victory on the self. Besides, it is rarely as bad as you had made it to be.

We are progressively dropping in elevation, and as the day temperatures rise, the ice softens with moisture; when the cold of night sets in, the wetness hardens and the ice bonds into hard pack. No more powdered cotton clouds light airy snow: we are back to sustruge! While tougher on the joints, harder pack makes for faster travel. And tonight, we shot out of a cannon! The big kites would have been too much for the wind, but our angle of travel (practically downwind) made them smooth and very fast. A downwind tacks barely require to set the skis’ edges against the pull of the kite; in high winds, this means low pull for high velocity, and the skis literally glide over the ice! Adrenaline packed, this made for great travel.

Had kites existed in Nansen’s day, they would have been his mode of transport for the first Greenland crossing in 1888. In the first ninety minutes, we had covered seventy kilometers. With not a cloud in the sky, and in the cold, hard light of the night sun, the ice sheet really displayed its lunar glory. To replace the white of the ice with volcanic gray, and the blue of the Earth’s atmosphere with the black of outer space is to find yourself on the moon! There are no features out here other than the sastruga. But every day the ice reveals itself in endlessly subtle variations and, in ways that I could not describe, never looks the same. Thirty three days of studying it has never been boring. This morning, ice specks reflected the early morning sunlight and parched the surface with millions of scintillating diamonds. We glided across them at speed, and I shot film on the fly, hoping that it will capture what I saw…

The lower body holds the most powerful muscles in the human frame. Central to that are the hips, which, after the shoulders’ rotators, have the most complex articulation system in the body. The hip connectors are tendons that allow wraparound mid-body muscle groups like the glutes to do their job of coordinating upper and lower body activity. The hip connectors are pretty critical to basic walking functions. Somehow, and I am not sure how, I pulled the right one, and stretched the tendon. Now, structural and muscle pains are close companions on this type of mission. You can hardly expect to be exerting for as long and as hard as you do in such a dynamic environment, and not accept aches and pains as part of the–not so–hidden cost. It’s the sales tax! Besides, try walking around in ski boots for twelve (come twenty four!) hours a day, let alone moving in them at high velocity over uneven and often hard terrain, and you’ll know what I mean. Or getting yanked by the waist for hours by lines netting multiples of hundreds of pounds of tension, and see what it does to your alignment. Sport is pain; it’s a given. Training will mitigate some of that, but by en large, aches and pains are baked in: they’re on the menu. But of course, some are more than others, and stretching a hip connector is one of those uninvited pest. Aside from making it difficult to walk, it’s hard to get comfortable even sitting, or horizontal. The best thing is ice–which we have plenty of–and rest–which we’ll do when we’re dead! Ironically, with skis on, I can manage to fly at fifty kilometers an hour, but once they’re off, I have trouble walking to my kite! No panic, the trip is almost over, and I get to sample cocktails of Advil and Tylenol combinations!

The winds pulled back some and we chose to pack it in after four hours and a respectable 117 kilometers distance, which with our earlier travel makes for 147 kilometers for the day. Only have 80 K of kiting left to do, and two days to do them in which shouldn’t be a problem. After that, we’re back to pulling–through the crevasse field, and off the glacier!

So far, our total travelled distance is 2170 kilometers!

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