Day 7–Flying

May 19, 2010 9:05pm
109 kilometers on our first day
N62:20’236″ W46:48’358″
There a feeling you get when the lines tighten, the nylon sail fills with air and lifts off. The tug on the harness propels you forward and you’re off using nothing but the power of the wind. It’s the same feeling that has captured the imagination through the ages since Icarus. It is called flying! And flying has always had a close relationship with crashing…
We had spent the day resting from that last nightly sojourn. We were reluctantly preparing for another cold night of headwinds and uphill pulling when the winds timidly shifted more to the east. It didn’t take much discussion to agree that a better plan would be to sit and let them build. And take off in the night.
In the end, we dosed in and out of sleep until morning. Nothing. But by mid-morning the tent begun to flutter enough to get us motivated, and soon we were packing camp. With the tent packed, the sled bags zipped up, and their straps tying them side by side; with the kite lines layed out, and the click of the boots in the binding, we hooked the sledges line into the harness’ carabiner, picked up the kites handles, gave it a tug…and nothing! Another gentle tug, followed by a few less diplomatic. Nothing doing. I could not lift off! Eric had more luck–and skill–with his Ozone 12 meter Yakuza handle kite with extend lines than I did with my 14 meter. The kite would fly, but the sledges load would stall it. After a few frustrated attempts, we switched and I managed to get moving. The extra line length, especially in light winds make for a very slow response time, but the feeling of gliding over the ice, even at slow speeds is exhilarating compared to walking. Every foot of ground covered feels like a victory, and as the uphill miles glide under our skis, the last of the mountains behind us slowly disappear behind the curve of the ice sheet. In one hours, we have covered more ground than we did an entire night on foot! Soon, the wind strengthened, and our speed picked up. The ice is like a frozen ocean and we are gliding over it at speeds reaching 30 kilometers an hour. The ice is racing below us, and the sun is out. We took off around 1 PM and while a system of clouds forms to the south, the weather is remarkably pleasant: just below freezing to keep the ice nice and hard, and very little sastrugi which makes it easier on the knees. The open space stretches unlimited in all directions, just like in the open sea. The wind has turned more to the south east, as the sun is beginning to drop. I am obsessed with capturing as much on film as I can, capitalizing on the slightest change in the monotony. With our increasing speed, and Eric slightly downwind from me, I decide to turn on the helmet cam and commit more on film. I remove my mitten, and feel my way on top of the helmet, looking for the “on” switch; distracted, I inadvertently dive the kite just as my skis hit a sastrugi, one going in one direction, the other God only knows and WHACK! I face plant into the ice at 35 kilometers an hour! Now, the thing about most crashes is that they generally stop at impact. Not with kites! It will take another two hundred feet, and a couple of lofts bouncing me about the hard ice before I can grab a hold of the brake line, as the kite is still gingerly powering downwind and dragging me like a ragdoll along with! Luckily, the helmet took the impact, and aside from slight bruising–mainly of the ego variety–I dust off and attempt to regain composure. We agree to downsize on the kites, however, and switch to 10 an 12 meter Mantas. By now the sun has set on the horizon, and the moon’s crescent is slowly ascending in the twighlight. The temperature has dropped considerably, but is mostly noticeable on the brief stops. The Napapijri gear the team made for us turn out perfect for these conditions, with plenty of areas to vent. It is 1 AM. We decide to pack it in for the night, especially as the winds have pulled back slightly. In all we traveled 109 kilometers over 11 hours excluding stops, and we are now at an elevation of 2141 meters!
All in a good day’s work. My legs are slightly wobbly and my body sore. Time for a hearty warm meal to counter the cold of the tent. And then lights out! Perfect.

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