Rush Hour Traffic

April 13, 2009 4:15am

One thing you would not expect up here on the ice is a traffic jam. Yet,
that is effectively what happened to us at the end of our day.
we lost a mile south overnight to the drift, not to mention the
easterly drift which has increased to two latitude points a day, for
the last two days! With that, and yesterday’s disappointing distance,
today’s focus was on performance: I was determined to do 14 nautical
miles. Less than that, and I thought our prospects to make the pole by
the 26th were poor, a sentiment I knew was shared among our logistics
team. Setting off, I was gripped by the irony of bringing a time
pressure into such a seemingly timeless environment. Such a human thing
to do. In our communion with Nature up here, this felt so out of
context. And sad. Even out here, we cannot help but bring our social
baggage. Brought to focus on speed and efficiency, I could not help but
feel upset at myself: here as well, in the end, I would be competing.
This meant no indulgences in travel, and no shoot time until I felt we
could afford it. On a day like today this proved more painful than I
thought, as we saw big weather shifts, and with it some visuals which
were new to us. Battered again by winds from the south west lashing out
and turning us into whip boys, a cloud cover shortly set in,
progressively covering the sun. The landscape became tough to read, as
all the already low contrast of this white environment was gone–save
the blue and green hues off the pressure ridges. Imagine walking into a
thick white fog, but with no fog: that is more or less what it felt
like out here–but add 25 mph winds! Luckily, the clouds lifted, but
the wind persisted, increasing through the day. We mostly lucked out
with the terrain and, save a couple of tough spots, benefitted at last
from friendlier large flat pans. But towards the end of the day, we
came upon a wide wet lead: open water near our bank, and no clear idea
of how solid the ice was on the other side. We proceeded to walk to the
east as one spot in the distance seemed cluttered with slush that might
help our passage. That is when something very different came into view.
Two unidentified black spots, standing where we were headed. We these
humans? As we approached, it turned out to be John Huston and Tyler
Fish, who are also going for the pole, their trip unsupported! Within
millions a square miles we run into two other dots who like ourselves,
elected to subject themselves to this exercise in self torture! To be
fair we knew they were within striking distance of us and were, too,
caught in this powerful easterly drift. We had a good moment with them,
as they put on their water suits and we thought to set up camp and wait
until morning as the crossing looked sketchy. This was the end of our
day, the beginning of theirs. Surely by morning, the lead would freeze
over. But soon they were on the other side and gave us the thumbs up!
We quickly gathered our stuff and made the testy crossing through
slush. Both Keith and I put one boot through the ice, but made it
safely. On the other side, these boys had left an angel in the snow as
a sign of good luck. They are on the same tight schedule as we are. We
eventually caught up with them and shared tracks for about an hour,
when we called it a day after a solid 14 hours. We are tired but
satisfied with 14 nautical miles of true north travel. Factoring the
drift and the weaving, we probably did three miles more than that. We
will lose some overnight but currently our position is N87°42.449 and
W72°20.880. Temperature were in the order of minus 22F degrees not
factoring windshield. Good night and thank you for being with us.

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