December 5th 2015. It’s a year and a half ago since I set out alone on the ice of Antarctica.
As if hypnotised, I stood in silence at the very edge of this great frozen land watching the plane that had taken me to my starting point disappear into the distance. Two things went through my mind:
‘How on Earth did I end up here and how in hell am I going to get the South Pole? It was never meant to get quite this far…
With the place soon disappearing off into the distance, I soon found myself alone on Antarctica
The romantic ideal of spending 40 days completely alone on the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent on the planet is one thing. It becomes a completely different proposition, however, at the very moment when you're left to fend for yourself, with only a giant sledge for company. The momentary state of panic that set in as I tried to comprehend the gravity of the situation quickly developed into a momentary mind-blank and the prospect of how to carry out even the simplest of tasks seemed overwhelming.
Could I remember how to start my tracker? What if my fuel canisters leaked? Had I even packed enough fuel?
So many unanswered questions. So little margin for error.
But as with certain testing experiences in life, that initial sense of fear and uncertainty in the unknown was, in reality, the crux of the situation. Yes, I expected greater challenges would lie ahead of me in the coming weeks – and indeed they did - but as I took the first few of many million steps away from Hercules Inlet and 80°S, that anxiety soon gave way to a rush of motivation, a notion of rationality, and a clear sense of accountability. It was these inexorably linked themes that were to form the foundation of my determination to succeed throughout the expedition, but even early on I became increasingly confident in my own ability to see this through.
At the very least, I thought, I would give it a right good bash.
Indeed over the course of the next few days, I quickly settled into the hourly and daily routines that would form the basis of, and offer a degree of comfort and sanity for, each of the next 40 days. And then something a little strange happened...
Through the relentless headwind, the piercing sub-zero temperatures and the sheer physical pain of puling 140kgs through shin-high snow, I began to actually enjoy every step.
And this made me very, very happy.
It meant I had already achieved one of my goals: to become completely aware of my surroundings, immerse myself in the environment and appreciate how fortunate I was to be here. This was not a test I had taken on under duress or pressure from anyone, no it was quite the opposite. So many people had helped me overcome so many challenges to get me to the start line and now it was down to me to finish the task. In any case, there was no-one around to listen to me moan…
This self-induced pressure and lingering self-doubt throughout the trip coupled with the contrast between the part of the mind that asked:
‘why are you doing this to me?’
and the part that saw the greater good had a profoundly positive impact on me. Not only did it help me enjoy myself but it also focused my mind more on what I was doing, reminding me why I had chosen to do this in the first place. It served as a persistent and useful reminder of what is important to me.
All those pleasures and pains, the positives vs the setbacks that I came across weren’t mutually exclusive either. Instead I often found that the two worked together to help the goal seem more palpable. Learning from my mistakes and the experiences of the most challenging times, taking the positives forward into any future actions was actually one of the most pleasing and valuable lessons of the whole experience.
I began to appreciate the tough times, happy in the knowledge that I would reap the rewards of these in future battles. Happy in the knowledge too that I was exactly where I wanted to be:
I was on Antarctica!!!
The sheer sense of satisfaction and unbridled joy at being able to do something that that excites you, something you’re passionate about and gives you purpose, something you love so much that you begin to enjoy even the ‘worst’ of times is quite something. Getting there and finding out what this is, is often the tough bit, but the pain and hard work required is seldom not worth it.
Where the overall goal is greater than any obstacle then the capacity to succeed is always heightened. Instances where the obstacles become not disincentives, but instead opportunities to develop, are rare.
Once you find something that makes you feel this way, sit back and let it soak in for a moment.
And then go out and find more ways to do more of what you love.