Every expedition has a reckoning point, the moment when an adventurer must navigate her own inner tumult and find strength to continue. Sometimes, discovering the will to go on is not a single event, but an equation that must be calculated with each footfall on a given trek. The true journey of any expedition is the journey of the mind. Navigating that terrain depends not on physical skill or muscle, but on character. Where one finds that hidden reserve of motivation is a litmus test of human nature. Does it come from the thirst for fame? Love of family or competition? Or from the beauty of the very terrain that might prove deadly? Because the will to continue isn't about choosing reasons to take the next one hundred steps; it's about connecting with the forces that give one's life meaning, that which one values above all else. Success on an expedition (as in life) isn't about brute strength, or even endurance, but resilience: the ability to remind oneself, over and over, of the joy of living, even amid the greatest hardship.
On February 7, 2001, having traveled more than two-thirds of the way toward their goal of traversing the continent, Ann and Liv had reached one of those reckoning points.
Ann: I was as close as I'd ever been to breaking, emotionally and physically. My knees ached so badly that I wanted to groan out loud with each step. The pain had become a constant presence, often causing tears that froze inside my goggles. The temperature hovered at -15°F (-26.1°C), but the harsh wind made it feel much colder. Exposed human flesh here would freeze in less than a minute. I longed for the relative warmth of the Minnesota winter I was missing back home. The Antarctic cold tortured the new pink skin on my cheeks, peeled raw by the intense sun and bitter wind. But at least I could still feel my feet. And how. With each downhill step, my toes jammed into the ends of my boots. I knew from experience that when I pulled off my socks that night, my toes would be purpled knobs. I would lose all my blackened toenails in a few days. Still, that was better than frostbite.
I wanted to put on my skis, but the ice was too rough and slippery here. Instead, I wore metal spikes - crampons - strapped to my boot soles for better footing. Both Liv and I had walked more than eight hours so far that day, dragging our 250-pound (113-kg) supply sleds behind us. We'd traveled less than 7 agonizing miles (11 km). On good days, when there was enough wind to use our sails and skis, we might gain 60 miles (97 km) or more in a day. Not today. Just the previous night I had written this in my journal: "Despite the pain from injury, it seems doable today! I feel as if I can endure. We will make it!" How things had changed in just twelve hours.
This was supposed to be the easy part of the journey. We were on the Shackleton Glacier, a frozen river of ice named for the very polar explorer who had inspired both of us as little girls. I was twelve years old when I'd first read the story of Ernest Shackleton. That brave expedition leader failed in his attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914 but did not lose the life of a single man in his command through more than a year of living on the ice and a daring sail for help. His inspiring drama, played out decades ago on this frigid, icy stage, had led me to seek out the same path-not to explore, as this continent was discovered long ago - but to journey inside myself. To see what I had to offer in this incredible test of mental strength and physical skill. It seemed that just as Shackleton had been the one to launch my dream of crossing Antarctica, the glacier named after him might be the end of it.
I'd been counting the miles to this glacier for weeks, thinking that once we arrived there, we would find smooth snow and a gentle downhill grade. We hoped, too, that the wind would pick up so that we could ski-sail across the final miles. But the Shackleton was proving to be one of the most punishing landscapes of the trip.
From No Horizon Is So Far by Ann Bancroft, Liv Arnesen and Cheryl Dahle. Copyright Ann Bancroft, Liv Arnesen and Cheryl Dahle 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Da Capo Press.
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