I think that everyone has a dream that they don’t think is going to happen. An image that you bring to mind, entertain for a few moments, then snuff out with a longing sigh. Mine was going to the South Pole.
The seed was planted when I first heard about Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s race to the bottom of the world in school and how, after heroic effort, he arrived at the pole only to find that he had been beaten by the Norwegian chancer Roald Amundsen. Exhausted, starving and freezing, Scott’s men started to topple over on the return journey to the coast. Evans was first to go, dying in his tracks. Oates, handicapped by frostbite, sacrificed himself by crawling out of the tent into a blizzard, but not before uttering the best exit line ever, ‘I’m going out for a walk now. I may be some time.’ Despite this, Scott died a few days later, tragically, just 13 miles short of a huge depot.
You think that the days of Scott and Amundsen are a long time ago? So what do you say when the man who led the third team to travel overland to the South Pole offers you a scone?
That’s right, in the 1950s our very own Sir Ed Hillary was using tractors to lay out supply lines for Vivian Fuchs’ Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic expedition. Finding himself just a few miles short of the pole, Sir Ed made a cheeky dash in the last few miles on his Massey Fergusons.
When I had been sitting on Mum’s couch wondering what to do with my life (see the trans-Atlantic rowing story) I even briefly considered mounting a trek to the South Pole. But that was as far as it went. Too hard, too long, too cold, too painful. Antarctica is the kind of place that makes snow statues out of suburban slobs.
But then I rowed across the Atlantic and suddenly trekking to the pole didn’t seem so bad. After all it just required learning some new skills and I had proven I could do that, as well as pulling heavy things for a long way, and we certainly had a bit of a track record doing that.
By ‘we’, I meant Jamie, my old rowing buddy. It hadn’t been hard to put the gang back together - I just had to search the length and breadth of the living room. After the euphoria of the rowing race had died down Jamie and I had washed up in Auckland and were flatting together.
We did some research. There have been a lot of amazing treks done in Antarctica (although far fewer then you might think) but no one has ever done a really simple (conceptually) one. An unsupported, unresupplied trek from the coast to the Pole and back again. All it takes is pulling 160 kgs, 2400kms across the coldest, windiest, highest, driest, most ‘est’ place on Earth. We decided to trek to the pole, but use snow kites (very similar to kite-surfing kites) to make our way back.