Temperature: minus 17°C
Distance travelled: 13 km
My Theory of Relativity
When you are enjoying yourself, times seem to fly by, but when you are bored time seems to drag very slowly and when you are suffering as much hardship and experiencing as much pain as we all are enduring here, times move really slowly, every hour seems like a day. That is my theory of relativity; time is inversely proportional to the amount of pain you are experiencing.
At the moment all my fingers are frost nipped. Frost nip presents itself with white or pale skin, hardened with a waxy texture. What it feels like is like you dip your fingers in hot candle wax and you let I dry on your fingertips that is how all my fingertips feels. Now it has made manipulation very difficult, but it has also meant that my fingers are slightly more numb to the colder weather, and I am actually able to do a lot more now in the cold. One of my fingers on my left hand has had it three times and the nail has gone black as well.
March or Die
“March or die” (“Marche ou crève”) is a saying in the French Foreign Legion when they used to march from one point to another. If anyone wanted to give up, they would say: You either march or you die, and that’s it, you have no other choice. The other day I was very low and very dispirited about the whole expedition and I realized we are pretty much in the same situation. There is no choice; there is no option of giving up, because there is no turning back. To walk back you have to walk even further as the checkpoint behind you is no longer there. So there is no exit, there is no escape. And you either walk or you die, and we all are walking because we know that to not do so would mean we would die, so that’s a great motivator!
I often get asked, what I eat during the expedition and the answer is dried fruits, banana chips, biscuits, cheese, nutri-grain bars, mixed nuts, chocolate, dry meat sticks, salami, sweets and a brownie bar. All kept in what we call a day bag that typically weighs between 0.5-0.7kg and gives me 2500 calories per day. Some of the food needs to be reconstituted using melted snow. We drink a lot of hot chocolate also to give us extra energy.
Saturday 25th April
Day 38 since I left Bahrain;
Day 28 of the Expedition;
Day 20 of walking
Location; Near King Edward Island
Temperature; minus 17°C
Wind; 10 kph from NE
Distance Travelled; 18.1 NM
We started the day at 0400. We only had 18.1 nautical miles until checkpoint 3, and we not only wanted to get there before 2030, our scheduled safety call, we also wanted to get there before some of the other teams.
We were soon hit by a cruel blow. The wonderful flat sea ice that we thought extended all the way to the horizon, ended after 8 km and turned back into icy boulder fields. I was stubbornly sticking to my skis while my team mates walked and I soon got left behind, floundering on ice and had soon fallen over heavily, twisting my ankle and tearing the laces from my other boot.
This could have been a disaster. Not only could a twisted ankle end my expedition, but without a shoelace, I would be condemned not only to walk, but at such a slow pace that I would succumb to the cold. In addition, one of the teams we had passed fast asleep at 0500 had now caught us up and were overtaking us. My team mates were furious and swearing non stop at me and threatening all types of punishment.
But fortune favours those who grasp it, and I noticed the other team were all on skis, so I quickly took some pain killers, tied a figure of eight to jury rig my laces, and tagged onto the end of their group. Their leader was weaving in and out of the boulders, contouring the landscape, so they never went up and down icy obstacles, but always around. It was a much longer route, but a much faster method and I was soon ahead of my team mates who were struggling to keep up with me now.
So much so, that I took the time to make a phone call while coasting along. Today was my younger sister’s birthday, and because of the near death experiences and emotional rollercoaster I was on, I realised that now was the best time to start building stronger bridges with her.
Unlike my other siblings, Salha and I grew up together, and in North London. Muneer is ten years younger than me, and by the time he was walking, I was in boarding school, which meant the first time we really lived together was when he moved in with me in Bahrain at the age of 24! Despite hardly knowing my own brother, we are shockingly similar in many ways except appearance. So much so that at dinner one night with people I had never met, I laughed at a joke, and they all looked at me and asked if I knew this guy called Muneer who had the same laugh! For some reason people don’t believe we are brothers, but think that we should be!
Sabrina is similarly a lot older than me, and grew up in Zanzibar. She has been great at looking after me, but we have hardly spent time in the same country, let alone together. But Salha and I grew up together, and as anyone with siblings similar in age knows, this leads to lots of fights when you are younger. And maybe even when you are older!
If anyone has read the cartoon Garfield, you will know that Odie the dog loves Garfield, and will do anything for him, even though Garfield will constantly abuse him, so it is a dysfunctional relationship. But God help anyone else who tries to abuse Odie, because that is when you see the true nature of Garfield’s affections as swift and terrible retribution is carried out. Only Garfield is allowed to abuse Odie. No one else. And I think that is the easiest way to sum up our relationship.
I have always called her “Ugly”, not necessarily because it was true, but because it upset her. Thank Allah, she is now a very attractive woman, and I believe that a lot of the credit should be mine, as I am the one that spurred her on to prove me wrong! God works in mysterious ways, and there is no depths a man can’t sink to try and absolve himself of guilt!
So for the first time ever, I called her on the satellite phone provided by Nawras, wished her a happy birthday and told her that after 37 years, she was no longer called “Ugly” and her new name was “Beautiful”. I had nothing to give her as a present, but through the tears I could hear her crying, I knew that I couldn’t have bought a better present. And if I was to die before the end of this expedition, I knew one loose thread in my life had been dealt with.
As we neared the checkpoint, the competitive nature of all those involved started to surface. Northern Lights who we had followed all day, were suddenly slowing due to an injury to one of their team and we had now been caught up by a third team, Magnetic Attraction. The three teams walked together in unison until about 2 kms away, when everyone decided that they wanted to cross the line first.
The terrain had been fairly snowy, so I was at a distinct advantage on skis over those on foot, but as we all broke into a last mad dash, the terrain turned rocky and icy causing me to slip and slide and fall continually. With nothing to gain by being first, the expended efforts were pointless, and as it turned out detrimental as one of the Magnetic Attraction team suffered a knee injury in crossing the line first, just 8 mins ahead of the Oman North Pole Expedition.
Both my other team mates were similarly exhausted and badly hurt to the extent that Clare had to beg borrow and steal stronger pain killers and was seriously considering pulling out if her back didn’t improve by the start of leg 4. JP was in a bad state having dislocated his knee and having to pop it back in. All in all, a stupid rush of blood to the head, and false pride had possibly dented the chances of two teams’ ability to complete the task in hand, which left us all a lot to think about over the next long hours…