Chapter 17 | Chapter 18
As I sit four weeks post returning from Antarctica, the voyage remains at once fresh and tangible and at the same time ethereal and dreamlike. I find these dual feelings refreshing in many ways.
Since I am still seeing people for the first time since returning, I get to replay the journey again and again. Just the shock value alone of speaking about visiting Antarctica and running a marathon in that distant place provides endless fun. I admit to being somewhat obnoxious about it. "Ask me where I just went on vacation," I goad. I do quickly admit I am being a real stinker about the whole thing to ease my guilt. Even better, my PR agency (my family and friends) do a bunch of the bragging for me. That opens a lead in the water of conversation without me having to break the ice.
I speak about the run, the penguins, the crazy weather sailing back and jumping into the freezing waters for my "polar plunge." (Well, really my "Tierro del Fuego plunge" as the weather was too rough in Antarctica so we had to wait until returning across the Drake Passage before popping into nearly freezing water - for fun.) Recently at a dinner, my friend Nahil told me that my pictures of the penguins made her day when she saw them. "Were they really that close and friendly?" she asked. From my pocket I yanked out my iPhone and promptly answered the question with a 90 second video of the birds parading about my feet. A passing fellow diner leaned over and said "are those penguins you are watching?" And then again I got to say something about going to Antarctica to someone entirely new. The kicker at the end of the meal: On the specials board, someone had drawn two penguins who's dialogue bubbles indicated they wanted mussels and clams. Maybe that's what those penguins were trying to tell me and my fellow intrepid voyagers as they squawked at us?
At the other end of the spectrum lies the space of dreams. I think this sense infected Scott, Shackleton and Mawson who all returned to Antarctica for second (and more) journeys. As I continue to read about Scott's last few days - his having to decide which men to make the final polar dash. "Was Amundsen there already?" "Which minute route variation avoided the most crevasses?" These concerns, while very real, were not why the historic age of Antarctic exploration occurred. The difficulties made the journey worthwhile and noble. (Historical note: Amundsen beat Scott by nearly 2 months and more importantly returned safely to his base in the Bay of Whales while Scott would perish just 5 miles from a supply depot on the return journey.)
No, the journey itself, with the various fragments of memory, journal entries and glass plate photographs, was reason enough. Having gone to Antarctica and accomplished something unique and special motivated those great, brave, crazy men. Sure science was carried out - some of it quite good. But the test of inner strength looms larger in their writings as motivation. Could they quell their doubts of their own abilities to accomplish their tasks? Only the experience would - should - answer those internal inquires.
My passage south could only be called easy: A super cruise with a super crew and wonderful fellow passengers. Sure running a marathon in Antarctica is nuts, but this part puts me firmly in the same place of seeking glory as Amundsen's surprise dash for the pole did. I think that's why I tried to infuse the trip with reading and learning about the history and nature of Antarctica. I needed to raise the adventure above just running. I wanted to ever remember those blisteringly cold days on the Zodiacs, and the sea splashes on my legs as I hopped into the shallows and waded ashore. Could I hold onto the slippery glacier beneath my boots and the stenchy smell of penguin guano? We made about 10 landings in all. Even today, without my photos, they blend into a few groups. The facts of time are eroding into a mish-mashed blur of images, smells and feelings.
Yet, I find this coalescing of specifics into the spectrum of brushstrokes enjoyable. The strongest sense of learning I have from going to Antarctica is a profound respect for it. It's easy to parcel each specific landing into GPS coordinates, but I cannot as easily partition the journey as a whole into spreadsheet entries. And when I do look at a map, I can see how very little I saw. Antarctica is bigger than I can conceive. For that, I am very happy and grateful.
Another form of exploration has fueled my imagination over the years - climbing in the Himalaya. While I am not crazy enough to attempt to climb Everest or any other 8,000 meter peak, I would like to visit those massive mountains and walk below them. I have read books of various adventures from "Annapurna" by Maurice Herzog to modern climbers tales by Ed Viesturs ("No Shortcuts to the Top" and "K2"). The sense of adventure and drive I find in the Antarctica memoirs exists in this sport as well. There are marathons in the Himalaya and maybe one of those will be in my future. Certainly visiting will be.
Yet before that I want to finish my 7th continent. South America is the last one, and I've targeted the Marathón del Bio Bio in Los Ángeles, Chile on October 16. The area is in the foothills of the Andes, and my stepson Justin will hopefully join me for some post race hiking. I have been in touch with the race organizers and now just have to figure out how to wire them the $32 entry fee. (The wire transfer fee might cost more than the race entry!) I already have a hotel reservation.
I have written that a wonderful unexpected pleasure of the journey south was spending time with the other runners. I remain in contact with many of them via email and Facebook. Another aspect that I plan to keep doing is writing about my trip. Thomas and Wes have been amazing hosts to me here at Indy in the Classroom, and I hope I can return again with another Adventure Log. I find the writing helps me process what I am feeling and sensing, and that in sharing what I am doing others are inspired to tackle their own marathons. At the end of his book about the summit of Annapurna (the first of any 8,000 meter mountain), Herzog states "There are other Annapurna's in the lives of men." I think that is very true.
People ask me how I can run so far. Perhaps they would prefer I respond about some super human power I received after exposure to green meteor rocks. Yet the answer is the same as for those who went to the moon or those who just get food on the table every day: Determination, practice and an unshakeable belief that I can accomplish the goal.
I may never go back to Antarctica - those other Annapurnas keep calling me to new places - but the memories will forever fuel my adventures. I am thankful for the supreme good fortune that found me at 65 degrees south of the equator and surrounded by an unpolluted vista of blue and white while penguins nipped at my backpack straps and the wind struck my amazed face.
Thank you for reading these few chapters. I wish that you all find your adventures as rewarding.