Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Sweetest Grapes I've Ever Had

I wrote a nine part series of posts, and then while biking to work, I found I needed to add one more so here is part 10 of the 9 posts.

I'm sure everyone is familiar with the Aesop's fable of the Fox and the Grapes. But if not, here it is:
One hot summer’s day a fox was strolling through an orchard till he came to a bunch of grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the things to quench my thirst,” quoth he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump, and just missed the bunch. Turning round again with a one, two, three, he jumped up, but with no greater success. Again and again he tried after the tempting morsel, but at last had to give it up, and walked away with his nose in the air, saying: “I am sure they are sour.”
        Moral : “It is easy to despise what you cannot get.”
I had a lot of people tell me that I was crazy for wanting to bike to the South Pole. A neighbor simply told me, "DON'T GO!" I had others that asked if I would leave the bike store to them in the case that I died. I thought it was a joke, but maybe it was a more serious request than I thought, as I was told when I returned that they really did think I would die.

I received a lot of criticism. Fortunately for me, one of my biggest detractors posted to a public forum, thus preserving his words. He said:
“Until recently I had been plotting, planning and working toward my own south pole attempt. Different route, different mentality, entirely different style than yours.
“I started researching every aspect from every angle back in 2004, and spent the next 6 years fiddling with gear, nutrition, and all of the little things that would ultimately give me a fighting chance once on the ice. Recently, after much thought and introspection, I've concluded that I wouldn't get enough enjoyment out of it to make it worth doing. A lack of interesting things to look at along the way is my main reason for losing interest. And that's not even factoring in the enormous cost of getting to and from the continent.”
Now if that is not one of the greatest retellings of the Fox and the Grapes I don't know what is.

Biking to the South Pole was difficult beyond the wildest imagination. Every day was more difficult than I could possibly explain. 

I spent 51 days alone. I fell into a crevasse. I battled headwinds that, even with my full strength I could not push forward into. I spent many days in total whiteout, unable to see the ground I was biking over, falling off of four foot sastrugi, and worrying about what would happen if I broke a bone or broke my bike frame.

Nunataks on the way to Hercules Inlet
Speaking of broken bikes, I destroyed the internals of my rear hub from pedaling for up to 13 hours a day hauling a heavy load up frozen slopes against strong headwinds. The winds were so bad that even the worst winds I have faced since I got home don't even compare to the winds of Antarctica. Back to the broken hub, I ground the internals of the hub into tiny globs of black gunk. To continue on, I wired my spokes to the gears so that I could continue to ride the bike. This worked... kind of. The amount of work it took to pedal was so great that it would break the wires I used to tie the gears to the spokes. I had to redo the wire job every few days. I ended up breaking three spokes before I was able to get a replacement wheel.

There is no doubt that it was an extremely difficult expedition, however the grapes were not sour.

Sun dogs
Antartica is beautiful beyond description. The nunataks, peaks of mountains rising above the ice cap, are majestic. The parhelia, or sun dogs, were some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The sun dogs were made by a full circle rainbow around the sun, with the bottom of the rainbow just touching the polar icecap. Then there was a second rainbow a little further out that arched from one point on the horizon up and above the sun and returned to the horizon. Radiating from the middle of the sun was a halo that encircled the sky. Where this halo and the rainbows intersected is where the sun dogs would hang out.

A blanket of ice drifting
around my tent
Antartica is a frozen wasteland. But there is no "lack of interesting things to look at along the way." There seems to be an endless supply of ice drifting from the south to the north. The ice flowing in the wind would form a translucent blanket about 2 to 3 feet deep. This constant blowing ice would pile up into drifts. Then on a less windy day (there were a couple of those) the sun would harden the drifting ice. Of course the winds would return and where the drifts did not receive as much sun, and so were softer, the wind would gouge out the ice leaving behind spectacular sastrugi. While these were dangerous to bike over, especially when you could not see due to a white out, they were nonetheless spectacular. Most of the sastrugi were only a couple of feet high, but there were many that created 4 to 6 foot drops, and the largest were easily 12 feet or more high. The wind would carve some amazing shapes in the sastrugi, but the most curious one I saw looked like a penguin.
A "penguin" walking in the sastrugi.

The solitude of Antartica was wonderful. I was worried before I left that being alone for that long would be difficult, but I found it to be wonderfully peaceful. The only noise was made by me. Even the wind would not make any noise unless it was from hitting me or my gear. The peace and quiet gave me abundant time to ponder.

I am not a great world traveler, but I have been to Mexico, Chile, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the Caribbean. While each are wonderful in their own way, there is also something common about everywhere I have been. Everywhere, that is, except Antarctica. Antarctica is like nowhere else on earth.

The grapes were truly the sweetest I have ever tasted. When I first saw the South Pole Station I was so overwhelmed by joy. The joy of finally getting to the South Pole was more than worth the effort that it took to get there.

I just love to ride my bike.

1 comment:

  1. I can only have envious thoughts, but I always knew those grapes were sweet. :)


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