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Monday, August 26, 2013
MainstreamLastFirst "Pulling Together" ends their 2013 expedition half-way in Cambridge Bay
The novelty has now officially worn off being wet and cold…. The misery I/ spoke about before is now just miserable! The good news is that we are within reach of the end point where a warm shower and a bed are on the cards. Its a funny thing, I am trying so hard not to wish away the last few days. I know my bed will be there waiting for me in four days or fourteen but I may never be back in this harsh but wonderful place. Trying to stay in the moment is very difficult. We sent the best part of 2 years putting this expedition together and I spent every waking moment looking forward to it.. What the hell was I thinking! I suppose when I have time to reflect on the trip once its all done and dusted I will forget the rough times.
When I’m on the oars I’m constantly thinking about the pleasures of home, these guys are awesome and I have made friends for life (I’m not sure what the lads would say about that!!) but 70 days in total in the constant company of three hairy, and now very smelly men is just starting to get old. Myself and Paul were trying to work out how long it would take for friends to clock up the hours that we have all clocked up in each others company. There is not much about these guys I don’t know now. If I was to try and sum them up, Kevin is an academic trapped in an adventurers body, Frank would have been right at home driving a dog team in the late 1800′s, Paul is a record keeper constantly taking notes in his little diary, and I’m not sure what I am apart form bloody freezing, hungry and exhausted!
The funny thing is that every time we think we are making progress and start planning forward something happens to stop us in our tracks, like literally as I type this I hear the lads talking about the fresh water supply… its basically become contaminated with sea water.. So now the priority has changed from charging on to Cambridge Bay to looking for a creek on the shore to fill some water tanks from, talk about a curve ball… right thats me off to find some water I suppose…… did I mention I’m cold?
One of the habits the late Stephen Covey speaks about in his best selling book 7 habits of highly effective people is “beginning with the end in mind”. This simple but in my opinion highly effective idea is something I use in my own life and often discuss with clients.
After 2 days of stormy winds, we got going again today and I think we were all definitely beginning this morning with the end in mind. This has been an incredible experience so far but I know I am ready to get this done now and get to Cambridge Bay. We were chatting about this earlier today and we’re all on the same page.
Depending on the weather, we’re anything from 2 to 5 days out. At this stage, we should know better not to try and plan how long anything up here will take but with the end so close it’s hard not to. The temperature has dropped off a bit over the last few days so a real bed, a hot shower and a warm meal sound very appealing right about now….
The walls of the tent are shaking and shuddering violently. Several strong gusts push the tent fabric right down upon us, the tent poles giving way to the extreme force. The guy wires are as taught as cables and prevent the poles from breaking, large stones hold down the perimeter of the fly and help keep us stuck to the ground. Can our tent survive this pounding? Clearly our storm has built way beyond a gale.
We sail into our current camp on a strong southwesterly that literally pushes us faster than we can row. By cranking the rudder away from land and then letting the on-shore wind do its thing we move along at a comfortable 5kmph running exactly in the direction we want to go. Rowing the Arctic Joule requires pointing the bow more towards shore – the forward propulsion pushing her away from land – and produces an inconsistent movement that before long has us correcting course, heading in and out. The back and forth proves slower than doing absolutely nothing at all. It’s bizarre and it’s magic, the arctic giving us a freebee for the moment.
Our joy ride lasts about an hour until the wind swiftly changes direction and hints at the big nasty that awaits us. It’s our cue to hit shore.
The beach is moderately steep and we haul The Arctic Joule as high up on it as we can. There are no large boulders to anchor our pulley so we fill our large packs with gravel and use them as dead weight to haul by. It’s a gap stop solution but its all we can do. The Arctic Joule weighs over 2000lbs and doesn’t manhandle easily.
Our storm builds and so does the surf. The Arctic Joule begins to get pounded. We’re genuinely concerned that the boat could work itself loose and be blown out to sea. The wind blows off-shore and an unanchored Joule would be carried away as swiftly as a feather in the wind. We put ourselves on a round-the-clock monitoring vigil until the wind dies down.
I write this blog from the vestibule of our 6-person tent. It’s the middle of the night (my less-than-ideal shift of 4am-6am is the result of a loosing score in our evening game of hearts) and the wind is howling all around me. Every few minutes I visually check on the boat, every hour I check on the guy lines of the tent. The updated forecast is for sustained 55KN winds (100kmph) with gusts potentially 40% greater.
I have a steaming cup of soup in my lap, my journal in my hand and my shotgun at my side. It all feels strangely familiar to me now.
(Oops... if they cannot draw correct after a month of rowing how could they actually do it? BACKWARDS says it all.)
It’s 2am as I settle into the small vestibule – it’s a snug little front area separate to the main part of the tent which offers a view of the beached boat about 100 yards away, through the small air vents. Surrounded by our cooking equipment, dry suits, shot gun and a few other essentials I make myself a hot coffee. Between the coffee, the vestibule and my 5 layers of clothing, it’s not too cold. The 3 lads are in their sleeping bags; I decide to throw on a pot of noodles to accompany the coffee. Frank did the first watch from midnight to 2am so now it’s my turn.
We’re on land and have beached the boat. Originally we received a gale warning which was subsequently upgraded to storm force. We’re in the middle of 55 knot winds (about 100km an hour) and gusting higher. We’ve used 3 separate anchor points to secure the boat as best we can. We agree to maintain a watch throughout the night as there is a huge amount of tension on the anchor lines. The tent is also under enormous pressure from the power of the ferocious wind.
As the Arctic Joule is being slapped about by the thrashing waves, it rocks the anchor points. We’ve used hundreds of pounds of rocks and loose stones (packed into bags) to add more stability but there is still the risk (hopefully a small one) that the lines could snap and the boat gets swept out to sea such is the pressure Mother Nature is exerting on her. So maintaining a watch all night is a must.
The order of the watch is decided over a game of hearts. Frank won and opts for the first shift, I was second and so follow him with Kevin next and Denis taking the last shift from 6am to 8am.
Personally I believe a certain amount of tension or stress is healthy. I think it enables growth and performance in so many ways. Like exercising for example, pushing the body and putting it under stress when we train. Combine this with adequate rest periods for recovery and the body becomes stronger, fitter and healthier.
We certainly have plenty of tension in our little world tonight as we watch over the boat while also hoping that the tent poles don’t snap in the stormy winds – no doubt this is serious stuff.
Every 5 to 10 minutes, I peer out the vent to make sure the boat is still there. I then go back to my chosen activity to pass the time which tonight is writing. I’m actually really enjoying this time jotting down notes, thoughts, ideas and whatever else comes to mind. At 3am, I go down to the boat to check the lines. I bring the shot gun with me in case I stumble upon a grizzly – highly unlikely but no harm in being safe.
The temperature is below freezing tonight, it’s dark, we’re in the middle of an Arctic Storm, I’m carrying a loaded shot gun for protection and the boat is under serious pressure from Mother Nature. All in all we’re in a very exposed position but yet I find myself actually enjoying this. Am I a bit odd, maybe a touch adventurous or perhaps its just easy to enjoy a situation like this when you feel you have things under control (or at least as much control as is possible in this situation).
At 4am I go out again to check the lines before Kevin takes over – all good and secure. I join the lads in the tent and climb into my sleeping bag and quickly nod off to the sound of the howling wind and the flapping of the tent. Another interesting day in the Arctic…….