No Matter What, Keep Smiling

As many of you will know, I have just returned from two weeks in Norway. The plan had been to ski from Finse, on the edge of the Hardangervidda, down to Hellevassbu and then back (distance of about 500 km).

Sadly, my skis were not loaded onto the plane at London, a delay that cost me two days. Worse, the region was hit by a number of storms which reduced visibility to almost zero and made travel dangerous. Coupled with thick mountain mists and very deep, soft snow I was forced to adjust the overall distance planned. In the end I managed to cover about 250 km in eight days and a half days.

To be honest, I am fairly happy with the mileage I got out of this small expedition. The conditions made the journey more draining than last year's trip to the North Pole (I mean that). Pulling a 70kg pulk through snow drifts, some knee deep, was hard work. Each night I slept sound in my sleeping bag (except the night i forget to zip up the fly sheet - a mistake I discovered in the morning).

And there's another reason for the big smile on my face - I found away to keep the loneliness and doubts at bay.

This is no big secret, but before I go on I'll explain a little about positive thinking (a practise I don't believe in).

For many years, gurus and scientists have produced books and seminars showing how you can propel yourself to success using only the power of positive thoughts. You know what I mean - visualise yourself achieving your goals, picture your perfect future, and it will all come to be. Once you've planted the seed in your mind those clever neurons will find a way to make it happen.

There's only one problem - it doesn't work!

And why not?

Because of this...

Our Lazy Brains

Really, I mean - my brain is lazy and so is yours. That lump of grey matter in your head will do all it can to find a way to make life a little easier.

Here's how it works:

Scientists have found that visualisation can be an effective means to motivating us to complete the challenges we take on. Imagining a desired outcome should motivate our brains to achieve. Sadly the human brain doesn't really recognise the difference between imaging and doing. By simply picturing your wishes you make you mind think you have already completed what you set out to do. In other words, there is no longer any motivation for you to continue striving for what you want.

But more recently traditional thinking has been turned on its head. You see, the visualisation process works, but instead of simply imagining myself achieving a result you have to picture yourself going through the process - imagine the potential problems you could encounter and then mentally rehearse overcoming them. And it does work.

There is one little issue - the problem of the here and now. Often we'll find ourselves bogged down in some difficult or arduous situation and it becomes all to easy to give in; our willpower flags and before you know it we have surrendered. And that's something none of want to do.

So what is the trick?

A simple smile. Really! Putting a huge smile on your face and, instead of telling yourself, 'I can do this', you say, 'I am doing this.'

This little mind hack works. There were a number of times during my Norway ski where I found myself exhausted. I was sometimes knee deep in soft snow as I dragged a 70kg pulk over the mountainous terrain of the Hardangervidda. This alone was enough to drag me down into what felt like an inescapable pit. It was during these lows that I recalled Richard Wiseman's advice in '59 Seconds' - smile and you'll instantly feel your spirit lift.

The advice Wiseman gives is counter to the old adage of think good thoughts and instead focusses on acting to promote good vibes. Research by Wiseman and his peers has shown that by forcing yourself to smile you trick your mind into believing you are happy. Sounds crazy, but it worked for me as it did for  many of the subjects of his experiments.

Obviously feeling good doesn't remove the feelings of fatigue. What it does do is squeeze out any doubts you may have in your mind - there's simply no time or room for negative thoughts.

And this is one very powerful method I used when times looked bleak or when my blisters started to complain.

Crazy as it may seem, lifting up your head and letting a huge grin spread across your face could mean the difference between success and failure.

Try it.

Toby's Story

I've been away for a while! The last four months have been a busy time during which I have planned for both the Norway 350 and South Pole solo. Important stuff, but trivial when compared to the reasons why I will completing these two treks. As many of you are aware, I will be raising awareness of, and for funds for, Soundabout.org.uk and Meningitis Now. It's important to give an insight into the critical and vital work both organisations do, and the support they provide. To achieve this aim I made a request to one of the parents of a young boy who was left profoundly disabled by Meningitis. The reply blew me away! I hope it will do the same to you.

Instead of listening to me, please read on and take some time to see into the life of Toby and his family.

Toby was born on 29 April 2008, Andy and I were thrilled, terrified and extremely excited all at the same time at the arrival of our first child, our perfect baby boy. He was born a very healthy 7lb 8 oz and thrived for the first 8 months of his life, Andy and I learnt ‘on the job’ as all first time parents do.

Our lives were turned upside down on the night of 30 December 2008. Toby had been unwell, with a heavy cold the days prior to this and we had even taken him to the local A&E the previous day as he was not himself. We were visiting family over the Christmas period so away from our local GP services. Toby was checked and sent home but then that night the devastation on Pneumococcal Meningitis and Septicaemia attacked our baby.

Toby was raced into A&E again and fought desperately for his life. With a huge amount of medical intervention he survived. We were transferred immediately up to The Evelina hospital in London where Toby spent over a week in Intensive Care and a further month in hospital back in Oxford after that.

Toby now has many challenges, he has Cerebral Palsy and is in a wheelchair. He has Cortical Visual Impairment, Hearing Impairment, Epilepsy and is non verbal. There are countless things that Toby can’t do but despite this he has developed hugely over the last 8 years in his own special way and is learning a little bit of independence. As parents we have had to come to terms with the loss of our perfect healthy baby and become ‘an Army’ for our little boy that survived this cruel disease. We as a family, and Toby, have to fight for everything, nothing in the world of Special Needs is easy or straight forward and EVERYTHING comes with a huge price tag.

Meningitis Now have however helped us enormously, when the words ‘Special needs’ is added to anything the cost rockets sky high and sadly the equipment that Toby requires is never ending and funding form the Government and Councils is ever decreasing. Meningitis Now have funded essential counselling for Andy and I, a wonderful off road wheelchair/bike trailer for Toby as well as helping with funds for our essential house renovation to enable Toby to live comfortably at home and be a part of the family. Most recently they also helped to part fund the payment of our Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle.

Toby and us have also been fortunate enough to get to know the wonderful team at Soundabout. They have known Toby for over 7 years and have provided much fun through music therapy. They help children express themselves and learn to communicate using their own sounds. They have given us the confidence to allow Toby to be himself and express himself and have a wonderful way of including all the family, not only parents but siblings too.

Toby is thriving in his own little way, through the help of these charities hopefully he, his friends and all those who are in similar positions to us will continue to do so.

There can be no finer endorsement than one given by those who depend on the help and support of these amazing charities, don't you agree.

Thank you for your time and expect regular updates on progress, awareness days, fundraising and more.

What I'm Planning to do in 2017

You know what's like: you've recently finished an amazing journey and you head back to the office, full of life and stories. Within weeks the disillusionment starts to set in and you look for ways to get back out into the wilds. So I posed the question, "What next?" And I came up with this - a full distance, solo, unsupported and unaided ski to the South Pole. Nothing like going big.

Start date will be November 2017 (lots of planning and funding to raise hence announcing now; 17 months before I set off). Distance is about 683 miles and one I'm aiming to complete in under 30 days (there, said it so now there's no going back on the timeframe).

In between now and the South Pole I'm planning a shorter 350 mile through Norway. This will allow me to test gear, work on skiing skills and validate my fitness levels.

I think that's all for now. I'm for a pork pie (valuable calories...).

One more request: I've set up a page but, due to changes made by FaceBook I can't change the @ handle until I have 25 Likes. Can everyone that sees this message share it across their list of friends, Like the page and ask their mates to do the same? Thank you all. Here's the page:

https://www.facebook.com/North-By-South-2017-1389085037774023/

What is the Lifespan of Your Dreams?

Happy little dreamer.Top view of happy little boy in pilot headwear and eyeglasses lying on the hardwood floor and smiling while wooden planer and briefcase laying near him Picture this: you’re standing on the tailgate of a C130 Hercules flying at just over 10000 feet. The smell of vomit is faint now, whipped away by the blast of air that accompanied the opening of the huge ramp. On your back is a parachute and strapped to your legs is a rucksack that weighs about the same as a teenage child. Your rifle is tied to your body, the metal length sheathed in canvas.

The lamps – traffic lights for airborne troops – switched from red to green. A thumbs up from the dispatcher and you leap. And what a jump it is.

Memories of your first freefall descent are mashed and mingled with a rush of adrenaline and mental checks as you plummet towards Earth. This is good. Better – this is the pinnacle of your dreams. Once more you are at the apex of personal ambition.

And then you land.

Reality reminds you that, even though your body may ache and complain, there is still a job to be done.

A few years back you’d never considered the thought of growing older and even about your ability to continue meeting the physical demands of an arduous life. Now it's very different. You feel the bone jarring landing and a little voice in your head makes its presence known.

In a few years that constant companion in your mind will be loud enough to acknowledge: the dream is over – time to hand back your parachute and leave the hard life behind. Thanks for your time – you are now a has-been!

Wow! That cuts deep. Your dreams were real for a time and now they are about to be consigned to the ‘once upon a time’ box of memories you carry inside you.

Regardless of background we are all susceptible to the decline that come with age. Disease, injury and, most notably, death, have a cruel habit of taking the train set of our dreams – that labour of love you build in the garage or spare room of your head– and smashing it against the wall.

Now you stand amongst a scene of utter carnage. The locomotive, a powerhouse fueled by your own drive and belief, lies wrecked and broken. Carriages, containers each carrying echoes of your past desires and future hopes, are broken, crushed by Mother Nature's huge fist.

Worse, the track – the path you had chosen and built – is buckled and twisted with no hope of repair.

So that was life. It was fun for a time, but now you've succumbed to the inevitable. All you have left is a few memories, maybe a box of souvenirs and most notable of all the aches and grumbles nestled in your bones and muscles. Your dreams are at an end.

Wait! Rewind, please. Yes, we are all in agreement: the body declines and those lofty goals we once set and achieved are now passed on to the next generation, but you still have so much to give.

Your mind is a well of experience and one ripe for tapping. Memories can be molded, repurposed into cautionary tales and stories. Or better, insights made into the great things we can achieve when mind and body work in unison and towards a common goal. Rather than inspiring by doing, we mentor and nurture with the skills we have learned and honed over the years.

There are countless children out there in need of a guiding hand to help see them through the tough times. Take your knowledge of the arduous and what it takes to overcome, wrap the lessons learned in your life and fashion them into a form to be consumed, digested and acted upon. Make those who need help understand the power of they already carry inside them.

Time moves fast and has no respect for your dreams – the ticking hand of the clock and the passing of years are nothing more than a reminder of how fast your life will rush by. Those seconds, minutes and hours are also the lifespan of your dreams – almost endless. And even after the inevitable day comes your dreams will live on in the mind, body and values of those people you chose to nurture.

Now put yourself back on the tailgate and ask where all of this is going to lead: a few years of fun following only your dreams, or a lifetime in which you bring on the next generation and help them to reach those pinnacles you've have already visited?

The North Pole Lies Below

So, I am here: the North Pole. Last night we camped about half a mile away from the geographic North Pole and slept. This morning we woke and skied one hundred and fifty metres to the point where this is no latitude, no longitude - masses of man made lines converging into a single point.

How does it feel? Amazing and, above all else, a privilege. Out of around seven billion people in this planet only a few hundred have visited this place. Less have skied any significant distance to stand at the top of the world. I am one of a few who now have experienced the serenity and perfection of this barren and beautiful region.

Soon I will ski away from this thing that has for so long been just a dream. I will be picked up by a Russian helicopter and flown to Barneo ice station and then on to Svalbard. The Pole may be behind me, but the memories and images will remain with me until my final day.

I thank you all for following this leg of my path. I will post a series of photos when I return and look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.

Until then...

Chicken Curry and Random Thoughts on Polar Exploration

Cracking day - 21.52 km covered. Terrain was a little more forgiving than in recent days - only a couple of small pressure ridges to cross - and the snow has a hard crust making travel faster. Current latitude is 89 degrees 43 minutes 8.5 seconds. What that means is: less than 17 nautical miles to the North Pole!

So there are now only two days left before this journey ends... assuming the weather doesn't turn into a whiteout, trapping us in the tent for several days. I have mixed feelings: sadness and elation.

I'm sad because, in a way, this journey feels like it has only just started. I've developed a routine for life in a tent, for skiing at two hour stretches and taking food breaks where necessary. That process has only just been hammered out and solidified into one I don't have to think about - the steps are now a habit, and one I will soon discard until my next, bigger journey.

There is a sense of melancholy over the fate of the Arctic ice. The increasing instability and rate at which the polar ice cap fractures and melts may preclude future expositions to this beautiful place. If this is the case then the world will be a much poorer place.

Putting aside my sadness, I look forward to arriving at the pole, drinking a small bottle of whisky and taking a number of promised photographs. More than the end point, I can't wait to have a shower (there is a slightly less glamorous side to trekking and one I'll leave to your imagination). I want to hug my children. And I want to start planning the next trip.

Now you'll have to excuse me - my freeze dried chicken curry awaits, as does my hot grape juice.

I'll have one more update for you all and will post from the North Pole.

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Crossing the 89th Degree and More

There are small moments in life; there are big moments in life. For me, crossing the 89th degree was both: symbolic yet a small step on the way to the North Pole. Crossing the 89th was a momentous occasion as it demonstrated the resolve required to travel this far. Climbing twelve foot high pressure ridges and dragging a pulka over the same obstacle is physically demanding and many of those ice formations have been crossed to reach the 89th degree. And there in lies the symbolism - an acknowledgement of all we have achieved so far.

But boundary; this crossing from one time zone to another is a small step along the way. There will be many more pressure ridges. Vast plains of thin ice lie ahead and will be given a wide berth (an act that will possibly add miles to the journey). Open stretches of water will cut from left to right and may require us to swim across the gap and set up a pulley system for our pulkas. And then there are the fields of ice rubble that force constant changes in direction, adding miles to the trek! Now you understand why the 89th is also only a small step.

And now the journey is over halfway complete. Shortly after midday, just before hauling gear over a monstrous pressure ridge, we crossed 89 degrees and 20 minutes latitude. Another mini celebration and then on to an expanse of deep snow lay on top of freshly formed ice!

Distance covered today: 16.4km

Mood: upbeat, but tired.

Now I'm going to get my eight hours of sleep in preparation for another hard day

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Porridge and butter for breakfast!

Last night a handful of skiers boarded an Antonov 74 at Svalbard airport and flew the three hour journey into Barneo and temperatures of minus 27 C. Unpacked, kit ready to go, we have a quick brief and were flown out onto the ice. Conditions have deteriorated and the many open stretches of water now make achieving the full two degrees unlikely. Instead the distance will be 1 degree and twenty minutes (about 90 miles).

I am disappointed, but this change reflects the fragile nature of the arctic ice.

After a short ski of one and a half hours, we put up tents and caught up on much needed sleep.

This morning I had porridge and butter for breakfast, a hot toddy and chocolate. Bliss.

Today's ski will be broken down into four one and a half hour sessions, the aim being to cover about fifteen kilometres.

Aside from the landing and watching the helicopter leave yesterday, one of the most amazing aspects of this place is the utter silence and Covina the North Pole. There is an almost perfect nothingness that pervades the atmosphere (bar the polar bear tracks detected by the guide, Audun).

Sad to say, even the sound of skis on ice is like a pollutant in this serene place.

On that note, I will leave you to your thoughts.

Next update in a few days times.

Leaving Svalbard Tomorrow

  At least - we have the green light!

After eleven days and many false starts the news is we fly tomorrow, 13th April 2016!

The is a huge sense of excitement in the air and the various teams are ready to go. But there is an issue : the original plan to trek from the 88th degree to the north pole is effectively dead due to the conditions on the ice. Many stretches of open water have been seen by the Russian aircraft crews during their flights over the region. Adding in the recent delays there is now no chance of walking the intended route.

Instead, we will ski from the 89th degree to the north pole. When we arrive at the 90th degree we will turn around and head back to the 89th. Not ideal and a departure from the original plan, but Mother Nature and, probably, global warming have played their respective hands.

So disappointment turns to a racing pulse. Tonight I will go to bed early, sleep and rise at 0600 to load my pulka onto the plane.

Next update will come from on the polar ice.

Until then, here's some huskies ready for the off during a recent race, Trapper's Trail, held every year on Svalbard.

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Update from Svalbard...

I've now been in Svalbard for four days. During that time I have packed gear and prepared for my upcoming trip. There have been some delays due to the ice runway cracking: this meant heavy aircraft carrying supplies and equipment were unable to land. The temperature at the north pole had dropped to about minus 42 C and the runway was repaired by the Russian team at Barneo. The flight in is now scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, a delay of a day and a half.

Here in Svalbard, the lowest temperature was in the mid minus twenties (balmy when compared to the north pole).

I have now acclimatised to the cold weather and am now more than happy wearing only a t-shirt, one fleece, and a shell jacket (plus hat and big gloves)!

Over the last couple of days I have taken my equipment out for a test run, practised erecting the tent I will be living in and perfecting the art of lighting an MSR stove aka the flame thrower.

Now I have a little time for reflection on the events that led to this day. After,I'll be working on mentally preparing for the journey ahead.

Future images will be smaller as my satellite communications system is low bandwidth and prevents larger images from being sent.

 

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