- December 04, 2008
In hindsight, we were fortunate to make it to Antarctica. Our boat had a hole pierced through the steel hull by an iceberg. Thankfully, repair efforts were successful and we were able to get to the frozen continent.
Once there, the running on Antarctica was absolutely spectacular. We ran past thousands of penguins in some of the most stunning and unique settings imaginable, turquoise ice formations and huge frozen glaciers as the backdrop.
The 4 Stages of running we were able to complete went by fairly quickly, the soft snow and restricted timeline for getting back onboard the boat making these stages rather compact endeavors. During the first three stages, I was plagued by vertigo and lightheadedness to the likes I’ve never experienced before (presumably a byproduct of the seasickness medication I’d taken on the boat journey over from Argentina). By the fourth stage, my legs were feeling less wobbly. I was really looking forward to Stage 5, the infamous ‘long stage.’ But it was not to be. Severe weather hit the night prior and we were forced to discontinue the racing after Stage 4, which was a bit of a disappointment.
But in Antarctica, you get what you can take. We were incredibly lucky to be able to hold the event at all. When the weather turns bad down here, survival is top of mind.
As far as results go, we held a small ceremony on the boat during the passage home. Paul Liebenberg, of South Africa, had the most cumulative mileage logged after 4 Stages of racing and was thus declared the winner of The Last Desert race in Antarctica. It was a pretty close race after four stages of running—just a few miles separated the top handful of competitors—but I was very glad to see Paul come out on top. He had worked so hard throughout the year to be able to complete the 4 Deserts series, he really deserved a win.
As for my performance, I managed to bag the coveted 4 Deserts Series Championship crown, my overall performance during the deserts races throughout 2008 putting me in first place. There will be an awards dinner held in San Francisco for winning this title. I’m honored to have captured this award as it was a lengthy and hard-fought battle that required consistent performance stage after grueling stage, across a multitude of climates, terrains, environments and settings. You really couldn’t have a bad race, there was just no margin for error.
That said, the 55-hour boat ride back to Argentina from Antarctica was an endurance event which paralleled any stage. The Drake Passage is one of the most treacherous waterways on earth, and it shined in all its glory for us. There are distinct bands of winds across the world’s latitudes. The equator has the ‘trade winds,’ which are fairly consistent and moderate. Moving out from the equator toward the tropics, you have the notorious ‘doldrums’ in which the wind may be nonexistent for days or weeks at a time. The doldrums are sometimes referred to as the “horse latitudes” because early sailors used to push their horses overboard with a tether line attached so that they could tow their boat out of this windless confinement. Moving further out toward the world’s poles, you have distinct latitudinal bands of wind that become progressively more intense the closer you get to the poles. First it’s the ‘roaring forties,’ then the ‘furious fifties,’ and finally the ‘screaming sixties.’ Explorers to Antarctica had a saying, “Beyond 50 degrees south there is no law, Beyond 60 degrees south there is no God.”
The wind on the boat ride home howled as if coming from an enraged Cyclopes, whipping the ocean into a frothy torrent of white and kicking up massive swells of mythical proportions. Only, there was no mythology involved, those gigantic liquid mountains outside our portholes were real. We made the crossing on a modern research vessel with all the latest technology; still, it was a harrowing experience. I couldn’t imagine what the early explorers a century ago must have gone through. During that heroic era, it’s been said that ships were made of wood and men of steel. I couldn’t agree more.
Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest, place on earth (the coldest temperature ever recorded, negative 126.8 F, was recorded on Antarctica). Because the cold receives much of the attention, the katabatic winds are sometimes overlooked. They shouldn’t be. Routinely they gust to near hurricane strength, literally flattening everything in their path. When the katabatic winds kick in, it’s time to run for cover. And after Stage 4, that’s precisely what we did.
It’s just that a boat isn’t exactly the ideal place to seek refuge. For the past two days, there’s been lots of moaning and sounds of anguish onboard as we tossed about violently like a cork in a washing machine. All of us on the ship can run, but riding out a storm in a small vessel is a different story. Never have I been so happy to place my foot on solid ground. If they ask for my suggestion on where to hold the awards banquet in San Francisco, I’m definitely not recommending a harbor cruise.
For those of you who have followed my progress throughout the year, it’s been a tremendous ride which I am both relieved and saddened to see come to a conclusion. The 4 Deserts races have been grueling, arduous, and incredibly rewarding. If you’ve ever considered a race of this format (i.e., 250 km, six-stage, self-supported), I would say give it a try, you’ll never forget the experience. Racing the Planet (the organization which hosts the 4 Deserts events) does a superb job; I have been extremely impressed with how well these races have been coordinated in some of the most remote and exotic places on earth. As exhausted as I am after completing all four races this year, I’m already eying a couple of the new deserts they’re planning on adding in Africa and Australia. Who says all good things must come to an end?
From the airport in Tierra de Fuego, Dean Karnazes heading home.
Be well.- The North Face
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