89th Degree

Two days ago, New Years Day, my heels were in agony and I could no longer ski. I took my skis off to try walking. My feet were numb, like blocks of concrete. I stumbled and fell, got up, staggered, and fell again. I could go no further. As the rest of the team rallied round I crawled to the end of my sledge, sat down and looked into a chasm of despair. And then I cried, hot tears steaming up my goggles, closing me off from the world.

Something stirred in me then. Something I rarely see. I got up, reattached my sledge and edged one foot forwards, then the other, counting each tentative step. The sole of my right boot came away but I ignored it and carried on. Reciting the alphabet, first forwards, then backwards. Singing, stray lines from songs between big gulps of air, always moving till finally I reached our camp.

That was two days ago. This morning we crossed the 89th Parallel, a popular starting point for people who wish to walk the last 60 Nautical miles to the pole. I try to imagine I'm one of them, in good health, fully fed and keen to ski the 'Last Degree'. But the image doesn't last long. We've hauled over 1000km for 54 days to reach this point, we have lost a lot of weight, we look awful and we smell.

Now, as I sit in the tent, massaging Arnica Oil into my heels and tending to my sloughing soles, I accept my last degree will be a mountain. Yet not even death itself will stop me from reaching its summit.

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