The Arctic Row crew is still sitting, waiting out the most recent storm, which is expected to peak tonight. They hope to be back at the oars tomorrow. Meanwhile, Scott took advantage of his downtime to write my blog post for me. Here’s what he had to say this afternoon:
I have been both terrified and exhilarated three times in my life. The first time was riding a bull in Durango, Colorado at an amateur cowboy training ground with my best friend, Cole Claassen. Unlike the other real cowboys in attendance, I had no desire to pursue rodeo stardom, never mind the broken ribs and head stompings that seemed required on the path to glory. Simply put, riding a bull seemed like a good idea at the time. I changed my mind in the pen, when the smallish 1800 lb monster started bucking as the rope cinched around his family jewels. In an effort to assist me, one of the cowboys leading the fiasco started kicking the bull. He spit out a plug of tobacco as he explained “this is where most people get killed, not out there in the arena, but falling off here in the pen and getting crushed to death.” I responded quickly, “I don’t think kicking him in the head is having much of a calming effect.” Right then then the gate swung open, I held on for about three seconds, jumping off at the apex of a particularly ruthless buck and hit the ground running. Looking back at the photos it appears I grabbed the bull not by the horns but by the tail as I fell to the ground — presumably for balance? I don’t know. All I know is I sprinted to the fence and dove over, bruising my rib in the process. Ironic? Perhaps. Terrifying and exhilarating? No doubt.
For brevity’s sake I will list the other two moments without as much detail: 1. paddling into 30 foot wave faces at Todos Santos with the UC San Diego surf team during a large El Niño swell and 2. participating in a Death Zone rescue on Mt. Everest with Tim Rippel of Peak Freaks fame. Both moments were terrifying and exhilarating.
On this expedition our team has encountered three frightening instances that were equal if not greater to the ones listed above. Strangely, they were not accompanied with any exhilaration, only terror. We have been reluctant to share details as we do not wish to alarm friends, family or supporters but our accountability to safety is of tantamount concern. So I believe it’s both responsible and professional to let those close to us know what’s really going on. As Collin says, “people don’t seem to understand that rowing is the easiest part of our day. It’s making smart decisions day in and day out that is the real challenge.” We all want to get to Russia before we run out of food and time. Some of us would probably chew off an appendage to make it happen. But we also want to avoid the tunnel vision that accompanies some unprecedented expeditions. With this last storm, we headed for the safety of a lagoon just in the knick of time. 8 foot waves are currently breaking in the open ocean and the wind is still blowing against us in 30 knot gusts. Bottom line, we’ve got all the harrowing footage we need. Now, we are all eager to get back to dry land in one piece. That is our number one priority.
I like to joke with the guys that a junior high girls soccer team could make this row with the right weather conditions. The northeasterly winds typical of an Arctic summer have not yet materialized. We have been rowing uphill for most of the way. Yesterday, Neal and I rowed four hours for three miles in southwest winds and swells that I did not even think was possible to move forward in…and that was before the seas even started white capping.
I would love for someone to contact Dr. Ron Kwok at JPL/NASA and/or Dr. James Morrison at washington.edu to see what the heck is going on out here (both polar weather experts we contacted prior to departure). I suspect the tough conditions have something to do with the unusually cold winter but I don’t know.
All I know is that we will continue to move forward as long as it is safe and prudent to do so.
Our philosophy is that you don’t conquer a mountain, you don’t overpower an ocean. You persevere with humble resolve. You take one step forward whenever you physically can. You keep your eyes on the horizon and your mind set on what is good and noble and pure. This is how you steal a summit. This is how you cross an ocean.
To me this is the definition of success. Inspiration is not a destination, it’s a process. And the process will continue long after this expedition is over.
Keep the prayers and positivity coming. Tomorrow morning we set out again. The south westerlies will drop to 10-15 knots and the seas will reprieve, at least down to 3-4 feet. Still an uphill battle, but it’s another step forward.
August 16, 2012
Off the northwest coast of Alaska