"Alon, if you are not stopping to paddle and talk to me right now, I am going to the nearest shore and pressing the EPIRB button!"
In one of the paddles, a simple misunderstanding turned into a little fight in which Tim, frustrated by me, threatens to end our expedition. Both of us knew it is not going to happen. We both wanted to be in Svalbard, worked hard to get there and spent a lot of money and energy on the way to be where we were: in the middle of the sea, sitting in a kayak, seeing walruses just a few minutes ago, looking at the ice floating around us. But the threat served its purpose. I stopped, “ok, lets talk”... shouting, explaining and accepting each other again, we could continue with no hard feelings.
Having those moments is part of any expedition I guess, especially when the its in a such hard and demanding environment.
Only a few days later we had to terminate the expedition.
Even now, over a week later, my back is playing with me and reminds me of that long hard day at latitude 80 north, on the ice sheets of Svalbard.
None of us wanted the trip to end as it did, so sudden in such brutal way. It was actually my call and I will try to explain it here.
The strength of anything is the strength of the weakest part of it. The disk between joints L3 and L4 in my back were the weakest element in our expedition. I can paddle! Hard, for hours, in difficult conditions, bad weather and big seas. When it comes to lifting the boats, at the end of each day, we were looking for camps positioned in such way, so carrying the kayaks will be minimal. We also emptied as much as we could before lifting and taking them to where the tent was going to be. All that to protect my back. It is pain but thats the way it is. This is one of my limitations. Maybe the biggest one when it comes to kayaking. My comfort was always that my back doesn't ache when I paddle. I can function well in the water. I might suffer an entire night, but the next morning, sitting in the kayak, I will be fine again.
I knew there was going to be ice. I also knew there was going to be boat lifting, I didn't know that I would need to carry my boat for 3.5km. If I knew that I would have said, my back is not up to it! 300 meters, 500 meters, ok, I might do it if needed, it will take time, but doable. More than one kilometer is impossible! Long time ago I decided that calling for help will be one minute before permanent damage. I might have been late this time, not able to walk more then 10 minutes without strong pain in my lower back and right leg.
The first day after the helicopter came I was asking myself if I made the right choice. Every day that passes by I am more and more positive in my decision. I can still walk – it might hurt – but I am walking. If I was to continue for one more hour, I don't know how I would feel now. I am sorry for Tim. His L3-L4 disk is fine, he could move on. I thank him for accepting and supporting my decision. We might do some other trips together one day. I now know much better who Tim is. He knows me as well. Any other trip for us will be a stroll in the park compared to Svalbard. The cold, the ice, the light 24 hours all that made this trip harder then I had before. But I could have made it, with a bit of luck, a bit less ice, less carrying of the boats. Just give me pure kayaking. That is why, although I know I made the right decision ending the expedition, I still have a bitter taste of missing out in this trip.
I hope that time will take away this feelings and my memories will be of the good, funny moments of the trip. Of me, refusing to stink and regretting having ice cold sea showers every time. Of Tim being hungry all the time – but really, all the time! Of us enjoying our real turmat meals. The fires we made to get warm, the experiments Tim did with these fires. The sms's to our girl friends, telling them how annoying the other one is... the snublublus (trip wire) we stumble on every now and then as if we were polar bears. Or the time Tim stumble on the snublublus in one hut we visited, which ours sounded like children toys compared to theirs, waking up two Norwegians at 3:30am rushing out in their underwear and a flair gun. They were sure we are polar bears.
Looking at the gees, thinking how tasty they might be, knowing we must stick to our REAL Turmat meals (the birds are protected, but fantasizing is allowed).
For a while it was hard to see the trip as anything but a hyperreal dream. The ultimate disconnect. I expected at any moment to snap awake and be in a tent, in Fabrice’s Longyearbryn apartment or even in Tirol staring down the reality of needing to set out, start, or plan. One minute a sunshine-filled, windy. ice floe. Snap. A descending chopper threatening to buffet me, my gear and the boat into the air with its downdraft. Snap. The closed-in deadend side fjord of Longyearbryn made claustrophobic with low grey clouds. And finally Snap. The deck of Amelia in the sunny wind of Oslo. So what…?? What happened? What are those tawdy details of breakdowns, angst and hardship? Was it rifle and flare gun at midnight(or nightfall, or dawn – not that any really exist in a world of 24 hour light) or did you just rush each other with your bare hands?
No it was not like that. The simple short version is a paragraph.
After asking passing ships at Welcome Point about the ice and weather. Also after our observance of a stable but occasionally foggy system. We reach an agreement to go; one that suited neither and both at once. Just past halfway the wind picked up – a lot and not from the forecasted direction. A long way from land and forward, pretty much the same as back, we continued. The ice was blown out of the fjords on to us and closer together. About two hours later we were out of the boats and dragging across ice, floes too close and no open water to paddle. After about 3k’s of that, Alon’s back had given way. Walking, not dragging, was hard for him. Continuing for him was no longer possible. The chopper came.
That’s it, or as plain as I can put it. But it’s never what you want to read. Of course, there was shouting. Not hard, hurtful, name calling, shouting, just bubbles of blank emotion rising up in the coming of terms with/discussions of the next step; all popping out into a round of sad sorrys. What about the regrets, anger of failure, and the commitment to a goal? I don’t know maybe the just blew away in the wind or something. The regret of starting the day; the maybe of we should have stayed, but to rewind to those decisions and watch yourself make the same again. The commitment and anger just fell to sadness and a realistic evaluation of a battle lost. Was this trip worth Alon losing feeling in his foot from damage to his back (This had already happened once but he regained the feeling after a couple of days)? How much should you lose before it’s ok to ask for help? A finger, an arm, a leg, or the ability to walk? Is this not what our rescue insurance was for?
For me the hardest question is, the one I’ve never been given the guide book for, what do you say to someone who cannot continue while you can?
In the end there was no bare knuckle brawls or guns at dawn. Just the exciting mundane; the calls, the organizing gear, final pictures, the odd laugh, sick jokes and a chance to take part in your very own rescue. Alon and I are still friends and know probably more about each other then we ever need to. We will still finish our site with our pictures, gear reviews and thanks to our sponsors. We will make a small video and slideshow to show to those that are interested. I guess, really, we will just continue and find our way to our next adventure.
last updated April 2009