Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Trekkie of a Different Kind

Temperature: -20.9C
Wind chill: -32.0C
Wind speed: -11.7 kts

Monday December22nd, we had a newcomer join us at Pole. His name is Todd Carmichael and he spent the last 39 days to get here. His journey was a long one, starting at the coast of the continent and working his way to the center of Antarctica, Todd was armed with only a sled full of his provisions, a couple phones, a GPS device, a pair of skis, and the determination to be the first man to not only ski to Pole from the coast, but to beat the record previously made by Hannah McKeand back in 2004!

Todd needed his determination and resolve from the very beginning. In his mind, he had his trip split up in three different sections. The first being the distance from 80S to 82S, the second was from 82S to 88S, and the last leg 88S to 90S. Within the first several miles, Todd lost both his skis. His bindings broke, but he decided to continue on. The previous year, he had joined a group of people trying to do the same trek, but weather was one of the obstacles that kept him from finishing his goal. This year he didn’t let his skis stop him. The weather did worsen for him, and while he was trying to set up his tent in gale force winds, one of the tent poles flew up and broke his goggles. This was a bigger problem for Todd than for most…this pair of goggles were his prescription pair.

As if this wasn’t enough, Todd’s hand that he had been dealt was stacked against him further with a couple more tough cards. A little further into his journey, he negotiated not just one, but three crevasses that gave out on him while he was trying to cross over them. At this point, one would have all the sympathy in the world for Todd if he chose to turn back and try the trek another day. Todd, on the other hand, was determined to see this trek through to the end, and he didn’t want to try and negotiate the area of crevasses again, so he pressed on. Further into his journey he realized that he had caught up to the pace of the previous record holder and his resolve strengthened with that knowledge, as well as with the phone calls back home to his wife and family. Another tough card was in his hand, though, when both of his phones and his GPS died on him. At this point, all he had to guide him was dead reckoning with the help of a compass, and the idea that once he got to Pole, all his troubles were behind him. Back home, his wife and family lost contact with him when the phones went down, but he had told everyone that he would arrive at the station on the 21st, Argentina time, which was Monday the 22nd South Pole time, so she had it set in her mind that she would hear from him then.

During his journey, Todd used his sled as a companion, as he had no one else with him. His sled, he refers to as the pig (as the sled with all the provisions started out weighing about 250 pds.), provided someone for him to talk to, as well as to try to motivate to help Todd pull his burden of provisions.

(at one end of the pig is the compass he used when his GPS failed)

Naturally, a lot of people hearing this story couldn’t help but think of “Wilson” in Castaway, and given the circumstances, it made all the sense in the world. Todd had a couple more cards to get through. He had it set in his mind that he was going to break the land record and he had brought enough food to last him through that time. He was a few days away from Pole, and he realized that his fuel container for his heater had ruptured, and contaminated his food supply. All he really had left at this point was water. He could, however, see the station in the distance, so he kept pushing forward, towards Pole. He figured he was about 5 miles away from the station when he realized he didn’t have the strength to continue pulling his sled, and it took a lot of deliberation before he finally unclipped himself from it, and made the all-or-nothing walk the last few miles. When he made it to our ski way, he stayed on one side of it until a couple of Polies, John and Leah, made their way out to him.

He was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to his sled, but the sled was brought closer to the station, and Todd made it to the South Pole marker, beat the previous ski record, and started the process of getting some food into his system.

All told, Todd started his trek at 230 pds, travelled over 600 nautical miles, dealt with all the roadblocks, and arrived at South Pole 39 days later, weighing 178 pds. He has frostbite on his face and toes, but what really concerned the medical staff here was the damage the cold air did to his lungs. They put him on an anti-inflammatory medication that has helped him out a lot, and the feeling is that there will be no permanent damage either to his lungs or from the frostbite.

(Wayne and Ella with Todd the day of his departure, Christmas morning)

Todd was up in the galley this morning and hit each of the meals. I got to talk to him for a while, and we talked about his treks, my diving, as well as my time in the Corps, and even talked about what instrument I am going to learn how to play while I’m down here! Todd is a fascinating individual to talk to. He has been going on these treks for a while now, and has crossed all of the deserts, and can finally check Antarctica off his list. His next challenge?….he has enjoyed life as much as he possibly can, but he wants to relive it again, and what better way to do that than through the eyes of a child. He and his wife are going to adopt a girl, and go through some first times…again.

I can’t do his story justice since I spent the last 39 days in a heated station with movies and very slow internet capability, but please visit his blog. He sent daily updates back to his brother, who updated the blog for him while he and the pig were making history! His website is:

You never really know what your day is going to hold down here, but it never winds up just being a typical day! Best of luck to you Todd!!

Capt. Splash

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