Dispatches From the South Pole, Entry 10: How Does It Feel to Be Back?

Posted by: Geoff Gloeckler on January 9, 2012

After 39 days on the ice, the Polar Vision team made it to the South Pole on January 3. As the team members begin to re-acclimate to ‘normal’ life, we have asked each to give us a recap of the experience. The first of these comes from Richard Smith.

Photo courtesy of Polar Vision.

“How does it feel to be back?” I have been asked that question so many times by friends and family.

The truth is, it’s all still sinking in.

We were in Antarctica for a long time, and despite our best efforts to reflect on what we were doing and to ‘savor the moment’, most of the time we had jobs to do. It could have been putting up the tent, eating, dressing blisters, sleeping, striking the tent, or grinding out the miles on our skis. We got into a pretty good routine especially by the end. Everyone knew their roles and we got quite efficient, but we were always thinking about the next thing we had to do.

Now that we have stopped, the enormity of the challenge is becoming evident. I’m constantly reminding myself how great it is to have the ‘luxuries’ of life available to me: hot instant coffee, a warm bed, a flushing toilet, food that doesn’t taste like punishment, even something as basic as a chair to sit on. These may not necessarily sound like luxury items, but when you don’t have them you really learn to value and appreciate the little things. I have made a mental note to myself to try and keep this sense of perspective as I return to the rhythm of ‘normal’ life.

A lot of people have said that they are very impressed with what we managed to do and often this is accompanied by a declaration of "I could never do that." This is something I though a lot about. I often wondered both before and during the expedition whether I could do this, and I was never really entirely that convincing in my self-reassurance, but the strength and momentum of the team means you 'just do'. The challenges were great--and more so for Alan given his sight loss--but that never meant that completion was impossible.

To make everything more manageable, we had to break the trip down into stages: fundraising, getting to Antarctica, the first day, the first week, the first and second resupply points. Each one of these was a milestone in their own right, a cause for celebration and a source of encouragement for the next.

The discomfort was great, but not unbearable. You never allowed it to be unbearable because you usually had a job to do in order to keep the day moving forward. By way of example, it's strange that the minor pains in the feet seem that much more annoying now that I have stopped compared to when I was skiing. You just put up with the pain out there.

Alan's presence and attitude on the trip was a great example. He has far greater challenges that most of us, but he never complained, never sought an excuse, he pushed on. His strength gave us all strength.

So to answer to the question "How does it feel to be back?", I'm still trying to articulate a response. I think what I feel is some mix of relief, pride, humility, and confidence. One thing I do know is that I'm glad we decided to subtitle the trek "Seeing Beyond Limits", as that is what I have been able to do and I am very grateful to Alan and the rest of the team and supporters for helping me do that.

In late September we introduced you to team Polar Vision, Alan Lock, Richard Smith, and Andrew Jensen, three recent MBA grads who are trekking to the South Pole to raise awareness for visual impairment. While on their journey, the team will be filing periodic blog posts. This is their tenth post.

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