What a ride – at 9:21 am Dale Shippam stood at the North Pole. Who would
have thought that that would happen!!
But let me go back over the past 60 hours – We had finished up Day 9, a briliant day, but as we came into camp a storm blew in. We had intended to get up the next day and ski but the storm was unbelievable. We stayed in the tent while it blew, shook, rattled and rolled and the ground intermittently trembled.
At our usual 8 pm check in phone call – we heard from Vadim (The Russian organizer of all things Barneo, flights, choppers etc.,) that the weather was bad, closing in and we should conserve fuel. We had 2.5L at that time. Planning an 11 day trip and being told that you may be stuck on the ice for a few more days waiting for the weather to change was really actually very scary. We had a look at the food and fuel and immediately went into conservation mode. Keith and Dirk were all over it, but for me the unknown was a touch terrifying. It made me realize how incredibly small and vulnerable we were in a 6 x 8 foot tent, -20, windchill to nearly – 40, and winds > 25 mph.
Dale, reminded both Michel and I that this is what it feels like day in, day out, for someone waiting for a transplant. No control over events, vulnerable, waiting – it put a whole new perspective on things. My admiration and respect for transplant recipients and those waiting continues to grow. What we experienced was only a small fraction of what they go through day in, day out while they wait – I really can’t imagine it.
Day 10 we used no fuel during the day, tucked in, staying warm. Used minimal fuel in the evening.
Day 11 no flights, so again minimal fuel – sorting out food so we could ration what would be required if we had to hunker down for longer. Finding out that the runway at Borneo had cracked and developed a huge lead of open water…..Many calls over the course of Day 11, every 2 hours are we going – Vadim – no weather closing in; 8 am, 10 am, 12, 2 pm, 8pm, and finally 10 pm – no flights. Bad night sleep last night again wondering, worrying, waiting – at 8 am we got the call the chopper was coming for us. It took us the remaining way to The North Pole and at 921 Dale became the first heart transplant recipient to our knowledge to stand at TNP. What a feeling – impossible to describe!!!!
Ultimately we had done a Polar Century – 100 miles of skiing, over ice, snow drifts, across open water, through gale force winds, freezing temperatures and ended up within 12 miles of the Pole, but for the weather we would have made it on our own steam, nonetheless, I believe it was a stunning accomplishment for Dale. Especially after Keith said it is the worst weather he has ever seen on a Polar ski!
We then flew back to Barneo and immediately on to the Antonov 74 plane to fly back to Longyearbyen.
The team was extraordinary. Imagine spending 60 hours in a 6×8 foot space with 5 people and keeping your sense of humor and in fact actually enjoying yourself (apart from intermittent panic about departure). Keith is a cross between Grizzly Adams and a Polar Bear – setting the pace, keeping the focus, finding the path. Dirk was the sweeper – steadfast, solid with a brilliant sense of humor and pulling up the rear, picking us up, pushing our sleds through tight spaces. Dale as always never ceases to amaze me with what he is capable of. 11 years post transplant, pulling his weight, one step after another pushing the boundaries and representing transplant in the best possible way. Michel – endless energy, bouncing in and out of the tent during our 60 hour downtime, keeping things light and positive.
I must thank a number of people – Mr. Ian Delaney whose ongoing support of the program has allowed us to raise awareness on a global scale through innovative means such as this trip – Thanks Ian – we missed you out there.
The team at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and MultiOrgan Transplant Program for the dedication they show 24/7 to their work that allow the Dale’s of the world to live a full life.
To my patients you motivate me daily! Keep your spirits up and believe.
Nicole, Nona, Bill (UHN), and Kevin (Sherritt) deserve special thanks for allowing the Blog to happen.
Thanks to the Borg family, B. Gosevitz and T. Lasorda for all the help with fundraising.
Special thanks to Linda Goldsack- you rock girl.
Special thanks to TGLN for all of their support and effort to increase organ and tissue donation.
Thanks to Peter at Hofman Motors for the brilliant tire that I pulled throughout the City of Toronto, I can give it back but I am pretty sure you don’t want it!
We are safe in Longyearbyen (wouldn’t you know it that a Volcano would erupt in Iceland and delay us further) – all in all another magical spiritual experience that has left me speechless
Thanks to everyone for following our story!
…….And we are still in the tent………suboptimal weather – spirits remain great……we are waiting for the window to open so we can get going!
Woke up and yet again mother nature is being aggressive. It is clear the Arctic does not surrender her treasures easily. We are all 5 in tent – blizzard white out conditions outside – hoping for a break in the weather so we can get moving to attempt the pole.
We had some positive drift overnight so now we are at 89.47 – we are moving hugely to the west – big wind, but some of it is pulling us closer north as well.
It is too dangerous to go out in this weather because the snow drifts can mask water and soft spots.
Will touch base later.
Day 9 on the ice…..
Started out early this am trying to get the distance done…only to spend almost 4 hours to get 1.7 miles! Ice cubes, water – Dale dipped his toe in (he didn’t want to be left out) – but nothing else. He is absolutely fine.
Then things really improved and we were able to make some good time/distance. Dale led for quite a while – quote…’interesting to see the whole empty ice field right to the horizon with no tracks ahead – hoping I wont miss a soft spot’
We are at 89.45 East 129 – 15 miles left to go…..
Overall total distance covered 81.61 nautical miles
Everyone is doing well, the difference today was the cold, man was it cold – 25 plus windchill putting it down to about -40. The kind of cold that defies explanation – damp as well. We came into camp and the wind really picked up – major challenge for fingers and toes.
We are loading up tonight – bagels with salami, cheese appetizer followed by Lasagna in a pot (sorry LP and EDL)
The two polar cowboys continue to amaze finding paths through the chaos.
Hoping the wind is blowing us closer to TNP
Day 8 on the ice – Mother nature is a tease…..
We woke up – and the first thing out of my mouth, even before the eye blinds were removed, before I thought of my morning coffee – was ‘positive or negative’ – this directed at Keith my tentmate – re drift – in fact we had drifted 1 mile towards the North Pole! Excitement was palpable. We got organized and broke camp, (much oatmeal eaten this morning), and started off.
The wind picked up and the snow started. As we marched along -Mother Nature showed her true colours…..and there was water everywhere – we lost count of the leads – everywhere we looked. It was an incredible challenge. Keith went in (twice – but he is OK Stacey). We had to use the sledge as a bridge on many occasions. I managed again to put in my left foot (but just my foot). Between Keith and Dirk there is > 1500 miles of Polar experience – we have felt safe, secure and looked after the whole time.
The ice age ranges from days (one of the leads we crossed), to about 3 years old. But overall the ice extent has been steadily diminishing in size, thought to be due to global warming. Some predict in 5 years there will be summer time free ice, i.e. there will be no structure and ships will be able to pass through the northwest passage in summer. . Thankfully we have not met any animals – as we don’t want to see any Polar Bears.
Overall we travelled 9.5 nautical miles today (so our grand total is 69.3 nautical miles) so now we are…….at 89.34.0 (i.e. for every 2 miles we work we have gained 1 mile towards the pole..) and still 26 miles away…
Mother nature indeed is a cruel mistress….
We set camp and the high point of the evening was Tomato soup with shredded Parmesan cheese – yummy. Two tents – Dale, Michel and Dirk in one; Keith and myself in the other (we are the cook tent and entertainment tent). Tonight we are back to Beef Stew. We burn about 6000-8000 calories per day, between the temperature and exertion – it is hard (but fun) to keep up.
Hoping for much drift tonight.
Day 7 on the Ice
Something magical about today…….we hit our 60 nautical mile target – unfortunately we are only at 89.25 so we are still 35 miles from the Pole. We will need some positive drift and divine intervention – but at least we know we skied the distance required. From here it is all gravy. I myself spontaneously cried and all the guys looked at me like – here we go again! I remain amazed at Dale and his capacity. Steady pace throughout 8 hours of pulling.
I got to lead for a while today – nothing in my periphery but 180 degrees of magic desolate ice. It looked like an ocean had been snap frozen, with waves in progress, whitecaps, the peaks and valleys of waves of ice.
We had great ice today so overall we skied 11 miles covering 9.8 nautical miles north (not much drift today).
The sun came and went all day – temperature minus 20, no major windchill so pretty tolerable (compared to last few days). Keith almost went in the drink but managed to show impressive balance one ski on ice, and one on water……
Here’s hoping for (+) drift.