So after a polar training course in Norway the plans changed, no longer was I going for a last degree ski, now I couldn’t shake the idea of a full trip from coast to pole. I had not expected that so was determined not to make any rash decisions. I gave myself a couple of months post course to let the excitement and feeling of euphoria from that pass and see if the idea had still stuck. It had… in fact it had expanded. Not only was I going to go on a coast to pole trip, I was going to kite ski back!
No, I had never kite skied before, no, I had never been to Antarctica before but I figured I was only going to be able to afford to do this once so why not make the most of it. It meant any trip would be the end of 2017 at the earliest but I could wait….
2016 flew by, training continued, I did the Salcantay trek to Machu Pichu with my dad and learnt how to fly a kite on Camber Sands and I met Hywel on the side of a mountain in Wales in December. It was also the year that we discovered my friend’s initial breast cancer diagnosis. I remember it vividly. A lunch in November with a group of friends before I flew off to New York. At that point, the outlook was positive, a lump which she had caught quickly and all that was required was a simple lumpectomy and some radiotherapy. Of course that changed pretty rapidly and by Christmas chemo was a reality.
2017 was upon us in a flash, I walked the South Downs Way on successive weekends, went back to Wales to meet Hywel on the side of a mountain for the second time and then we had our first actual date on the South Downs Way. The next thing I knew it was off back to Haugastol to learn how to kite ski!
That was a wonderful and terrifying week. Suddenly the trip was becoming a reality and despite Carl’s constant yelling “relax” over the wind, it took me until pretty much the last day to do just that. I had a great time although I am not sure I loved it just yet. That came on the second trip a month later.
The plan was a few days practice and then a few days and nights out pulling the sleds and camping. The first few days were great. I had not forgotten anything from the month before and started to get a better feel for the skiing element. I began to believe it was possible!
We didn’t have much luck with the mini-expedition (probably an understatement), delayed departure due to a storm and then once we got out it was just to camp by the side of the road across the plateau, stormed in the tent for 2 days. We finally got out with the kites on Friday morning. Light winds meant flying a big kite before lunch and I struggled to keep moving and get the kite working but post break everything started to come together… until it didn’t……
Suddenly I was in the air and then being dragged along the ground having lost control of my left ski and then the kite. To quote Carl “As long as you kept screaming I at least knew you were alive….” When I came to a stop I just lay there. Not really knowing what to do. A quick body scan determined everything was still attached, my head was good and I wasn’t bleeding. My knee felt a little off though.
By the time Carl got to me and got me on the sleds (all of 1 minute later) my left knee was pretty swollen. Skiing to the road was not going to happen, so in the middle of the shock and knee trauma Carl got me out of there by sitting me wrapped in many down layers on two sleds strapped together and kite skiing me to Tuva waffle hut. Then after the obligatory waffles and hot chocolate it was off to the road via skidoo. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed being pulled along on my sleds and the skidoo. Apparently I had a big grin on my face as I was being helped off the skidoo.
Now, I am adventurous by a lot of people’s standards but I am on the cautious side of adventurous and I have always done my big trips guided. My “rescue” experience only confirmed that approach for me. Carl was calm, efficient and with local knowledge and contacts had me back at the road which was many kilometres away in under 2 hrs. An hour after that I had been to a GP and a bad sprain had been diagnosed.
That diagnosis got me home but from Hywel’s face when he picked me up at the airport I am not sure anyone was buying it, even when my GP said the same thing.
Either way physio was going to be required so I booked myself in with a consultant to decide on the best course of treatment. What followed was a series of consultant and surgeon appointments each one giving me a steadily worse diagnosis, the final count – a fully ruptured ACL, Grade 2 tears in my medial and lateral ligaments and a lateral meniscus torn at its attachment point and no Antarctica that year. Instead it was time for 3 months of pre-surgery physio, 5 hours of surgery followed by 6 weeks of no weight bearing on my left leg and then another 9 months of physio…. My chances of getting to Antarctica at all were looking pretty grim at this point!