Without exception every expedition I have ever taken part in has involved making tough decisions and the ability to keep going when your feeling low, in physically pain, near exhaustion and where every step takes a mammoth amount of emotional and physical effort.
Einstein once said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”. And he’s right, it’s the ability to pick yourself up again and again that eventually leads to success, rather than any magical skills, high intellect, or super human strength. For me I simply have the ability to put one foot in front of the other whilst strapped to a heavy sledge, even when hope is out of sight that has led to my success at the poles.
During our world record attempt to the Geographic North Pole in 2002, we experienced the most horrendous temperatures imaginable and our sledges weighed in the region of 200lb. By day 37 we had experienced 3 major storms, one so bad that we couldn’t get the tent up and had to huddle on the snow under the tent material for 3 days. We had frostbite, wet gangrene and were at the edge of our own physical capabilities and on top of that we had completed just 69 of the 500 miles to the pole. We had a limited window of around 75 days to complete the expedition before the summer melt broke up the ice. We were living on the edge of existence, with no possible hope of reaching the pole on time and yet we carried on. Why, you might ask and I have often asked myself the same question. What made us keep going in such hopeless conditions and the answer is quite simple. To give up was not an option. I didn’t mind failing so much, not reaching the goal. I could live with that but to give up was not an option. We couldn’t control the weather, the terrain, the conditions around us but we could control ourselves and our attitude so each day we got up, strapped ourselves to our sledges and set out into the unknown. We thought of ways to do things smarter, quicker and more efficiently. We added 5 minutes to each skiing session and if we came to an obstacle at break times we went over it, around it or swam across it before we stopped. And eventually we saw the miles being eaten away, the seemingly impossible became possible and after 80 exhausting, painful and challenging days we made the North Pole to become the first all women’s team to reach both poles. A world record that has never been repeated and for no other reason than we were resilient, we refused to give up, to accept our fate but fought every step of the way.