Seven women from all walks of life skied their way through Antarctica to the South Pole on an expedition designed to test the human condition. Two of the women offer their impressions of the 560-mile journey.
From Najibah (Era) Al-Sufri (Brunei)
What was the expedition like?
It was great! An experience I will never forget in my life. It was something that will forever change my life and in some small way inspire and change others. There were some tough times but it’s those moments that show you how strong you are mentally.
The "Great Storm" could have easily been the point where we turned around and ended the journey before we had even started because of fear. But instead we worked together, assessed the damage, salvaged as best we could and went out on another training trip to test the mending’s we had done. We couldn’t wait to get started on the expedition. We wanted to move forward and were determined not to let our friends, family and country down.
How did I get through it mentally?
Yes, many people think it is all physical to go on an expedition like this, but it is also mental. I say this because we got quite fit skiing and pulling the 23 pound bags on the journey, so the physical bit you can build up along the way. But the mental bit was what pulled me through to reach the South Pole. There are a lot of mental things you need to prepare yourself for and get over.
For example, something as simple as getting up in the mornings needed a lot of mental strength. It was quite warm and comfortable in the sleeping bags and you’re exhausted from the 10 hour ski the day before (this was compared to the -13 degree Fahrenheit/-25 degrees Celsius outside the tent).
The other major mental hurdle was the monotony of skiing and being inside your own head talking to yourself for 10 hours a day. Each day brought a new revelation about some aspect of my life. One of our teammates said it made her realize that she had no regrets. Meanwhile another teammate struggled with it and had to have her MP3 player on all the time.
What would I take away from the expedition and pass on to other woman?
I think having all of that time each day to talk to myself made me really good at reflecting on my life and I think women should take the time to do that more often. Often women get busy with their lives, their families, their job, their friends and they don’t reflect and don’t know what they really want in life. So I think one of the things I would take away, and urge other women to do, is to reflect on your life regularly, know what you want, plan for how to get it and then do it. Don’t look back on your life with regret.
Another thing to take away is that we were just seven ordinary women doing this expedition. None of us had done it before. Skiing from the coast to the South Pole wasn't a guided expedition. We had to rely on ourselves, our GPS and a compass, and I'm happy to say that we did it all while carrying all our waste so as to make as little an impact to the environment as possible. So if we as ordinary women, mothers and wives can do this, then so can you!
From Stephanie Solomonides (Cyprus):
What was it like?
The scenery was jaw dropping. From the moment we set foot on the Antarctic continent at Patriot Hills, the Independence Mountain Range provided an impressive backdrop to the blue-ice runway that we had just used as a landing strip in order to get to base camp. Luckily it was beautiful weather on the day we landed, so the temperature didn't come as a great shock to us. We were however reminded of the true force of nature when both our tents were shredded in a storm with 56MPH/90kmph winds! The experience was simply frightening, though at the time I simply remember being focused on trying to save the tents. En route, the nothingness of Antarctica engulfs you. Initially it is humbling to be part of this environment, however as the tiredness kicks in at a later stage, the 360' degrees of emptiness becomes monotonous and almost seems to enhance tiredness as the eyes and mind play tricks on you - sometimes convincing you that you're not making any progress despite already walking 10 hours. Luckily the GPS never lies, so our progress was evident at the end of each day!
We were reminded almost daily what a privilege it was to be in the Antarctic as we witnessed sun halos and sun dogs. Some days were seriously hard as we had to overcome the elements. There were days when icy cold winds made it hard to stay warm and would sting our faces. Other days were 'white-out' days where the sky, horizon and snow all blurred into one and navigation was a mentally exhausting challenge. Sometimes the sun would shine deceptively in the morning, warming us up, making us feel comfortable; then suddenly the weather would change as clouds would brew up above us and snow would begin to fall, making us scramble to change into more appropriate clothing to avoid any injuries. There were only 2 occasions of a change in scenery, which were very welcome! The first occurred as we skied closer to our resupply point. On our right rose the Thiel Mountain Range, while on our left as specks on the horizon rose the Pensacola mountains. The other occasion was of course, the actual South Pole station! The excitement, chatter and squeals were a dead giveaway to how pleased we were to be reaching our destination! Having spotted it from 11.8 miles out, it seemed like eons until we actually reached it - giving 'being so close, yet so far' a whole new meaning for us !
How I got through it mentally
Taking each day at a time seemed to work for me. It definitely helped to completely immerse yourself into the routines and lifestyle. Some days were harder than others of course. Also preparing yourself for the monotonous scenery is something, I think, was quite hard to do. Having faith in the team around you helps put your mind at ease, since you have the utmost confidence in the people around you - the people who have your life in their hands and their life in yours. Tolerance and understanding also helped us get through each day, as did good communication within the team - this ensured that any tension would defuse before it would become a serious issue. I personally had a super hard time when my iPod broke on day 26. The next 3 days were probably my most miserable as I am obsessed with music and the silence of Antarctica and talking in my head were hard to cope with. Again however, I surprised myself by being able to soon overcome what I thought was a serious obstacle for keeping my sanity on the expedition!
What will you take away from this?
I will definitely treasure the friendships made with these amazing women. Being a part of a team which conveys such an modern message of communication, interracial understanding and tolerance, cultural diversity is certainly a privilege. Representing the Commonwealth women and having the opportunity to show that women can achieve anything, however hard it may seem. Hopefully the expedition will inspire other women, especially in Cyprus, to follow their dreams.
For more information on the expedition, visit their Web site.