(Angela Benavides/TS) He was the dark horse in a celebrity packed anniversary season. Even Aussie Cas and Jonesy, out on the same mission, were surprised to find the low key Norwegian scrambling around Punta Arenas with a similar idea.
Once on the ice, Gamme (and Wilson) made little noise compared to others backed by media teams blowing their horn. Except for short stories dispatched over Contact, Aleks mostly went about his business.
He placed out depots on the way; used no kites, no animals, no engines, and got no resupplies. The hardest way to reach the pole was not enough for the Norwegian; once there he turned around and ran back.
Cas and Jonesy struggled some days behind. Instead of a tight race for the finish line, on arrival Aleks stopped and pitched his tent, waiting for the Aussies to ski the last bit together and jointly claim the longest polar unsupported trip yet.
ExWeb checked in with Aleks for details about the surprising end which cost him a supreme world record but had the entire polar community jump to their feet in unanimous acclaim.
ExplorersWeb: First of all, how do you feel (physically and mentally) after such a huge effort? Any injuries, frostbites?
Aleks: I'm fine, no serious injuries during the journey. A little numb in the fingertips, a bit sore in the toes right now. Had some polar blisters on the thighs, but they healed on the way.
It`s funny how I thought I would be in extremely good shape after such a long skiing workout. But after almost 1000 hours of skiing, I can hardly jump an inch, climbing stairs is a pain and running is just not working yet.
It's also scary to see how four days at Union can bring you back to normal weight. Jonesy was the ultimate gaining weight-champion though: 36 hours after arrival to the camp he was 11 kilos heavier! Believe it or not. I wouldn't if I wasn't there to see it.
ExplorersWeb: You arrived at a pretty crowded South Pole - how was is to be back among human beings after the long solitude?
Aleks: Surreal after 57 days. It was on Christmas day; I was skiing in fog, getting quite tired as usual at the end of the day, and skied into the wrong section, so I called Union to make them call the polar base-crew and explain to them that I had come in peace, so "please don`t shoot".
Two hours later I found myself inside the base, singing Christmas carols in the comm-center, broadcasted out on the radio network to the field stations in Antarctica, surrounded by great hospitality and smiling people.
Back in civilization, it just feels great to socialize again.
ExplorersWeb: I know it's difficult to express but - just try: How hard was it? How did you manage to stay positive all this time? What was the toughest (hunger, cold, conditions, distance, exhaustion)?
Aleks: If you let your focus target pain and exhaustion, it'll get to you sooner or later. Having fun gets you going a lot further. On shitty weather days I headed out to do a job and made sure I had something funny on my iPod to laugh about.
There is nothing like enjoying the most crappy days, and we had a lot of them in the first three weeks. I crawled out on all four from my tent, too tired to stand up, pretty much every day. That's when you put on some rock'n roll to get you going.
An important issue was to not let weather conditions decide if I was about to have a good day or not. Like in everyday life you want to be in charge of your state of mind, not getting freaked out by things you don`t rule.
Wilson and I decided every day it was going to be a good day, reminded by Goethe's "Nothing is worth more than today".
I actually managed the mental part better than I had expected. And if you know what motivates you - it's pretty much just to push the right buttons. I've never had so many magic moments - goosebumps - than I had on this trip. Being solo reinforced these moments of pure beauty and I shed happy tears more than ever.
According to my diary, I had two days when I wasn't were I wanted to be mentally. It confuses me that I still can't figure out why, since nothing really happened. I think it was a combination of missing friends and family at Christmas time and lack of motivational stimuli.
ExplorersWeb: How did you deal with solitude, boredom and lack of communication?
Aleks: I get bored easily and knew it would be my toughest challenge. If I can keep my grey little mass busy on the other hand - challenged and entertained by learning something new - I have no problems doing something brain dead for 10 hours a day,
I crawled through hundreds of hours of science and history lectures, and listened to great audiobooks, some twice. I brushed up my French and Russian to an all time high, and found myself arguing loudly with the politicians in podcast-debates. Bottom line, on shitty days I activated the autopilot and enjoyed technology.
I seldom watch TV back home so I looked forward to all the movies I had brought along. I even changed my sched-time to Union Glacier because it kept interrupting my movies. I watched about 30 movies and a lot of TV-series like "Friends", "Fawlty Towers", etc. I actually got to finish 9 seasons of Southpark as well. So when I turned around at the Pole, it was a typical Cartman-moment.. "screw you guys...I`m going home!"
But actually I wasn't alone, I had the best company and support in Wilson. Rough days are all about verbalizing thoughts before you can deal with them. Affirmations come to power when spoken.
Wilson was a good listener and we sorted out everything together. He coached me by offering no answers, he just made me talk. Him sitting on top of my sledge, we would often sing Pink Floyd together in the whiteout.
But on the very last day, just down the slopes to the Inlet, suddenly he was gone. I just couldn't believe it, and struggled to hold back my tears. I was shocked at how much I had personalized an orange pumpkin from the Chilean supermarket: during three months it had become an irreplaceable friend. I still can`t believe he`s gone. Even some staff at Union were deeply touched when they heard Wilson wasn't on the plane back.
ExplorersWeb: Is that why you chose to wait for Cas & Jonesy?
Aleks: Why not? I think they deserved the record more than I. We were both heading out for the first unsupported in-and-out, and waiting for them made us all first. Cool trick, huh?
Even though I'm a competitive person, I was not going to put myself in a three months race with others. To me that'd have been the perfect way to ruin an unbelievable experience. Because of the two weeks delay we were racing against time, not each other..
We called each other frequently and I was trying to cheer them up as much as I could. Motivating others is a good cure for wintertime blues, so it worked both ways - we were definitely stronger by motivating each other than competing.
Cas & Jonesy succeeded because they never gave up. That's what it`'s all about and I am very proud of them. I really hope I can see them again soon: at Cas wedding! He is getting married in Thailand in just three weeks. Yes, he invited me...isn't that fantastic?
ExplorersWeb: How were the last 4 days, waiting 1 km from the finish line - did you have enough food and gas left?
Aleks: Didn`t have much food, just leftovers actually. The pickup point was moved so I had to go 10 km back again. But I was happy just to relax and calm down.
ExplorersWeb: How did the Aussies react whent hey saw you there, waiting - and how was the arrival at H.I?
Aleks: They knew I was there, I sent my coordinates. And when I saw the two dots on top of the icy slopes of the Inlet, it was hilarious. We hugged, screamed and yelled like four-year-olds.
I told them it would be cool to finish together already after a couple of weeks of skiing. I was some days ahead so it was obviously easier for me to suggest it at the time.
I actually skied back some kilometers and pitched my tent further up that night so they could see me better from the top of the slopes. We got to have a couple of hours together and it was just the perfect ending... until we realized the plane returned to the base without us; pilots wouldn't land due to poor light conditions.
Being solo was awesome, but crossing the finish line with Cas & Jonesy was one the finest moments in my life. It was a lot more fun celebrating together, instead of making winners and losers out of two great achievements.
I have to add that chef Malin at Union Glacier served some absolutely amazing dishes, and we could dig in from the racks of red wine and beer. And so we did.
Next final: target="_new">More about Gamme and what's next.
Australians James Castrission (29) and Justin Jones (28) reached Hercules Inlet on Jan 27th, 2012. Meeting with Norwegian Aleksander Gamme (35) waiting for them 1 km from the finish line, the three skied the last stretch together. Independent of each other, the two expeditions had skied 2,274km Hercules Inlet - SP - Hercules Inlet, the longest ski without kites and airdrops on Antarctica yet.
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