INSIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS
North Pole Expedition - April 2008
"Aaargh..! Help me up..."
For the hundredth time, I had lost my balance and fallen into the thick, white snow. I wondered if I was ever going to make it. Stranded thousands of miles from civilisation, I had no choice but to struggle up and carry on. To not do so would mean to die.
I was attempting to become the first deaf person to trek to the North Pole on foot. Despite eighteen months of hard training, nothing could prepare me for the horrendous white-out conditions of an arctic snowstorm where the white snow blended into the white sky, thus leaving no visible horizon.
As a deaf person, I relied on that horizon to stay upright.
To have a good balance, we rely on three body systems working together - the eyes (visual system), ears (vestibular system) and also the body's sense of where it is in space (proprioception).
I have no inner ear balance, so I relied on my eyes and body balance, but when that snowstorm arrived and took away the visual aspect which was the line of the horizon, it was impossible to stay upright.
Progress that day was painfully slow but I trudged on, growing wearier as the day went on. I was only prevented from falling more frequently by my fellow trekker directly behind me who had the additional task of whacking me with their walking poles on my left or right arm, depending on which way I was about to fall.
More often than not, they warned me too late - they had their own personal battles within the condition to overcome.
That day was pure hell, but fortunately after a number of hours the wind stopped. The clouds lifted and so did my spirits...
I had signed up to this challenge without fully understanding what I had let myself in for, but such was my spirit of adventure that I didn't particularly care. The driving reason behind this was the opportunity to bring yet more positive exposure for the National Deaf Children's Society who had organised the expedition.
Another aspect of the trip was the incredible silence and loneliness I experienced, despite the fact that there was six of us on the trek and cochlear implants I could wear which would enable me to hear.
The problem was, for much of the time, I could do neither.
The sheer bitter coldness of the arctic weather meant that everyone was wrapped up to the brim, covering every aspect of their bodies, including their mouth and faces, so it wasn't possible - or fair, to expect them to expose themselves to the wind in order so that I could lip-read which meant removing their protection.
Once or twice, yes - but not throughout the day. And the days were long, trekking for anything from 8-14 hours. We only stopped when nature called, but at least it gave us the opportunity to have some fun by using precise aiming to spell out words!
As for wearing my implants, what was the point? Nothing to hear but the wind blowing and the sound of the head gear rustling against the microphone of the implant. Only so much of that I could take..
Hour upon hour, day after day, we walked in monotnous silence.
Your thoughts become your constant companion.
It is only then, when you experience prolonged periods of extreme isolation and absolute silence, that it strips away everything about humanity and its materialistic needs.
All that mattered to me there and then, was to stay warm and to stay safe.
We eventually made it to the North Pole - the only ones out of six teams and it was an incredible feeling to stand in a spot where I could jump several time zones with a single step.
I came back from the Artic a different person.
A man whose experienced caused a massive paradigm shift within my mind and with it, a renewed respect for what really matters in life...