November 3, 2016/By Michele

Ready? Ready to go? Well, I ask myself that very question all day long. And, is everything ready? Have I packed all that I’ll need? I’ve obsessively double-checked, everything should be ok. They’re questions that always have a positive answer, but with a 1% doubt. The kind which doesn’t compromise anything, but which perhaps is perceived as “doubt” while in reality it’s agitation, emotion and adrenaline. “Doubt” is nothing more than a series of strong sentiments that are felt before undertaking a great adventure (in my case).

I now find myself in the opposite hemisphere from where I live. I’m upside down. I smile at the thought, but I really am upside down, maybe that’s what gives me the “dazed” feeling I get throughout the day.

ALCI Airbase -7 degrees – 1015 hPa barometric pressure – wind at 4.5 knots, no clouds on the horizon: I’d say a splendid day. Here it would even be defined as extraordinary. I remember Vasco with immense affection, a dear old friend and my skydiving instructor. He would have defined this day “stellar” for the clearness of the sky.

Now I’m in my module C: 4 bunk beds, linoleum floor, two small, square windows, three 400 watt ceramic heaters and a ladder to get out. All designed to keep in as much heat as possible. While I write I look outside the small window. If it was round, it would seem like I’m on an icebreaker in a fascinating, frozen sea.

Many thoughts, many emotions, and many ideas, but the memories of days past return with a touch of nostalgia.

Family far away, the desire to have them close by for just an instant, friends to give me courage: “you’re not alone; we’re there with you”. Everything is identical to past expeditions, the solitude is the same, it sneaks up on you slowly and then, terribly, becomes your friend. You talk, you challenge it, you argue and eat together, you sleep, in short it takes over your persona such that sometimes I even begin to question things: am I really alone? What a strange question and maybe even banal in context, but there is only one answer: Yes! I’m alone!

Michele you’re alone, you and your thoughts, you and your nostalgic memories, you and your fears, you and your stubbornness, how wonderful! Then you look around, walk taking in the icy breath that freezes your nose and lungs, and in front of you, there’s a glimpse of small dots of dark blue slightly blurred by the distance. They’re the peaks that rise above the Antarctic ice, the marvellous mountains of Dronning Queen Maud Land (the mountain chain that divides the Antarctic plateau from the east coast, stretching over 1,000 kilometres). Your gaze is captured by the extraordinary composition of peaks which few people in the world have ever seen in person, and now the question returns: am I really alone? The mountains, with millions of years of wisdom, there they are, watching me pass as I pull my heavy load, who knows what they’re thinking?

Beaten by violent katabatic winds that reach the most glacial heart of Antarctica, kissed by the never-setting sun and patrolled from above by skies, birds similar in bulk to a medium-size eagle. Perhaps I do have some company after all.

I see the nose of an old DC3 from Kenn Borek Air, parked beside the icy runway; it’s one of the airplanes used to transport cargo, passengers and for search and rescue. I focus and I realise that I’m in my module C, was I dreaming with my eyes open? It was a memory from months ago, but decisively real.

And now it’s lunchtime. I’ll enjoy it, my second to last meal in a warm place. Tomorrow I’ll be a lone man in search of the right route and the best winds to move forth amid an ocean of ice one and a half times as big as Europe.

Courage, and “may the wind be with me”.