Follow along as team Test Your Limits skis to the North Pole to support life-saving heart disease research.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15 - The North Pole!

After 60 hours of being tent bound (can you say cabin fever???) team Test Your Limits was picked up by helicopter and brought to the North Pole where they celebrated an incredible achievement. Nearly 100 miles of skiing, 11 days on the ice (most of them in white-out conditions) and some incredibly challenging conditions. As expedition coordinator I have just spent the last several hours listening to them share stories and memories. The bond shared by the team is obvious, and it is clear that they had an incredible experience.

I am so honored to have been a part of the expedition that saw the first heart transplant recipient ski to the North Pole. Dale is such an inspiration as are Heather and Michel for dedicating their lives to helping people find donor hearts so they can live full and meaningful lives. There are thousands of people waiting for hearts. Please consider signing your donor organ card or checking the box on your driver's license and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Heather, Dale, Michel, Dirk and Keith are appropriately "weathered". They have the look of polar explorers... wind beaten faces, cracked skin on their fingers and a ravenous appetite. But if you ask them they will tell you the changes are more than skin deep. The polar sea has left a small but permanent imprint on their souls, and in this way they are forever changed.

Heather wraps it up very nicely in her last blog... "What a ride - at 9:21 am Dale Shippam stood at the North Pole. Who would
have thought that that would happen!!

"But let me go back over the past 60 hours - We had finished up Day 9, a briliant day, but as we came into camp a storm blew in. We had intended to get up the next day and ski but the storm was unbelievable. We stayed in the tent while it blew, shook, rattled and rolled and the ground intermittently trembled.

"At our usual 8 pm check in phone call - we heard from Vadim (The Russian organizer of all things Barneo, flights, choppers etc.,) that the weather was bad, closing in and we should conserve fuel. We had 2.5L at that time. Planning an 11 day trip and being told that you may be stuck on the ice for a few more days waiting for the weather to change was really actually very scary. We had a look at the food and fuel and immediately went into conservation mode. Keith and Dirk were all over it, but for me the unknown was a touch terrifying. It made me realize how incredibly small and vulnerable we were in a 6 x 8 foot tent, -20, windchill to nearly - 40, and winds > 25 mph.

"Dale, reminded both Michel and I that this is what it feels like day in, day out, for someone waiting for a transplant. No control over events, vulnerable, waiting - it put a whole new perspective on things. My admiration and respect for transplant recipients and those waiting continues to grow. What we experienced was only a small fraction of what they go through day in, day out while they wait - I really can't imagine it.

"Day 10 we used no fuel during the day, tucked in, staying warm. Used minimal fuel in the evening.

"Day 11 no flights, so again minimal fuel - sorting out food so we could ration what would be required if we had to hunker down for longer. Finding out that the runway at Borneo had cracked and developed a huge lead of open water.....Many calls over the course of Day 11, every 2 hours are we going - Vadim - no weather closing in; 8 am, 10 am, 12, 2 pm, 8pm, and finally 10 pm - no flights. Bad night sleep last night again wondering, worrying, waiting - at 8 am we got the call the chopper was coming for us. It took us the remaining way to The North Pole and at 921 Dale became the first heart transplant recipient to our knowledge to stand at TNP. What a feeling - impossible to describe!!!!

"Ultimately we had done a Polar Century - 100 miles of skiing, over ice, snow drifts, across open water, through gale force winds, freezing temperatures and ended up within 12 miles of the Pole, but for the weather we would have made it on our own steam, nonetheless, I believe it was a stunning accomplishment for Dale. Especially after Keith said it is the worst weather he has ever seen on a Polar ski! We then flew back to Barneo and immediately on to the Antonov 74 plane to fly back to Longyearbyen.

"The team was extraordinary. Imagine spending 60 hours in a 6x8 foot space with 5 people and keeping your sense of humor and in fact actually enjoying yourself (apart from intermittent panic about departure). Keith is a cross between Grizzly Adams and a Polar Bear - setting the pace, keeping the focus, finding the path. Dirk was the sweeper - steadfast, solid with a brilliant sense of humor and pulling up the rear, picking us up, pushing our sleds through tight spaces. Dale as always never ceases to amaze me with what he is capable of. 11 years post transplant, pulling his weight, one step after another pushing the boundaries and representing transplant in the best possible way. Michel - endless energy, bouncing in and out of the tent during our 60 hour downtime, keeping things light and positive.

"I must thank a number of people - Mr. Ian Delaney whose ongoing support of the program has allowed us to raise awareness on a global scale through innovative means such as this trip - Thanks Ian - we missed you out there. The team at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and MultiOrgan Transplant Program for the dedication they show 24/7 to their work that allow the Dale's of the world to live a full life. To my patients you motivate me daily! Keep your spirits up and believe. Nicole, Nona, Bill (UHN), and Kevin (Sherritt) deserve special thanks for allowing the Blog to happen. Thanks to the Borg family, B. Gosevitz and T. Lasorda for all the help with fundraising. Special thanks to Linda Goldsack- you rock girl. Special thanks to TGLN for all of their support and effort to increase organ and tissue donation. Thanks to Peter at Hofman Motors for the brilliant tire that I pulled throughout the City of Toronto, I can give it back but I am pretty sure you don't want it!

We are safe in Longyearbyen (wouldn't you know it that a Volcano would erupt in Iceland and delay us further) - all in all another magical spiritual experience that has left me speechless

Thanks to everyone for following our story! Heather Ross"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April 14 - And they float...

When the team called in it sounded like a bit of a party in the tent. Even though they are still tent-bound, and more than 10 miles from the North Pole, they are in celebratory moods and having a good time. They were supposed to return to Longyearbyen today, but bad weather grounded all flights, including helicopter pick-ups. We hope to know more about whether they were picked up (and where) in the next several hours. Heather writes, ".......And we are still in the tent.........suboptimal weather - spirits remain great......we are waiting for the window to open so we can get going!"

Check back soon for another update

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13 - Another storm...

N 89.46.765
E 092.24

Another day, another storm. Today the team woke to strong winds and cold temperatures. Add bad visibility and the best call was to stay in the tent, which they did. Tent days are long and a bit boring, but the monotony is broken by storytelling, meals, games and attempts to predict the weather. Currently the internet connection in Longyearbyen is a bit fussy, but we will try to have images and and an audio file up soon. Heather writes...

"The Barometer has fallen all day - gusting winds, - 20 windchill to -30; wind > 25 mph - we did not get out of the tents all day. We had + drift to start but now are moving away again being carried by the under-ice current away from the Pole.

"It is a long day in the tent - napping, chatting, playing connect 4.
Some of our challenges over the week have included 3 broken ski bindings (2 for Dale, one for Michel); one broken tent pole (we carried 2 spares), I punctured my thermarest cutting cheese (patched - or it would have been a cold night); one broken ski pole.

"But all in all we remain optimistic that the weather pattern will clear and we will make a push later tonight or early in the morning.

And from earlier in the day she wrote...

"Woke up and yet again mother nature is being aggressive. It is clear the Arctic does not surrender her treasures easily. We are all 5 in tent - blizzard white out conditions outside - hoping for a break in the weather so we can get moving to attempt the pole. We had some positive drift overnight so now we are at 89.47 - we are moving hugely to the west - big wind, but some of it is pulling us closer north as well.It is too dangerous to go out in this weather because the snow drifts can mask water and soft spots.Will touch base later."

Monday, April 12, 2010

April 11 - "Man was it cold"

N 89.45.26
E 127. 126

They are getting closer! Team Test Your Limits are giving it their all, making 10 miles of northward progress today in some of the coldest temperatures of the expedition. Today had less open water than yesterday, but lots of big blocky ice that required negotiation. In these circumstances sometimes the easiest and fastest thing to do is stop, take off skis climb up and over the obstacle. The cold temperatures require more calories, and when we talked to the team they were hard at work replenishing their internal furnaces. On the menu tonight bagels grilled with butter, cheese and salami, soup, and lasagna. Mmmmmm.....

And here's from Heather... "Started out early this am trying to get the distance done...only to spend almost 4 hours to get 1.7 miles! Ice cubes, water - Dale dipped his toe in (he didn't want to be left out) - but nothing else. He is absolutely fine. Then things really improved and we were able to make some good time/distance. Dale led for quite a while - quote...'interesting to see the whole empty ice field right to the horizon with no tracks ahead - hoping I wont miss a soft spot'

"We are at 89.45 East 129 - 15 miles left to go..... Overall total distance covered 81.61 nautical miles

"Everyone is doing well, the difference today was the cold, man was it cold - 25 plus windchill putting it down to about -40. The kind of cold that defies explanation - damp as well. We came into camp and the wind really picked up - major challenge for fingers and toes.

"We are loading up tonight - bagels with salami, cheese appetizer followed by Lasagna in a pot (sorry LP and EDL) The two polar cowboys continue to amaze finding paths through the chaos. Hoping the wind is blowing us closer to TNP

Check back tomorrow for another update from the ice.

April 11 - No South drift??

Sunday, April 11, 2010
Day 8 on the Ice- Mother Nature is a Tease
Day 8 on the ice - Mother nature is a tease.....

We woke up - and the first thing out of my mouth, even before the eye blinds were removed, before I thought of my morning coffee - was 'positive or negative' - this directed at Keith my tentmate - re drift - in fact we had drifted 1 mile towards the North Pole! Excitement was palpable. We got organized and broke camp, (much oatmeal eaten this morning), and started off.

The wind picked up and the snow started. As we marched along -Mother Nature showed her true colours.....and there was water everywhere - we lost count of the leads - everywhere we looked. It was an incredible challenge. Keith went in (twice - but he is OK Stacey). We had to use the sledge as a bridge on many occasions. I managed again to put in my left foot (but just my foot). Between Keith and Dirk there is > 1500 miles of Polar experience - we have felt safe, secure and looked after the whole time.

The ice age ranges from days (one of the leads we crossed), to about 3 years old. But overall the ice extent has been steadily diminishing in size, thought to be due to global warming. Some predict in 5 years there will be summer time free ice, i.e. there will be no structure and ships will be able to pass through the northwest passage in summer. Thankfully we have not met any animals - as we don't want to see any Polar Bears.

Overall we travelled 9.5 nautical miles today (so our grand total is 69.3 nautical miles) so now we 89.34.0 (i.e. for every 2 miles we work we have gained 1 mile towards the pole..) and still 26 miles away...

Mother nature indeed is a cruel mistress....

We set camp and the high point of the evening was Tomato soup with shredded Parmesan cheese - yummy. Two tents - Dale, Michel and Dirk in one; Keith and myself in the other (we are the cook tent and entertainment tent). Tonight we are back to Beef Stew. We burn about 6000-8000 calories per day, between the temperature and exertion - it is hard (but fun) to keep up.

Hoping for much drift tonight.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 10 - Something Magic

N 89.35

Heather's description says it all... "Something magical about today.......we hit our 60 nautical mile target - unfortunately we are only at 89.25 so we are still 35 miles from the Pole. We will need some positive drift and divine intervention - but at least we know we skied the distance required. From here it is all gravy. I myself spontaneously cried and all the guys looked at me like - here we go again! I remain amazed at Dale and his capacity. Steady pace throughout 8 hours of pulling.

"I got to lead for a while today - nothing in my periphery but 180 degrees of magic desolate ice. It looked like an ocean had been snap frozen, with waves in progress, whitecaps, the peaks and valleys of waves of ice.
We had great ice today so overall we skied 11 miles covering 9.8 nautical miles north (not much drift today).

"The sun came and went all day - temperature minus 20, no major windchill so pretty tolerable (compared to last few days). Keith almost went in the drink but managed to show impressive balance one ski on ice, and one on water......

"Here's hoping for (+) drift.

Check back tomorrow for another update from the ice.

Friday, April 9, 2010

April 9 - I can see clearly know the gray is gone...

N 89.16
E 138

It was a tough day today... rough conditions and lots of water. But finally the temperatures are dropping (that's a good thing!) and today was at -15C again. The team skied 9.5 nautical miles but with the drift floating them backward they only logged 6 miles north. With the 5 miles they lost last night they are feeling the effects of the "polar treadmill." This is frustrating and tiring, but no one said skiing to the North Pole was easy! Despite the hardships the team remains positive and in good spirits. There's no doubt that humor is stronger than drift! A welcome change for all was the sun that came out during their last hour of skiing! Now this sky is blue and "reports" are for the drift to slow down. And now this from Heather...

"We woke up again to the usual ugly weather, blowing snow and crazy wind - nasty nasty nasty.
But first a word about last night - I think in all the weather, the drift, the arctic 'treadmill' as it is called made life a bit miserable - so we had a treat. Keith had reconstituted dried apples, I caramelized them, et voila - quesidillas became crepes a la Ross (no a la mode - though we could have reached outside the tent and added plenty of snow). Then came the Baileys (Dale) and Laphroig (Keith) - all in all we went to bed feeling pretty satisfied.

"Back to today - we started out
9 nautical miles but only made 6
89.16!!!!!!!! East 138

"The other group that went out at the same time as us is somewhere near us but we can't see them - apparently 2 of their team left the ice by chopper yesterday - we don't have details but hope they are well.

"It was a major day of rubble - basically as you know we are on the arctic ocean - huge pans of ice that are floating - kind of like a jigsaw puzzle with space between the pieces. So these pans float along till they meet another pan and then crash, boom, they make rubble - i.e. they push up on each other and make giant sized ice cubes - some shoebox sized, some volkswagen sized - and we have to go through skiis on skiis off - all morning long. In fact we did about 4 miles of work to make about 2 miles of distance in about 3 hours......

"Also lots of open water - which leads me to the next challenge - apparently my horoscope today says something along the lines of relax by the water - well I had other plans - I didn't quite swim - but I came close - there was a small tilted pan of ice, some slush and unfortunately I caught a tip and down I went - left leg in up to thigh - Dale was behind me and was about to rescue me (what else is new?!) when I told him to stop as I wasn't sure if the pan would hold me, my sled and Dale as well. I tried to find purchase and put my left arm in to above the elbow. Slowly I was able to extricate myself - and all I could think of was thank God we did the dip in Ely or I would probably have panicked instead of just taking my time. Got the full slushy - lots of water in my boot - Keith (Captain Keith) said keep going - we had to get off the pan. about 5 minutes later we stopped and the team went to work. Keith found my spare liner and sock, Dirk took my boot and sock off, Michel gave me warm drink - they rubbed my foot to life, redressed the sock and spare liner and away we went - best way to stay warm is to keep moving! Now we are in the tent and I am just fine!!

"Michel provided the biggest moment of humor today - there was about an 8 foot drop off into powder and he decided to do a ski jump launch - but face planted instead - I thought Keith was going to wet himself he was laughing so hard.

"Finally a bit of magic about 1 hour from camp - the sun came out - we could finally see the landscape - gorgeous, somehow like the moon, shadow, sunlight low on the horizon - everyone much happier for it. Dale has coined the best expression so far of the trip - day in day out like taking a hammer to your head, get up the next day and HIT yourself again!

"Whose idea was this trip anyway? Perhaps tomorrow could be dull????"

Check back again tomorrow for another update from the ice!