Logo for: National Kidney Registry

The Last Desert, Rest Day Before the Final Stage

Matt Cavanaugh

We’re on a day off today due to weather. I’m still ahead by about 6.7 kilometers with one stage to go tomorrow. 

I thought I’d write just a little about the environment and how I’m doing physically at this point. 

“Beautiful and malevolent” were the words used in a guidebook I flipped through before departure—and that’s marked my mind ever since. 

The bottom of the biggest icebergs (called “tabular” icebergs) radiate with an electric light blue. The few mountains here that aren’t snow-capped are sharp spikes of gray granite that shoot straight up out from the sea. And the snow, everywhere snow, all kinds of snow, never ending snow. (In a few months there will be much less. For now though, snow covers all.)

It is cold but not freezing. Most days the temperature gauge on my cabin mate’s coat sits at 32 degrees F. So it’s not the cold but the wind that makes all the difference here. When the staff and crew on the ship tell us about where we’re headed next, it always relies on the wind. The wind speed impacts the ship’s ability to put the Zodiac boats out because they are winched down from an upper deck. If the Zodiacs can’t go out, nobody goes out. 

We’re constantly striking small and medium icebergs. The medium-sized ones are technically classified as “Bergy bits” (seriously, that’s what they’re called). 

At this point of the race, after five stages, I’m feeling as broken as the fractured ice floating next to the ship. 

My legs are so stiff it’s as if I’ve lost my knees. Just two broomsticks now. 

Both groins are too tight, likely from lunging to one side or another to get around and pass another runner. 

I don’t have ankle bones on the inside of my legs anymore. I’ve kicked each leg with the other spiked shoe a dozen times each. As much as I try not to, it keeps happening. 

My left shoulder and arm go numb from time to time. It’s got to be a pinched nerve somewhere, but I can’t locate the source. It must be from my pack or my posture, and I doubt there’s anything I can do about it now. 

And then there’s my eyes. Every day I’ve tried using my sunglasses but the sky’s either been too dark or the weather’s been too brutal to wear them. Even when in what I would call a blizzard, when trying to run on such uneven terrain, my sunglasses/goggles get completely coated while the naked eye does not. So my eyes are as red as they’ve ever been.

I’ve got a gash across my midsection where my pants cut in to my skin. I took that one more as a good omen, as it sits right next to the incision where they took my kidney out.

I state all that not as some sort of “poor me” list, but to point out that I’m no different than any other runner at this point. One kidney or two, that list is probably about the same for everyone on this course. More than anything, I take pride in demonstrating that point—one-kidney life has no limit.

Ok, I need to go. It looks like we’ll depart at 6 a.m. tomorrow, and run for about 8 hours until 3 p.m. The last stage will likely be the longest. Wish me luck.