Logo for: National Kidney Registry

The Last Desert, Stage 1

Matt Cavanaugh

They saved the worst for last. That was awful. But, somehow, I think I’m tied for the lead.

We started the day anticipating a 5:30 a.m. departure on the Zodiacs (rubber boats) for Portal Point, at the front edge of Charlotte Bay, on the Antarctic Peninsula. We got the order to wait till 6 a.m., then we were waved off completely. The winds were too strong—40+ mph. The ship captain decided to reposition, taking us through the Gerlache Strait to Paradise Bay.

First word was 3 p.m. departure, but that got moved up to 1 p.m., and I was on the last Zodiac to arrive onshore. I had 10 minutes to swap out of my muck boots, get my shoes on, and be ready to run. Conditions were terrible—wet, wet, heavy snow, the kind that kills little old ladies that try to shovel—and it just didn’t stop. It hasn’t stopped now as I type this. I don’t know how many inches but I’ll put it this way—our drop bags were completely covered in white.

The race was a 1-kilometer loop that went uphill for half and downhill the other half. The first three laps were utterly ridiculous. I mean just nutso. The snow wasn’t hard-packed, so everyone’s legs were plunging into snow up to mid-thigh. I fell at least a dozen times on the first three laps, and I wasn’t the only one. 

One fall was a bad one, and I hit my left knee, the knee that I had one-third of the patella surgically removed from, so it’s pretty bruised. I also kept kicking my left foot into my right ankle. That hurt.

The first rule about running in Antarctica is you can’t make yellow snow. That’s tough for me because that’s how I check on my kidney’s function, so I have to make a stop at the start/finish line toilet, which slows me down.

I was behind two guys at the start, but over time I found myself just next to the leader as we hit lap #23 (23 kilometers) when the race director called a halt for the day. We’ll find out later tonight what the official results are, but considering how wet and cold and miserable it was, I feel pretty good about the day. I wish my knee wasn’t banged up, but I feel like I escaped worse several times over (i.e., a twisted ankle).

We don’t go out until tomorrow afternoon—should be 2 p.m. (12 noon Eastern / 10 a.m. Mountain). We’ll likely go to Damoy Point, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a longer loop—4 kilometers.