Budapest and the Balkans

1. October 2010

Greetings

Apologies for the delay in updating after the Triathlon Champs held in Budapest on 11th September. Budapest was a great venue for World Championships. The swim was in the Danube and the flat fast bike course on the Buda side of the city. The run headed north alongside the Danube on the Buda side also and then across the Szechenyi bridge to finish on the Pest side. Fantastic to be racing through a part of Europe with so much history though organisers did forget to order the weather.

The sprint distance presented a very different race to the grind of long distance in Immenstadt with speed and heart rates being much higher. As in Immenstadt I gave it my best on the day.

16th out of 57 starters so a few behind me but 15 faster old buzzards doing a better job.

That concludes my 2010 World Triathlon Champs campaign and the training gear has been put away.

Starting in Slovenia, the last two weeks I have driven 4600 km through parts Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Makedonia, northern Greece, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Serbia. A great trip but that story is for another time. Now it is time to focus on a very different task as I head to St Petersburg, Russia, for one month at a Russian Language School.

Regards

Ross

Immenstadt

7. August 2010

Greetings All

The last few months of triathlon training were put to the test last weekend at the World Long Distance Champs in Immenstadt, Bavaria, Germany.
Coming out of the New Zealand winter I elected to arrive in Immenstadt 10 days before the race to acclimatise. Rainy cold weather not much different from Auckland questioned the cunning acclimatisation plan but fortunately race day was fine. It was also very hot.
The Immenstadt area in the heart of Bavaria is beautiful hilly farming country and the hosts of my rented apartment 4km out of Immenstadt town centre have been fantastic with true Bavarian hospitality.
Race day was an early start with bike transition opening at 5:30am for the 800 plus competitors to set up. Once the bike was set up in transition it was memorising the transition from swim exit to the bike mount line, some last minute nutrition and then warming up. At 7:30am the gun went and a big day was underway with a 4km swim in a very nice lake just on the outskirts of Immenstadt.
1 hour 13 minutes later I came out of the water and into transition. Less than three minutes later I was on the bike and heading for a very tough 130km ride. The bike course was brutal with what seemed like never ending hills. Fantastic scenery but my legs thought otherwise. The steep winding downhills were fun with speeds up to 70km/hr and fortunately it was a dry road.
4 hours 43 minutes of solid cycling and I was in transition two, slipping the running shoes on, and heading out for the 30km run. The run was three laps of a great course that started in a stadium, went out into the town centre, back into the stadium and then out onto 7km of gravel tracks. My first lap was pretty good but things started to go downhill from there. The hot day had been felt on the bike and was really having an effect now. I had been disciplined with my bike nutrition and hydration race plan but on reflection it needed amending for the high temperature on the day. By lap three of the run the mind was struggling with the task at hand and I really had to focus to just keeping going. 30km, 2 hours and 35 minutes of running and the finish chute was a welcome sight.
A very tough day at the office and the most intense effort I have put into a race. I gave it absolutely everything I had and being 17th out of 69 in my age group on the world stage was pretty pleasing.
There is still more improvement to be had, particularly with the swim and bike but that is another day. Now it is a recovery week and then focus on the World Sprint Distance Champs in Budapest on 11th September.

Regards
Ross

Triathlon

22. May 2010

Greetings All

A quick update as the year races by.

Joining the local triathlon squad on my return to NZ late last year resulted in a much higher level of training intensity and lifted me to a new level. Although I did not have qualifying for Long Distance on the radar, my coach thought I should have a go at the Taupo Half Ironman last December. Somehow I managed to fluke a 3rd placing so that qualified me for the team to represent NZ at the 2010 World Long Distance Age Group Triathlon Champs in Immenstadt, Germany on 1st August.

Training continued with some big weeks over Christmas and New Year with the next target being the NZ Sprint Distance Nationals in February. Had a good race and fluked another 3rd so that qualified me for the 2010 World Sprint Distance Champs in Budapest, Hungary on 11th September.

So with two months to go before I head to Germany, training is ramping up again. Two months of hard work in front of me and hopefully no show stopping injuries. After the Long Distance Champs in Germany I will head to Toulon, France for the 5 weeks of speed work before the Sprint Champs in Budapest.

On the space front Virgin Galactic have unveiled Space Ship Enterprise which will transport us into space. Virgin are busy with their testing programme and have also started work on constructing the Space Centre in New Mexico where we will blast off from. Still number 279 and still hoping for an upgrade!!

Cheers

Ross

Christmas 2009 Update

24. December 2009

Greetings All,

Yet another year’s end approaches. Merry Christmas to you all and all the very best for 2010.

With reaching the South Pole and then the group and solo North Pole expeditions, 2009 has been a huge year for me.  Huge personal challenges and hugely rewarding experiences.

After completing the icy challenges I then based myself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from May to October and set about getting triathlon-fit again. Did two triathlons as part of the process and scored a couple of 2nd places though this was very much a reflection on the level of competition rather than my abilities. Also did a couple of adventure races which was a whole new learning curve, especially with navigation; strange as that may seem after guiding myself to the North Pole.

Returned to NZ mid October and joined a squad of triathletes for the purpose of training to a higher intensity and hopefully be able to achieve qualifying for the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Europe next year.  This will be a tougher challenge than dragging a pulk across polar ice as there are so many fast old roosters out there!!

Another little project on the horizon: I have just signed up to go into space with Virgin Galactic. At the Oshkosh airshow, Wisconsin, a few months ago I was able to see the new mothership, White Knight Two, from which Spaceship Two launches at 50,000 feet and then is rocket propelled on its suborbital journey through the atmosphere and into zero gravity. Spaceship Two was recently unveiled in the Mojave Desert, California and Virgin Galactic expect to start commercial flights late 2011. At this point I am passenger 279 so not sure when I will be called. Can’t wait!!

Best Wishes

Ross

North Photos

6. May 2009

Greetings

Photos of the group and solo trips now up. Unfortunately they do not load in the sequence selected so order is random.

Regards

Ross

Northern Stories

6. May 2009

Greetings All Now back on terra firma though it doesn’t feel much warmer here in Milwaukee!! The Arctic experience was huge. Going back to the start of the exercise…a four hour flight from Oslo had me in Longyearbyen which is the populated area of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Longyearbyen at 78 degrees,  the world’s northern most town, was founded around coal mining and is under Norway’s jurisdiction.Here I met the other team members, Israfil from Azerbaijan, Sergey, Vitaly and Vladimir from Russia, Nathan from the UK and the Vicaar representatives, Victor our guide and his two assistants Mikhail and Ludmila.Some talented folks with  Ludmila being the only Russian woman in the seven summits club which are those that have climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents which includes Mt. Everest of course. Israfil is also in the club and is the only person from Azerbaijan to have achieved this.A couple of days preparation and then we boarded the Antonov AN-74 for the two and a half hour flight down to Vicaar’s camp “Barneo” which is set up on the floating ice each year for one month to facilitate these expeditions. Realisation of where we were kicked in when stepping out onto the ice and minus 34 degrees C. A few formalities then it was time to load the Russian MI 8 helicopter that would take us to our starting point at 89 degrees north. Skimming across the ice gave some great visuals of the pressure ridges and water leads between the ice floes, the two types of obstacles that we would be encountering. We landed at N89 E159 and being late in the afternoon decided to camp for the night before heading off in the morning. The ice grinding together creates “groaning” noises which is not evident when you are on the move but is very much so when lying still in a tent. By morning positive ice drift had moved us 5km closer to the Pole so that put a good setting on the day.The next seven days was a great experience and a good introduction to travel on floating ice.Being floating ice the “terrain” is very different to the land based surface on Antarctica. Ice rubble and pressure ridges created by wind affected sea freezing and huge ice floes smashing into each other are constantly presenting obstacles for man hauling pulks.If a path can not be found through the pressure ridges then it was skis off and man handle the pulks across the twisted ice before skiing again on the other side. Day two we had our first encounter with the more serious obstacle…water.After a bit of scouting Viktor decided to raft two of the bigger pulks together but in the process the floe we were trying to get across to drifted closer and risked crushing the pulks. Plan B was use only one pulk as a bridge which we all crawled across as it was steadied by the others. Day five produced some excitement with some more open water crossings which we were getting the hang of and then late in the day I was following Israfil when he disappeared. Israfil had broken one of his ski’s a couple of days earlier and was using snow shoes which worked well but did not distribute the load as well as skis. We were crossing a thin ice area which is formed when the water lead between two ice floes freezes. From the thicker ice floe section the thinner newly frozen water is tested with much prodding of the ski pole to verify whether it is safe to cross and if satisfied you step down onto the thin ice and move cautiously across with much prodding until back up on the thicker ice floe on the other side. We had been crossing these newly frozen sections every day without problem but this area did not support Israfil on the snow shoes so he was treated to an unplanned swim in the Arctic Ocean. Fortunately the ice edge had sufficient strength that he was able to quickly haul himself out and we soon had a tent up and a cooker going to warm him up and dry the clothes. As we were near the end of the day it was decided to set up camp.End of day seven we camped 2km from the Pole and were advised the helicopter would pick us up from the Pole at 1700 hrs the next day. Next morning was a crisp minus 38 C and as the others wanted to stay in their tents until later in the day I set off for the Pole armed with back pack and satellite phone just incase.1015 hrs Norwegian time Friday 10th April I arrived at the Geographic North Pole. What a great feeling and spending 30 minutes there by myself reflecting on the whole polar experience of the last 15 months was just fantastic. Back to camp and not much happening except news that a helicopter was bringing in an American couple for the worlds first North Pole wedding at 1300 hrs. No point in lying in a sleeping bag in a tent so back I went. The helicopter landed not long after I had arrived and a hoard of people including the first paraplegic, a chap from Canada who had suffered a crippling rugby injury back in his youth, spilled out to start the festivities. I was invited to join in and Victor Boyarsky the owner of Viccar did a great job of conducting the ceremony after which the wedding party retreated to the warmth of the helicopter for drinkies and I headed back to camp. Interesting to note that by following my original ski tracks I had ended up at the position on the ice that had been over the Pole on my first visit. On this 2nd visit that point on the ice had moved approx 250 metres from the Pole in 3 hrs due to drift.The team were just finishing packing up camp so we headed for the Pole as a group arriving just after 1600 hrs. Flags were flown, photos taken and smiles all round.A great bunch of people and a great trip.The helicopter arrived as scheduled and we were flown back to Barneo. A small celebration Russian style then onto the Antonov back to Longyearbyen.  SOLO:  During the last couple of days of the group expedition I had started to think it was about time I put myself to test as it were. During our stopover at Barneo after the Pole I approached Victor Boyarsky about undertaking a solo trip. Back in Longyearbyen negotiations commenced and before long the trip was confirmed.Monday 13th I was back on the Antonov heading for Barneo and at 2200 hrs that night was dropped at 89 degrees. A very different exercise was about to begin. Where we had had a dream run with calm days during the group expedition a stiff wind was blowing and as a consequence the ice was moving a lot. I would learn over the next few days what this meant!!Being so late in the day I camped for the night and was on the trail by 0800 the next morning. Some good positive ice drift towards the Pole over night was encouraging and going for the first part of the day was straight forward. Later in the day I encountered some big pressure ridges and after some reconnaissance ended up back tracking to try and find a way through the massive jumble of ice. Still not clear of the rubble when I set up camp, a lengthy process putting up the four man tent in winds, but a satisfying first day.After a solid hours work the next morning, which required a fair bit of man handling the 75kg pulk over the walls of broken ice, I was clear of the rubble maize I had got myself into and progress was much quicker. A few hours of good going until the next challenge of open water. The lead was about 10 m wide so there was simply no option but to follow along its path until an opportunity to cross appeared. At times I was hauling along a relatively flat surface near the edge of the water and able to see clearly what the situation was. At other times pressure ridges and rubble were formed near the edge and here I would take off the skis, leave the pulk and scramble up through the pressure ridges to see if I could identify and suitable crossing. I always felt a tad apprehensive leaving the pulk and skis but I guess that is just first solo nerves!!Time ticked by which was very frustrating as I was not on the correct heading but at least it was a north-east one which would help with the ice drift being experienced. After 3 hours I found an area that had some “stepping stones” that might enable me to get across. I left the pulk and went across a few times with much prodding and testing of the ice to try and ascertain if the path was stable enough. With the crossing surrounded by water I considered putting up the tent and getting a cooker ready incase I went in.  From the ice swim experience during the Norway training last year I knew just how quickly the body shuts down and how difficult simple tasks become. No problem in a group but a serious consideration when by yourself. After a lengthy 10 seconds of consideration I decided it was time to get on with the job and started hauling the pulk across. The adrenalin was pumping and during the crossing those “was this really a great idea” thoughts flashed through the mind but I was certainly grinning once across and still dry.That night I wrote in my diary that the water crossing was probably one of the riskiest things I had ever done. Base jumping off the Norwegian mountains seemed like a much safer option but then I have much more experience with skydiving and am only a novice when it comes to water crossings in the arctic.It was good to be back on a northerly heading and made good progress until coming up against another big lead late in the day which I followed until it was time to camp.Lots of ice grinding during the night but some good positive ice drift made for a positive start. Followed the lead for an hour or so and came across a spot where it looked like there might be a path across some loose floating sections. I could not take the risk of leaving the pulk and doing a reconnaissance run incase the sections moved and I ended up stranded from the pulk. It was time to get on with the job so I dragged the pulk onto the first floating section. Luck was on my side…three sections with gaps between that I could jump across and I was back on the trail. The problem with using up luck is that it’s not long before payback is required. I ended up in a massive maize of large pressure ridges and rubble from which extricating myself presented another “stepping stone” water crossing. I had told myself that after the previous “stepping stone” encounter that I would not take that risk again. Just didn’t seem so big a deal this time!! A few more miles then set up camp. A solid days hauling and with only just over 20kms to the Pole I was feeling pretty satisfied. Struggled to sleep during the night and considered packing up and getting going but eventually dropped off for a couple of hours sleep.  Straight into a big pressure ridge the next morning but man handling the pulk across seemed easy. I was on the home run!! Closing in on the Pole the converging lines of longitude were changing quickly and I needed to make sure that drift did not push me past the Pole which would then require an approach back against drift. A few easterly intersects and I had a very fast approach to the Pole with the wind at my back and drift in the right direction. 1240 hrs Norwegian time Friday 17th April I arrived at the Geographic North Pole covering the 110kms in three and a half days since being dropped at 89 degrees north. A very satisfying feeling. The “test” had been completed.The helicopter arrived the next morning and by Saturday afternoon I was back in Longyearbyen enjoying pizza and beer. I would like to thank Victor Boyarsky for running a great operation and all the Vicaar staff involved in the group expedition and those that assisted me with preparation for the solo trip. Also a big thanks to Eric Phillips and Doug Stoups, two very experienced polar guides who gave me some good advice prior to my solo journey. Doug also kindly lent me equipment, gave me some food and handed out some good navigational advice for the solo trip . Cheers mate.  Only 15 months ago I had never been on skis in my life and had no cold weather experience. Since then it has been cold climate training in Norway, the Polar Challenge race in the arctic above Canada, 53 days from Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole, last degree to the Geographic North Pole and the last degree solo.What a 15 months!! I would like to thank all those who have offered encouragement and supported me in any way during this polar phase. It has been a great 15 months. RegardsRoss    

Solo

19. April 2009

Greetings All

Continuing from the North Pole posting…. I flew back to Barneo the Russian Base Camp on the ice and was then dropped at 89 degrees by helicoptor for the last degree as per the last trip but this time solo. Skiing across floating ice towards the North Pole by ones self was a very different situation to being with others. The task was also very different this time with windy conditions, a fast ice drift and significant ice movement resulting in lots of water leads that needed to be crossed. A very steep learning curve. The critical factor being not to end up in the water.  Fortunately the ice drift remained positive towards the pole and I was able to complete the 110km in three and a half days arriving at the Geographic North Pole at 1240 Friday 17th (Norwegian Time). Some heart in the mouth moments along the way but very very satisfying to have completed my private test.

Will send the full story of both trips soon.

Best Regards

Ross

North Pole

13. April 2009

Greetings

Very pleased to advise I arrived at the Geographic North Pole at 1015 hrs (Norwegian Time) on 10th April. Fantastic trip!! I am now back in Longyearbyen and head back down to the ice this afternoon to make a solo trip.

Hopefully back in Longyearbyen around 22nd and will send all the stories then though that may not happen until I arrive in the USA 27th.

Cheers

Ross

Longyearbyen

30. March 2009

Greetings All,

Currently in Copenhagen and fly up to Longyearbyen, Norway, tomorrow morning to join the others for the North Pole expedition. We are scheduled to be on the ice 2nd April and all going well I should be able to post the story 3rd week of April. Looking forward to getting back on the ice and seeing what these Arctic ice flows are all about!!

Cheers

Ross

TV3

3. March 2009

Greetings All,

New Zealand television station TV3 run a small clip about my Polar exploits on their 9pm news programme last night. Presenter Adam Hollingworth came up with the idea and then did an excellent job of putting the clip together and was even able to show pretty good restraint on artistic licence!!

You can view the news clip with the following link and then click on Watch Video.

http://www.3news.co.nz/News/NationalNews/Pole-to-pole-explorer-halfway-through-historic-trip/tabid/423/articleID/93576/cat/64/Default.aspx

Regards

Ross

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