Personal Leadership in a North Expedition (2)

Personal Leadership in a North Expedition (2)

  • March 16, 2016 4:30 pm
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Read part 1 of the North Expedition


After a terrible start during the first day, the next days of the North Expedition are going better. Fairly blue skies, sleeping well despite primitive conditions and smoothly gliding pulka’s all help to get mentally pumped up. The knee pain is still there but bearable. Fantastic glowing landscapes with still lots of snow, at some places we are knee deep in it, making it almost impossible to pull a pulka.

Every day is a good day and some are blizzards

Against the wind and how it feels when it is colder than the thermometer is showing.

The night before day 5 I forget to switch to summer time (daylight saving time), so waking up one hour too early, after already a bad night of sleeping. Overnight the weather changed completely. The wind howls. The waterhole we dug yesterday is now invisible under the piles of snow. Through satellite telephone the expedition leader connects with the local authorities and the weather forecast of “blizzard with winds up to 55-60 mph” (90-100 kmph) forces us to stay inside, the whole day.

The cooling effect the blizzard brings with him is well known. The phrase ‘wind chill factor’ was coined by the American Paul Siple to describe the fact that wind increases the rate of heat loss and has the effect of making it seem as though it’s really colder than the thermometer is showing. Our temperature of -20C with a wind at 55mph gives the same effect as a temperature of -39C. Exposed flesh can freeze in a minute or so. I go out for about 2 minutes and it’s hardly impossible to stand up against the wind, that’s far from walking and moving a pulka.

The mental challenge is the biggest challenge

There is no time to overlook your life on a North Expedition. Reality forces you to live ‘here and now’. 

With already a spare day used it means we will have to combine two stages if we want to get to the finish. Frustrating but nothing we can do about it. “It is what it is” becomes our daily mantra for things that do not work out well. One can experience the popular management advice ‘live in the here and now’ pretty easily during a North Expedition. Some of us take advantage of the extra time and get some additional sleep, others read a book and some get bored. Personally I learn that you need to be physically well prepared , but in the end you still depend on the weather and your mental state of the moment. The expedition leader was right warning us upfront: “the mental challenge will be your biggest challenge during this expedition.”

The following two days we get into tracks that are really difficult due to the drifted snow caused by the blizzard. Quite icy conditions with still cold Northeast winds. Physically it’s getting better and better, definitely during the climbing parts, downhill with a pulka however is just difficult for me. I fall down twice– and a pulka pushes you down gladly some additional meters – but luckily without any injuries.

24 Kilometers, no visibility

Being exhausted and profound satisfaction often goes hand in hand

Day 8 is a combined stage day of in total 24 kilometers, of which a big part goes uphill. In the morning everyone is quiet. In this stage of the expedition everyone feels pain somewhere. We all get tired, recuperate less and all dream about a shower. The weather conditions today: a visibility of hardly a few meters!

The whole day I will see nothing more than the last part of the pulka of my colleague in front of me. All the rest looks like a grey curtain, draped around me. If I go uphill I never know how long it will take, if I go downhill I don’t have a clue how steep and how long it will be. We always need to stay concentrated to keep track and avoid sliding away in gaps. My slowest, most intense but also most boring 24 kilometers ever fulfilled in my life.

We arrive late evening, all exhausted but satisfied. Sore muscles, wounded feets, a painful back but a great spirit. We are all too tired to spend many words on it, but our facial expression tells it all. The feeling of having finalised what we set out to do – even for the real athletes amongst us – gives us all a tremendous boost of satisfaction.

Looking back

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me.

Looking back on this adventure learns me 3 major things about personal leadership: the impact of our physical energy on our mental energy; we are not responsible for our thoughts but no doubt we are fully responsible for what we do with them; and if it gets difficult (and even before!) break things down into small feasible steps, focussing on the next step instead of the final goal.

Jack Kerouac’s great quote: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road” sums it pretty much up.

This article was written by Bart Van Bambost

An entrepreneur, executive coach and international speaker with +20 years of international working experience in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin-Amerika and USA. Read more about Bart
Bart Van Bambost