"We had Nansen's book with us, so we knew we were experiencing many of the same things," Ulrich said. "Just like them, we had skis and kayaks, but," Ousland added, "we used parasails instead of dogs to help us go faster. And, of course, we had communication and navigation equipment, while they didn't know for sure where they were. Their old map wasn't correct at all."
The land Ulrich had spotted was the distant coast of Eva-Liv Island, named by Nansen after his wife and daughter. But just because Ulrich and Ousland could see the island didn't mean they could reach it. When Nansen and Johansen first glimpsed Eva-Liv, they figured it would take them only a day or two to get there. In the end it took 13, and they barely made it to land.
In June 2007 Ulrich and Ousland faced the same obstacles. The smooth sea ice they'd raced over for days, pulling their rugged plastic kayaks filled with food and gear, had given way to a chaos of icy rubble that looked "as if some giant had hurled down enormous blocks pell-mell," as Nansen described the same scene. Even worse, the whole jumble was drifting northwest, away from Eva-Liv, one floe grinding against another as currents shoved them from below.
With no choice but to forge ahead, the adventurers took their chances in the drifting ice. Still nearly ten miles from land, they jumped from floe to floe, pulling their heavy kayaks behind them with 40-foot ropes. It was exhausting and nerve-racking. Ousland had already fallen through the ice, weeks earlier, sinking to his waist in the frigid water. Now Ulrich was having flashbacks to a terrifying experience in 2006, when a storm had trapped him on a disintegrating floe off Siberia's Cape Arkticheskiy (see National Geographic, January 2007). Finding himself again at the mercy of unstable ice, he said, "I have to tell you, I was scared."
At night they struggled to sleep as the ice shifted beneath them, "like someone kicking you in the back," Ousland said. The strange thing was the silence. In winter, sea ice makes a terrible racket as it cracks and grinds together, but in the mild spring weather, approaching 32 degrees Farenheit, floes as thick as three feet crushed together soundlessly. At four o'clock one morning, Ulrich woke Ousland to tell him they were drifting away from the coast at about half a mile an hour, according to their GPS device. When they opened the tent, they saw that a huge channel of black water had opened up a hundred yards away.
At that moment they decided to push as hard as possible to reach land. "We agreed not to stop until we got there," Ousland said, "because if we didn't make it to the island today, we wouldn't reach Eva-Liv at all." Heading southeast, they trudged and paddled through heavy fog until they reached a solid ice edge. They'd been on the go for more than 24 hours. Ulrich checked the GPS device for drift. There was none. This ice was firmly attached to land. They had made it.