This holiday season, while most people were cuddled up in front of a fireplace, a few were striving to achieve what no human had been able to do - Peddle across the Antarctica! The three-way race between Britain's Maria Leijerstam, Spain's Juan Mendez and America's Daniel Burton, began in mid-December from the Novo Russian airbase in Queen Maud Land, Eastern Antarctica.
While all three were trying to be the first to get to the South Pole, each had planned to do it in his/her own unique way. Burton and Mendez both decided to ride two-wheelers with fat tires and take a well-known route. However, Burton planned on doing it with a full team supporting him, while Mendez decided to ride through the treacherous terrain, unassisted.
35-year-old Leijerstam had a totally different strategy. She planned to peddle her way across the icy continent on a recumbent trike that was custom-designed for her by UK's Inspired Cycle Engineering. Called the White ICE Cycle, it was far more stable than a regular bike. This allowed the competitor to focus her energy on getting ahead, instead of constantly struggling to maintain balance. Also, if the going got really tough, the front wheels of the trike could be substituted for skis to navigate through the thick snow.
Leijersam also decided to take a different route - one that took her from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf up over Leverett Glacier and onward to the South Pole. While about 100 miles shorter than the one that was being taken by her competitors, it was a much steeper route, which probably explains why it had never been attempted before.
For reasons unknown, Leijerstam began her journey on December 16, two days later than her two male counterparts. Carrying more than 100 pounds of food, fuel and spare pieces for her trike, she braved through temperatures as low as -31°F (-35°C) or cold enough to even freeze the sweat in her boots! Heavy winds, white-outs, crevasses and a busted knee, helped add to the misery.
But nothing could stop this determined woman. Leijerstam who had spent the last four years training for this trip in Siberia, Norway and Iceland, was well prepared. It therefore came as no surprise to anyone when this adventurer who peddled non-stop for 12 hours and averaged between 25-35 miles a day, made it to the South Pole on December 27th, 2013. Not only had she managed to complete her quest of becoming the first person and woman to bike to the South Pole, she had done it in a record time of 10 days as opposed to the expected 22!
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about her male counterparts. Now into their 44th day, both Juan and Daniel are still struggling to get to their destination.
In his latest blog post Juan, writes about how the bad weather has been hindering his progress and how a GPS deflection led him off-route and resulted in adding another 29km to his quest to get to the South Pole. What makes it worse is that thanks to his decision to go unassisted, his food supplies have not been replenished. All he has left to eat is a concoction of cocoa powder mixed with sunflower oil and nuts. As a result with about 49km still left to go, the Spaniard is suffering from extreme fatigue.
Daniel Burton is also struggling thanks to the soft snow that is making it difficult for him to make progress. However, thanks to the support of his team that is carrying his supplies, he at least has enough food.
The good news is that both men are still in great spirits. Juan ends his latest blog post with 'Let's go. Never give up', while Daniel reminds his readers 'to get out and be active'.
The other good news? They both still have a chance to make it into the history books - Daniel for being the first to get to the South Pole riding a two-wheeler and Juan for doing it unassisted! We sure hope both make it safely to their destination and achieve the fame they deserve!
Resources:bikerumor.com, gizmag.com, dailymail.co.uk, independent.co.uk