Helen Skelton and Maria Leijerstam

Douglas Stoup is defined as an expedition leader, polar guide, cinematographer, filmmaker, alpine skier, snowboarder, climber, speaker, motivational speaker, environmentalist and educator, but that curious list would lack precisely what we wanted to discuss today in this article and it sounds as weird as it really is: Antarctic cyclist.

Man’s impulse to improve leads him to seek challenges that surpass those already achieved and if the South Pole was conquered on December 14, 1911, new challenges had to be sought; the one chosen by Stoup was to tour Antarctica by bicycle, thus inaugurating a whole trend.

It was and is a feat, taking into account the adverse climatic and environmental conditions of the sixth continent: 14 million square kilometers located south of the Antarctic Circle, with 98% of the surface covered by an ice sheet almost 2 kilometers deep. thickness despite the low rainfall (barely 200 mm. on the coast) because snowfall can reach 1.22 meters in a couple of days; and it is that the maximum temperatures oscillate between 5º and 15º in summer for some hair-raising minimums of -80º to -89.2º in winter.

Antarctica Map/Image: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Still, he said, all of this only serves to spur the extreme adventurer, and Doug Stoup opened the door to bike tours when he starred in that route around Patriot Hills, an airfield located in the Heritage Range in the southern half of the Mountains. Ellsworth, the highest in Antarctica with Mount Vinson (4,892 meters above sea level) as a ceiling. In this inhospitable corner of the world, the average temperature is 30º below zero, but between November and January, the southern summer, is a little more acceptable for humans, and Stoup took advantage of it to travel 200 miles (almost 322 kilometers) with a special bicycle. Type fat bike (which use very thick wheels to be able to advance on adverse terrain such as snow, mud, sand, etc.).

It did so in January 2003. Stoup was a pioneer, the forerunner in fact, but a few more have since followed. The first, Eric Larsen, set out to emulate Roald Amundsen and reach the South Pole -but pedaling- before anyone else. This American from Wisconsin already knew the frozen continent, as well as the North Pole and Everest, and in December 2012 he set out from Hercules Inlet, a frozen inlet located on the Ronne Ice Shelf and often used as a point of departure in the expeditions. Larsen was unable to finish the play and was forced to retire when he had covered a quarter of the total distance, 281.6 kilometers, although it was already a record that he increased by going another 160 kilometers to Patriot Hills.

That same year he was imitated by a woman, Helen Skelton, a famous English television presenter, actress and writer who was also a fan of adventure sports, running ultramarathons and leading solo expeditions such as the one she did kayaking through the Amazon in 2010. Helen he triumphed where Larsen could not, reaching the South Pole with a special bicycle made to measure and with 20-centimeter-wide tires, although he also used skis and a sled -in which he carried 82 kilos of supplies- moved by kite skiing (a kind of candle like those of kite surfing).

Helen covered more than 529.4 kilometers driven by the wind plus 165.7 cycling and 69 cross country skiing. She was the first person in history to reach the South Pole by pedaling.

Maria Leijerstam from Wales, another extreme athlete (for example, in 2007 she ran the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara, consisting of seven marathons in as many days), was the first to reach the South Pole starting from the coast (unlike Skelton), from the Ross Ice Shelf.

He had experience in pedaling in cold environments because as a preparation he participated a few months before in the Siberian Black Ice Race (crossing Lake Baikal by bike). He achieved his Antarctic adventure on December 27, 2013 in what was called White Ice Cycleafter covering 600 kilometers in 10 days traversing mountains and glaciers on a custom-built recumbent trike that used 110-millimeter-wide tires.

This was a record that some criticized for using a small engine to climb the most uneven slopes.

Maria Leijerstam at the South Pole/Image: Maria Leijerstam on Wikimedia Commons

Between December 2013 and January 2014, the American computer scientist Daniel Paul Burton, a cycling enthusiast, fulfilled a dream that had forced him to change his lifestyle (sedentary and with regular medical tests) and, after a few years in who dedicated himself to getting in shape and changing jobs by opening a bicycle shop, he launched an adventure baptized as The South Pole Epic with the aim of publicizing the collaboration with the American Diabetes Association, paying tribute to his mother (who died in 2012 of a cholesterol-related disease). making your own fat bike and pedaling from Hercules Inlet to emulate Eric Larsen, he shattered all records by covering 1,247 kilometers.

It is true that he carried out this feat in a healthy rivalry with the Spanish Juan Menéndez Granados. Asturian, from Pravia, and a veteran of this type of activity (among other places he went through the Australian desert, the Amazon jungle, the Andes, the Canadian arctic and the Siberian taiga, crossing Lake Baikal solo by pedaling), he jokingly called himself Juan without fear and undertook the conquest of the South Pole at the same time and from the same point as Burton.

It was this one who took the record because Juan took a little longer, 46 days, and he did not do the entire route on the bike but used it for 193 kilometers and in the other 1,247 he resorted to skis (Burton got off the fat bike to push it when the terrain prevented him from continuing pedaling). However, the American had mechanical assistance and received food four times a day while the Spanish had no support or resupply and made the journey completely alone.


Ice Ax Expeditions/Eric Larsen Explore/Maria Leijerstam Facebook/The South Pole Epic/Juan Sin Miedo/Wikipedia

Back to top button