Epic Cycling Adventure to the South Pole

An expedition of epic proportions is attempting to be the first to use a bike to reach the South Pole. It will mean tackling some of the most extreme conditions on the planet to include snowdrifts, blizzards, rutted ice, altitude sickness, frostbite and snow blindness. Helen Skelton, an English television presenter, working on the BBC children’s program Blue Peter is hoping to become the first person to use a bike to reach the South Pole. She is attempting to travel 500 miles (805km) across Antarctica and will cycle for large parts of it, as well as snowkiting and walking. Skelton is no stranger to high-adrenaline challenges having previously completed high-wire walking between the chimneys of Battersea Power Station in London, as well as becoming the first person to solo kayak the length of the Amazon. If successful, some have claimed that the 28 year old will set a new world record for the longest bicycle journey on snow.  Thanks to some of my Alaskan friends, this claim is heavily under dispute due to the legendary Iditarod races.  Check out results from past Iditarod’s.  Helen said, “Not me, the only thing I can claim is it’s COLD!”  Despite the additional publicity somebody might be trying to add, this doesn’t diminish a South Pole destination bike trip through the harsh Antarctic climate.

Skelton hopes to complete the trek within 20 days. She left the starting point at 83 degrees south at 9.55AM today (January 4, 2012), travelling on a specially-constructed ice bike, along with her co-adventurer Niklas Norman, a winter sports expert from Norway. Originally, the pair had planned to begin their trek on New Year’s Day. She arrived in Antarctica on December 23 then spent 12 days acclimatising in sub zero temperatures. Since her arrival, she has struggled with stomach troubles, snow storms, a frozen Christmas away from home, as well as bad blisters on her feet. Skelton said: “Bad weather delayed the start of my challenge by four days and that means I now have less time to reach the South Pole, so the sooner I get going the more likely I am to finish. “I’ve decided to start my Polar Challenge on my ice bike as I’m determined to prove that you can ride part of the way to the South Pole.”  She will now travel up to 14 hours a day in the coldest and windiest place on earth, where she is likely to encounter blizzards and winds of up to 80mph. At this time of year, the average temperature in Antarctica is -25C, but can drop to -50C. Severe coastal winds come from cold air flowing down off the interior ice sheet. Wind speeds can reach up to 125mph (201km/h) and average about 80mph. Skelton will need to cover 500 miles (805km) to reach South Pole, covering anything from eight to 40 miles (13 to 64km) a day, climbing to altitudes of 3,000m (9,840ft) and will burn up to 10,000 calories a day. In addition, she will be dragging 82kg of equipment and supplies behind her on a sledge.

The Bike: This is definitely not your average ride and requires a greater than average bike. The custom built Fortune Hanebrink “ice bike” took designers in Los Angeles three months to finish. The bike was designed to be as minimalist as possible, to make it aerodynamic and very low maintenance. In total, it weighs about 40lb (20kg), a lot of that weight being the fat, tubeless tires. A standard mountain bike averages 25 to 30lb. “People keep saying a bike shouldn’t be able able to make it to the South Pole, but that makes me even more determined,” she says, speaking from Antarctica. “The biking is going to be really tough. What I like about this challenge is that 90% of people know what it’s like to ride a bike, so will be able to relate in some way to what I’m doing.” Good luck Helen! Keep up with Skelton’s epic adventure by reading her diary.

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