It seems strange writing about crossing the coldest continent on Earth in the middle of a summer heatwave in Melbourne – its meant to be +44C tomorrow!
The last three months have been a hard graft – gradually developing the Breaking the Cycle – South Pole projects while finishing off my book and waiting for my film to be completely done (after a few more technical hitches). Editing Njinga, the book has been a long and complex process, but we are getting there. The first chapters are now with the designer while I work on the final edit of last section. Once the design phase is near-complete I will be able to give an indication of the publishing date. Njinga, the film is on track for completion by the end of January. Then Martin from Lateral Vision Productions will be working furiously to enter it into as many major film festivals as possible. I can’t wait to see the final version.
The momentum of my physical preparation for Antarctica was slowed up when I underwent a minor nose/sinus operation, the recovery of which has been drawn out after a subsequent infection. I also competed in two Australian Opens for real tennis which requires a very different type of preparation. In October I managed to win both the singles and doubles and miraculously my world ranking returned to No.2. Then, earlier this week, I competed in the 2014 Aus Open (they changed the date this year) and lost in the final convincingly to Claire Vigrass, women’s world No.1 (and who has reached the best standard for a woman player ever). Now I’ll allow myself to recover for a week before I am back into my Antarctic preparations.
Since early December, I have been watching with keen interest the progress of three cyclists bound for the South Pole. Juan Menendez Granados (Spain), who is making an unassisted cycle/ski attempt, Daniel Burton (US), who is cycling unsupported but using three supply drops (about every 300km) and Maria Leijerstam (UK), who announced her fully supported attempt just before she set off in mid-December. Juan and Daniel began from Hercules Inlet on their 1200km route at the same time. They both now have less than 100km to go – Juan, who has carried all his food and fuel from the start is now seriously low on food. Maria, however, had a very different approach, which turned out to be a very astute and successful plan. She chose the shortest legitimate route from the coast to the South Pole, starting at Leveret Glacier and following the McMurdo Highway to the South Pole (its not a proper highway but an icy route connecting the US bases – McMurdo on the coast to Amundsen-Scott at the South Pole). Maria used a specially designed recumbent trike and absolutely smashed it, covering the 600km distance (approximately) in just over ten days which included climbing to an altitude of 3200m on to the plateau. Maria has done an incredible job to become the first person to cycle to the South Pole! Hopefully Juan and Daniel will also reach their goals in the next couple of days.
The success of these expeditions doesn’t alter my desire to cycle to the South Pole and in some ways I feel released to attempt to do what I really wanted to do – and had been planning all along as my ultimate goal – to cycle across the continent. This will be in line with all of my previous major expeditions – across Russia, Australia and Africa – its what I do. The purposes will be the same and the approach will be the same, although I have watched the others and will always be learning and innovating. The minimum distance is around 1850km, which I will do fully supported. We are in the process of redrafting the marketing brochure, so there will be more information soon, but I am really excited about the challenge. The most urgent requirement right now are funds for the training and preparations during this year.
Before Christmas I had a couple of very exciting meetings. Firstly, I flew up to Canberra and met with David Edwards of Mont Australia and am pleased to announce that they will be our major clothing and equipment sponsor. David has started to design my all-important outer shell along with the down clothing. I also met with David Bishop, a professor at Victoria University, and it looks as though they will help with a more scientific approach to my physical preparations. The ISEAL Department have a climate chamber which can operate down to -20C…that sounds like a good place to be right now, writing here in the sweltering heat!