It’s been a bit too long since my last entry, but I have had several big projects on the boil including laying the foundations for the South Pole expedition, and completing the feature documentary and the first draft of my book about my previous expedition, Breaking the Cycle – Africa. A few weeks ago I made the decision to postpone the main expedition until November 2014. I felt that there were too many aspects of the project to effectively pull together and find the funding in time. Even if I was able to find enough sponsorship, I didn’t feel I was prepared well enough – the equipment needs further development and I would benefit from more time to train. It is likely that I will only get one shot at cycling to the South Pole and I really want to ensure that I succeed. Most importantly, delaying the expedition means that I can develop all my outreach programmes to make them more effective. I am confident that I have made the right decision and feel very excited about what can be achieved in the year ahead.
The Spitsbergen test run in March has proven to be a very valuable learning experience. The polar bike performed well, but it was obvious that I will benefit greatly from some further adaptions. The all-wheel drive system was excellent in that it significantly improved handling. The front wheel, which would usually slip on loose, uneven surfaces, gripped the snow and bumps so that I did not have to fight the handlebars as much. It means I can use more of my energy in moving forwards. However, it is still exceptionally hard work – my legs only have so much power. Even after experimenting with different tyre pressures, there is still a real issue with flotation. I think it may be possible to use the bike as it is, but I believe it would markedly increase my chance of success if we can improve the current set up. Steve Christini is working on Eric’s and my idea to add a broad bikeboard ski with a slit cut in for the wheels. The ski (donated by Slope Cycles, LA) will have an adjustable height so that it would only come in to play once the wheel sinks to a certain depth (a bit like the concept of a paddle steamer). I think it is worth a try.
There is quite a difference in efficiency between Eric skiing and me on the bike. Its not hard to see how much harder I have to work in icecap conditions.
Jeff Soumokil from Advanced Product Development at Oakley (in LA) is now making a special pair of boots specific to my needs – using special thermal materials to keep my feet warm enough, but are less bulky so that I can pedal more efficiently. They will have a firm sole and inbuilt gaiters to keep out the cold. Jeff is also developing some special solar powered handlebar mitts – both are ideas that I had while struggling to keep my hands and feet warm enough in Svalbard. In the future there may be benefits for other cyclists who brave the extreme cold elements.
There are several more pioneering innovations for clothing and equipment that we will be making and testing over the next year during a series of smaller expeditions and trial runs.
I believe I have the potential physically to pull it off but this South Pole expedition is going to require a long slow build up. In the past I have done my own training to get me to the start and then it was simply a case of biting the bullet and developing fitness in the first few weeks of the journey. This time I have a more scientific approach to ensure I am in peak condition from the beginning. In Antarctica it won’t matter if I am ‘good for my age’ or ‘have good physical capacity for a woman’, the extreme conditions won’t differentiate these categories – I just have to be good and ready, with the best strength to weight ratio possible. I am working with a team of sports medicine professionals at ESS Performance in Melbourne to reach an optimum physical condition. The first stage has been to work on my weaknesses and manage long term injuries (something I have always had to cope with) to build a broader strength base. As I get closer to my first big challenge (Greenland in March/April 2014) I will work harder on developing a higher level of aerobic fitness with endurance and altitude training.
While the Greenland crossing will present the most realistic training session, I also have a few more smaller expeditions planned to achieve what I call ‘match fitness’. In June/July I am looking to cycle along the Finke River and across the Simpson Desert in Central Australia to develop more strength and endurance. In August/September the plan is to ride up the Manali Road to Leh, Ladakh in northern India – average altitude 4000m. You can see the schedule in the latest brochure (BTC – South Pole page).
Tomorrow the bike is going to be fitted correctly to ensure I cycle as efficiently as possible. It has been a challenge for Rosie, the physiotherapist, to find a bike trainer with wide enough specs to cope with the fatbike! Then it will be off to Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre to have my third of six Orthokine injections in my knee. Orthokine is a ground breaking substance developed in Germany. Extracted from my own blood it helps with regeneration and pain relief. I noticed that my breathing was not optimal when pushing at such a high work rate in the extreme cold temperatures. After many tests and trying different solutions, it turns out that I need some sinus surgery – that’s next month. Not a lot of fun, but it will all help. Now that I have the time, my preparation has to be meticulous. I will leave no stone unturned.
The OUTREACH projects are going to be much better too. I have been consulting the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (whom I worked with for the BTC-Africa education programme) to develop some innovative curriculum for schools both within Australia and globally. This will compliment the initiative I have already set up with Intuitive Media Australia. We are looking for educational partners to contribute to the curriculum development.
There will also be time for Claudio and I to travel back to Africa to see how the money raised for AIDS projects via Charity Miles, (RED) and The Global Fund will be spent. (Pending sponsors of course). I will also be looking to find a small core of participants who are prepared to help promote the Charity Miles app to raise money for (RED) – to sporting clubs, athletes, active people and other target groups. Collectively developing this initiative through social media, such as Twitter, FaceBook, etc starting from March (Greenland) means we could raise a huge amount of money.
THERE’S MORE! I was recently honoured to become an ambassador for the Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (www.amdf.org.au) to help raise awareness about this little known disease. Before being asked to become involved, I had heard of ‘mito’ disease but knew nothing about it and how prevalent it is in Australian society. 1/250 Australians have the defective mitochondrial genes, 1/5000 have a life-threatening illness associated with malfunctioning mitochondria, organelles that are the ‘powerhouses’ of every cell in the body (except for red blood cells and sperm cells). Those affected by the disease experience debilitating tiredness to the point where they are unable to get out of bed. In some cases it affects the functioning of one or several of their organs, such as eyes, brain and muscles. The AMDF has identified the act of cycling across the Antarctic landscape as the antithesis of the problems those with mitochondrial disease experience. To succeed I will have to manage my energy intake and output for several weeks in this environment, the kind of challenge those with mitochondrial disease face every day of their lives. Knowing that I will be helping to bring attention to mitochondrial disease will be another strong motivator as I prepare and then once I am out on the ice and snow.
AND FINALLY… I am very proud to announce that Njinga, the feature length documentary film about the Breaking the Cycle – Africa expedition is complete (at least by 23rd September) in readiness to be entered in to major film festivals. The first draft of the book, also called Njinga is complete too. I have the funding to publish and am now entering the editing phase. There will be more details about both as we move towards publishing and promotion. Look out for the book and film early next year.