Crossing Antarctica With Nothing But Nivea
Two years ago, British explorer Felicity Aston stepped off a plane onto the coast of Antarctica with a pair of Nordic skis, a satellite phone, and two heavy sledges filled with food and supplies. In her bid to become the first solo skier to cross Antarctica using only her own muscle power, Aston had to face unrelenting blizzards, fierce windstorms, and her own fears. She made it safely to the other side in just two months. Aston is a pioneer for female athletes and explorers, but facing an unforgiving landscape and extreme isolation also transformed her personally. Here, Aston describes how the expedition made her reevaluate her body, her confidence, and her thoughts on mirrors.
PREPPING THE BODY: To do an endurance event like this, you don’t really need to be training in a gym, it’s more about low intensity training. I did a lot of long, hard walks and hikes. I would drag tires on a sandy beach to replicate dragging the sledges. I did a lot of lunges, squats, and resistance work. I also had to put on extra weight. I was eating 5000 calories a day—twice the normal limit. I saw it as a real joy. For three months I was able to eat pizza, cake and bread. Eating food with lots of oils and butters is how you put on weight that will stick to your bones. It’s funny though, I met one lady who really wanted to do a polar expedition, but when I told her the amount of weight she would have to gain, she suddenly wasn’t interested anymore.
PREPPING THE MIND: To prepare mentally, I went to see a sports psychologist about how to deal with the isolation. We did a lot of visualization, running through everything in your mind imagining yourself finishing the expedition. It feels like wishful thinking at first but it gives you extra confidence, lowers anxiety and helps you get to sleep.
MALE VS. FEMALE EXPLORERS: A lot of the guys come back from a trek like this with injuries on their face. Their skin is peeling and swollen, with bits open and chapped. Guys see it as a badge of honor. The women, however, come back looking amazingly intact. We’re aware that it’s not great for a woman to have massive scars on her face, so we go to that extra effort to make sure our skin isn’t ruined.
SKIN SAVING ESSENTIALS: In extreme cold, skin dries out and you are more susceptible to injury. You have to worry about things like chapping, chafing, frostbite, and all sorts of horridness. You have to be very careful to use heaps of moisturizer. Every night I would use my ration of one baby wipe a day to wipe my face and my hands. Then I would put on heaps of ultra rich moisturizer, good old-fashioned Nivea did the trick. Outside of the tent, I couldn’t have my skin exposed to open air, so I would wear a full face mask to cover me from head to foot. Even so, I had to have sunscreen since there is no ozone layer in Antarctica; SPF 50 helped protect against poisonous UV rays. Towards the end of my journey I got careless with the hole in my face mask and it let some of the sunshine and cold air get in on my lips. When I got back to the UK and started properly thawing out, my lips completely swelled. It looked like a bad Botox thing. Of course, that was when I was doing all of my press and interviews.