Fat tire bikes are required for riding on snow and ice. (Photo: Shanny Hill)
In December I will ride a fat tire bike, alone, 60 miles from the 89th parallel to the South Pole.
I’m doing the trip in preparation for a group expedition I will lead in December 2016 with up to 30 other people, all on bikes, through the desolate tundra of Antarctica.
People often ask, “Do your friends and family think you are crazy?”
I have given my mom grey hair since I was 14, so at least she’s used to my adventure seeking.
Ben’s beard had a tendency to grow icicles. (Photo: Shanny Hill)
My wife, who I have been with since we were 18, has always known adventure is part of my life. I’m 33 years old now and I have guided several summits of Kilimanjaro and several peaks in the Himalayas, along with leading cycle tours from Turkey to China. I have skied to the magnetic North Pole and trekked down the frozen north basin of Lake Winnipeg. My wife has always supported me in every expedition I have undertaken. In fact, she would think it strange if I didn’t want to bike to the South Pole.
I’ve always dreamed of doing an expedition to the South Pole. I want to explore, to see the unknown and to experience the beauty of the vast emptiness. I want to feel what it’s like to be completely disconnected—relying only on my inner strength and motivation to keep moving. I want the logistical and physical challenge in the harsh conditions to see if I have what it takes to push through it all.
This is not an undertaking I take lightly. It will be a test of motivation and endurance.
With an average daily temperature of -35°C, protecting yourself from the elements is a life-or-death necessity in Antarctica. I’ll need to wear multiple layers of lightweight synthetic and wool clothing to regulate body temperature while ensuring I don’t sweat too much. Specialized footwear is essential, while head and hands must be covered at all times to protect them from the harsh winds.
Everyone wants to know what I’ll eat. The short answer is high caloric food that is also nutritious enough to provide the much needed energy for the demands on the bodies. The food will need to be easy to prepare, compact and light enough to carry almost two weeks worth.
Other equipment, such as tents, sleeping bags and a fuel stove, will be carried in a frame bags. I can only bring essentials, and, needless to say, everything I bring into Antarctica has to come out when I leave.
A lot of making the world’s first commercial group cycling expedition to the South Pole actually happen revolves around logistics, meticulous attention to detail and finding the right bike for the job.
I will be riding a custom built Salsa fat bike, whose lightweight but sturdy frame with carbon rims and five-inch studded tires will provide considerable grip and flotation in potentially deep snow and ice.
Everything I have done in my career thus far has led me to this point, from my experience as an expedition leader for TDA Global Cycling to writing a book on winter backpacking. As the Last Degree expedition guide I will lead between five and 30 brave, adventurous (perhaps crazy) souls to the pole in 2016. With support from Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), and the mandatory training camp I will be running on Lake Winnipeg, participants will be in very good hands.
I’ve answered for myself, but you might be still wondering why people would sign up for riding to the South Pole on fat bikes – simply put, to push themselves to their limit and be part of history.
Ben Shillington has worked as a full time professional guide and instructor for the past 15 years. His guiding and adventuring career has taken him all over the globe with expeditions on multiple peaks in the Himalayas, Africa, and the Middle East. In 2008 he was the Tour Leader for TDA Global Cycling’s Silk Route Cycling Expedition. Ben and TDA Global Cycling have been granted ‘Official Guide Status’ to run the Last Degree fat bike expedition. Ben is also the author of Winter Backpacking: Your Guide to Safe and Warm Winter Camping and Day Trips.
Check out our original adventure travel series A Broad Abroad.