SPEAR17, a six-man team attempt to cross the entire continent of Antarctica, has been training and preparing for almost two years. They’ve been dragging tyres around on harnesses, lifting ever-heavier weights, and eating as much as possible for the 3500 calorie-a-day deficit.
Their kit is as technically cutting-edge, as light and as carefully-researched as is possible. The team is as ready as they’ll ever be.
As the sole media support for the expedition, I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked along to the first leg of the journey and the week in Punta Arenas when the team will sort kit.
I’ve been with them on their journey to just get to the start point for almost a year – from pitching the concept, running launch events and pushing hard for press coverage.
Now here we are – in Santiago, awaiting the last let to Punta Arenas – the jumping off point for most Antarctica expeditions.
The flight from Madrid to Santiago felt long – not much sleep and not great food for vegetarians. When we were an hour or so out, Lou showed me the diaries which have been specially prepared for the trek and include various medical and psychological questions which will analyse the team’s wellbeing.
Inside the diary, Jamie has written inspirational quotes (and a few bad jokes worthy of a Christmas cracker) at various points inside. On the back was printed ‘In Memory of Henry Worsley’. Henry was a former expedition team mate and friend of Lou’s, who died last year undertaking a solo crossing of Antarctica.
That, together with many hours travelling and a sad film was enough to make me cry. It’s going to be very strange going to Chile with them, then waving them off as they disappear for 90 days. I’ve been with them every training weekend, media day and most nights out for six months. I’ve lived and breathed it – I’ve read books by the iconic Polar adventurers: Scott, Cherry-Garrard, Shackleton. And more modern ones too – Hempleman-Adams, Worsley, Aston.
When I first heard about the expedition, I thought it was ambitious but ultimately not something which appealed to me. I’ve been tempted by MdS, ironman, done countless crazy or unusual challenges, but never thought about Antarctica for a second.
After six months though, I can Polar geek with the best of them, I’ve read books some of the team have never heard of. I’ve spent time listening to adventurers talk, meeting lots of Polar nuts. And it normalises it – just as running marathons is nothing in a running club – people do them every week. It’s just everyone else thinks it’s crazy.
And leaving them to go to Antarctica while I return to England is going to be hard. But, to counter that, I’ve started to think about my own journey to Antarctica. Not that I’m going to hop on the next flight to Union Glacier. But in 2017, a year’s time, I’ll be doing my own cold weather journey. I’m going to be realistic (unusual for me!) and start with around ten days in Norway. Then Greenland in 2018, then. One day, one day I will have the South Pole stamp in my passport along with the rest of the team.