Posts Tagged ‘Challenges’

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, often called the world’s greatest living explorer… what an inspiration! I can’t believe that it has taken me so long to finally finish reading the book (I kept on getting distracted, but that wasn’t fault of the book, because when you are reading it, it is not easy to put down… just reading on São Paulo buses isn’t so easy!), though I will probably re-read it just to jot down more notes about everything…! Thanks to my sister Lesley for giving it to me as a present!

His autobiography, details his adventures from early ages, in the army, the Poles… seven marathons in seven continents in seven days; learning how to climb mountains (at over 60 years old and after having had a heart attack) in order to face his vertigo; his first attempt at Everest and his climb up the north face of the Eiger… cutting off his own frost-bitten fingers… In a word… wow!

The autobiography is honest: He gives fantastic insight into the life of adventuring around the world, what has driven him, and what it takes, not just to succeed but also to admit defeat when you are so close to your goal. He shows himself to be critical of himself and others in appraisals and very much self-deprecating. I might not necessarily agree with some of his opinions about some of the legendary polar explorers in history, but still the stories that he tells throughout the book are pretty gripping and told in a good no-nonsense style.

I think this book is essential reading for any potential explorer and anybody who wants to get inspired by ideas or journeys that are seemingly impossible. Indeed, as Sir Ranulph shows in the book, “impossible” is pretty much defined by our own minds and imagination.

Dare you to walk over to that ridge...

It has been a good year and a half since we officially started working to this project; a good couple of years or more since we came up with the ideas. A lot of things have happened and a lot of things will still be done. It goes without saying that without  sponsorship, the more ambitious parts of the projects, the Poles, will simply not be possible – the whole logistics of these parts would be prohibitively expensive. But, in cutting down our daily expenses on little luxuries; spending less money going to restaurants, more time training and building the project, we have been able to do a lot more than we ever could have imagined that we would do prior to committing ourselves to this, and we still will be able to do a lot more.

Riding through the snowWorse case scenario and it doesn’t work out (yes it’s a worry!), we still will have opened up a completely new world of adventure and sports that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. If we hadn’t committed ourselves to this… goodness knows what we would be doing, but am pretty sure that we would not have gone mountaineering in Bolivia, and am pretty certain we would not have ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats in winter. We probably wouldn’t be going to the gym and be in anywhere as near as good health as we are today, and I doubt that we would be entering into the various races we are going into now. We probably would be just working away, content but not happy with everything, in a standard city life somewhere, wondering what wasn’t quite right.

But fortunately we did come up with this whole mad-cap crazy project, and the world that has been opened to us is incredible. So much to do! Kite surfing (training for the polar training) in June… (hopefully) a two-week adventure race in Chile in February 2014, to be swiftly followed by our polar training at Baffin Island for a few weeks in February-March 2014… followed by either another mountaineering expedition or a traverse of the Greenland ice-cap (something that no Brazilian woman has ever done, as far as I have seen, so Natalia will be the first!)… exciting stuff! And then off… in August 2014.

The question is, do we wait a year longer if we can’t get sponsorship, or just go anyway on a round-the-world bike ride…? that is a good question and one that I do not yet know how to answer.

Since the end of our last training project, riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the British winter, we have settled back into Brazil, something that has been much harder than it does sound (I know, that sounds silly… settling back in Brazil… how hard can it be to settle back into such a wonderful country..?!). It has been over three months since we got back, but it is still a bit difficult.

Sao Paulo Metro rush hour

The daily rush on the São Paulo metro system… and this is a good day.

Well the first thing is that we are back in the daily grind of the work place, earning our salaries to try to pay for all the training projects that we are still yet to do and all the equipment that we need; going through the São Paulo traffic can make life hell for the commuter – going to work by bus in the morning can take 40 minutes (at night, 30 minutes)… if you are lucky. This morning, like many other mornings, it took two hours. The alternative is metro, where in the rush hour, the stations and trains seem to be operating massively over capacity, and it isn’t fun.

Coming through the snow - beautiful but tricky conditions

Coming through the snow – beautiful but tricky conditions

The second thing is that, though it might sound crazy, riding that challenging route in the UK, even in the middle of winter, was simply a massive amount of fun as well as nice and challenging: every day, we had our goals – we needed to get to our next place in accordance with our schedule; trying to get there before dark; every day different challenges… The first day, absolutely miserable weather, cold, windy and raining cats and dogs… arriving at our host’s house completely soaked, like drowned rats; the next day, nicer, cooler, fresher… until we got over Dartmoor, when the weather closed in before we went down to Exeter… every day was different…  snowy days, icy days, fresh days, wet days and the gale force winds on our last day. Every family with whom we stayed was fantastic, welcoming, interesting and incredibly helpful. The HD with the photos and the videos of the journey may have been lost, but it is hard to imagine any of these memories fading.  I guess the adrenalin of doing all of that really was much higher than it is with us now back in São Paulo… back in this concrete jungle.

So back to São Paulo where we have had to think and prepare for our next training projects, and keep developing our fitness and skills to make sure that we are in as good a shape possible for the kite training; the polar training and a number of other projects that we want to complete before embarking on the actual expedition. For me, the mini-projects like the half marathons help to keep me sane as they give additional goals to keep going in the short-term, but the daily training at the gym and with our personal trainer, Alercinho, with the functional training, is absolutely essential.

Time is flying – it is unbelievable that we are in May already… almost half way through the year… almost a year before we should leave. There aren’t enough days in the week to be able to do everything we want and need to do, though at the same time, being here rather than on the road, just keeping to regular training schedules… is hard. I mentioned in my previous post that I missed the mountains. I miss the UK as well. I miss being out and on the road, and really can’t wait till we get out of São Paulo for the next project.

Day 01

What can I say..? Wow!! “Wow” simply because the conditions were so tough. We wanted a challenge in doing the Land’s End – John O’Groats journey in winter, but this was… yes, it was a challenge and a half!

Day 01 - Stats95km or so… (including a stop for lunch in Red Ruth) in what felt like winds with gale-force gusts throughout; the direction of which changed all the time as it swirled around us; with driving rain, cold (average temperature was 4.8C) and low light… riding along the A30 from Land’s End and it felt like a never-ending torrent of traffic passing by us. This latter point surprised me as I just didn’t expect so much traffic, and it just seemed so loud – my right ear was ringing with the constant thunder of the cars and trucks. Not sure why it was quite so loud – seemed much worse than say going along the Marginal in São Paulo: the noise just seemed to be magnified somehow. I think it was because of the balaclava I was wearing covering my head and somehow making it worse with the noise vibrating through that and being further channelled into my ear… but that’s just a pet theory and am not sure!

The place we are staying at is a few kilometres away from the main A30 trunk road we were riding along, but the last kilometres after leaving the highway were difficult. Very hard – through pitch black along a narrow country road that in some places was covered by water that was flooding a little over; low-lying cloud that meant the visibility was even further reduced and, even though each of us have three front lights, they pierced only a short way into this mist – it seemed like part of a horror film! The road had plenty of fine grit which played havoc with our brakes as well – hopefully they haven’t worn down too much, but we will need to stock up on brake pads tomorrow, that’s for sure.

It took us a long time, with a low average moving speed of just over 15.3km, but this is consideration of the conditions and the fact that we are carrying all of our stuff with us, unsupported! We were delighted to finally reach our destination – meeting Jacob and his family who invited us through Couchsurfers… great guy and a great family! It was so nice that they had also prepared a lovely dinner for us when we arrived as well – certainly appreciated!!!

So tomorrow it will be onwards to Exeter – a little further than today at 111km, though apparently the weather is meant to be better… here’s hoping!!!

Oh and one final note – I will write another separate post about this, but it is worth a mention here!! We are looking to raise funds for Cool Earth – an organization that works with local communities to protect the rainforests; something that means a lot to us, especially coming from Brazil and seeing what is happening to the forests there. Our Just Giving page is at https://www.justgiving.com/360-Extremes – please help us in helping them!!! 

Day 01 - Temperature

Day 01 - Elevation

One of the options we are considering for the bike tour training is going from Buenos Aires to Santiago, though did not mention initially in our initial overview of the options we are thinking about. This is personally one of my lesser favorites of the ideas we have, but it has definite positives…

Looking down from Cristo Redentor, Mendoza Province (C) Angel Longo

The journey is a good 1550km, so a nice distance – marginally shorter than the journey from the north to south of Britain that I discussed last time. The last three hundred or so kilometers of this journey would be going through the Andes, meaning that there will be very high passes to go through, with the highway getting to around 3000 metres above sea level, and there being optional side-tracking rides going up to 4000 metres, with the Cristo Redentor in Mendoza province. When we finally leave São Paulo on the main expedition, we will be going along at similar heights through the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes.

The roads will be a mixture of asphalt and dusty highways, so not in the best of conditions – again something that we can very much expect along our main expedition route. This will affect our speed and how much distance we will be able to cover each day in manner that would be much more similar to the real journey than perhaps we would find in Scotland.

Furthermore, with the distances between towns and villages in Argentina and Chile much greater than Chile, we would be required to camp without being able access supplies in these areas, so we will have to make sure that we are taking enough with us to be able to survive longer periods. So in this respect it will be more challenging.

Then, there is the price – it will be much easier and cheaper for us to fly from São Paulo to Buenos Aires, and back to São Paulo from Santiago than it would be for us to fly to and from the United Kingdom, and north Scotland in particular. Moreover, as well as being easy to get to, Buenos Aires is a great city; the Andes would be beautiful and it will be nice to get to know Santiago. But back to the point… the cost of this is definitely an important consideration bearing in mind that sponsorship is coming along… slowly, to say the least.

The Road through Mendoza (C) FerroFreddy

My main problem with this route is that for 1200metres it will be flat. Not just flat for a few kilometres or so and with a few hills here and there… but flat. Extremely flat. Okay we are going to have much of the journey which is flat, going through Brazil towards Bolivia… but being flat like this is not so much of a challenge and is pretty uninteresting. Okay, we get to deal with the local drivers, but this doesn’t strike me as too hard (maybe I am underestimating this factor though…?). Also, with this planned for February, we would be in the summer/autumn of the southern hemisphere, meaning that weather conditions won’t be quite as snowy or as cold as that in the photo showing the route in winter. It will be much drier, I believe. Okay it will be good to get us going through drier, dustier conditions but I think this would be easier to train for than the harder, windier, blustery conditions in the UK. Am certainly very open to this route, though I will probably take some convincing – any thoughts you might have are very welcome!

I had the pleasure of meeting with Amyr Klink the other day. For those who don’t know, Amyr is a Brazilian explorer and sailer who has gone on fantastic expeditions around the world by sea, has sailed around the Antarctic, and from the Antarctic to the Arctic – to name just a few of his projects – and has also worked in building his own vessels.

A friend at the Ministry of Culture suggested I should speak with him, so I had contacted his office a few weeks ago. To my surprise, a week ago before I went to New York, I got a call from him. Initially, to my embarrassment, I didn’t realise who it was – I was at my office and was in a bit of a world of my own. After a couple of minutes, it clicked and we chatted for a good half hour about the project and arranged to meet when I got back.

And so it was. When I got to his office, we had a coffee and talked for about an hour and a half – he talked about the yachts he had built and showed photos from the construction and his expeditions to the Antarctic, and also talked about the problems that he had faced on his journeys such as sailing between ice flows without getting the yacht crushed. We talked about the challenges that we would be facing en-route – our question about how exactly do we get to the Antarctic was one of the first things we discussed.

This question became apparent after our chat with Andrew Dare – basically because of the seasonal windows for expeditions to the South Pole. Airplane is the last option we want to consider because of the environmental issues and it just isn’t really authentic exploration. So this leaves yacht or boat to arrive on the continent. The problem with this is that the ice around the continent only breaks up enough to allow us to land near a base in the middle of expedition season – so we would not be able to cross the Pole in one season. We would need at least two seasons, and to stay at a base on the continent for around six months or so as the freezing winter passes over us. Originally this struck us as not really an option, though the more we think about this, the more it seems like a promising idea. We would just be stuck with each other’s company for six months in the same place, which could be… interesting… and the whole project will take about four years to complete as opposed to three and a bit!

Among the other subjects we discussed included the idea of kite surfing. He described the experience of other explorers with kit surfing contraptions where they have slept in the capsule and been able to carry their supplies with them. Then there is the design to think about, with two/three skis protruding for stability; the materials to use… everything we need to think about as this will need to be custom-built for us…

And finally he suggested some interesting contacts that will hopefully be able to help us further with the expedition.  So hopefully things will be moving further forward from here!

A little about the hardest challenges on this expedition and the preparations that are going in for them.

Yes, two years from now to the day and we will be leaving São Paulo on this epic adventure!

As the ideas behind this expedition built up over the last few years and turned themselves from loosely connected thoughts into a cohesive and surprisingly realistic and achievable plan, it felt like one of those moments in cartoons where light bulbs go off above someone’s head, and there is that ding sound. In spite of the time it took, developing the plan was, however, the easy part and putting it all in practice and making it a success is hard.

Well, the first three months have gone by pretty quickly. We have already accomplished a lot though we have not even started the most serious preparatory work with this project.

We have found our third team member, Norm, who will be the first US national to do the polar axis circle and will be fantastic in filming the project.

Training has begun in earnest – we are now all working hard in our physical fitness and our technical skills (and actually getting pretty good at the intermediate walls – actually racing each other on them now and getting some decent times…);

Norm went through the Catskills along the Devil’s path in a treacherous hike, and soon will be going on nice 300km cycle ride, whilst Natalia and I have been concentrating on our climbing and endurance at the gym and on the rocks, and our first major training expedition in Bolivia is fast approaching. On Monday, we will start working with Fabio, a climber and personal trainer, to help further with our climbing skills and fitness levels and also our psychological preparation.

We are all working on our diets with a nutritionist in order to make sure we are in good enough shape to be able to go through the Poles where we will lose from 5,000 to 7,000 calories per day (and only be able to eat around 4,000 calories worth) for around 70 days at each pole. At the same time, we will need to be in conditions for travel through tropical forests and cycling massive distances, and with this, diet is just about as important as the actual training.

At the same time, there are still important questions to resolve. We are very close to confirming our charities (I know, I know, we have been saying this for a while, but we are!). Logistics will need to be sorted with our equipment drop-off and pickup points around the world; and details about exactly how we will traverse from Canada over to Greenland and the North Pole need to be confirmed – the distances involved are just massive, and these distances are magnified by the cold conditions. We are also looking to confirm details about reaching Antarctica: we aim to be as carbon neutral as possible with this project, and really do not want to use air transport in any way at all, so we are speaking with people about sailing to and from the continent – something that would be just amazing. And finally, there is the small matter of sponsorship…

So yes, lots going on and lots to do, and plenty of updates to come!

The 360 Extremes Expedition will pass through 30 different countries and will take over three years to complete. In every country we will face different challenges, meet new and interesting people and see a massive array of different types of plant and animal life.

At this current planning phase where we are ironing out all of the details, we can certainly say that whilst we are aware of the major challenges that we will face, we don’t know everything. Indeed, to coin a Bushism (sorry – a Rumsfeldism…)… there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

I remember I laughed when I first heard this quote, but it actually rings true: we know we don’t know lots of things though at the same time, there are many things that can happen which we cannot really predict – all we can do is try our best to prepare our best for what might face us, and every eventuality.

So over the next few weeks or so, we will be writing posts about the different countries and major stopping points and routes in these countries: show a little of what we (think we) know and a little bit about what we think will happen. We would love to speak with people who know about or live along the different aspects of the route, and indeed we would love to have your advice about how to progress through the various stages of this adventure.

We shall start this series at the beginning (and end) of it all, with the city of São Paulo in Brazil, from where we shall embark in March 2014.