The radical strategy of using a recumbent trike to traverse the ice seems to be paying off for British adventurer Maria Leijerstam who yesterday passed the halfway mark on her attempt to be the first person to cycle to the South Pole.
Maria is now well ahead of her two rivals, American Daniel Burton and Spaniard Juan Menendez Granados. Her ability to keep riding in almost any conditions is enabling her to cover impressive daily distances and she’s now 250 miles (400km) ahead, despite starting after the two men.
In particular the trike has allowed her to slowly but steadily winch her way up hills. That’s allowed her to take a shorter route to the Pole that requires climbing the formidable Transantarctic Mountains. Scott and Amundsen took a similar route in their legendary South Pole expeditions, but previous attempts to ride bikes to the Pole have taken a shallower route.
Maria identified the Leverett Glacier as a cyclable route through the mountains to the polar plateau. In the first three days she climbed from sea level to nearly 8700 feet (2650m) against very strong head winds and deep snow.
“The trike is amazing. It’s completely stable, even in extreme winds and I can take on long steep hills that I’d never be able to climb on a bike,” said Maria.
Maria has been keeping the world updated of her progress via Twitter. Late last night UK time, she posted: “83.7km yesterday and was far too tired to tweet - sorry! Antarctica is a vicious yet beautiful place.”
Her previous tweet said: “Arrived at 88 degrees at 10.30pm after another massive 11hr day of 60km. Have pedalled every [metre] so far!”
At this rate, Maria is expected to reach the Pole in about four days, so while we’re all stuffing ourselves with turkey, she will still be pedalling away.
Meanwhile, Daniel Burton is predicting it will take him 25 days to reach the Pole on his fatbike, and Juan Menendez Granados believes he has some 42 days to go.
Granados is truly doing it the hard way (some might say the most pure way): unsupported, carrying all the supplies he needs for the trip.
As well being able to make faster progress because she’s on a recumbent trike, Maria has taken advantage of fuel drops.
All three seem in good spirits, but have had their share of problems. Daniel Burton’s freewheel failed on December 21, so he is now riding a ‘geared fixie’ which makes getting started awkward, though he wasn’t doing much freewheeling before anyway.
Maria has complained of a classic cyclist’s injury. Yesterday she tweeted: “230km to go to the South Pole. I have been climbing the whole way so far. Knee hurts a lot!”
Juan Menendez Granados has hit another obstacle familiar to Polar explorers: hunger.
On his blog, he writes: “I have begun to feel hungry for the first time. It is not unusual to not feel hungry until now, because the body strips away the reserves you have at the beginning of an effort like this before giving the order to eat.”
Juan writes that he is more concerned about running out of fuel than food. His diet is meticulously planned and based on high-calories foods like chocolates, nuts, sausage, biscuits and snacks, for their high salt content.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.