British woman Maria Leijerstam under four days away from riding to South Pole

Zooming across Antarctica on recumbent trike

by John Stevenson   December 24, 2013  

Maria ICEland

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.

You can follow Maria’s progress on her YellowBrick tracker here, and via Twitter.

Daniel Burton is writing fairly extensively on his blog, as is Juan Menendez Granados.

6 user comments

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Top effort and thoughts will be with Maria (as I tuck into turkey et al!)

posted by NickK123 [93 posts]
24th December 2013 - 11:31

18 Likes

I just have to point out she started at 85 degrees while the other 2 started at 80 degrees...Dan Burton hasn't even reached her starting point.

They are also unsupported except for Dan's cached fuel/food -- unless you count how his friends are trying to airlift a new freehub to him (from Utah). Maria has been able to transfer her gear to her support team when the going gets tough...losing 45kg of weight vs dragging a fully loaded sled.

Maria is doing really well but what Dan is doing is more impressive.

posted by massspike [134 posts]
24th December 2013 - 16:08

14 Likes

Maria has a knee injury before even taking this on, she had to get one pedal adjusted with a platform to take some stress off her knee if I remember rightly.

I'm trying to get ICE took look at the north pole and ME to cycle it Day Dreaming on the very same trike Big Grin

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [9355 posts]
24th December 2013 - 18:04

16 Likes

I have to disagree with the sentiment that somehow quicker and lighter is less praiseworthy. It was a misguided attempt to do things 'properley' that lost Scott not only the race to pole, but also the lives of the men he was leading, as well as his own. Amundsen took a shorter route, and was better prepared. This didn't make Amundsen's feat any less worthy, it just means he was better at doing his job.

mr-andrew's picture

posted by mr-andrew [303 posts]
24th December 2013 - 18:10

14 Likes

5 degrees shorter and fully supported that makes it less praiseworthy/notable. Dan Burton has to ride 20 days (uphill, upwind) just to get to the "mountain" Maria started out on. He chose to start at one of the classic locations (vs. flying 1/2 way). What he is doing is much much more difficult.

My problem is her PR team, ITV, and journalists who don't check the facts aren't going to point this out.

P.S. Maria didn't start at sea level (that would be 1000km further from the pole) so the initial elevation was more like 1500-2000 meters.

posted by massspike [134 posts]
24th December 2013 - 18:29

19 Likes

Regardless of the technicalities between each of the three rides, big pat on the back to each of them for what must be the adventure of a lifetime.

No doubt Wiggle will add this to their Sportive calender in the not too distant future allowing us all to have a turn Smile

My only fear in life is that in the event of my death, my wife will sell my bikes for what she thinks we paid for them.

posted by Velo-Chris [18 posts]
26th December 2013 - 6:15

7 Likes