Looking for the ultimate cycling adventure? This might be it. From the tour company that created the 120-day Tour d’Afrique from Cairo to Cape Town, as well as a handful of other continent-spanning journeys, the expedition planned for December 2016 should put them all to shame.
TDA Global Cycling is hosting an 18-day ride it has dubbed The Last Degree, traveling through Chile, the Union Glacier basecamp in Antarctica and finally being flown to the 89th parallel to make the ride to the South Pole. From there riders will be flown back to basecamp. Some gear is provided but this is definitely not a ride for beginners. The $70,000 price tag might seem steep but is in line with other expeditions to the edge of the world (Mt. Everest, for example).
TDA Global Cycling Founder and President Henry Gold answered some of our questions about the expedition:
What inspired you to host a group ride to the South Pole?
The idea sprang out of our 7 Epics Challenge of seven extraordinary transcontinental bicycle tours which we introduced a couple of years ago. The 7 Epics Challenge takes place on six continents with two epics, the Silk Route from Beijing to Istanbul and the Bamboo Route from Shanghai to Singapore in Asia.
The concept itself came about from 7 summits on 7 continents and 7 marathons on 7 continents. About 18 months ago when the first cyclist made it to the South Pole, we started thinking: could we also organize a group cycling trip and this way offer a cycling adventure on each continent?
Can anyone sign up? What are the requirements?
In essence, yes, any healthy individual can do it. I say “in essence” because the physical stamina is not the main thing. The main thing is being physically and mentally prepared. An average individual in good health can do it if he or she really, really wants to do it. He or she will need to come to the training camp on Lake Winnipeg in February and learn the basics of successfully surviving the harsh climate in Antarctica, combined with ongoing equipment and training consultation to make sure that participants are in the right frame of mind arriving in Antarctica with all the proper skills, fitness and equipment.
When are you going and how long will it take to get there and back?
We’ll be going in December 2016 and the trip will take approximately 18 days, depending on the weather.
We’re also running a training camp on Lake Winnipeg in February 2016, which is open to anyone who wants a taste of Antarctica, not just our Last Degree participants.
What kind of bikes will the team use?
We will be using Specialized’s specially designed fat bikes with up to 5-inch wide tires with studs and a low gear ratio for chugging through the deep and/or hard-packed snow. Our female riders will have the chance to ride the women-specific Hellga fat bike.
What are some of the challenges you expect to meet along the way?
The primary challenges will be the high altitude, cold and wind, plus the “sastrugi”—snow that has been accumulated into ridges that we have to overcome—and snowfields with an accumulation of permanent snow and ice. The 89th parallel where we land is at high altitude and that takes time to acclimatize.
The rest is weather: how cold will it be; how windy will the plateau get? It will be cold; average temperature at that time of the year is minus 25 Celsius or minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit, but one can expect strong headwinds which, of course, can make it feel much colder.
We’ll need to have tested every bit of kit so that nothing is new. We want to minimize surprises. We’ll have planned out and visualised all aspects of our day from the smallest detail, such as using flint and steel rather than matches that may get damp or a lighter than might stop working at high Antarctic altitudes.
You cannot just tough it out in Antarctica, but you can think it out.
How will safety and emergency concerns be handled?
The expedition is being undertaken in partnership with a company called ALE that has years of experience in supporting expeditions and research in Antarctica. Our guides will be carrying satellite phones and GPS units and will be in daily contact with the base camp. In the event of an emergency that requires an evacuation, a plane will be dispatched from base camp—weather permitting—and is about four hours flying distance.
Do you have a few tips for us non-polar explorers who want to get better at riding in the cold?
When I was a very young man, an old man said to me; there is no such thing as bad weather, there is only improper clothing for the situation.
Cycling in the cold is no different than skiing or snowshoeing. You must dress properly. The worst position you can put yourself in is to sweat into your clothes and then stay outside. At the same time you must take care to protect your hands and feet as the winds will make these parts cold very quickly. So you need good gloves and/or wind covers (pogies) and the same goes for your feet. If you are not cold when cycling, the rest is easy and fun. In one sentence: knowing what to wear and when based on the temperature and wind and how hard you are working is key.