RIO DE JANEIRO.- A Brazilian man who in 2013 completed a 14,000-kilometer (8,700-mile) journey by bike from the Netherlands to China has been preparing for two years to become the first cyclist to cross Antarctica from coast to coast.
Although this latest trip will cover a far shorter distance – 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) in 55 days -, Leandro Martins will have to cope with extreme conditions, including pedaling over ice, enduring temperatures as low as -40 C (-40 F) and contending with polar winds that can reach speeds as high as 100 km per hour.
The idea is to complete the route undertaken five years ago by American Daniel Burton, who has been assisting the Brazilian with his training and preparation.
In 2014, Burton pedaled 1,247 km from Antarctica’s western coast to the South Pole but did not make his way to the other coast.
«I was very moved by the outcome of the expedition of Henry Worsley,» the British army officer and explorer who died in 2016 of a serious infection while trying to cross Antarctica unaided, the Brazilian cyclist told EFE in an interview when asked how his plans originated. »
«He was a great explorer and lived a life of adventures, but I never had anything to do with sledges (which Worsley used to carry his supplies) or with Antarctica.»
«When I learned that Daniel Burton had pedaled to the South Pole, I had a strong desire to experience something incredible like that,» said the 35-year-old cyclist, who currently works as an English teacher at a daycare in China.
Martins said he plans to make the attempt in the Southern Hemisphere spring (around November) when the «temperatures are more mild,» starting at the Ross Ice Shelf, crossing the South Pole and concluding the journey at the Hercules Inlet on the other coast.
«The temperatures range from between -10 C (14 F) on the coast and -40 C at the center of the continent. The winds are a constant and can exceed 100 km per hour. In the route to the South Pole (600 km and up to 3,000 meters high), I’ll pedal against the wind, while in the descent to the Hercules Inlet (1,200 km) I’ll have the wind at my back,» he said.
Martins will receive logistical support from Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions, a private operator that offers Antarctic tours and through which he booked a flight from southern Chile to the White Continent and an around-the-clock emergency response and assistance system.
A support crew riding in an all-terrain vehicle will escort him on the journey and carry the 130 kilograms (285 pounds) of equipment and food needed for the 55-day haul.
That crew will include Hannah McKeand, the first skier to reach the South Pole; and Mia Ballenden, an extreme-sport dietician.
«I’ve already done polar cycling training in different regions in past winters and I currently pedal 100 km a day twice a week and follow an conditioning program that will intensify as the expedition draws near,» he said.
«Over the past two years, I’ve done trainings and expeditions in regions where temperatures and conditions are similar to those of Antarctica. I was in northern China and in Russia; I did polar training with professionals in Norway and crossed Lake Baikal in Siberia solo, where I faced temperatures of -30 C for 10 days,» Martins added.
During all of those training sessions, the Brazilian said he camped on ice, melted snow for cooking and maintained a routine very similar to the one he will undergo in Antarctica.
Martins said he is in condition to ride between 10 and 12 hours a day, or more than the eight hours daily he pedaled during his trip from the Netherlands to China, a journey that took him through 18 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.
«The people I’ve been working with believe the project is viable. The trip has already been approved by logistics professionals, who are very confident it will be a success. I can also count on the help of Burton, who came to visit me in Shanghai (where Martins currently lives) to help me with the planning,» he said.
The Brazilian cyclist, who had initially intended to embark on this challenge in late 2018, had to postpone the trip due to a lack of financing.
He said the cost of logistical support in the most remote part of the planet drives up the price tag and that has made him dependent once again on sponsors, who can place advertising spots on a Web site launched for this occasion at www.laoshibybike.com (laoshi is the Chinese word for teacher as transcribed in Hanyu Pinyin).
Martins also plans to attract sponsors by using the project to raise funds for UNICEF activities in Brazil and Mozambique – a campaign to be carried out using platforms such as Virgin Money Giving.
«This is a common practice with these types of projects and helps to mobilize support,» the Brazilian said.