Maria Leijerstam, the first person to cycle to the South Pole, is now launching a book about her adventure. Four years ago Arctic Trucks undertook the support of her expedition.
Cycling on snow can be a huge challenge, to cover extensive distances on a cycle in Antarctica looked impossible. Despite a few attempts no one had ever succeeded in reaching South Pole from the ice shelf on a bicycle. Arctic Trucks had already supported BBC program “Blue Peter” with Helen Skelton, skiing, kiting and bicycling 750km to the South Pole. From this experience we knew that cycling was not possible for most of the route unless following a hardened path from the vehicles.
White Ice Cycle – Antarctica 2013
Maria Leijerstam approached Arctic Trucks in November 2012, planning to cycle solo to the South Pole from either Hercules inlet or the Ross Ice shelf.
The most logical choice was the Ross Ice Shelf and trail of the US Antarctica Traverse.
Maria already knew of one or more people also attempting to be the first people to bike cycle to the South Pole so there was a feeling of competition in the air when Maria arrived at South Pole 17th Dec 2013 with the flight that was picking up the Walking With The Wounded teams. She was very eager to get started as the other two people that were also attempting this had started from Hercules Inlet a few weeks earlier. Maria was already suffering a bit from the flight to the pole and the altitude so we took off quickly from South Pole. 19 hours later we camped at the Ross Ice shelf.
After a good night’s sleep and rest, Maria could not wait and started cycling the 650 km back to South Pole. Her plan was to do this unsupported and she started the first days on her own, we kept track of here and took photos and video but mostly she just wanted to be in her own space. The weather was excellent and the trail was hard packed and easy to cycle on. We all enjoyed the magnificent scenery but started to feel the pain Maria was going through climbing up the steep Leverett glacier with all her equipment on the bike. But she persisted and used her hands to turn the front wheels for more power and grip. At one point she had to off-load some of her equipment to be able to continue and had to come back down to get it.
This way Maria finished the climb up Leverett Glacier and started cycling on flatter surfaces. At this point there was more “snow drift” in the trail and as the Tricycle has to push 3 trails through the snow the resistance becomes an obstacle. She struggled to find efficient air pressure for the tyres and a put a lot of manual labour to pump up the tyres with the tiny pump she carried with her. At the same time, the temperature dropped considerably and progress was very slow.
Maria kept asking if we had information how far the other two cyclists had gone, her priority was to be the first to cycle to South Pole. One morning when we woke up, we saw her tent was down, she was gone but had left the luggage behind. From this point and to South Pole, we supported her all the way carrying food, camp equipment and etc. She was having problems with her knee and her feet getting cold so occasionally she would come into the car to warm them up.
We could all see that she was in pain but said little about it and just continued and continued, finishing in less than 11 days, being the first person to cycle to South Pole and setting a new record for a human powered person to get from ice shelf to South Pole.
From the South Pole we headed off, driving to Union Glacier, meeting up with Juan Menendez Granados a few hundred kilometers in, but he was also attempting to ski and bike to the South Pole. At Thiels Corner we encountered Daniel Burton on his bike.
Time: December 17th to 30th 2013
Route: South Pole – Amundsen Coast –
South Pole – Patriot Hills
Participants: Emil Grímsson and Torfi Jóhannsson from Arctic Trucks.
Cars: 1 x AT44 Hilux, 1 x AT44 6X6 Hilux