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Riding a Bike Across Antarctica!
When Dan Burton was diagnosed with heart disease and hardening of the arteries in Saratoga Springs, Utah, it scared him. He changed his diet and started biking and exercising. Then, his mother died in 2012 from the same disease, that really scared him. He thought it was genetic and his fate was possibly that. It was around that time he had read about Eric Larsen's failed attempt to ride a bike across the Antarctica and reach the South Pole. As a computer programmer by trade, this would be a life changing experience away from the secure and safe world of his techie job.
Dan had opened a bike shop in 2008 and began a trial and error process to find the best wide tires to use when riding a bike in snow. After reading about the failed attempt, Dan, 50, decided he would do it and endure the 750 mile trip across the frozen, sub-zero environment. Dan would solo this effort leaving his wife and four kids behind thousands of miles away. Besides the bike and survival gear, he only took a satellite phone.
The journey began on December 2 at Hercules Inlet on the west coast (this is summer in this part of the world) where it was a balmy -35F. Right off, he faced strong head winds and soft snow the limited his trek to six miles a day. At times, he had to walk the bike due to the wind. In order to not lose his way, he followed the tracks made by a snow plow that was going to the South Pole. But, along the way, fresh snow fell causing whiteout conditions obliterating the path. That was a freak summer storm because soon after that he had 24-hr sun and conditions that turned soft snow to ice and hard tracks. This allowed him to make up to 17 miles daily. This made towing his gear and food much easier.
To improve traction, he reduced the air pressure in his tires but got frostbite from doing so. At times, he was forced to climb 15 ft. drifts, then the grease in the wheel hubs froze leaving him stranded until a new wheel was airlifted in. Once repaired, he continued and discarded unneeded weight, which is one reason Larsen failed. Dan was biking at 6600 ft. in elevation and many times he would not see a drop in the white panoramic of 4-5 ft. and simply crash head on. Riding across Antarctica is simply white. A white vastness that can provide illusions in the far distance. There are few landmarks and no one else. Think an astronaut on the moon.
For Dan, while it was a daunting experience, it was mostly bland and uneventful. As he said, it was not his idea of having fun, but he wanted to prove to himself and others what the human spirit can accomplish.
After 51 days, he reached the South Pole. There was no crowd. There was no nobody. Just a single pole stuck in the ground with a flag. His immediate thought was a sarcastic, "big deal". Then, another thought came, was this worth the $80,000 loan he took against his home for the whole endeavor and hardship? But, a computer programmer easily makes that in a year, if not more.
It is still a question he ponders as he tries to pay it off. Sometimes it is yes, other times, no. But he did do it by himself and set a world record forever. Unlike the other attempts, where limbs or fingers were lost, he made it back all in one piece. The last leg of the trip had Dan climb to 9300 ft. Once he got there, his original plan was to ride the bike back to the starting point, but he quickly changed that and flew back!
What a deal!