Interview With Polar Explorer Ben Saunders

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"Captain Scott’s last expedition - the most poignant journey of the golden age of Edwardian exploration - remains unfinished to this day.
British adventurers Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are setting out on an expedition to Antarctica to complete Scott’s 1,800-mile return journey to the South Pole on foot. Pushing the boundaries of human potential, the Scott Expedition will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history and the next chapter in one of the greatest stories of polar exploration ever told."
Today I was lucky enough to be able to speak with Polar Explorer Ben Saunders! Here's a transcribed version of our interview. Enjoy! 

Sam: It’s really exciting to see everything fall into place for the expedition! You’ve mentioned before that you’ll be doing some really incredible things with communication. How exactly will you be communicating from Antarctica? 

Ben: We've been working with Intel a lot in terms of communication and they have been phenomenal! This is actually the first time that I'll be taking an ultra book with me in the sled.  Normally I use a small handheld device where I'm limited to simple, short text. Intel has recently brought out its 4th generation processor, which has introduced a new ultra book to the market that is light weight enough, has a good enough battery, is tough enough to survive the low temperatures in antarctica and has such an efficient processor that I will be able to download footage and images from the journey  onto my ultra book and then share it with anyone following the expedition!

Sam: That's awesome! So how are you  getting internet access in Antarctica?

Ben: We’re using the iridium satellite network (the same network we’ve always used).  For internet we’ll be using a highly modified version of something called a pilot, which is usually used on ships and vessels.  It’s basically a huge dome shaped antenna.  It’s being designed specifically for this expedition to sit on top of our sledges and weigh about a third as much as normal. We’re pairing it with a battery pack and solar panel. With this we’ll be able to send back way more high resolution photos, and even video about once a week.  Technology has come a long way, although we still can’t do real time video from Antarctica

Sam: How has your equipment preparation gone?

Ben: A lot of the key equipment we’ve actually had since last year, so we weren't worrying about getting the work done in time. It feels like Antarctica will be the easy part after all of this preparation. I may rethink that later when I'm down there with my harness, pulling the sledge through the cold.
Sam: These days, it seems like everyone and their dog who travels around the tropics hitting on girls and drinking at bars will call themselves an “adventurer.”

Ben: That sounds like a far more sensible expedition.  

Sam: So why do you choose to explore the polar regions? What draws you in?

Ben: I think it’s in some ways the severity of the climate and the genuine wilderness of the polar regions. When I was in the North Pole I didn’t see another human being.  I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid and I think being a polar explorer is as close as you can get.   I mountaineered some when I was younger, but then polar exploration caught my attention.

Sam: It must be a weird transition from the big city to absolute wilderness. 

Ben: Living in London is frustrating at times.   The transition is always difficult, even from a logistics standpoint.  Even the portion of our journey to Antarctica from London to Chile is very complex.  

Sam: What’s your entertainment?  Netflix?

Ben: Not quite! Probably once a week we will watch a tv show or movie stored on a hard drive.  We’ll also have music, and we’re bringing kindles.  When we get onto the plateau it will be featureless for days and days, so it will be nice to have those things.  

Sam: You do quite a bit of strength training for being an endurance athlete.  It’s incredible to see how much weight you’re capable of lifting. 

Ben: I’m sort of a weird hybrid athlete.  It’s 1800 miles from the ocean, to the pole, and back, but we're going to be dragging a huge amount of weight up and down the Beardmore Glacier.  When we get there it will take us 4 or 5 weeks to get across. So strength is going to be a big factor. 

Sam: How is your partner Tarka getting in shape?

Ben: We often joke that we’re a bit like Rocky 4.  I’m always in the city, being monitored, in the gym, very high tech. Tarka lives in the alps, so he runs hills, trains with a heavy pack and does more low tech training. He's a tough tough guy.

Sam: So he's Rocky and you're the drugged up Russian?

Ben: I'm not a big fan of that analogy. 

Sam: Didn't you beat him at the Vertical Kilometer race in the Alps?

Ben: He beat me actually! But I’m happy with that. He lives down there at altitude and I had never run the vertical KM. Our times were very similar.  It was really challenging.  

Sam: I know you've been working on this for most of your adult life. What has kept you motivated?

Ben: It has come to a point where I just said that this has got to happen.  I think it has all worked for the best though. I have the perfect team mate, and perfect sponsors.  It's great to see that things have all fallen into place.  

Sam: What’s the best way to follow you guys? 

Ben:!  We're doing a bit of blogging now, but it will really take off once we leave for Antarctica.  There will also be a lot of updates through Twitter and Facebook.

If you have a question for Ben or Tarka, please leave it in the comments, as we will have another opportunity to speak with them while they're in Antarctica!

Samuel LarsonComment