Utahn Daniel Burton on Tuesday became the first person to bike all the way from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole.
Helen Skelton, of England, set the first cycling record on the continent in 2012 when she biked part of the way to the pole — 103 miles; she snow-kited and snowshoed the rest of the way, according to Men’s Fitness Magazine. American Eric Larsen broke her record the same year with 335 miles on a bike during an unsuccessful attempt to reach the bottom of the world on only two wheels.
There and Back Again
Daniel Burton’s 730-mile journey had three main legs: the first was the steep climb inland and upward from Hercules Inlet, the coast. The middle stretch was easier, flattening out from Patriot Hills to the Thiels mountains. The last leg was a long, hard climb to the pole, which lies about 9,300 feet above sea level.
The original plan was to bike back, but he opted instead to fly.
So Burton finished what Larsen started. The Saratoga Springs man, who turned 50 during the trip, reached the South Pole on Tuesday after a grueling 50-day trek across the frozen wastes of the inhospitable continent.
Burton set a new world record by traveling about 730 miles across Antarctica on a bike — which, ironically, is a Borealis brand, a Latin word meaning "northern."
As Burton sees it, cycling saved him when his health had deteriorated. He wanted to make a difference with his new life and inspire others to turn their health around, so he put that life at risk on a continent of ice and death to do what had never been done.
Born again on a banana seat » Though Burton had a healthy, active childhood, he slumped into a sedentary life as a computer programmer. Twenty-three years into his career, out of shape and new to his 40s, he went to get his blood checked.
"My cholesterol numbers were real bad, my blood pressure was high, and I was a few pounds overweight. I panicked, thinking I might die early," Burton wrote on his blog, Epic South Pole, which he used to chronicle his expedition.
So Burton got into mountain biking, restored his health, bought a bike shop in 2008 and finished the Lotoja Classic (a ride from Logan to Jackson, Wyo.) six times. It’s the longest single-day race in the country that is sanctioned by USA Cycling.
Then Burton was inspired to do more. His Antarctic ride is not only meant to inspire people and encourage donations to the American Diabetes Association, but he rides in honor of his mother as well. High cholesterol contributed to her death Nov. 30, 2012.
So last fall, Burton left the bike shop in the care of his family, booked a trip to Hercules Inlet on the Antarctic west coast (fittingly sharing a name with the demi-god renowned for feats of strength) and, on Dec. 2, almost a year to the day after his mother’s death, Burton started pedaling onto the ice shelf. Ahead of him: hundreds of miles of persistent winds, deadly crevasses, silent plains, steep mountains, dense fog and blinding snow.
"Well, I guess it is time to try riding in the worst blizzard you can imagine," he wrote on his blog.
Thinking about his friend’s trip, Ronald Tolley recalled what Gandalf tells Bilbo before they embark on their dangerous quest in "The Hobbit": If he does come back, he will never be the same.
The bottom of the world » Antarctica seems otherworldly: a windy continent buried under a mile of ice and — at this time of year — basked in eternal sunlight. It’s the middle of summer there now, and the highs are still below freezing.
Expedition organizers set up a few caches of freeze-dried food for Burton along the way, but he would have to melt snow for water. While he would occasionally catch a brief sight of another traveler in the distance, no one would be there to meet him; until he was done, he was alone.
After 11 days, he was so exhausted that he lost his balance and fell over several times. For a familiar frame of reference, Burton compared a long, hard day of biking to the pole to pedaling to the top of the Y sign on the mountain above Provo for five straight hours, taking a break, then doing it again for another five hours. Imagine that, plus freezing temperatures, blinding fogs and blizzards and the constant risk of falling into a gaping crevasse, while dragging two sleds of supplies behind you.
"My grandmother would see a beautiful sunset and say it was the most beautiful she had ever seen, and she meant it. So when I say that each day was the hardest of my life, it is in honor of her, because it really is the hardest day of my life every day of this expedition," Burton wrote Dec. 19. He surpassed Larsen’s record about the same day.
Burton brought his iPod so that the likes of Rihanna, P!nk and Green Day could keep him company. Plus, he can listen to scripture on Sundays (Burton is Mormon). But there was at least one pitfall to the music: "When you are dead tired and don’t want to go on anymore, it is not a good time for Pink Floyd’s ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ to come up on the playlist," Burton wrote on his blog.
Burton also brought a satellite phone that he used once a day to call his family, update his blog and touch base with the expedition organizers. The phone allowed him to call his daughter on Christmas, the first he had ever spent away from home. "It was great to be able to hear her voice," he wrote.
The day after Christmas, Burton saw the first person that he had seen in what seemed like forever — a truck heading back from its trip to the pole. "They waved as they flew past … then a [fog] moved in and I lost the ability to see anything."Next Page >
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