Dan Burton finished his 700-mile, 50-day bicycle ride to the South Pole today, arriving just a day before the last plane for the season is scheduled to leave Antarctica. “I called home to my wife and lost all control of my emotions. The black dots on the horizon were the most wonderful thing I have ever seen,” Burton wrote in his blog today, referring to the South Pole station. “It was starting to feel like I would never make it.”
Burton started his journey on December 2 at Hercules Inlet, located at the coast of the Earth’s southernmost continent. Since then he climbed more than 9,000 feet, braved minus 40 temperatures, endured whiteouts, fell into crevasses and experienced supply shortages, but was determined to keep going.
The owner of Epic Biking in his home town of Saratoga Springs, Burton is not new to riding in harsh conditions. He has gone on expeditions in cold weather before, but this time he rode alone and undertook a much more difficult type of a journey. He dedicated the expedition to the memory of his mother, who died from high cholesterol a year before he began his trip. Through his ride, he wanted to encourage others to stay active and overcome the “obesity crisis” of a “physically easy life” that many people lead today. In his blog, Burton suggests that the reason many people lose motivation for exercise is because they pick up activities they don’t enjoy in the first place. He encourages creating a culture of activity, where people should seek out things they actually like doing. “For me that is biking,” Burton says.
He pulled a sled behind him to carry part of his food and equipment, and put the rest into special bags on his bike, called panniers. Burton also made three resupply stops, where extra supplies were flown in to predetermined locations, and he would use GPS to navigate to these stations and to avoid crevasses on his way there. He jokingly called the entire process “a big geocaching game.”
Despite all the careful planning that went into the expedition, Burton ran out of supplies shortly before arriving at his destination. He was saved by Hannah McKeand – the record holder for the fastest unsupported solo ski trip to the South Pole – who showed up with the much needed food when his energy was running low. McKeand is part of Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions – the group that served as Burton’s emergency contact and with whom he stayed in constant contact throughout his journey. He used two satellite phones to keep in touch, recharging his batteries with solar energy. He called ALE once every 24 hours to update them on his condition and get help with navigation. If 48 hours went by without his phone call, the group would have started a search and rescue operation, the costs of which would be covered by Burton’s emergency extraction insurance.
Besides promoting healthy lifestyle, the expedition was also meant to encourage people to donate to the American Diabetes Association – the organization Burton has been involved with for several years now, doing their Tour de Cure every year. He updated his blog daily, telling stories of his adventures while trying to navigate the harsh climate with the help of mountains, wind and often misleading tracks of various ski expeditions. He’d finish every day’s post by reminding his readers to go out and stay active.
Burton’s ride to the South Pole coincided in timing with that of Juan Menendez Granado, a Spanish cyclist who arrived at the South Pole on January 18, completing his unassisted and unsupported solo expedition in 46 days, although Granado used skis and bicycle interchangeably, while Burton relied entirely on his bike. Both men were beaten by Maria Leijerstam, a British cyclist who completed her 10-day expedition using a better route than the other two, a tricycle and a truck that carried her supplies part of the way. Considering that Leijerstam was using three wheels and Granado took a multi-sport approach, Burton’s can be considered the first “bicycle expedition” to the Pole, although all three have something to be proud of.