In a world in which there are few lands left to discover, few physical feats to conquer, and a general lack of willingness to dream big, British polar explorer Ben Saunders hopes to inspire us. To that end, on October 25, Saunders – along with fellow explorer Tarka L'Herpiniere – left a hut on the Antarctic coast on a journey to make history.
In retracing the ultimately doomed steps of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's fateful 1910–1912 Terra Nova expedition, Saunders and L'Herpiniere hope to become the first to successfully complete the 1,800-mile trek from the coast to the geographical South Pole and back, on foot, and completely unassisted.
Saunders is a veteran explorer, with solo skiing expeditions to the North Pole and the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Brit under his belt. Still, there's no question that this journey, dubbed the Scott Expedition, is his most demanding yet: It's a boundaries-pushing, body- and mind-testing gauntlet of punishments in the most extreme climate on Earth. What's more, there's a particularly morbid elephant in the tent – the last team to attempt the feat died trying.
"No one has ever walked there and back, and the distance these guys covered a century ago hasn't been surpassed; that's as high as the bar has ever been set," Saunders said, in a conversation with 'Men's Journal' prior to his departure. "Given everything we've learned in the last century, from material technology, nutrition, fitness, training, GPS, communications, solar power - all those things - how come, given all this innovation, all these advantages, this journey just simply has not been bettered?"
The two men are already on their way, but before taking off, Saunders detailed the intense and often grueling process he undertook to make this journey possible. "I think everyone has their own South Pole," he said. "My aim is that this journey, this story, might get people to think a little bit differently about their own limits, their own lives." Here's what to expect.
Layer on some fat.
After all the training – the countless hours in the gym or on a bike, pushing their bodies to the limit – the last step for Saunders and L'Herpiniere in their physical preparation was . . . to put on fat. Seriously. The rigors of the journey will drain all the stores and so the goal is to add a surplus. "Even though we'll be eating about 6,000 calories a day, there's an extraordinary metabolic turnover in terms of energy," Saunders says.
For Saunders, the process of adding weight was as simple as eating the type of junk food well-conditioned athletes usually avoid ("we've just been getting donuts, and steak, and bacon, and barbecue – everything!"). But trying to pack on 25 pounds of fat while enduring top-level, intense conditioning is actually hard. If everything goes as planned, Saunders calculates that all his work packing on the pounds will pay off. "We'll lose about two to three pounds a week. I'll come back kind of underweight, but not dangerously so."