Ben Saunders is the latest in a long line of Brits who have left the comfort of Old Blighty for cold, dark corners of the planet. He’s one of only three people to have skied solo to the North Pole and was the youngest to do so by over a decade. That’s interesting enough on its own — more interesting than anything we’ve done — but to achieve success with such gusto and optimism in the face of the rigors of the bloody North Pole only captivates us more. Saunders is an avid cyclist, Twitter presence (@polarben), Land Rover enthusiast and dog owner. In other words, he’s our kind of guy, and we were glad when he agreed to sit down with us and answer a few questions about his own heroes, what scares him and his next epic adventure.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. That there are just 650,000 hours in the average lifetime.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Reaching the North Pole solo in 2004. I was 26 at the time, and spent 72 days alone in arguably the harshest climate on the planet, traversing the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean. It was an off-the-scale physical challenge (the equivalent of 31 back-to-back marathons dragging a 400-pound sled through average temperatures of -22 degrees Fahrenheit). And it was even harder mentally.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. My next expedition. I’m planning to set out to complete Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Antarctic expedition for the first time. At 1,800 miles and nearly four months long, it will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history, and it’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on.
Update: In the early morning hours of February 7, 2014, Saunders completed his historic mission.
…there are just 650,000 hours in the average lifetime.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. Resilience. And my watch — a Bremont Supermarine S500 — it gets me where I need to be on time!
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: I seem to have been collecting role models and mentors since I was a teenager. A few that stand out are The American alpinist, writer and coach Mark Twight, the British polar explorer and environmental campaigner Robert Swan, and Norwegian polar explorers Børge Ousland and Rune Gjeldnes. I was lucky enough to work for John Ridgway in my late teens — he and Chay Blyth rowed across the Atlantic in 1966, and the year I spent with John was when I started hatching plans to lead my own expeditions. I’m lucky enough to have been coached/mentored by NYC-based Jerry Colonna for several years now, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without his wisdom and support.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. I have a terrible habit of having several books on the go at once. Right now, that list includes:
Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin, When it Happens to You by Molly Ringwald, A Guide to the Good Life by William B Irvine, and Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue by Andrew Selters.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. I’m petrified by karaoke.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. A ribeye steak, triple-cooked chips (fries!) and buttered spinach, cooked by Adam Byatt. And an early nineties bottle of Penfolds Grange.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. If people close to you tell you something’s impossible, they’re saying it partly because they care about you, but partly because they fear that if you succeed, it will expose their timidity to the light of day.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. The mountaineer George Lowe died last in March this year aged 89. I heard him described as “a gentle soul” and I thought that was perhaps the finest epitaph one could aspire to.
Ben Saunders is a British explorer. His most notable accomplishment was a solo trek to the North Pole in 2004. This year, he’s heading south in the footsteps of Robert Falcon Scott, and you can follow his exploits here.