Polar Explorer, Ben Saunders: “Impossible Is Just An Opinion”

I met record-breaking, polar explorer Ben Saunders, at the ‘ForumOne’ conference in Vilnius. He came to talk about how one can be extraordinary and how one can achieve phenomenal results. We sat down to talk, and I was immediately overwhelmed by his stories of the longest human-powered polar journey in history. His route took him all the way from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, and back again. This was a retracing of Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition. Ben is only the third person in history to ski solo to the North Pole. Also, the British adventurer holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey. He is simply, in one word, amazing!

South Pole explorer

AL: You did what no one has done before you – you’ve covered more than 6000km (3730 miles) on foot in the Polar Regions; the farthest since 2001. My first question is the easiest one for you: Is ‘impossible’ really nothing?

BS: Yeah, after 11 expeditions I can say that it is really true. A lot of things only ‘appear’ to be impossible. Or so I was told by ‘experts’. And I’ve learned that the word ‘impossible’ is just somebody’s idea. Impossible really is just an opinion.

AL: Which of all your achievements are you most proud of?

BS: Definitely my last expedition – it was a journey with real historical significance. A journey that hasn’t been completed for over one hundred years. Together with my partner Tarka L’Herpiniere, we have officially made the first complete re-tracing of Scott’s iconic 1,795 mile Terra Nova route: right from the very coast of Antarctica, to the South Pole, and back. All in 105 days. This pushed our limits, both physically and mentally. We made the longest polar man-haul in history and it is one of the greatest stories of polar exploration.

Saunder Tarka

AL: OK, and now let me ask a more complicated question – what is the ‘meaning of life’?

BS: Hmm, wow (smiling)… I don’t know… I’m still working on it. Maybe it’s simply to have fun and to do as much as you can. Life is short. It’s less than 700 000 hours. If you had a bank account with 700 000 pounds in it and you were told that was it, you would never spend a pound without thinking very carefully. However, many of us do stuff they don’t enjoy, or are not passionate about, in their lives. For me it’s really a shame.

AL: Did you ever face a situation, when you thought “I just can’t do this”?

BS: Well, in Antarctica most days I was faced with situations where I felt “I can’t do this’. Waking up in the morning and then suddenly realizing where I was – it was terrible. We skied for 11 hours every day. We had days off only when the weather was bad. All together we made a journey equal to the distance from Paris to Moscow. We weren’t rested enough and were exhausted. There were times when I questioned what I was doing…. and whether it really was ‘impossible.’ But I never thought about giving up. I just kept on reminding myself that I came here for a challenge; that so many people follow me and they trust in me. Knowing I can have an impact on people’s lives was inspirational to me. It was a big source of motivation.

Best trip to Antarctica

AL: Were there any moments when you were close to death in your expeditions?

BS: We had a close encounter with a polar bear during my first polar expedition. My partner was in charge of the gun we wanted to use to frighten him. But it wasn’t working. He got close, very close… Also crossing thin bridges of snow with huge ice holes underneath during my last expedition was a very dangerous experience too.

AL: Is there anything you’re really afraid of?

BS: Hmmm…. Maybe singing in public? (laughing). Seriously - karaoke is a nightmare for me. I still get nervous speaking in front of the public. Like today; with 4000 people in the arena.

Expedition to South Pole

AL: Do you remember when you decided to became a polar explorer?

BS: As a kid I loved adventures and challenging myself. We were always climbing trees and swimming in the river with my brother. I never thought it would become a career, but I fell in love with it after my first expedition.

AL: What is your typical day on an expedition?

BS: It’s quite a long day. You wake up. You have breakfast; melting snow to have drinking water and hot drinks for the day. Then we pack-up and start moving. We ski for 10 hours every day and stop every 90 minutes to eat and drink. Mainly energy bars - 6000 calories a day. At the end of the day we put the tent up, and then do the same things again – make water, food, and write our blogs.

Ben Saunders

AL: What is the most useful thing to have on an expedition?

BS: We had only vital things as we were trying to reduce the weight. Like having watches you can rely on… because it’s light 24 hours a day, and you have no idea if it’s night or day. It a mechanical watch, made specially for me by a British brand - Bremont. Also, small things, like a flask. If it breaks you are really in trouble.
We did lot of work with Intel, so we were able to send pictures every evening from the South Pole using just a small computer.

AL: It was just two of you. But if theoretically you could take more people with you, who you would take on a polar journey?

BS: I think I would take all the CEOs of big companies like Amazon, oil companies etc… just so they could think about sustainability in a different way; and to think what impact their businesses have. I’ve seen the results of what we are doing to our planet. Especially at the North Pole. The ice is changing. It’s melting a lot. It’s been ten years. Now I go back there and it’s dramatically changed. I want business leaders to see this.
I would also take my Labrador Molly, but -40, -48 degrees. It’s a bit cold for her (laughing).

speaking in front of the public

AL: What’s next?

BS: I’m busy writing my book and making a film of our journey to Antarctica. I loved it, and I want to go back; but I’m not sure I want to do another 105 days of suffering. Now I want just to explore it and have more people with me. I want to tell the story of this place, because it’s simply amazing…

AL: Do you think anybody can do what you’ve just done?

BS: I don’t think I’m especially gifted. I don’t have any special talent to stay in extreme conditions. I lost 20kg during my last expedition. I was starving and almost died. I’m pretty average but very determined. All people have enormous potential to do big things. I’ve done things which were my biggest dreams.

Expedition to Antarctica

AL: Let’s talk about luxury. What is the biggest luxury for you?

BS: Good question. My life is very unstable: I’m starving to death in a small tent in one month, and then I’m having a dinner in the most luxurious restaurant in Dubai the next. Right now the biggest luxury I have is my car. I got a brand new Land Rover from my sponsor. This is a very different way to drive. I’m loving it!

AL: You travel all around the world giving motivational speeches. What are your favourite places?

BS: I love NYC, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. Now I’ve come to Vilnius straight from Dubai, and everything seems different here – narrow old streets, my hotel - the absolutely fabulous Kempinski next to the old Cathedral...

Travel to Antarctica

AL: Yes, and what are your favorite hotels?

BS: There are so many! What comes to mind now is the Esplendido on Mallorca. I’ve been there a few times. It’s also a perfect place for training - cycling and running.
In general I just love to travel, to be on the move. I really know how to make the most of travelling. Even airports don’t make me tired or impatient. I always travel light: reading or working on the plane.

Scott expedition

AL: I should ask you - what is your favourite book?

BS: I do have one book which inspired me and stands out. It’s called ‘The Worst Journey In The World’. It was written and published in 1922 by a survivor of the expedition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. He was the youngest person in the Scott expedition. The NYT said it was a bible of travel writing.

Ben Saunders explorer gives interview for triptemptation

AL: Thank you for the inspiration and good luck!

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Written by

I fell in love with traveling much earlier than I fell in love with my first man. And I'm still faithful to that love (But I have exchanged some men since my first one). I have never had a reason to regret my passion. I constantly dream of going further, it gives me indescribable emotions and meaning to my life.

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