It all started more than 20 years ago with some youthful exploration of Europe by bike for Australian cyclist Kate Leeming. Since then her passion for two-wheeled travel has led her to a series of ground-breaking adventures. She has cycled a distance that is equivalent to two trips around the world on the equator, raising money and awareness along the way. Leeming has taken on a 13,400 kilometre five-month unsupported journey through Russia, a 25,000 kilometre trip around Australia and a 22,000 kilometre journey across Africa. Now she is attempting to take on the harshest continent of all – Antarctica.
On her last expedition, nearly five years ago, Kate Leeming spent ten months traversing Africa. She began in Senegal and worked her way across to Somalia. She had to grapple with extreme heat and unrelenting sand as she worked her way across the Sahara desert. In other places she needed to take security precautions to counter the risks of insurgents and pirates, but she also got to revel in the rich culture and generous people across the varying regions.
There will be none of this on her next trip.
Leeming hopes to take a 1,850 kilometer, 45 day trek across isolated Antarctica at the end of this year. She will take a specially-designed two-wheel-drive fat bike and a team to help her make her way across the continent via the South Pole on this trip, which is the first of its kind.
“Once you get there, it is simple. You don’t have other people around that are going to scam you or people that will try and take advantage of you. It is more personal … it is just you and the environment,” Leeming told Ella CyclingTips.
Battling temperatures which will range from -10°C to -40°C and climbs on snow and ice of up to 3,000 metres in Antarctica sounds anything but simple, particularly for someone who grew up in Western Australia and loves hot sandy deserts.
“I think the cold is much more difficult. If it is 40°C … you can still stop and have a rest and find some shade somewhere. You can manage that, but with the cold you can’t stop because you freeze and you can’t relax in the same way. The cold creeps in if you have even a little gap in your clothing,” said Leeming.
The extreme temperatures, harsh unfamiliar conditions and isolation in Antarctica has meant that the level of planning has been immense. Leeming has had to fit it in around her work as a real tennis professional, a sport which is the predecessor of modern tennis, and ongoing work on a book, film and television series from her African expedition. She started working on the Antarctica trip in 2012.
“I’m not used to that extreme cold so the first thing I had to do was ascertain whether a polar expedition was something that I could do,” said Leeming. “It was about getting some plans, getting the bike done and putting some people around me that were the perfect foil for my inexperience.”
Her team includes polar explorer and guide Eric Phillips, who has skied to the North and South Poles. She has already had a test run in icy conditions in Svalbard, Norway and has planned a 600 kilometer journey in Greenland later this year.
Whether all this planning ends up in a 2015 start in Antartica depends on whether or not she can get the funds in place by July. It takes time to get everything prepared for such a huge undertaking. If she misses the July deadline, Leeming will have to wait for another year to roll by as the late November-December-January window is the only time when conditions are suitable.
Part of the reason the planning for the expedition needs to be done well ahead is that it is also about more than the spirit of adventure. Ever since Leeming’s first big organised expedition, she has used the interest in her achievements to raise funds and awareness. The Trans-Siberian trip, where it is believed she became the first woman to cycle across the new Russia, was about assisting the children of Chernobyl. On the Australian expedition she became the first women to cycle the 1,800 kilometre long Canning Stock Route and promoted sustainable development. In her pioneering Breaking the Cycle in Africa trip, the aim was to highlight the development needs of war-torn and poverty-stricken nations.
“If I just cycled across Antarctica, it’s a nice thing but what does it prove? That I can go a long way in a cold climate, but if I can use that to make a difference…”
Leeming usually targets the awareness and fundraising toward the inhabitants of the region she is cycling, but with no permanent population in Antarctica this time the approach is different. She will produce an e-learning leadership programme and plans to tie the fundraising back to her adventure in Africa, raising money to tackle AIDS. Leeming said she wanted to take further action as she learnt so much and took so much away from the African, just as she often does when she is out on the bike.
“Using a bike is a great way to explore the world, cycling lets you travel decent distances but still get that great sense of getting to a place,” said Leeming. “The experiences become very strong and very real. When you are in enclosed in a vehicle you are sort of shut off from that. If you see something outside I don’t think you understand it in the same way.”
If you are thinking of taking on your own cycling adventure here are some of Leeming’s tips:
- Do your research and plan for whatever situation you are likely to come across. Leeming has had to plan for situations as diverse as extreme heat, conflict, skyrocketing inflation, uncooperative officials and now icy conditions. She has sought help in areas where she doesn’t have expertise.
- The extra time taken up by planning a trip can often cut into training time, so make the most of what you get. “When I am organising and working really hard to make this thing happen I don’t even get enough sleep. It is like anti-training. I have to try and make the most of my time… I will go out for the longer rides occasionally but then the rest of it is in the gym interval training, pushing on my anaerobic threshold,” said Leeming.
- Plan to work into the long distances. “I can’t train at the rate that I need to work at in Antarctica or Africa every day so I just have to get myself very healthy and get my body tested and make sure everything is ready to go. Starting off, you just have to work into it,” said Leeming.
If you would like to hear more about Leeming’s cycling adventures, you can hear her speak in Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth during the month of June. Find more details and book tickets at worldexpeditions.com. The proceeds of the speaking tour go towards funding the expedition to Antarctica.
We are giving away two tickets to Leeming’s speaking engagement. If you can make it to any of the venues Leeming is speaking at, give us a short run down of your dream cycling adventure in the comments section. We’ll review the comments at 5PM on Tuesday, June 2 (AEST), and our favourite dream adventure will win two tickets. Feel free to add your adventure in the comments even if you’re unable to attend the speaking engagement. Just let us know it’s is *not* a contest entry.