Friday, 27 December 2013

Maria claims two world titles

I've done it I've done it, I've done it! Maria claimed two world records this morning as the first person to cycle to the South Pole from the edge of the continent in 10 days beating all other speed records.

“Her success was down to meticulous planning, super fitness both physically and mentally and pure determination,” said her mother Adrianne Leijerstam.

“From the time she was 12 years old and announced she wanted to be an astronaut, Maria has always been an adventurer. We are thrilled she has made it in such good time.”

Maria, a former management consultant, who now runs Multisport Wales describes Antartica as vicious. Her journey has not been without its problems. At one point the sweat on the inside of her boots froze making keeping her feet warm incredibly difficult.

Snow drifts, complete white outs and high winds marred her passage but even so she was able to cycle the whole distance on her three wheeled recumbent PolarCycleTM 

A two year planning and development programme by the White Ice Cycle team produced the concept for this unique PolarCycleTM   that was then manufactured by Inspired Cycle Engineering of Cornwall.
Roald Amundsen, was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911 using 2 metre long skis which made crevasse crossing easier for him and he also had assistance from dogs. He was five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott as part of the Terra Nova Expedition. Amundsen and his team returned safely to their base, and later learned that Scott and his four companions had died on their return journey.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

13 km to go! 7pm Boxing Day, 2013

Wow! Just heard that Maria is only 13 kilometres away from claiming her world first title as the first person to cycle to the South Pole in just ten days!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Day in Antartica

Christmas Day for Maria means another day of hard cycling. Antartica is vicious but beautiful says Maria's as she spends Christmas Day in the coldest place on earth.
Her cycling record has been an amazing 81km per day and on a continent where it never gets dark she has spent as little time as possible sleeping and the maximum time she can cycling.
Sudden changes in weather patterns bring total white outs and fierce winds constantly blast her progress.
Undaunted, Maria is determined to reach the South Pole within the next three days.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Well over half way

Maria completed her greatest mileage on December 22 83kms in 11 hours.

The weather was not so good the next day, as strong wind and snow drifts were slowing things down.  Her knee has being giving her some problems particularly when she stops and starts again but she is managing it as well as she can with plenty of pain killers and hopefully it will hold out until she gets to the South Pole.

Maria is well over half way to the Pole which is a fantastic achievement and she has completed the most difficult sections, lets hope that heavy snow does not drift in as this would be her biggest challenge going forward.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Top of the glacier

Amazing! Maria has just conquered the most feared part of her expedition - the Leverett Glacier!
It's only day three but this mammoth climb was the steepest part of her journey.
She set off this morning in white out conditions so bad that she could not see anything in front of her and had to navigate with her GPS.
Visibility improved later in the day and she then focused on the steepest part of the climb from 2200 metres to 2900 at the top. She has managed to cycle all of the way so far on her amazing cycle.
She now has to cycle 500k on the polar plateau to her destination.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Just landed in Antartica

Maria has landed at the Novo Russian Airbase in Antartica. She reports that conditions are good and it was amazing landing on a sheet of ice.
The Russian airbase is basic but the people are very friendly and she is enjoying the Russian food. She is trialing her polar cycle over the next few days while she waits for her next flight that will take her to her starting point.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Flying tomorrow

Just heard that Maria is due to fly tomorrow December 11 on a Russian cargo plane from Cape Town to the Alci airbase in Antartica. She had to assemble her bike before flying. Here she is pictured at the expedition base with her bike all packed up ready to go. Don't forget to put on those ten layers of clothing before you leave Maria!

En route to Cape Town

Last minute packing day was hectic. Spent hours wrapping batteries, camera, GPS and all such sensitive essentials in a good layer of thinsulate. The leads had to be specially well wrapped as they can snap in extreme cold temperatures. Apart from the bike box that was packed by Friday I went through my clothes, again and again, trying to discard anything I did not really need. I will only be washing with wet wipes for 20 days!
The last mammoth effort before leaving home was loading the massive bike box on the roof of my car
for the journey to Heathrow. We made it in good time but spent two hours persuading Virgin to accept my oversized bike box. Finally with the help of Meghan, Wayne's daughter, we were off and up in the sky on the way to Cape Town. This is just the first lap of a ten day journey to the start line.
A couple more days in Cape Town for kit checking and weigh in before taking the ex-military Hercules cargo plane to Novo on the edge of Antartica.
East Antartica has just been recorded as setting the record lowest temperature on earth at minus 95C by newly analysed satellite data. What a contrast to 30 degrees plus in Cape Town.
Arriving at Heathrow with my massive check in luggage

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Fully loaded

Another hectic day. I decided to load up my polar cycle with all of the kit I will be carrying across Antarctica (all 45kg of it), to experiment with weight distribution. Firstly, I must admit I love experimenting with new ideas. This has not been done before so it could go one of two way but that's what makes it so exciting.

The good news is that the majority of that weight loads up the rear driving wheels and in fact reduces the weight on the front two wheels meaning that I might just get some extra float out of my front two wheels. On top of this we made a custom fit pair of skis for the front two wheels that fit on with a simple brackets system for when the snow is just too deep to make any headway.

With the extra weight on the rear wheels this will increase the traction which is good news. I have had to add additional padding to the frame on the rack of the polar cycle so the bag doesn't rub on the gears. It just shows how important testing everything is!

We also added a wedge to the inside of my right peddle to support my weaker knee. Due to years of training, my left patella has been weakened but with this minor change that Phil, the Biomechanic picked up, I'm now able to peddle with no problems.

My newly fitted arm-rests provide huge assistance and now with my sleeping bag acting as a head rest my upper body is 100% rested as I peddle away. That was one of my objectives from the very beginning.

I also tested my new stove and made everyone a cup of tea at lunch time!

Only 7 days to go....

Thursday, 28 November 2013

10 days and counting

A busy morning. Firstly a meeting with my local MP, Alun Cairnes outside the Welsh Assembly...polar cycle on display prompting lots of people to stop and ask the big question, "what is that?'

Followed by the polar cycles first trip around Cardiff City Centre. Only travelled 5km but took me 2.5hrs due to the number of people stopping me to ask "what is that?'

Took delivery of all of my delicious freeze dried food. Weighs a ton and it's the lightest weight on the market!

Collected a beautifully lightweight titanium stove and thermos flask which is going to get a thermal jacket made for it this weekend...

Lots of phone calls, e-mails and website updating and now off to host my parents for dinner this evening for being so supportive of my crazy adventures.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

White Ice Cycle

Launched, live and about to happen! White Ice Cycle 2013

I'm so nervous. I have to keep telling myself to sit down, breathe and take it in my stride.

On the 8th December I'II be flying out of the UK on my way to Antarctica to begin my cycle to the South Pole.

The expedition will begin around the 18th December and I hope to arrive at the South Pole on around the 7th January.

It's the first time in my 35years that I would have missed Christmas....that's quite a big deal for me, however we have Christmas planned for the 20th January when I get home!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A trip to the Foreign Commonwealth Office

Permits are required where I'm going!

Training has officially commenced - here was my kick start!

I know I'm being secretive about my next expedition but that's because this is a BIG ONE!

Last week I took a trip up to loughborough to meet with the specialists at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

I was tested in everything possible and here are some of the results.

I'm rather pleased that I now have 6 months to do something about it and turn my red's to green's and improve my VO2 Max.

It was a really fascinating experience and I'm looking forward to my re-test in November.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Team Photos

(Stjepan, (Race Director), Fred, Neil, Maria, Thomas)

Very proud of our medals - 4th place

A little bit of posing from Team Berghaus after a night of sleep following the race.

(Photo by Chris Radcliffe)

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The last Wild Race - Wilder than Wild

At 12 midnight on the 12th Feb, we set off at speed through the night leaving from Puerto Natales heading North towards Torres Del Paine National Park. Our team strategy was to go hard for the first 2 checkpoints and as we (Team Berghaus) sped off we found oursleves as the front of the field with only the 2 clear favourites ahead, Team EastWind from Japan and Team Adidas Terrex from the UK. The 108km cycle on a very bumpy track took us 6.5hrs and as dawn broke we rolled into the first transition in 3rd place, only 10 minutes behind the Japaneese team.

We had to breakdown out bikes before putting them in their boxes and feed ourselves before setting off on the next stage, a 28km trek. This was beautiful and fairly easy going despite some steep assending. For the only time on this expedition there would be a path to follow. After 6km, however the path disapeared and the fun began. We pushed hard in order to try and catch our nearest rivals. Our first river crossing soon came into sight but i was not ready to wave goodbye to my dry feet so decided to take off my shoes and socks and cross barefoot. Looking back this was the best thing I did as I then had dry feet for the next section which was a Glacier crossing.

The trek went on and large slabs of rock began to appear out of nowhere, we climbed and descended, sometimes on very steep rock. I was delighted to be wearing my OROC inov-8´s as they quite simply loved any terrain I put them on. By now we had a swarm of photographers following us capturing our every moves. They were really nice guys from all over the world who had heard about the race and wanted to have the opporutnity to take amazing pictures in an amzing part of the world. As a photographer not only do they need to search out the best shots they also need to be very fit in order to keep up with the teams whilst carrying very heavy camera equipment. I admired them for their work.

After 6hrs of trekking, we reached Glacier Campo del Heilo and check point 2. It was the most wonderful sight I´d ever seen. Birgit and Stjepan were there also and seemed very suprised to see us come in in 3rd place.I was feeling very strong and raring to go. We put on our C1 crampons and headed off over the Glacier. At first is was flat but after only 10 minutes cracks began to appear which gradually became larger and larger turning into great big cravasses of over 40m´s deep. It was very frustrating not to be able to walk in a straightline to our next check point and instead and to weave in and out of cravass fields. At first the cravasses were small so we jumped over them, sometime helping to catch each other as they got bigger. I was preparing to leap over a particularly large cravasse and planted my poles but as my crampon landed on the near verticle slope my ankle gave way and I began to slide. I kicked out my other leg against the opposite wall to stop myself from sliding and Fred, my team mate managed to grab the hood of my jacket before I slide any further. I had sprained my ankle badly and it began to swell.

I got up immediately and carried on cravasse hopping. In the briefing we´d been told it would be a 10k crossing but ended up being 17k. Seeing check point 3 half way up the mountain was great and it was at this point that we´d learned that 1 team hadn´t made CP1 with a further 3 not making CP2. We knew cut offs were tight but this was very tight. It turned out that later that night another team missed check point 3 also. There were now only 4 teams left in the race and we were in 4th position. Another team had managed to pass up on the Glacier....route choice was very much down to luck.

It was beginning to get dark and we were now onto a 35km trek stage and this was where the definition of trekking begins to be re-defined. We were on a step mountain side in dense forest. The maps we had were very basic showing a suggested route which took us straight through this dense forest, which mean´t if we parted by more than a few meteres it would be very easy to lose each other. Our pace slowed at times to 500m per hour as we fought to get through trees, swamp, bogs and almost verticle terrain. The light had now gone and we were going up and down, up and down. We lost a little confidence and decided to put up our tent for the first time in 36hrs. We shivered for 4hrs until the light came and were on the move again.

Re-setting our bearing we then headed off, still in dense forest to check point 4. The trek went on and on and after having negotiated a river crossing by zipwire, crossed dense forest and made full use out of my trekking poles we caught up with the Gear Junkies, the American Team that passed us on the Glacier. We were now back in 3rd position. We managed to find ourselves perched yet again on very unsuitable terrain as night fell and so we all decided to set up camp for a 4hr sleep before sun rose again. Once again it was a freezing night and now my sleeping bag was soaked through. I even took to sleeping in my full waterproofs. First time for everything!

The next morning we packed up quickly and headed off for the last 6hrs to check point 4. Shortly before arriving at the check point and still early in the morning, around 7am , we came across a torent of water gushing off the mountains. At first look it was far too dangerous to cross so we walked up river for a while until we found a large flat section. Still flowing at a very fast rate, we all knew that this would be our first swim. I immediately began to strip off leaving just my pants, race vest, gaitors and trainers on. I placed my rucksack into my drybag that I was carrying and with no though jumped straight in. I swam hard to ferry glide across to the other side of the 20m river and ended up 100m´s further downstream. I´d attached my rucksack with a strap around my arm and neck but somehow had managed to swim out of it. Luckily, Neil, my team mate had seen this and caught up with it before it was too late and the bag would be no more. After yet more early morning bush wacking we finally arrived at the edge of a lake and Check Point 4. Just across the otherside we could see the Gear Junkies having just made the crossing.

At first I didn´t even register but when I finally opened up my eyes and looked around, I saw that the lake was at the based of the Glacier that we have crossed earlier in the trek and there were massive icebergs floating around. I couldn´t quite believe what I was seeing. Admiration for the surrounding was quickly interputed as our next task was now to get to the otherside of the lake and to catch the Gear Junkies up. The organisation had provided blow up inflatable kayaks for us to cross safely to the other side and as I paddle with the great Glacier towering down into the water on my left and the large icebergs floating comfortably in the water on my right, I had a moment of amazement. It was almost too much to take in all at once. We each paddled across , one by one and having the Gear Junkies only about 20 minutes ahead of us at this stage we were determined to catch them up.

We began a very long ascent to reach check point 5 and the temperature was now right down to freezing point. The terrain was very tough going with a combination of turba (soft spongy like bog) and dense forest. Fred has slowed right up due to blisters on his feet. I was still feeling strong. Nearing the top of Mt xxx the wind was gale force and I had to focus to stay on my feet. We were now turely in a place were humans do not go. At the top of the mountain I could see a huge long valley disaperaing off to the South which we would now be negotiating. I could see valley after valley and mountain after mountain with absolutely no civerlisation for days. It was exciting and scarey and all I had in my bag was a wet sleeping bag and some very meagre rations. I was wearing all of my clothes so had no spares left.

Check point 5 was a virtual check point. meaning it was not manned and hence once we found the flags we stamped our card and began immediately the descent. The large valley opened up to our right as we traversed, initally at speed but soon slowing up as the terrain became steeper and far more technical. We´d been descending for over 5hrs when we once again hit dense forest. The ground began to fall away steeply to our left and soon we were balancing on trees branches on near verticle ground. To make things worse the light was fading and having now spent 3hrs covering 1km we were fully committed. All of a sudden we hit a cliff edge and began to panic. As our headtorches hurridly scoured out the options, we feared for the worst and even began to discuss calling in helicopter rescue. We knew we needed to get down but it was now far too dangerous to carry out without roping up. We quickly pulled the rope out of Neil´s bag and slung it around a tree. Neal then absailed first and after 5minutes of desending into the unknow, his foot hit horizonal ground, only 2m´s short of the end of the rope. He yelled up to us and Thomas went next, followed by myself and then Fred. We´d been very lucky on this occasion and as soon as we found a flat spot to erect our tent we settled in for the hours of darkness.

In the morning, after still not much sleep, I found myself lying in a stream! We had managed to pitch the tent on a low laying patch which after the overnight rain had become a stream. I was drenched, freezing and very raring to get moving. Our camp routine by now had slipped and we were spending far to much time sorting things out. I knew that I could get packed up and ready to go in less than 5 minutes but I didn´t want to be standing around waiting for the others so it was frustrating to be sitting in the tent every morning waiting for my moment to begin to pack up when I figured the others were about 5mins away for being ready to move. For me the stopping was the worst thing.

We trekked on and soon got to lower ground. My feet were beginning to freeze as the water was Glacial melt water and in parts thigh deep.

We soon reached check point 7, on day 5, and had completed the 118km foot stage which turned out to be more like 150km. As we arrived at the check point we were informed that we'd missed the cut off. We were one of 4 teams left on the course and in the end every team has to take a short course just in order to finish the race.

After a day of rest we headed back out on the course to check point 15 and 16 to climb Mt Tarn and were greated by the most wonderful views I have ever seen. The top of the mountain has deep in snow but my cold toes were now beginning to complain....I had mild forstbite!

On the 22nd Feb we attended the prize giving and we were delighted to be awarded 4th price. We were one of only 4 teams to stay on the course, which turns out to be the toughest race ever run.

Oh, and here'e my bad hair picture (compulsory part of every expedition I do!)

Friday, 8 February 2013

Arrived and organised

Once I got to Santiago I soon realised that the connection time I had was just no way do-able becuase I had to collect my luggage and re-check in for my final flight to Punta Arenas. As expected and despite running at full speed through the airport I missed the 11.10am flight and was very annoyed by the news that the next 3 flights were also full. I ended up having to wait for 12hrs, with all of my luggage, at the airport until I could get onto the 1.20am flight heading South. I adopted the technique of people watching to help the hours pass.

I finally arrived at the youth hostel where my team mates kindly rolled out of their beds to greet me. It was now almost 6am. (That was the third night with little or no sleep). I got almost immediately into bed but because of the new surrounding and some very squeeky floorboards, I could not sleep! At 7.30 I got up, when the others did, and the day of preperation began.

Hoping everything would go to plan was not quite on the cards today. Thomas and Fred helped me with assembling my bike but we soon realised that the values for the tubeless tyres I had were the wrong size and this was a major problem! We spend the day trying different solutions such as cutting up inner tube to try and form a good enough seal, we wondered around Punta Arenas asking at local mechanics shops if they had anything that could help but unfortunatley this didn´t work out. On our way back we stumbled across a small back street bike shop (that no one seemed to know about). Unbeliveably they even had the right size valves and the tape we needed so after parting with far too much money, our problem was solved!

Next stop was to head to the local supermarket and stock up on snacks for the race and this was follwed with 2hrs of bagging all of my new purchases.

After a delicious fish dinner, some herbal sleeping tablets and a shower I dived into bed.

Today, Friday, we´ve got media interviews and kit checks and I´ve just returned from a quick spin around town on my bike. Everything seems to be coming together finally.

We´ve just been told that we will be starting the race from Puerto Natales at the edge of the Torres Del Paine National exciting!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Stuck in Madrid

I arrived at Heathrow in plenty of time for my flight at 7pm. Everything went downhill from there. A fuel pump fault in the plane caused a 3hr delay at London and in spite of running for the connection in Madrid my bags did not make it and hence I missed my flight. Team mates are now very nervous and not convinced that I am planning on coming at all!

I am now stuck in Madrid for 24hrs!!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Packing is not going too well

It's always the most difficult part of an get to the start line!

Having now packed, not only am I 6kgs over-weight, I also managed to crack my bike lights which is a vital piece of equipment. I sense I'm going to have a busy afternoon getting everything sorted. I'm also still waiting for a box to arrive from Berghaus with yet more vital pieces of clothing such as softshell trousers and waterproof trousers. I leave tomorrow morning at 11am so hopefully the post will arrive in time. Maybe if I wear some more clothes to travel in and fill my pockets I might meet the weight standards, besides passengers aren't weighed and I'm probably less than the average person!

The race website is although the organisers have said that tracking will be intermittent and possibly not updated for a few days.

Anyway, a slight diversion from Patagonia, this morning I took the opportunity to get some shooting practice in whilst Kris, the Deer Park's marksman was on hand to give me some vital training.

We used a 44 Mag under-lever rifle which seems like just the job for what I've got planned next. I can't yet say what the training is for but all will be revealed when I get back from Patagonia!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

What's in my bag?

So if you've ever wondered what I've got in my bag when I'm training, today I packed it with 6 large rolls of plastic bags and took it for a 2 hour run followed by a 1hr bike....I really need to find a new hobby!

It was good training though as it ended up weighing 8 kilos which is the likely weight I'II be carrying in Patagonia.

Sleeping bag and mat - 1.5kg
Spare clothes - 1kg
Food - 2kg
Climbing harness, carabinas and crampons - 1.5kg
Team kit - 2kg (although I'm hoping the boys will carry this for me!)

Monday, 28 January 2013

Training goes on

Given all this rain, it's nice to look back and remember how fun the training was when it was snowing. I was running with a 6kg pack here in training for my long trek across Patagonia's dense forests and mountains. I'II probably be carrying a 10kg pack during the race including tent, sleeping bag, food and much needed foot treatments.

This picture below was taken right in the middle of Cardiff Bay (a good 200m swim to land!) last Saturday when Neal and I were out training for the DW. The thing about K2 paddling is that the number one rule is not to fall out because if this happens the only way to get back into the boat is to swim/drag the boat to shore, empty it out and start again. Neither of us spoke much during this crossing despite the conditions being perfect!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Totally unexpected - a slight diversion from my plan!

I was supposed to be spending every hour available to me in a kayak, training for the Devises to Westminster canoe race in March, however last week I received a call from the Germany Adventure Racing team sponsored by Berghaus, asking if I'd be up for a 10 day expedition race in Patagonia. Unfortunately their female team member fell whilst out skiing and broke her leg.

Funny thing about it is, is that it starts in 2 weeks time. I'm always pretty laid back about my training programme but this is a little too close for comfort.

(Last minute training with some weight in the snow!)

This is a totally 'wild' race where we are out of reach of civilisation for 10 whole days. We have to carry everything with us whilst we cover the 700km race route. Our team plan is to move for 21 hours per day, leaving only 3hrs for sleeping. As always, this may need to be adapted en route.

Ordinarily, I'm confident about the kayaking stages and I'm hoping my Lake Baikal cycle training can be uncovered fairly quickly but I've not done anything like 72hrs of trekking non stop with a 10kg pack on for a long time. I'm just hoping my feet can cope.

I'm stocking up of all sorts of herbal supplements now to try and really build up my immune system and I'm eating as much as I can manage. I've been advise to put on weight, because apparently I'II need it.

As always, one call to Qoroz Titanium bikes and I'm getting my beloved Mountain Won back that I used to cycle over Lake Baikal in Siberia. I've also invested in a super duper new saddle which I'm trying to get used to on my Turbo trainer every morning at 7am for a good few hours.
(On my Turbo, at dawn, on the Balcony of our flat in Cardiff boyfriend thinks I've gone mad!)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

DW training goes on and on

Our last paddle on Saturday was freezing, wet and wild. Dipping down to 2 degrees, it's the coldest we've paddled in so far and the gusting winds made for a lot of support strokes.

We are still trying to work out who should go in the front seat and hence be in charge of steering....I guess it all comes down to who wants to cross the finish line first!

We're still having lots of fun, which is the most important part.