For a century, people have summoned the courage to try and cross the Antarctic alone, but none have succeeded. Until now.
American adventure athlete Colin O’Brady, 33, was told he’d never walk normally again. British Army Captain Louis Rudd, 49, had come dangerously close to losing his life while serving in the armed forces. When they each learned of the other’s unfathomable quest to set a record and make it from coast to coast on the frigid continent alone, they developed a bond unlike any other.
They packed sleeping bags, portable solar panels, cross-country skis, hand-held satellite phones and modems, a GPS tracker, and freeze-dried food. They mentally braced themselves for the 921-mile journey on ice, knowing they’d battle blasting winds for a trip that could take as long as 65 days.
In what’s considered one of the greatest feats in polar history, O’Brady finished the final 77.54 miles in one grand, sleepless, 32-hour jaunt, making him the first person to ever travel Antarctica from coast-to-coast without a support team, reported the New York Times. The trip actually took him 932 miles as he zigged and zagged his way to the finish line.
The first thing he did when he crossed the finish line? He called his wife, Jenna Besaw.
Colin O’Brady became the first person to cross Antarctica alone, unassisted and unaided by wind. He did the final leg in a grueling 32-hour burst. https://t.co/lRRa215VMA— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 26, 2018
“I don’t know, something overcame me,” O’Brady said in a telephone interview with the New York Times. “I just felt locked in for the last 32 hours, like a deep flow state. I didn’t listen to any music — just locked in, like I’m going until I’m done. It was profound, it was beautiful, and it was an amazing way to finish up the project.”
O’Brady was able to finish the challenge so quickly because he only took half-a-day off after losing a skin from his ski. Rudd actually was in the lead for the first week until O’Brady caught up to him. He was behind him by only one day until O’Brady’s final push.
The American did have one close call however.
“When I was crossing Greenland I kind of let my guard down on my last night, and I fell into a crevasse that could have easily killed me,” he said by satellite phone. “I want to be done badly, but at the same time, it’s about executing all the little things and not make any stupid mistakes at the end.”
Rudd became the second person to cross Antarctica alone and unassisted, finishing two days behind O’Brady.
“It’s nice, when you’re finished, that you’re in the polar history books,” Rudd told the New York Times by satellite phone. “But it’s all about the journey.”
Rudd’s journey spanned 925 miles, less than O’Brady’s, but still a bit more than the mapped out path. As he neared the end of his trek, he began shedding clothing because the weather was so unseasonably warm. But the visibility was challenging and he fell a few times.
“It wasn’t white out, it was a flat light,” Rudd said. “You could see the sky, but there was no light coming through the high clouds, so you couldn’t see the surface you were skiing over. It was really tricky, it was sort of a hard icy surface.”
The two men reunited after Rudd finished. Even though O’Brady beat Rudd in this challenge, Rudd is the only person to complete two treks across Antarctica; his first was in 2017 with a team assembled from the British armed forces.
“It is amazing to see him and be the first to congratulate him in person!” O’Brady wrote in an Instagram post. “Not to mention it’s quite refreshing to see and speak to another human being after the long, quiet walk the last two months.”