Polar Vision Expedition to Set Antarctic Record
On November 22nd, the three team members of Polar Vision—Alan Lock, Andrew Jensen, and Richard Smith—will set a new record for Antarctic exploration. Alan Lock will become the first blind person to trek to the south pole. Because, as Lock puts it, “I would have done this anyways.”
Lock, 32, suffered from early onset macular degeneration eight years ago. An active duty navigator in Her Majesty’s Navy, he was forced to abandon his career as all but his extreme peripheral vision was reduced to an impenetrable white haze. As despondently furious as any rational human being would be at his loss, Lock rallied in spectacular fashion. He has risen from the ashes and set about conquering the world, one geographical monstrosity at a time.
“What was more beneficial for me, as advice from charities and such, was reading about people who were blind or partially sighted who’d done really kick-ass things,” Lock says. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks like that, so I thought I could help others by carrying that on.” Since losing his vision, he has already set records as the first visually impaired person to run the grueling 151-mile Marathon des Sables across the Sahara desert, and to row across the Atlantic ocean.
Lock has managed, Charles Xavier-like, to summon a team of absurdly gifted people to aid him in this latest quest. Andrew Jensen, a US Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, regularly runs 100-mile supermarathons. Richard Smith, a fellow Briton whom Lock met while applying to business schools, and who characterizes himself as “the imposter of the group, physically,” just completed a full Iron Man in the mountains of Switzerland. The water was less than warm.
Which is good preparation for Antarctica. In March this year, the team underwent an in-depth training regimen in Iqualuit, Nanavut, Ass-End of Canada. Their trainer, arctic veteran Matti Macnair, had them hauling sleds up ice shelves and pitching tents in the howling chill the moment they stepped off the plane. “I thought we were going to get a roof for at least the first night,” Lock said. “She basically just told us to crack on.”
Macnair’s approach means training for worse than what they’ll expect on the trip, so that when they get there, it’s easy. Their route will involve crossing enormous fields of corrugated ice, with ledges and dips of up to ten feet, over which they must haul not only themselves but four sleds weighing a hundred and fifty pounds a piece. It will also involve enormous fields of flattened snow over which their skis and sleds will fly, outpaced only by howling, uninterrupted winds capable of scouring a penguin down to its hollow bones faster than you can say ‘shark food’.
Lock’s vision will present an additional challenge, though none of the team seem overly concerned about it. “He’s gonna be fine, he’s the toughest kid in the universe,” says Jensen. Uneven terrain will require precise communication and certain void-jumping-willingness on Lock’s part, but that does not seem to faze him. A more likely problem is the combination of constant cold, physical exhaustion, and having only three other people (including their guide, Hannah McKeand) for company.
Will they be able to stand each other by the end of it? Jensen laughs. “We’d better be able to… We’re gonna have tents with us, stoves, we’re gonna have nice clothes… that’s all the things that will keep us alive. But at the end of the day, when it’s just you and the other person, at the end of the day the stuff that you have keeps you alive, but the people you’re with keep you going.”
The Polar Vision team seem more interested in improving the world around them than making their own lives easier. The trip itself has been funded largely through corporate donations, and the group has launched an intensive effort through IndieGoGo to raise funds for Sightsavers International and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Rewards for donating include satellite telephone calls mid-voyage, a postcard from the seventh continent, and a photo of the team at the South Pole holding up a message of your choice, among other things.
This reporter, for one, has some brainstorming to do about what creative insult would best suit his former roommate when held aloft by three exhausted man-beasts at 90 degrees South.
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