Meet Hank Van Weelden.
Hank lives in Edmonton, Canada, where it’s so cold that even the snowmen wear coats. He has a wife, Denise, of 27 years. They have children, all of whom are in their early 20s. They have a dog.
Hank loves the sort of adventures that require survival skills. In fact, he teaches said skills and owns a company that builds remote lodgings for oil and mining companies. So he knows a thing or two about going off-grid.
As we speak, Hank is putting that knowledge to a big test, as he cycles 750 miles from the South Pole to the Antarctic Coast, the “easy way” as he says, because it’s downhill.
Previous journeys by Eric Larsen and Daniel Burton were completed uphill. What makes this one interesting is that Hank made a special four-wheeled fat bike for the trek, and he has 30 days to reach his destination — after that, he’ll miss the last airlift off of the continent.
So you could say that failure means being left out in the cold.
He’s not doing it for fame or glory, and even if he was, they don’t keep records for this route. He’s doing it because he thinks it’ll be a fun, personal experience and because he wants to eventually bike clear across the continent. This is a baby step in that direction.
He partnered with Carver Bikes to make a titanium rig that holds its 18-gear chain between the two fat wheels in the rear. Along with the two wheels up front, the bike weighs 60 pounds and will be pulling a Norwegian sled with enough gear for 32 days. The bike alone cost him $20K, and he started an adventure fund to help him pay for the trip.
As for training, he cycled for 1-2 hours five days a week and did yoga every day while trying to gain 10 pounds. We recently chatted with him about how he prepared for this epic journey.
InsideHook: What was the impetus for this trip?
Hank Van Weelden: It has been on my mind to explore Antarctica since [I was] a child. I was fascinated with the Shackleton story, and I have been a lifelong cyclist. When fat bikes came on the market 10 years ago, I thought of linking the two and put it on my bucket list. After a frustrating day at work in March of 2015, while driving home, I just said to myself that I have to live now not wait until I retire. "Fuck it, I'm doing it." Called my wife and told her I'm going because I was going to turn 50 in 2016, so we thought this was a good year to pick.
IH: You’ve said that you have an Adventure Fund. How long were you saving for this? Were you investing with it?
HVW: I have always given 5% of my after tax money to charity since being a kid. In 2004, I came up with the idea to also take 5% of all variable and surprise income (bonuses, commissions, and dividends) and put it into a guaranteed investment certificate to provide for adventures and special gear/toys. The idea was that this money was "guilt free" then and ensured money would not be the limiting factor in fun things. As a dad with a wife, mortgage and three kids, I always worried about money and this way I could mentally give myself permission to have fun and not be "taking it out of the mouths of my kids" to buy a new bike. Over the years I have done quite well so the fund has been able to fund this trip and there is even enough left for another adventure. My wife is suggesting a sailing trip in the Caribbean.
IH: How did you know how much money to save? How did you project your costs?
HVW: I had no idea the cost of the trip in advance. But when I contacted ALE, the logistics team for Antarctica, in March 2015, I had a good idea of their fees and knew other costs would double that. I called my wife, who manages our household finances and asked for the total of my fund, and the numbers worked. I called ALE back and booked it right away.
IH: How much water and food do you need to bring?
HVW: Water is made by melting snow and ice. Fuel is the limiting factor and heavy, so I have tested my stove system by melting ice from my freezer to figure out how much I would need daily to melt and heat water — not boil. I increased that number by a safety factor of 50% so I know that I need 330 ml of fuel a day (one liter every three days is my plan).
As for calories, you are projected to expend up to 10,000 calories a day due to exertion and the cold. I set a goal of 1 kg of food a day and have planned 3 different menus that achieve 5,000 calories per day. In talking to other people that have been there I might increase my food by 500 or 1,000 calories. I realize I will be 4,000-4,500 calories a day short but feel I can handle that. Otherwise, the load I will be pulling will just be too heavy. My menu has a few dehydrated meals, which do not taste so good. I am currently eating lots of cheese, sausages, butter, chocolate and other calorically dense food. For months we have looked at food labels to find things with greater than five calories per gram.
IH: What's your biggest concern or challenge in doing this?
HVW: Antarctica is a featureless landscape: flat and white. My concern is being alone in this place for 32 days. What will the effect be on me mentally? Boredom, loneliness, fear and sadness are all things I think are bigger than the physical challenge. If I can't stay positive, then the physical and weather challenges become bigger and will force me to stop. This is more of a mental game. I'm up for the physical challenge; the head is the great unknown
IH: What's the one thing you're excited to see?
HVW: I'm excited to see the South Pole, to see the large camp that's built there. In my job, I build stuff like that for northern Canada and Alaska and it will be neat to see the high-tech version the U.S. science organization has built. Other than that, I hope to have one of those beautiful flow days when the sun is shining in a blue sky, the wind is light, my legs feeling strong and the snow is firm and flat. Cruising forward. Totally in the moment. Loving where I am. Loving my life and knowing I am living the fuck out of my life! That is my goal. To have a few of those days.
We’ll be following him on his Facebook page. You should too.