Hank Van Weelden, age 50, likes the wind and the cold—even Edmonton, Alta., winters—and has been a year-round cyclist for most of his adult life. Already a seasoned adventurer, he long dreamed of biking in Antarctica. In mid-December, the dream became reality when Van Weelden landed at the South Pole, dropping off three food caches along the way.
There began his epic 750-mile (1200-kilometre) solo journey from the South Pole to the Antarctic Coast. Of nine attempts to bike from the Coast to the Pole, only one person finished. No one had ever attempted a Pole to Coast route. And even though he didn’t finish, Van Weelden counts the blessings of the trip.
Van Weelden’s bike, custom built for the expedition, is a titanium and carbon “fat” bike, equipped with two tires in the front and two in the back, giving him 11 inches of combined tire width designed to tackle soft snow and sastrugi, wind-carved ridges of hard snow. Behind the bike, Van Weelden pulled a sled with 80 kg (180 pounds) of equipment, including fuel, food, a tent, solar panels, and a GPS.
On the first day, Van Weelden was able to cycle for about five hours. The second day, he awoke to 70- to 80-kilometer winds and so much snow that he had to push the bike all day in whiteout conditions. There were more good days but also more days of pushing the bike.
It soon became apparent to Van Weelden that if he kept up that pace, he would miss the last flight off Antarctica. It was simply not viable to complete the journey. On Christmas Day he declared he was done. Even then, he had two more days of extremely hard effort to get back to a place where a plane could pick him up.
Van Weelden said, “This does not mean it’s a failed mission. My goal was to push myself beyond my limits, to have an adventure, and to see Antarctica.” Mission accomplished.
Van Weelden is recovering at home and working through the emotions of his experiences. Although he did not achieve his intended goal, he has been reflecting on the other joys and unexpected treasures in the journey. On his Facebook page (Hank’s Antarctic Adventure) he wrote: “I am almost done mourning the intended adventure. There is some wisdom to be gleaned there still, but I’m close. Close to closing the book on disappointment. Then the focus can turn to the chance of a lifetime—to see and feel the wonders of Antarctica and the memories of people and new friends. I’ll choose new friends over a note in a record book any day.”
Van Weelden and his wife, Denise, are members of Edmonton’s West End Christian Reformed Church.