Cycling across Antarctica the ultimate goal for Kate.

Outdoor — 1 September 2020
Cycling across Antarctica the ultimate goal for Kate.
Outdoor caught up with Kate Leeming for a quick chat before she departed on a Finke River cycle adventure. Kate’s embarking on a number of what she describes as ‘preparatory adventures’ to build the fortitude she feels will be necessary during her quest to cycle across Antarctic via the South Pole.
 Arctic Canada
 Arctic Canada. Kate leaving Shingle Point.
 At Kap Tobin, the most southerly point of Liverpool Land, Northeast Greenland.
 Hurry Fjord, Northeast Greenland.

 Outdoor: You've embarked on a number of big adventures, when did you start thinking that you'd like to do these type of epic-scaled expedition-style quests? I mean, was the seed of ambition planted early or was your ambition always there?

KL: I was certainly inspired by the stories of my pioneering ancestors, such as that of my great, great uncle, William Snell who was the second person to cycle across the Nullarbor, when he rode from Menzies in the Western Australian goldfields to Melbourne, in order to propose to his childhood sweetheart. After she accepted, he put her on a boat bound for Fremantle and cycled all the way back again. My great grandfather, George Waters Leeming, after whom the Perth suburb was named, surveyed an area south of the Swan River, a lot of land around Northam and in the far north of the Kimberley region. There is a Mt Leeming near Kalumburu — a small mound though it is!

Then there was my mother’s father, Cyril Jenner, who fought on the Western Front in World War 1, survived and then battled to make ends meet on a soldier settlement farm in marginal country in WA. I was inspired by, and have a great respect for all pioneers and early explorers, especially the Australian and Antarctic explorers, but I never could have imagined what I could achieve on a bike.

I didn’t have the confidence to explore by bicycle until I first travelled to the UK, initially playing hockey for my university, and after, did a small trip in Ireland. Then I planned a much more extensive journey in France and Spain, and that is where I discovered my passion and started to understand what could be done travelling by bicycle.

When I was planning my first major journey across Russia, I met British polar explorer Robert Swan OBE, the first person to have walked to both the North and South poles. It was Robert who taught me that there could be far more value to what I was doing than simply riding a bike. The Trans-Siberian Cycle Expedition, as I called it, was not only the first bicycle crossing of the new Russia, from St Petersburg to Vladivostok by a woman, I also raised funds to benefit the 800,000 children affected by the Chernobyl disaster, an issue close to my heart.

 Outdoor: After several completed expeditions, has the strength of your ambition wavered or diminished?

KL: Each expedition becomes a part of who I am, and these journeys serve to open my eyes to what is really possible; to positively influence the next vision. With experience, I seem to be able to raise my sights, not only to achieve the physical side of a challenging, original journey, but also I am equally ambitious and motivated to use my skills and opportunities to make a difference to the people and places I visit and the issues I care about. I have learned that it is a great privilege to be able to undertake my projects and I am endeavouring to maximise the opportunities created from them.

I also understand that my capacity to achieve the physical won’t last forever, so I am trying to be discerning with the projects I choose and to develop a legacy, especially with regard to education.

 In Californias Baja Divide, south. (PICTURE CREDIT: Chris Pennington)
 Californias Baja Divide, north. (PICTURE CREDIT: Chris Pennington)
 Aurora Borealis, Iceland. (PICTURE CREDIT: Tristan Brailey)

 Outdoor: Your career choice, and academic efforts so far, suggest you have an earnest desire to help people become better. Is this something you strive to do during your expeditions? By this I mean setting yourself as an example from which others may derive inspiration?

KL: Being a role model, especially for women and girls, is an important aspect of my work. One of the greatest motivations and biggest pleasures I receive from my expeditions is when I discover the actions that others have taken, inspired by my activities. I don’t necessarily mean for others to jump on a bike and cycle across a continent, more that they explore to discover their own passions and take action about issues they care about. I also would like those who are inspired to see the big picture, to understand better how they fit into the world and consider how their local actions fit into the global community.

Outdoor: What sort of obstacles does one face during one of these long, relentless expeditions?

KL: Built into the longer expeditions is the expectation to be adaptable. I always have an overall mission and a timeframe (usually set by a tight budget, the seasons, various commitments and what I believe I am capable of), but the hardest part is to make it happen in the first place. The organisation, and particularly finding the funding when I am trying to create something original and challenging, is always the most difficult. To do that, I have to believe in the missions and be realistic about what is achievable.

During the expedition, there are always times when I am challenged physically and mentally. Then, when I am forced to question what I am doing, I find it is essential that I can revert back to a tangible purpose behind what I am doing. If I believe in the mission and it is from the heart, and I am buoyed by the support I have from followers and sponsors, whom I would never want to let down, then I can always find a way through the difficult times.

 Visiting the International School of Iceland. (PICTURE CREDIT: Tristan Brailey)

 Outdoor: Is the adventure itself the easy part?

KL: Pulling off the adventure is what I am best at; knowing how to pace myself and mitigate risks to be able to repeat the effort day after day, week after week and month after month is perhaps my strongest suit. That is the bottom line from which I can build my ideas and develop the bigger picture.

I think of my projects like a work of art; I begin with an idea and create a vision, which is like starting with a blank canvas and sketching out the scene. To research and organise the project is like forming the outlines and introducing the shading. To perform the journey is to add the details and colours. And finally, once the expedition is completed successfully, to have the ability to analyse and document the story and sell it, is like framing and presenting the work of art for all to see.

 Outdoor: How will your just completed Finke River expedition help you realise your ultimate goal to be the first person to cycle across Antarctica via the South Pole?

KL: Cycling on sandy surfaces requires similar skills to cycling over snow. Both surfaces are soft, variable and difficult to read. I constantly have to focus on the surface just ahead of my front wheel to be prepared to adapt my balance with each pedal stroke. The techniques are similar; to keep the bike in a smaller gear than I normally would to give the option to power out of a soft or unstable spot if necessary. Good core strength is essential. Cycling over sand or snow for long periods of time requires the same mental approach and the same intense focus. I cannot worry about maintaining a certain average speed, more I just have to find a steady rhythm and keep the pedals turning.

 Kate Leemings challenge has been named Breaking the Cycle, South Pole. (PICTURE CREDIT: Phil Coates)
 Tackling the terrain of Iceland. (PICTURE CREDIT: Tristan Brailey)

 Outdoor: How did you decide on the idea to be the first to cycle across Antarctica?

KL: Antarctica has always been a place I've been intrigued by, especially by the achievements of the polar explorers of the heroic age. Visiting the Antarctic continent in the early 1900s would be like us travelling to Mars. Antarctica is also very relevant to the world — it's the driver of the global climate system; a harsh frozen continent that is most susceptible to the burning of fossil fuels and thereby increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is the last great wilderness and needs to be protected.

 Outdoor: What are the immediate challenges you face in achieving this goal?

KL: Now that I have completed four polar training expeditions and facilitated the development of the first all-wheel-drive fat bike, with tyres that provide maximum flotation, I believe I am ready to make a successful journey across the continent via the South Pole. The immediate challenge – and key issue holding me back – is finding the funding.

 Long shadows on Canadian Arctic snow. (PICTURE CREDIT: Claudio von Planta)
 “To make a successful crossing of the Antarctic continent by bicycle will take the culmination of all my experience as an expedition cyclist; my mental and physical strength”

 Outdoor: How do you imagine the cycle will go? Have you started visualising what it will be like? What do you imagine the physical challenges and dangers to be?

KL: To make a successful crossing of the Antarctic continent by bicycle will take the culmination of all my experience as an expedition cyclist; my mental and physical strength. As long as I listen to my body be well-prepared and implement what I have learned over the last five years, I am confident that I can do it. But at the same time, I take nothing for granted. Antarctica will ask big questions of my character and resolve and I will have to dig deep, but I am quietly confident, that once I reach the start line, I will be able to reach the finish line.

There are dangers – crevasses and exposure to extreme cold being the main threats – but mitigating the risks are the main game and with my meticulous preparation and the support of such an experienced team, I’m sure we will meet and overcome any challenge that presents.



Zinio Cycling Kate Leeming Finke River South Pole