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Adventure Travel

Aug 01, 2017

Cycling to the South Pole

Kate Leeming has a dream to bicycle across Antartica.To help make it a reality, she has gone on training expeditions on multiple continents, and collaborated on new technologies


Michael Levy

Four years after she started preparing, it’s go time.

Sometime in the next two years, Australian endurance athlete Kate Leeming will try to become the first person to bicycle across Antarctica on an expedition named “Breaking the Cycle: South Pole.” In six weeks, she’ll cover 1,800 kilometers, most likely traveling from Leverett Glacier to Hercules Inlet and tagging the South Pole on the way. Temperatures will range as low -40 degrees Celsius and catabatic winds will scour the glaciated landscape she crosses. (See this video about climber Mike Libecki’s expedition to Antarctica for an idea of just how powerful catabatic winds are.)

When she first conceived of the idea to cycle the coldest continent, Leeming wasn’t sure it was possible, not least because of the type of bike it would require. “But with the advent of modern technology, I realized maybe I could do it,” she says.

She partnered with motorcycle and bicycle designer Steve Christini to put his all-wheel drive (AWD) technology into a fatbike—a bike with large tires that performs much better on snow and other soft surfaces.

Kate Leeming testing out the first prototype of the Christini AWD fatbike on a preparatory expedition to Svalbard, Norway. The bike was designed exclusively for her Breaking the Cycle: South Pole expedition. Photo: Phil Coates.

Leeming put the first prototype to the test on a one-week expedition to Svalbard, Norway in 2013. The AWD function worked well, “but the bike didn’t have a wide enough tire for me,” she says. “Flotation”—being able to stay atop the soft snow—“is key.”

The second iteration of the Christini AWD fatbike featured a slightly larger tire. Leeming tested it out over on a several week expedition in Greenland’s Jameson Land and Liverpool Land. “That bike had a slightly wider tire,” Leeming says. However, it still wasn’t to her liking.

The third and final version of the bike can accommodate an even wider tire. She put it through the gauntlet over four weeks in the Yukon, from March to April 2017, and had no qualms about its performance. “It’s amazingly efficient,” Leeming says, “and it’s really in its element on a soft surface, particularly when its steep.”

Leeming riding across sastrugi (wavelike formations on the snow and ice caused by wind) on Greenlands Hurry Fjord during the second of her preparatory expeditions for Antarctica. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Leeming.

While Leeming has been explicitly preparing for this expedition since 2013, it is also a culmination of two decades worth of adventures. “Each expedition builds on what I’ve learned from my other expeditions,” she explains.

In 1993, Leeming completed her first major expedition, becoming the first woman to cycle across Europe, covering 13,400 kilometers on her way from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. Following that expedition, she spent the next ten years pursuing her other passion of real tennis (known as court tennis in the U.S.). She rose to the world’s second ranked position on the women’s circuit, and continues to work as a real tennis professional to this day.

But the open road lured her back. In nine months from 2004 to 2005, Leeming cycled unsupported for 25,000 kilometers around her native Australia, raising awareness about education for sustainable development. “It was also a personal discovery for me, learning how my country fits together.”

Her third and most recent major expedition took her 22,000 kilometers across Africa, from Senegal to Somalia. On her CV, Leeming writes that she explored “the causes and consequences of extreme poverty and [looked] specifically at initiatives that give a leg up rather than a hand out. This is believed to be the first bicycle crossing of the African continent from its most westerly to its most easterly points in an unbroken line. … It was an Official Activity for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).”

Kate Leeming in the Tin Toumma Desert near Termit Range, Niger, during her Breaking the Cycle in Africa expedition. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Leeming.

She will draw attention to several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on her Antarctica expedition, too, in a same way to what Mina Guli did on her recently completed 6 River Run. A major influence on these altruistic aspects was polar explorer Robert Swann, whom she met while planning her ‘93 Russia expedition. “He inspired me to understand that there’s a lot more value to what I was doing if I wanted to make it more than just riding a bike,” Leeming says. “So with Russia, the goal was to aid children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. On all my expeditions since, I’ve tried to benefit the people of the places I’m riding through.”

In Antarctica, Kate will be cycling to support SDG initiatives 1, 4 and 5, which aim to the eliminate poverty, ensure access to quality education and ensure gender equality for all the world’s populations, respectively.

She will also raise money through her ride for Y Genergation Against Poverty (YGAP), which “finds, accelerates, supports and grows early stage entrepreneurial ventures run by local leaders with solutions to poverty in their communities” in Kenya and South Africa.

The big question mark at present is whether Leeming will start the expedition in the fall of 2017 or the fall of 2018. “I think the toughest road is the road to get there in the first place,” she says.

She has raised all but the last little bit of funding she needs to finance the expedition, but is still looking for a few key sponsors to foot the bill. Her main sponsor is a German engineering company called Hellgeth, which will coordinate the logistics and support in Antarctica. A last minute snafu related to a vehicle Leeming’s team needs in the Antarctic is the main hold-up at the moment, and the linchpin upon which the decision to start in 2017 or 2018 hinges.

Leeming would love to go this year, but if everything isn’t in place, she’s willing to wait the extra months “I’m only ever going to do this once,” she says, “so I want to make sure it’s the best it can ever be.”

Kate cycling along Hurry Fjord, Northeast Greenland. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Leeming.

Feature Image: Drone shot of Leeming cycling near a hunting cabin on the way to Shingle Point, the Yukon, Canada. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Leeming.

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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.



Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma


“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”


For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

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