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A thrilling polar competition between two adventurers to cross Antarctica solo, unsupported, and unassisted had a happy ending with both explorers achieving the unprecedented feat back-to-back. American professional endurance athlete Colin O’Brady and British Army Captain Louis Rudd set off a mile apart on November 3, 2018, from the Atlantic coast with the aim to become the first person to ski across the remote, inhospitable continent alone.
O’Brady was the first to conquer the 930-mile swath of icy terrain, arriving at the Ross Ice Shelf on the Pacific coast by way of the South Pole on December 26, 2018. The 33-year-old who spent 54 days skiing the world’s windiest and coldest continent while lugging a 300-pound sled with supplies, pulled away from Rudd in the final two days when he traversed 80 miles, almost five times his daily average, in just 32 hours. The achievement was particularly poignant given that shortly after graduating from college, O’Brady had a freak accident which left experts doubtful he would walk again, let alone ski across the treacherous continent.
“I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided,” a jubilant O'Brady later posted on Instagram.
Instead of leaving the hostile environment after completing the historic trek, the explorer pitched a tent on the world’s largest ice sheet and waited patiently for Rudd to also complete the monumental undertaking. On December 29, just three days after O’Brady arrived, the British explorer emerged from the TransAtlantic mountains to become the world’s second person to complete the solo crossing of the frozen continent. “Here he is!” a delighted O’Brady exclaimed on Instagram. “Captain Louis Rudd arrived at the finish line this afternoon. I’ve been waiting here to greet him.”
Rudd, who had also cut short his sleep in the last two days and skied for a mind-boggling 32 hours to get to the finish, was not disappointed at being second since he never considered it to be a “race.” Besides, the British Army Captain had a more altruistic motive for attempting the feat. He was doing it in honor of his friend Henry Worsley, who died while trying to cross the continent alone in 2016. Rudd said, “I didn’t want to get drawn into a race. I knew the expedition would be difficult enough as it was. All that mattered to me was that I completed it, that I skied solo and unsupported, carrying the flag with Henry’s family crest.”
After spending a few days camped 10 feet away from each other and feasting on buried supplies left for another explorer who never made it across, the two adventures were whisked off by a ski plane to the South Pole scientific research station. From here, they will board another plane that will take them back to their respective homes. Though the two men may live in different continents and come from different backgrounds, they will forever be tied together by their amazing achievement. As O’Brady succinctly puts it, “ [We] have a lifelong bond now having both completed this epic journey.”
Resources: nationalgeographic.com, the guardian.com,bbc.com.