Thoughts

What I'm Planning to do in 2017

You know what's like: you've recently finished an amazing journey and you head back to the office, full of life and stories. Within weeks the disillusionment starts to set in and you look for ways to get back out into the wilds. So I posed the question, "What next?" And I came up with this - a full distance, solo, unsupported and unaided ski to the South Pole. Nothing like going big.

Start date will be November 2017 (lots of planning and funding to raise hence announcing now; 17 months before I set off). Distance is about 683 miles and one I'm aiming to complete in under 30 days (there, said it so now there's no going back on the timeframe).

In between now and the South Pole I'm planning a shorter 350 mile through Norway. This will allow me to test gear, work on skiing skills and validate my fitness levels.

I think that's all for now. I'm for a pork pie (valuable calories...).

One more request: I've set up a page but, due to changes made by FaceBook I can't change the @ handle until I have 25 Likes. Can everyone that sees this message share it across their list of friends, Like the page and ask their mates to do the same? Thank you all. Here's the page:

https://www.facebook.com/North-By-South-2017-1389085037774023/

What is the Lifespan of Your Dreams?

Happy little dreamer.Top view of happy little boy in pilot headwear and eyeglasses lying on the hardwood floor and smiling while wooden planer and briefcase laying near him Picture this: you’re standing on the tailgate of a C130 Hercules flying at just over 10000 feet. The smell of vomit is faint now, whipped away by the blast of air that accompanied the opening of the huge ramp. On your back is a parachute and strapped to your legs is a rucksack that weighs about the same as a teenage child. Your rifle is tied to your body, the metal length sheathed in canvas.

The lamps – traffic lights for airborne troops – switched from red to green. A thumbs up from the dispatcher and you leap. And what a jump it is.

Memories of your first freefall descent are mashed and mingled with a rush of adrenaline and mental checks as you plummet towards Earth. This is good. Better – this is the pinnacle of your dreams. Once more you are at the apex of personal ambition.

And then you land.

Reality reminds you that, even though your body may ache and complain, there is still a job to be done.

A few years back you’d never considered the thought of growing older and even about your ability to continue meeting the physical demands of an arduous life. Now it's very different. You feel the bone jarring landing and a little voice in your head makes its presence known.

In a few years that constant companion in your mind will be loud enough to acknowledge: the dream is over – time to hand back your parachute and leave the hard life behind. Thanks for your time – you are now a has-been!

Wow! That cuts deep. Your dreams were real for a time and now they are about to be consigned to the ‘once upon a time’ box of memories you carry inside you.

Regardless of background we are all susceptible to the decline that come with age. Disease, injury and, most notably, death, have a cruel habit of taking the train set of our dreams – that labour of love you build in the garage or spare room of your head– and smashing it against the wall.

Now you stand amongst a scene of utter carnage. The locomotive, a powerhouse fueled by your own drive and belief, lies wrecked and broken. Carriages, containers each carrying echoes of your past desires and future hopes, are broken, crushed by Mother Nature's huge fist.

Worse, the track – the path you had chosen and built – is buckled and twisted with no hope of repair.

So that was life. It was fun for a time, but now you've succumbed to the inevitable. All you have left is a few memories, maybe a box of souvenirs and most notable of all the aches and grumbles nestled in your bones and muscles. Your dreams are at an end.

Wait! Rewind, please. Yes, we are all in agreement: the body declines and those lofty goals we once set and achieved are now passed on to the next generation, but you still have so much to give.

Your mind is a well of experience and one ripe for tapping. Memories can be molded, repurposed into cautionary tales and stories. Or better, insights made into the great things we can achieve when mind and body work in unison and towards a common goal. Rather than inspiring by doing, we mentor and nurture with the skills we have learned and honed over the years.

There are countless children out there in need of a guiding hand to help see them through the tough times. Take your knowledge of the arduous and what it takes to overcome, wrap the lessons learned in your life and fashion them into a form to be consumed, digested and acted upon. Make those who need help understand the power of they already carry inside them.

Time moves fast and has no respect for your dreams – the ticking hand of the clock and the passing of years are nothing more than a reminder of how fast your life will rush by. Those seconds, minutes and hours are also the lifespan of your dreams – almost endless. And even after the inevitable day comes your dreams will live on in the mind, body and values of those people you chose to nurture.

Now put yourself back on the tailgate and ask where all of this is going to lead: a few years of fun following only your dreams, or a lifetime in which you bring on the next generation and help them to reach those pinnacles you've have already visited?

Skiing the Wilds of Finse, Norway

Well, there's only a matter of days left before I head off to Svalbard. Once there I will spend a few days acclimatising before flying off the 88th degree and the start of my 225km journey. Before the day arrives, I thought I'd better recount a little more of my journey to Finse, Norway.

Norwegian Sub-zero Temperatures

In March 1914, explorer and icon Sir Ernest Shackleton departed for a rugged, mountainous region of Norway called Finse.

The area is well travelled by many Norwegians, both in summer and winter, and recognised as a training ground that closely resembles the terrain of the South Pole – Shackelton’s intended destination.

Now, as then, the many routes through the mountains and hills are peppered with huts in which travellers can shelter from the extremes of the Nordic snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Shock to the System

At 19:14 on 10 February 2016 I clambered down the step of the SNB (Norwegian State Railway) train and shivered as the cold bit deep.

The temperature was, according to the thermometer on the platform, a bone chilling minus 12 Celsius. This was the first shock to my system.

For several weeks I’d been planning this trip – a test of the coming event in April 2016 – and had obsessed over average temperatures in Finse. The online charts suggested a constant minus 5 to minus 8 Celsius across the last ten years. I remember my thoughts: ‘it’s OK, just a blip. The weather will improve.’

Hills and Valleys Norwegian Style

The next morning didn’t feel warmer. In fact, I could feel the first signs of frostnip (first degree frostbite) developing in the tips of my fingers as I cooked breakfast.

Still undaunted, I set about packing up my tent and collecting fuel and a pulk from one of the local guides (a Norwegian introduced by a mutual friend).

Two hours later, with 50kg of equipment packed in my pulk, I set off on the first leg of the planned 32km country ski of the day.

The route I’d mapped out for this entire training trip would take in three huts and around 75km of hills and valleys through which to ski.

Now, that’s 75km with accurate map reading rather than assuming the people travelling a parallel route to me are going to the same destination as I was! More on that next time.

Very cold

Due to a late start, I missed the first hut by about four kilometres; daylight was failing and an arduous climb in near darkness was an adventurous step too far.

I was pleased that I’d managed to cover about 28km in 6 hours, but irritated I was short of my intended mark. Still, a night out in the tent would present an opportunity to refresh some skills and practise the all-important tent routine.

That first night the thermometer hit a low of minus 22 Celsius. I was cold. Very cold.

Numb feet

As I lay in my sleeping bag, my numb feet elevated up to prevent the blood from welling and cooling, I reminded myself why preparing for the very worst of scenarios is the best option – irrespective of whether this be in the working environment or planning a trip to the North Pole (my destination this April).

The temperatures there, at the top of the world, will be closer to minus 30 Celsius, and probably lower. And pretty much the same as those I encountered on my next day in Finse, which I’ll detail in my next post.

 

Some Thoughts on My Trip to Norway

A stunning sight - Finse, Norway at dusk. I pulled this from my FaceBook page as the words encapsulate much of what is going on in my mind right now.

Tomorrow I'll write a detailed post about my trip to Finse, Norway.

It's been four days now since I returned from Norway and I thought it time to get my thoughts down in writing.

First I'd like to thank everyone who has, and will, support me on my upcoming journey. Sat here at the keyboard, I'm aware that, nearly 20 years ago to the day, a group of friends and I set forth on a similar journey. Not to a cold, inhospitable place, but still a leap of faith. We were young and determined and our passage through that long year took us in new directions and grew us as men.

Looking back, the process we went through was not dissimilar to the short Norway trip and the forthcoming journey to the pole.

All of us chose to volunteer to push our bodies and minds to the limit. We accepted the likelihood of failure, yet we still volunteered. Following completion, we were shaped and moulded into something more than most of us could have ever imagined. Newfound confidence and skills manifested themselves on an almost daily basis.

On that day when we blinked our way out into the morning sunlight, each of us was a different person to the one who started the journey.

How does this translate?

Even though many years have passed, we're still all very capable human beings. I'm sure that, like me, the need for adventure is still alive in all those who elected to subscribe to the demands of the job.

History has shown we are all capable and determined. Every one of us is prepared to push that little harder to achieve their goals.

My trip to Norway was a spur of the moment decision, although the notion had been there for several months. This fact alone is reminiscent of the path we chose.

Living in the extreme cold, if only for a few days, and experiencing arduous conditions was a pure thrill, even if some of my preparatory work was less than well executed! Note: always prepare for the worst and NOT the average temperatures depicted on a graph!

Choosing to make a break from the norm and go it alone was both exhilarating and liberating. Whilst not totally isolated, the sense of being away from day to day office life was an experience that has captured my imagination and will spur me on to greater things.

Allowing myself the freedom to become truly independent reminds me of how resilient and determined we all can be when carrying a cause in our hearts.

And there's more.

My family are forgiving of my ever so slightly selfish ways and, for that, I am grateful beyond that which words can convey.

The true irony is that, in many cases, and with a family to think about, it is not possible to become independent without support. This one fact hit me hard.

I ate for ten men, pulled hard on the hills and revelled in the barren beauty of Finse.

This journey, my first true physical test in a very long time, was a defining moment. And, much like that day 20 years ago, has reignited faith in myself and the belief there is more to life than simply money and an office job (although both go towards paying the bills).

My message? Time has moved on. That matters little. What counts is the fact we all have some hidden, burning desire; a searing itch that demands to be scratched. I've raked my nails over the first flare of irritation and now look forward to the next.

For all of you that know me: I did this. I will do more. So can you.

Thanks.

Telling My Story to Carlson Wagonlit

I wasn't quite sure where to put this post, so it's ended in the dank recesses of my blog and nestled in the thoughts category. So what was the deal? A good friend of mine, an 'IT guy' at Microsoft, asked if I would come and speak with one of their customers. The reason? To give Carlson Wagonlit an insight into my journey to the north pole; the reason why I'm doing this; the chosen charities and how Microsoft are helping me get the message out to followers.

The Heart of the Presentation

This presentation was all about the charities, in particular Diana Award. I wanted to convey my passion for these amazing organisations and show Carlson Wagonlit how I intend to add a little extra to the daily reports.

As I've said in an earlier post, Microsoft have provided me with a Windows phone and Band 2 fitness tracking sports watch. Used together, these two devices will collect and store key information about my health and the distance covered each day. Every evening I'll set up my satellite phone and transmit the daily statistics back to a central server from where it will be displayed on a website. Yes, that means you too can follow along (I'll be posting the URL soon).

Did Carlson Wagonlit seem interested? Yes, and in more than just the technology (one of the main reasons for them attending). I truly believe the message - my message - carried over to them. And that message was? Help me to help these amazing charities by donating even just a little money to them.

How Did I Feel?

I was terrified. My right hand was shaking and I had to constantly remind myself of how to give an effective, rabble rousing speech. There were a couple of stammers, a repeat of a few sentences and the crackle of my dry throat as the talk moved on, but it felt good. No, better. I felt fantastic. Not only was I standing in front of a team of very senior company staff members, talking confidently, but I was getting the message across. And, I hope, doing all of this with just a little style.

But this is my view. What did the Microsoft attendees have to say? They thought the presentation was great. I put across my story, built a compelling picture, grabbed the group's attention and held it. A rapt audience. Well, all apart from the one guy who kept yawning. Oh well, can't win them all.

Why This All Means To Me

At last I've proven I can stand in front of a collection strangers, engage and entertain them (yes, I did get some laughs). This is a huge boost for my self-confidence and at least a partial validation of my speaking skills. But there is another, more important aspect. You see, over the next couple of years I aim to build up a repertoire, one that will allow me to become the voice of one of the charities I'm raising funds for.

A tall order? Probably. Can I do it? Yes! Now all I have to do is find a charity willing to give me a shot at the title :).

There was also mention of possible donations for my three charities. I'll wait to see what come back, although I'm confident and excited.

P.S a big thank you to Michael and Paul for helping to make this happen.

The Microsoft Band 2 Has Arrived

Band 2 fitness tracker Yes, I am a little bit excited because my shiny Band 2 has arrived. Billed as a fitness tracker, the device appears to have taken some design inspiration from, ahem, *other hardware manufacturers*. It's a pretty funky looking piece of hardware.

Now, in the old days, that last statement alone should have been enough to send an army of hardcore athletes speeding towards Amazon or PC World. Fortunately for online and offline retailers, the trickle of customers generated my previous comment is unlikely to swamp their servers or stores.

Okay, let's go on with it.

Microsoft Band 2: Look and Feel

Go back a couple of years and you would have found me dismissing the idea of any kind of smartwatch. The early Samsung models were too clunky for my likely. And ugly.

But times have move on. The Band 2 looks pretty cool and it's a definite step up from the first version which looked pretty like a manacle. The latest version of Microsoft's fitness tracker seems to have taken appears to have have a shot of cool injected into its sleek chassis. A combination of metal, rubber and a pretty large touchscreen combine to give it the professional look you'd expect from a company trying to capture large market share.

I have to admit that it's not the most comfortable device to wear and Microsoft could really do with offering a variety of straps. But it's okay - no worse than my Garmin GPS 410 when I first bought it.

At this point, let me clarify something: I've only had the Band for a few days and I'm guessing it'll 'give' over time.

How Accurate is the Band 2?

It's pretty good - comparable to my tried and tested Garmin GPS 410 (which, although now a few years old, is still a great training aid). The big advantage the Band 2 has over its big rival, the Apple Watch, is a built-in GPS - straps or pouches for you handset are not required thanks to some thought on Microsoft's part.

One thing that did irritate me was the time to acquire a satellite lock. Comparing my GPS 410's results to the Band's on one particular session I found a 500m difference in overall distance. Not a huge amount, but enough to put a dip in my, so far, improving times. The easy remedy would be to leave the GPS function always on, but this drains power and I'm prone to taking off at the drop of a hat for a run or pulk pulling session - flat batteries aren't helpful.

The Microsoft Health App

Now this I do like! Built-in mapping on the splits, calorie counter, session duration, HRM and all the usual features you'd expect are there. But there's more. There are downloadable training plans (running, cycling, weights, etc) and these can all be accessed via the app. In addition, the app will give you an indication as to how your fitness is improving.

The Health App is available for the Lumia range of phones, iPhone and Android. That said, there's significantly less functionality available on iOS or Android. For example, you can use the Band to control various setting, including the Lumia music player and this feature isn't available on non-Microsoft devices. Not an issue as you can download your iTunes/Google Play library to your Windows phone.

That's All for Now

I'll leave it at that, for now. There is still much testing to be done on the Band 2 and I'm looking forward to giving it a trial run in Norway (scheduled for late January). There'll be refreshed post soon after I return.

Alternatives to Chasing Heroes

Deception Island - Shackleton's Intended Destination Maybe I'm being a little harsh. Bear with me. Everyone of us has a great adventure at the root of our existence. To some it may be little more than a one off, to others it the ultimate destination in a life of outrageous achievement. The problem is this: most people will never realise their full potential. Are you shocked? I hope so, because you should be. What I've just stated is that the vast majority of the world's population will never make their dreams real; your heroes will be as untouchable as ever.

Why? Why do we find it so hard to follow in the footsteps of those who inspire us? Or, looking at it another way, how do we so easily let our dreams slip between our fingers?

For many people it's simply a case of time - there's not enough of it. The constant demands of work, family and social lives can, if we're not careful, be draining. Our hopes and aspirations are consigned to a twilight world; a fantasy world that exists only in our minds. There's nothing wrong with spending time with people you love and care for, but it can be all too easy to let your dreams be discarded.

Some of us are lucky enough to be in that enviable position of being 'carefree'. No, this doesn't mean they're happy to close their eyes and walk into moving traffic - it's about not having anyone who needs your direct support e.g. children or elderly parents in need of constant care. I have several friends who are fortunate to be in this position. One mate in particular made a grand announcement - he was going to climb Mount Everest. Was I jealous? Do dogs do a funny dance when you itch the base of their spines?

Sadly he failed in his attempt. I don't mean failed as in, 'got halfway up the mountain and then collapsed.' No, he never even made it onto the plane. Why? At the last moment he let fear overwhelm him. I felt genuine pity for him, not least because this one trip had been his dream; the flicker of adventure he'd nurtured into a blazing inferno and one so easily extinguished by doubt. After all the training, he came to question his own abilities.

Another problem many would be adventurers face is the sheer cost of mounting an expedition to some far flung corner of the planet. My friend had self-funded the trip to the Himalayan mountain - a cost of about $60,000. Most people can't afford those sums of money. Of course there are ways to raise the cash: sell your house, find corporate sponsorship or, as I've done, set up a business. I'm using the skills I've learned to deliver a series of mentoring and motivational presentations and workshops. But not everyone has the time or inclination.

So how can you achieve your aims without breaking the bank, ruining your love life and driving away all your friends?

Easy!

Jump into Mini Adventures

Ever thought about cutting your dream down into smaller chunks? Make it easy on yourself, your finances and your loved and go micro. Instead of climbing K2, head out to Ben Nevis. Forget the full Artic trek and hop over to Sweden and ski  part of the Kings Trail (a 440 mile path through some of the most beautiful Scandinavian scenery imaginable - as long as you like snow and mountains). Think the Marthon de Sables might be a little much for you body? Try the Ocean Floor Race - still a long slog, but not as tough as MdS.

If some of those options look a bit too much, then you can go more niche and closer to home. Try a weekend of canoeing some of the rivers and canals that cut through Britain. Compete in a Spartan Race (great fun, especially 'The Beast'). Cycle across the county you live in.

Those are just a few ideas. I'm sure you can think of more.

Tired of not getting more out life? Then maybe it's time to stop chasing your heroes.

I'm Giving Up Aspiring

It's not the destination that matters, but the path we take. Quite a few years ago, there was a young boy who saw the world as a wonderous place. He read books, watched films and listened to tales of heroics and adventure. To him, there was only one direction in which to take his life - mimicking the men who had influenced him so...

This young boy embarked on a journey. He carried iconic images - tough guys who were unflinching in their duties - and started to reshape himself into a carbon copy of those men. He learned, trained and changed his views to fit the values and beliefs of the his heroes. In time he grew and, as he slipped from child to man, he continued on his determined path, his aspirations fixed in place, immovable.

If he didn't succeed, there was nothing more for him.

Time passed and that man started to look back over his life. There was no doubt he had been successful in most of his ventures, but he couldn't help but something was amiss. He spent time analysing his voyage and came to the conclusion he'd taken a wrong turn.

Now, that's not to say he regretted any aspect of his life so far, more that his aspirations had been based on the wrong information. You see, the things he did, his achievements, were all for the benefit of someone else. They had been a demonstration that, as our American cousins are fond of saying, he had 'the right stuff'.

Problem was nobody was there to listen. His trajectory in life had been chosen to impress others and, as it turned out, those 'others' weren't interested in the detail, only the end result. They cared about him, but cared little for the steps he followed and more about his ultimate success.

It was time to stand back and take stock of life. He'd learned many lessons that could be put to good use; validation of his willingness to endure extreme physical and mental hardship in order to reach a chosen goal.

And you might ask, 'What is the difference between then and now?'

Simple.

No more aspiring to set routines and fixed destinations. Instead, a path was chosen. The endpoint was picked, but the specifics of how he arrived at the destination no longer mattered.

I know some of you might think the path and aspiring to a given goal are one and the same. I disagree.

You see, this man knows that some of his ideas and plans might now work out. Circumstance has a habit of intervening and bulldozing even the most carefully laid plan. And this is where the path becomes the most important aspect of the journey.

Why?

Because the path is littered with failure. Through failure we learn to adapt and overcome. We become more resilient, our minds more flexible and able to cope with life's lows. In essence, we reinvent ourselves as we find new ways to rewrite our aspirations into something more valuable and enduring - a path.

As for me, I've decided to put aside my aspirations of singular goals and instead to focus on finding a route that will reward me with the life I forgot to have; a world that, for a time at least, was hidden behind my aspirations.

The Adventure Seekers Packing List

A little too much for a trip to Tesco! I've just realised it's now a little over six months and we'll be heading off to Barneo ice station to prepare for the journey north. Pretty excited. I'm still working on sponsors and we already have a couple of pledges. This is the one area that concerned me most about the whole endeavour - money. Trust me, if there was a way to get to the North Pole for free I would find it. But putting together an expedition like this needs more than cold, hard cash. And that's what I want to talk about today.

Back in the old days, my kit was always ready to go - the job demanded short notice moves; some taskings would see us deployed from base to a hotspot in as little as a few hours. Those days are gone and now my approach can be a little more sedate. That said, I've carried forward a few ideas that you might find useful when planning your own adventures. 

Visas and Passports

Visas can be the bane of your life. There are many countries where simply getting across the border requires huge amounts of preparation, a lot of patience and, occasionally, a little 'sweetener'. The FCO has a dedicated page offering travel advice - https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice - scroll down the page and you'll visa requirements for the respective country (but no details of any 'facilitation payments').

Filling out the paperwork can be a a long, slow job, but do you really want you trip of a lifetime tripped at the last hurdle just because you left your visa application until the last minute?

Insurance

I know, there's no need to tell me - insurance feels like a tax, but it's necessary. Do you have a family? Kids, maybe? Partner? Mortgage? Outstanding finance? Answer yes to any of those and you're going to need to insure yourself. Cost of insurance varies depending on where you're planning to go e.g. mountain biking across the Hindu Kush then it's fair to say you're going to be hit with a pretty big premium. Prices will be lower for more sedate adventures such as riding from Land's End to John O'Groats in a rickshaw.

Whatever you do, make the insurance covers you for every eventuality. Also be aware a trip that takes you through multiple countries on different modes of transport may require several policies.

Maps

No need for a map at the North Pole as the place is one vast expanse of shifting sea ice. Now think about somewhere like South Africa and we're looking at the complete opposite. On a few occasions in my past, a map has quite literally been a life saver for me. Paper maps are the best. Failing that, you can use an app for your smartphone.

Depending on your destination, you may find it difficult to obtain up to date mapping. Don't panic - even old maps are sufficient, especially in places like the Sahara desert (trust me on this one - we were using maps made in the 1950's during this trip and they were more than adequate for the job).

Planning Your Route

'Yeah, I'm just off to climb Mount Everest!' Cool, well done. Question is this: who knows where you are at any given time? Let me make this clear - create a route card and make sure you leave it with someone you can trust and agree a method of passing updates. This person is then responsible for notifying authorities in the event you don't check in. On top of a route card, you need a communications plan (mobile phone, satcomms, email... whatever it is stick to the schedule). If you're off to the wilds of somewhere like Kamchatka consider using a GPS tracking system.

Scorching Heat or Frozen Tundra?

It goes without saying that you need to pack the right kit for the climate or the regions you'll be trekking through. Very cold, like Siberia, and you'll need lots of cold weather gear. Alternatively, if you've decided to run the length of the Gobi desert you're going to need to travel light and with cool clothing that protects you from the sun. But there's also a middle ground you need to consider - hot places where the temperatures can drop below zero degrees Celsius.

The Sahara desert is hot by day and bitterly cold at night. Know the environment you're going to be travelling through and pack accordingly. Do your research before you go.

Vaccinations

Fortunately mankind has done a pretty good job of eradicating most of the nasty bugs that cause us to grow a second head or outright die. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security - there are plenty of nasties out there just waiting to find an orifice via which they can invade your body. See you doctor, get the necessary vaccinations and be safe.

You may also need to visit your doc after a trip abroad. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but you never know what you're bringing back with you. Trust me when I say ringworm are cunning little buggers who can hide under even the sparsest of beards so beware you newbie globe trotting hipsters.

Specialist Equipment

Some destinations require the use of specialist kit. A prime example is one of walking to the North Pole. Not only will you need extreme cold weather gear, dehydrated food and a portable hygiene system (baby wipes), you may also need to take some form of self-defence. In the colder, more northerly regions of the world you're going to need a rifle to keep polar bears and Norwegian ski tourists at bay. At the far end of the spectrum you might need to consider employing guides to see you through areas of tension or war zones.

Bottom line - don't try to dabble with Death as he tends to have the upper hand.

Summary

That's it for now. Just threw some ideas out there. If you have any further thoughts/tips, please put your views down in the comments below.

The Subtle Art of Communication

The art of communication Every so often you run into someone who has a marked effect on your life. It might not be tangible, instead an acknowledgement of the fact comes from a deeper level, on the edge of your conscious mind. Sometimes the impact of a particular meeting might not come until days after the event has passed. This happened to me very recently and, I'm sure you've experienced the same at some point in your life. Some days back I had a conversation with a lady whilst out training and her words reminded me a significant part of why I'm going to the North Pole is to provide a service of sorts. One part of the service I hope to amplify over the next ten years or so is that of story telling.

I can already see the exclamation marks materialising over you heads. This little snippet is a lead into a topic that will be critical to the success of the mission, so bear with me...

Humans have evolved to tell stories; the skills required to pass on knowledge or entertain, have been developed over many thousands of years. Just recently I regaled two of my blackened toenails with my own rendition of Dame Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" - another form or communicating. Another example is my blog. It's here I attempt to lay out the steps for getting to, and the reason for going to, the North Pole. This website is simply a way of communicating the entire process (along with some of my own personal observations).

Communicating is a significant aspect of the trek. You see, without a capable and comprehensive comms package the team would be unable to pass messages, both to each other and the wider world.

With that thought in mind, I'm going to give you an outline of the equipment we'll be taking on the polar trek. The technical information may not be of interest to some of my readers, but bear with me as you'll get a better understanding of what it takes to establish and maintain communications from the North Pole.

Team Communications

There are many hazards to be aware of when crossing arduous environments. Open leads (stretches of open water formed when the ice separates), pressure ridges and polar bears are three of the most obvious. Going beyond external factors we also have to consider the status of each team member. Frost bite and exhaustion are very real threats that could result in a team member being pulled off the ice.

So how do intend to pass messages between the group? Two way radios. Simple and effective, the equipment will be based on short range walkie talkies that allow each member to pass information and, probably, a bit of banter as well.

There are many options available: Motorola, Cobra, Uniden and more. The requirements are simple: provide coverage for the team to talk over short distances; several hundred metres, at most.

The three options above have ranges from 22 miles to 50 miles, which might seem like a bit of overkill, but better safe than sorry.

Formal Polar Communications

Barneo ice station staff will be providing support for the trek. As such we will be required to send updates detailing our location, set off time for each day and a final schedule at the end of each day. This allows Barneo to track our position and progress. Furthermore, the formal communications will be used when we reach the Geographic North Pole at which point a helicopter will be sent to collect us.

The options for the formal comms package are limited; only Iridium supply handsets that will work at the North Pole. I have my beady little eye on two handsets: the Iridium 9555 and 9575 Extreme, but will probably go for the 9555 as it's cheaper and we won't be using it for anything more than passing messages back to Barneo and receiving critical updates.

Live Skype Sessions

This is the type of comms most of you will be interested in. During the trip we are planning on running short, daily Skype sessions for school students. Don't worry if that doesn't include you - the sessions will be open for all to join. As we move towards the Pole, we'll be using the live meetings to highlight not out progress, but to also show the impact mankind has had on the Arctic. Hopefully we'll get some real time images of polar bears (but not close up shots).

Putting together the package required to run Skype has proved a little tricky; currently, there are no hand-held satellite phones with the necessary bandwidth so we've had to go a little extreme.

The option we've selected is the Iridium OpenPort system. Designed to be mounted on ships, the full compliment of equipment weighs in at a rather hefty 19kg (as opposed to the 9555 and 9575 which are only a few hundred grammes each). To be able to run the meetings we're going to need solar chargers, a car battery (yes, you read that right), a laptop and expedition grade solar charging panels. The weight soon adds up.

As I'm now taking a three man team to the Pole, the equipment can be broken down and the load spread across all three pulks, the weight per person drops to just over 6kg. Not a significant extra load.

An odd intro, I know, but I hope you understand: communication is key in every part of our lives. We all need to tell our story and most humans crave the opportunity to hear tales of people and places they might otherwise never experience - another facet of the trip I will address using the Skype session.

Trust me: it pays to slow down, smile, do a little talking and listen.