December 27, 2018 12:25 pm

‘I did it!’: U.S. explorer Colin O’Brady is first to cross Antarctica solo and unaided

WATCH ABOVE: An Oregon man became the first person to travel across Antarctica alone on Wednesday without any assistance.

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An Oregon man became the first person to traverse Antarctica alone without any assistance on Wednesday, trekking across the polar continent in an epic 54-day journey that was previously deemed impossible.

READ MORE: Antarctica is ‘singing’ — and its song could tell us about melting ice shelves

Colin O’Brady, of Portland, finished the bone-chilling, 1,500-kilometre journey as friends, family and fans tracked the endurance athlete’s progress in real time online.

“I did it!” a tearful O’Brady said on a call to his family gathered in Portland for the holidays, according to his wife, Jenna Besaw.

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Day 54: FINISH LINE!!! I did it! The Impossible First ✅. 32 hours and 30 minutes after leaving my last camp early Christmas morning, I covered the remaining ~80 miles in one continuous “Antarctica Ultramarathon” push to the finish line. The wooden post in the background of this picture marks the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins. As I pulled my sled over this invisible line, I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided. While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced. I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey. I’m delirious writing this as I haven’t slept yet. There is so much to process and integrate and there will be many more posts to acknowledge the incredible group of people who supported this project. But for now, I want to simply recognize my #1 who I, of course, called immediately upon finishing. I burst into tears making this call. I was never alone out there. @jennabesaw you walked every step with me and guided me with your courage and strength. WE DID IT!! We turned our dream into reality and proved that The Impossible First is indeed possible. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela. #TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

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“It was an emotional call,” Besaw said.

“He seemed overwhelmed by love and gratitude, and he really wanted to say ‘Thank you’ to all of us.”

O’Brady was sleeping near the finish line in Antarctica late Wednesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The 33-year-old O’Brady documented his nearly entirely uphill journey — which he called The Impossible First — on his Instagram page. He wrote Wednesday that he covered the last roughly 129 kilometres in one big, impromptu final push to the finish line that took well over an entire day.

“While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced,” O’Brady posted.

The day before, he posted that he was “in the zone” and thought he could make it to the end in one go.

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Day 53: THE BIG PUSH: ANTARCTICA ULTRAMARATHON. I woke up this morning about 80 miles away from the finish line. As I was boiling water for my morning oatmeal, a seemingly impossible question popped into my head. I wonder, would be possible to do one straight continuous push all the way to the end? By the time I was lacing up my boots the impossible plan had become a solidified goal. I’m going to go for it. I can feel it in my body that I am in the zone and want to harness that. It’s a rare and precious feeling to find the flow. I’m going to push on and try to finish all 80 miles to the end in one go. Currently, I am 18 hours and 48 miles into the push. I’m taking a pit stop now to melt more water before I continue on. I’m listening to my body and taking care of the details to keep myself safe. I called home and talked to my mom, sister and wife – I promised them I will stop when I need to. Only 35 more miles to make The Impossible First POSSIBLE. A very merry Christmas to all. Stay tuned… #TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

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“I’m listening to my body and taking care of the details to keep myself safe,” he wrote. “I called home and talked to my mom, sister and wife — I promised them I will stop when I need to.”

Though others have traversed Antarctica, they either had assistance with reinforced supplies or kites that helped propel them forward.

WATCH BELOW: What can you do as a visitor to Antarctica?

In 2016, British explorer Henry Worsley died attempting an unassisted solo trip across Antarctica, collapsing from exhaustion toward the end of the trek. Worsley’s friend and fellow English adventurer Louis Rudd is currently attempting an unaided solo in Worsley’s honour and was competing against O’Brady to be the first to do it.

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Day 47: THIS TOO SHALL PASS. After having my best day of the expedition yesterday, I nearly had my worst day today. I went to battle hard with my personal demons today. My anxiety started building last night after listening to a huge wind storm grow outside. The rattling of my tent kept me up and I began to get more and more nervous knowing I had to go out in it. I did my usual morning routine and then stepped into the madness. As expected, it was brutal. Blowing snow, sub zero temps and zero visibility. I packed off and headed out into the whiteout. I just entered a part of the route known as “Sastrugui National Park” aptly named for having the biggest sastrugui on the route. Pretty much the worse place to find yourself not being able to see where you are going. Due to the massive sastrugi, it’s also the one stretch where no plane can land so you are in dire straights if an emergency occurs. That really started playing on my mind after I fell hard 5 times in the first hour. What if I broke a bone or a ski? Maybe I should stop? I bargained with myself and finally decided I had to set my tent back up, less than two hours into the day. I told myself in my tent if I wanted to keep going that I could put on my long skins for better grip on the uneven surface and then continue. But I knew the effort it would take to put up the tent in a storm, it’s unlikely I was going any further. I fought to get the tent up, got inside with my skis, skins and stove, and put on my long skins. It was now decision time. Go back out? The voice in my head told me to stop, wait out the storm, rest. But the other voice told me I needed to keep moving forward or I’ll run out of food. My mind was ripping me apart. I closed my eyes and decided to meditate for a couple minutes repeating my favorite mantra: “This too shall pass.” One way or another I’d find my way out of this. Calmed and with renewed resolve I got back outside, fought to get my tent down and packed and continued onward. The storm outside never got any better, in fact it got progressively worse. However I managed to calm the storm in my mind and knock out 21.5 miles today. A great day all things considered.

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Besaw said O’Brady plans to stay on Antarctica until Rudd finishes his trek, hopefully in the next few days.

“It’s a small club,” she joked. “His intention is to wait for Louis and have kind of a celebratory moment with the only other person on the planet to have accomplished this same thing.”

O’Brady described in detail the ups and downs along the way since he began the trek on Nov. 3. He had to haul 170 kilograms of gear largely uphill and over sastrugi, wave-like ridges created by wind.

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Day 1: THE DAY IS FINALLY HERE! After years of dreaming and planning, today I left Union Glacier on this twin otter plane and got dropped off all alone on the sea ice at the coast of Antarctica to begin my journey to cross the continent solo, unsupported and unaided. When the plane dropped me off and flew away, the first thing I noticed was the quiet. Wow! I’ve never felt quite so small. Full of emotion, excitement and perhaps a little intimidated by the task at hand, I loaded up my sled, slipped on my harness and took my first steps South toward the Pole. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…” A saying has never before been quite so apropos. #TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

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“Not only am I pulling my … sled all day, but I’m pulling it up and over thousands of these sastrugi speed bumps created by the violent wind,” he wrote in an Instagram post on Nov. 12. “It’s a frustrating process at times to say the least.”

On Nov. 18, he wrote that he awoke to find his sled completely buried from an all-night blasting of wind and snow. That day he battled a 48 kilometres-per-hour headwind for eight hours as he trudged along.

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Day 16: GOT WORKED!! Selfie taking my ice caked mask off at the end of the most challenging day of the expedition so far. I got out of my tent to find my sled completely buried from an all night blasting of wind and snow drift. I managed to get packed up in the heavy winds, which is no small task alone, making sure my tent didn’t blow away. Then I was battered by a 30mph headwind for eight hours until it finally calmed a bit at the end of the day. To make matters worse, the wind kicked up a ton of loose snow so it was exceedingly hard to pull the sled through all the drifts. At one point I could barely see my skis below me as they were buried. There were several times I considered stopping, putting my tent back up and calling it a day. I wanted so badly to quit today as I was feeling exhausted and alone, but remembering all of the positivity that so many people have been sending, I took a deep breath and focused on maintaining forward progress one step at a time and managed to finish a full day. Now from the relative warmth of my tent I can see that days like this are where the growth happens and confidence builds for the even more challenging days ahead. Today may not have been my longest mileage day but it was my most mentally tough. #TheImpossibleFirst #BePossible

A post shared by Colin O'Brady (@colinobrady) on

“There were several times I considered stopping, putting my tent back up and calling it a day,” he wrote. “I wanted so badly to quit today as I was feeling exhausted and alone, but remembering all of the positivity that so many people have been sending, I took a deep breath and focused on maintaining forward progress one step at a time and managed to finish a full day.”

On Day 37, or Dec. 9, O’Brady wrote about how much he’s changed, along with a selfie in which he looks almost in pain, snow gathered around his furry hat.

“I’m no longer the same person I was when I left on the journey, can you see it in my face?” he wrote. “I’ve suffered, been deathly afraid, cold and alone. I’ve laughed and danced, cried tears of joy and been awestruck with love and inspiration.”

Though O’Brady had initially thought he’d want a cheeseburger at the end of his nearly impossible journey, Besaw said her husband has been fantasizing about fresh fish and salad because he has mostly been eating freeze-dried foods.

WATCH BELOW: NASA captures footage of Delaware-sized iceberg forming in Antarctica

As for what’s next for O’Brady, who also has climbed Mount Everest, Besaw said she’s not entirely sure.

“We are just so in the moment celebrating this right now,” she said. “Then we’ll see what’s next on the horizon.”

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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