Hello Reddit! I'm Colin O'Bady, an explorer and author. In 2018, I became the first person ever to walk across Antarctica while pulling a 400-pound sled, solo, unsupported and unassisted. I also just completed the first human-powered row of Drake Passage, the most treacherous body of water in the world.
My book The Impossible First, which recounts my crossing of Antarctica and my life, comes out in five days! You can preorder it here: www.theimpossiblefirst.com
For more, follow me on Instagram: www.instagram.com/colinobrady
EDIT: Hi guys, thank you so much for all the questions! I have to step out for a moment, but I'll be back soon to answer more questions.
EDIT: I'm back! Doing a few more.
Is there any particular piece of gear, foodstuffs, or equipment that held up much better or worse than you anticipated?
The food that I took with me was the key to success.
I spent a year in a nutrition science lab with my sponsor Standard Process. They created a custom food based on all of my biometrics that they called the "Colin Bars". It was a whole all organic highly caloric plant based food that fueled me the entire time. I was burning 10,000 calories per day and they kept me going till the end.
Was there a point where you reached a mental breaking point? If not, how were you able to stay clear minded?
On day 48, I have a video clip of myself after being hammered in a storm that lasted 8 days where the windchill was -80 degrees. I was running low on food and I looked straight into my camera, frozen tears in my eyes, saying " I just wanna quit, I don't know if I can continue on."
Fortunately I was able to switch my mindset back to the positive with my mantra: " Colin, you are strong, you are capable", I said that to myself every day and it lifted my spirits.
How did you go about training for Antarctica? Was it harder than you thought it was going to be?
I have the most amazing strength coach, check him out on Instagram if you want: @mikemccastle. He's done 5804 pull ups in 24 hours wearing a 30 pound weight vest. Guys a total badass.
He helped me come up with creative ways to prepare to make this attempt - since it was a world first, there was no defined playbook on how to train.
I added twenty pounds of muscle to get stronger. My training was great but even still, the Antarctica crossing was harder than i could have imagined.
What was the biggest obstacle to actually getting down there and starting your trek? Did you need to get permission from a bunch of Antarctic researchers or something?
Yes, there is a bit of bureaucracy in visiting Antarctica. So I had to make sure to get all the proper permitting. My recent rowing expedition of Drake Passage to reach Antarctica was actually much more complicated permit wise than my solo crossing by land.
What is the most trivial malady (diarrhea, sprained ankle) that would have instantly terminated your trip?
Broken ski binding or ski - I had so much weight on my sled that I couldn't bring spare supplies or gear. The skis essentially acted as glorified snowshoes. There was no glide to them as I'm wearing skins for traction gut without them, knee deep snow and extreme cold would have made the crossing deadly.
How do your loved ones feel about the danger that you put yourself through in your multiple “Impossible Firsts?” How do you help them to make peace with it?
My mom of course is afraid - but she's also been one of the biggest mentors and leaders in my path towards successfully accomplishing these audacious goals. When people ask her this question, she usually replies with a coy smile, saying "As a mother, be careful what you wish for when you tell your kid they can anything they set their mind to."
Jenna, my wife, has been the backbone of all my expeditions. WE've created and planned them together. My book, The Impossible First, although it's my name on the cover, is really both our stories. Her strength and cunning has made all the difference.
Did you have any wildlife encounters? If so what was the best or worst for you?
No wildlife in the interior of Antarctica in my crossing on foot, but last month I rowed a boat to Antarctica across Drake Passage and saw amazing wildlife. Humpback whales jumping five feet next to my tiny rowboat, penguins, dolphins, orcas, albatross..mind blowing!
How would you describe the difference in the suck-factor between massive over-land expeditions and crossings vs mountain/vertical objectives? Do you prefer one to the other?
The biggest challenge with the Antarctica crossing was the weight of my sled - 375 pounds to start. And actually, although it wasn't as steep as a mountain, I was going uphill. I started at sea level and the roughly halfway point, the South Pole, was 9,310 feet.
Slight uphill dragging 375 pounds through snow was pretty grueling.
How did you sleep?
I had a tiny tent (it was a Hilleberg) that I made custom changes to so I could set it up my by myself in major storms (very dangerous!). Once inside, I got into my -40 degrees sleeping bag and tried to get some rest despite the 24 hours of daylight.
I just got back a week ago from another world first expedition, we because the first people to row a boat gully human powered across Drake Passage. So, so many focus in the immediacy is my book launch next week. I'm so excited to share it with the world, I poured my heart and soul into it.
After that, climbing Everest with my wife this Spring on the Tibet side and we're already scheming on our next major expedition.
Well, that's the most badass thing I've read today. Serious question though, why? Was it worth it? What did you learn about yourself along the way?
I can only imagine that is a true test of so many human skills.
People said it was impossible, in fact, many very accomplished explorers attempted this crossing unsuccessfully. One even tragically died 100 miles from the end.
Embarking on the journey I myself didn't even know if it was possible, but I found we grow the most when we step outside of our comfort zones. So success or failure, I figured I would learn some of life's most important lessons, which I did.
Do you think you'd ever go back to the Himalaya and tackle other 8000ers or was Everest it?
I've climbed one other, Manaslu, before I climbed Everest - 8000 meter peak climbing is something I think I will do more of. I'm actually climbing the north side of Everest with my wife this year. It will be my first time on that side of the mountain.
Are you looking at any future trips that don’t require you to freeze your ass off? A desert first perhaps?
Hahah - I actually have been thinking my next major project might be in a warm location. But hot can be tough too!
I’ve been following you on social media since you scaled the Everest. The first live stream on top of the Everest, correct ? I have not seen anyone of your caliber that is as social media savvy as you are. Do you think that social media given you an edge over other adventurers/explorers, in terms of exposure to an audience and prospective sponsors ? If so, will this be something you will incorporate in your teachings to young people who aspire to follow your steps ?
Correct, I was the first person to ever Snapchat from the summit of Everest!
I believe in the power of storytelling. I encourage everyone to share their stories with the world because I think the world is a better place when we connect and can learn and be inspired by others. It's certainly a value of mine to use the technology of our time (ie social media etc) to help expose as many people as possible to our magnificent planet.
How much did the journey cost?
That's actually a great question and I'm happy to answer it!
In total it cost roughly $250k.
It was funded through sponsorship.
My primary sponsors of the project were Standard Process and Grand Rounds. I could never have done it without their generous support and belief in me.
But how did you get over the ice wall? jk.
Shhhh, don't tell anyone...but I carried an ice pick so I could climb the wall and spear the dragon.
Did you pull any inspiration or maybe even more so, techniques, from Wim Hof?
Yeah, Wim Hofs an inspiration, I was so grateful he blurbed my book: "An irresistible read, The Impossible First asks one question: 'With the right mindset what is each of us capable of?'"
Breathing, dealing with the cold, keeping track of my mind...all so crucial to my crossing.
What’s the most surreal landscape you encountered on the way across Antarctica?
The entire crossing, the entire landscape was roughly the same - jyst endless white for as far as the eye can see. Except in a whiteout, when I could barely see two feet in front of my face. It was like being inside the belly of a ping pong ball.
What would have been different about your Antarctica trip if you had planned it in Antarctic winter?
Antarctic winter has 24 hours of darkness. When I went it was 24 hours of daylight. I was able to use solar panels to recharge my camera, which I wouldn't be able to do in the winter. Not to mention the logistics and even more extreme cold in the endless Antarctic night would have been really brutal.
Was there any point where you legitimately thought your life was in danger?
Yes. If you read the prologue of the book (spoiler alert!) I almost lost my entire tent in a storm, my only shelter. I was hanging onto it with only my fingertips and I saw my life flash before my eyes.
What type of safety net did you have in case of an emergency?
I was in contact with a pilot and team that runs logistics on the frozen continent, so, best case scenario they could find me in hopefully about 5 hours.
However because of the rough terrain I was in, the plane is rigged with skis, and there were a lot of sections where they would never be able to land because of crevasses and huge sastrugi (ice mounds). In those conditions, as well as on the worst storm days, there would have been no hope of rescue. I was all alone.
i have a couple of siberian huskys that would love to have walked with you, could you have done this trek with a dog companion? or wouldnt that have worked?
Although a dog companion would certainly have lifted my spirits, I don't know if that would have technically qualified as "solo".
It would unfortunately never be possible because the use of dogs in Antarctica is no longer legal due to environmental concerns.
One more question- as I understand it, the middle of Antarctica is a huge, flat expanse. Did you stumble across anything that surprised you? Maybe a weird question but did it ever get boring?
Yes the polar plateau is just endless white of snow and ice above 9,000 feet. 24 hours of sunlight a day. It was bizarre to be in such an expansive yet never changing landscape.
Boring is not a feeling that I experience, but it did force me to go deep within.
One question: Why?
Couldn't think of anything better to do...jk. I answered this above though!
What was the song that got stuck in your head?
I listened to Paul Simon's Graceland on repeat, which spawned a really surprising and funny interaction with Paul Simon himself. Check out my book for the full story!
I have to ask why? Was it just a personal challenge? Trying to inspire others? Pure spite?
My biggest goal has always been to inspire others to achieve their own impossible firsts. I also did this project and all other expeditions in partnership with my nonprofit where we've had millions of students enrolled in our stem education curriculums, My goal is to inspire the next generation of to dream big, to set audacious goals and live active and healthy lives.
Come across any secret Nazi bunkers? Or crashed alien ships?
I did but I'm not allowed to talk about them.
How much harder would it have been if you hadn't followed the US built compacted snow road on the Ross ice shelf?
Some media has mischaracterized the ice "road" - true, that the South Pole overland traverse convoy resupplies the South Pole, but there's no "road" - it's a huge ice plateau and glacier. But I did a see few examples of rudded up ice and snow from tire traction.
That said, the vehicles had come several weeks before I was there and the weather and wind blows so hard that even after a few hours, let alone weeks, the tracks are completed gone.
Lastly, the few sections of tracks that I did see were actually harder to cross than virgin ice and snow because the rudded up tracks would catch and trip my skis and sled. So whenever I saw them I skied besdies them not in them.
Just a random question, what’s your favorite subspecies of penguin?
Also, what are your thoughts on the Australian wildfire?
A macaroni penguin.
I lived in Australia for several years. It's really devastating how many animals, plants and land is being destroyed. It breaks my heart.
What was it like, being isolated for so long?
The isolation was both the most challenging yet most profound part of the experience. AS humans we are ant necessarily wired for that level of loneliness, yet it forced me to wipe away all of the distractions like the constant bombardment of technology etc, and really hone in on my inner self, both the good and the bad.
Some times I say it was like throwing a party and all of your angels and demons were invited.
Why would you attempt this knowing that people have died before? Where you afraid of dying during the attempt before you attempted it, or during the attempt?
Because I have a deep curiosity for ending the edge of the possible, I wanted to step out into the unknown and test my own limits and hopefully inspire others to do so in their own life, not necessarily through expeditions but take a risk to achieve their dreams. Business, music, love, art...whatever you're passionate about, start today to make your goals a reality.
What was the reaction of your family whn they heard what you want to do?
They were afraid of course, but my family has always supported my dreams. I could never have done all of this without their unconditional love and support.
I searched up Drake's Passage and can't understand why it is so dangerous. Why?
It's the convergence of three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern. With the force of three oceans funneling narrow passage by ocean standards (700 miles) between the tip of South America and the tip of Antarctica combined with the extreme cold makes for a very treacherous stretch of ocean.
Obviously it must've been scary at times being alone in those conditions, what did you do to calm yourself down?
The internal journey was very intense, that level of solitude can get to you. I write a lot about this in my book The Impossible First. One of my keys was my meditation practice. I've done several ten day Vipassana silent meditation retreats to prep the most important muscle of all - my mind.
Very serious question: Do Flatearthers have difficulty making eye contact with you?
I actually had a guy pull me aside once at a press conference after the cameras weren't on with a wink and a smile and say, "Hey man, real talk though - we both know the Earth is flat." He was dead serious. I couldn't help but smile.
What were the stars down there like?
Unfortunately there were no stars - that time of year in Antarctica is the summer and that close to the South Pole, there is 24 hour daylight. So it was like high noon the entire time.
Good question! His project was amazing. The difference is he crossed to the pole and then back to the coast that he started, so the same start and end point. Whereas I was the first person to cross the entire continent. I went via the South Pole but then continued on to the other coast of the continent.
What kind of dog do you have?
Jack is a soft coated wheaten terrier! My wife got him as a puppy when I was away on the Antarctic crossing. It was so amazing to come home and meet him!
Did you visit the pole? Not the tourist spot, but the actual location? Did your compass do circles?
Yes! I visited both locations. As you might know, there is the ceremonial pole where all the flags and silver globe that you see photographs of, but because the ice moves on the glacier many feet every year, that ceremonial pole moves off the actual exact point of the geographic South Pole.
Every year the scientists on New Years put a new marking in the exact spot of geographic South Pole which was about a five minute walk away from the ceremonial pole.
U been every where it seems ..Come on tell us .. is the world flat or round?
I walked across Antarctica and didn't fall off the edge of the world so I guess that debunks the myth. The earth is, in fact, round. Haha.
Wow. I recently read The White Darkness by David Brann. Did you read that book before deciding to make your expedition? Or perhaps it hadn't been released yet.
It had a huge impact on our project because it actually came out during our planning.
I was in Antarctica for the first time when Henry Worsley was there attempting to complete the crossing. It was horribly tragic news when we found out, sent ripples throughout the entire community. He was an extraordinary man and explorer and David Brann's book was a very well written account of his life and the tragedy.
What message in your book are you most proud of sharing with the world?
That achievement is not for the select few. We all have reservoirs of untapped potential, and with the right mindset, anyone can make the impossible possible.
How do you know that you were the first? Is it possible that someone else did it but just didn't have the media coverage that you did? Also, why do you do these things? Do you make money from it or is it just for the thrills or for some other reason?
No, not possible - all exploration of Antarctica is in a historical database and highly documented.
So, you definitely saw the entrance into the hollow interior of the earth, right? If you can't speak up for fear of being silenced blink once.
/s in case anyone thought this wasn't a joke.
You were first? Really?
What about Borge Ousland in 1997?
His project was a huge inspiration of mine. I write about it in my book. Our projects are different because Borge used a kite and harnessed the power of the wind to propel him. As a result, he was able to cover an even larger distance across the continent. Extraordinary!
Mine was the first unsupported (no resupplies) and fully human-powered crossing of the landmass.
Did you come out of this with any lasting effects on your body or nothing of note ?
Great question! Fortunately, other than losing a ton of weight and having severely cracked hands, an injured shoulder from pulling the sled, and a small bit of frostbite on my nose and fingers, I recovered fully and have no permanent damage.
Are your parents middle-to-upper class? How did you step away from everything for so long just to walk?
My parents did not give me any money to do this. My wife and I stepped away from traditional careers and took the risk to build these projects.
We talk about this process and the risks we took in my book The Impossible First. It was incredibly hard to convince sponsors or anyone else to supports our dreams, but despite countless no's and slamming doors in our face, we kept fighting for our dreams.
Who inspires you?
P.S. I’m going to the Antarctic this year on Rob Swans expedition!
Oh wow, Rob Swan is amazing! So many inspirational projects in Antarctica over time. I was particularly inspired by his recent project to bring awareness to climate change. He's an absolute legend.
How many times have you been? And have you journeyed to the Great white (artic circle)
I've been to Antarctica three times now. Once for the Explorers Grand Slam speed record, then for my solo crossing, and I just got back from my third trip rowing a boat there from Chile.
Did you at some point think that you may have bitten off more than you could chew with the journey?
Ha - literally two hours into the journey, I could barely move my sled and I thought I might have to quit.
You pulled the sled? Or did you have a team of dogs?
I pulled the sled. Dogs are not allowed in Antarctica due to conservation concerns.
Any hot springs or soil?
Unfortunately not but man that would have been nice halfway through to stumble on some hot springs!
How'd you pass the time? Did you have Spotify going? Did you listen to podcasts or audio books? Or did you just listen to the cold, spiteful wind blowing as various antarctic animals contemplated eating you? What's it like being on the bottom of the world? I'd imagine it would be somewhat surreal.
I deleted everything off of my phone except for Paul Simon's album Graceland.
How did you keep yourself clean? You must not be able to shower, and toothpaste and deodorant must get frozen too right?
I didn't - I had to cut corners to save weight everywhere I could. I had one pair of underwear for the entire journey and only brought ten wet wipes for the totality of the journey which I saved for very special moments haha.
You lived the introverts dream! How did it feel and what was your favorite day when you looked up in the sky?
Haha! People generally think of me as an extrovert, but I absolutely loved the solitude. It allowed me to find a flow state and inner calm. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
That’s cool and everything Colin, but have you ever tried walking across a crowded high school cafeteria with no friends and a lunch tray with an apple that keeps rolling and a bowl of soup that is a little too full?
Hahah - yeah, that's next level. Not sure I could do it.
Did you bring anything to read?
Normally I'm an avid reader, but I was so tired at the end of every day that once I was inside my tent I would write a few words in my journal and then pass out before having to repeat another 17 hour day.
Did you ever have a moment where you accepted death? I saw the answer about where you looked into the camera and said you wanted to give up, so, not necessarily that you wanted to quit, but where you just thought I'm likely to die and just kind of became ok with it? And if so what was that like?
I certainly knew that death was a possibility but I wanted to trust my training and mental preparation to get me through the tough moments.
What was the one thing you were looking forward to eat after your walk was complete? And why?
Might sound weird but I was craving a salad and fresh food because I hadn't seen one in so long.
Thank for you doing this AMA! Now the question: What and how do you define resilience and how can one achieve it?
You're welcome, it's been fun!
Achievement is not for the select few. Achievement is simply for those who can overcome the biggest obstacle of all - their own mind. If you focus on the positive, you'll realize you have a reservoir of untapped potential waiting to be opened by you.
How much did luck factor into surviving your trek? What mistakes did those that have failed this trek make?
What was your goal with this?
Luck is a funny thing, it's hard to know 100% for sure. But somethings my moms always said to me is "Luck comes to those who are prepared". So I did the best to prepare and ultimately adapt to all of the ever changing circumstances I faced.
How does what you have done differ from Felicity Aston?
Felicity was a big inspiration to me! She did make a solo human powered crossing, but she had resupplies of gear twice along the way. So it was "supported". Mine was unsupported, meaning I never had a resupply and had to carry everything in my sled.
Still an absolutely incredible project. My hat is off to her.
Were you influenced by famous explorers of the past?
Absolutely! Hugely. To name a few...Shackleton, Amundsen from the early 1900s. Throughout my childhood I read many accounts of their explorations and it inspired me deeply.
So many others have been heroes and inspirations to me, including recent projects by modern explorations by Borge Ousland and Mike Horn.
If you were alone, how do we know you really did it? Sorry, I don’t mean to sound accusatory!
Not at all, good question!
I had a live GPS tracker that pinged satellites every ten minutes. It was never turned off during the journey. The full tracker is still up on my website if you want to check it out!
Is there non-human powered walking that people have used to cross Antarctica?
Yes, for example some past explorers have used kites to harness the power of the wind.
What did you do to keep warm? Was it actually that cold?
Average temperature was -30. Windchill was usually around -50 to -75. I had multiple layers and a goose down coat. At night I slept in a sub zero temperature sleeping bag.
How much trash and waste did you dump as you travelled, if any?
I did not leave any trash behind, I carried it all with me. Leave no trace.
Did you carry a leatherman or a victorinox? Which model?
I did actually carry a Leatherman. Because i was trying to minimize weight, I couldn't bring many tools, so it came in handy for all kinds of fixes that arose.
How did you pass the time not bored? Did you listen to music? If so, what did you listen to?
I deleted everything from my phone before I left except for Paul Simon's Graceland. My wife and I decided I should embrace the opportunity to experience such extreme silence and solitude and not try to escape it. But I did end up listening to Graceland a couple of times.
Loved hearing you on Rick Roll and JRE! What was it like being on those podcasts?
Do you still have any trouble with your legs?
Loved your story dude, super inspiring
It was so fun being on those podcasts! I've been on Rich's podcast three times and he invited me to come on again. Rich is one of the best interviewers in the business. He brings out such heartfelt answers, I love it.
The day my book comes out next week, Jan 14, coincidentally is the is the anniversary of my burn accident. I wrote a little about the accident on Instagram today: www.instagram.com/colinobrady
Did the expedition take as long as predicted?
It actually ended up being a little bit faster than we had predicted but good thing because I was running out of food by the end.
How did it feel walking where no one else has walked before?
I was enchanted by the pristine and untouched beauty of the expansive landscape. I felt like I was walking on hallowed ground.
Was it cold?
Freezing. Average temperature was -25 to -30. Windchill was often -75.
Yes, I got to narrate it! It released on the same day as the hard cover, January 14th. Preorders are available now.
Was it a great way to stay in shape?
Yeah, I think this could be the next Orange Theory! Thinking of franchising. ;)