Why would you ski to the North Pole?

“I was the only human being in an area one-and-a-half times the size of America, five-and-a-half thousand square miles.

“It’s a journey that is right at the limit of human capability. I skied the equivalent of 31 marathons back to back, 800 miles in 10 weeks. And I was dragging all the food I needed, the supplies, the equipment, sleeping bag… everything I needed for nearly three months.”

On May 11, 2004, the English explorer Ben Saunders reached the Geographic North Pole, becoming only the fourth person ever to have got there in a solo expedition. He was dragging 180kg of food and fuel in two sledges, and had to navigate sub-zero temperatures, headwinds, ridges and hills formed by the ice and stretches of freezing open water.

Even he admits the expedition was “bonkers”… so why on earth did he do it?


It may be a similar question to why Shackleton went to Antarctica, or why Irish explorers Mike O’Shea and Clare O’Leary attempted to be the first Irish team to walk to the North Pole in 2012.

It’s the question Saunders attempts to answer in a TED talk called ‘Why Did I Ski to the North Pole’, which he gave a few months after successfully returning to the UK.

“I’m not an explorer in the traditional sense, I’m not skiing along drawing maps. Everyone knows where the North Pole is,” he said.

“This for me is a chance to explore and really push the limits of my own potential and see how far they stretch.”

“And on a wider scale it amazes me how many people go through life just scratching the surface of their potential, just doing three or four or five per cent of what they’re truly capable of. On a wider scale I hoped this journey was a chance to inspire other people to think about what they want to do with their potential, and what they want to do with the tiny amount of time we each have on this planet.”

Tapping in to your own potential doesn’t have to be about breaking records. You don’t have to become the fastest person to sail round the world, trek to the north pole or climb Everest in order to achieve something that matters. As mentioned in previous blogs, you are enough already and there is no need to reinvent yourself.

Success is about building on your own capabilities, not comparing yourself (more often than not unfavourably) to the achievements of others. For Ben Saunders, pushing himself meant skiing to the North Pole. For you, it might be running 5k, hitting a goal with a new language, getting to the supermarket on your own, or remembering to put the bins out on the right day four times in a row.

As Ben Saunders ends his TED talk: “I think if I’ve learned anything it’s this: that you’re the only person who decides how far you go and what you’re capable of.”