Q. How and when did you become a member of ASW?
Ben Saunders : A friend introduced me to ASW at the end of 2005.
Q. How do you use ASW and what’s your favorite site feature?
BS:I travel an awful lot (58 flights last year) and I’m usually in places for just a few days at a time, so the travel forum has been invaluable in identifying the best local spots to visit and indeed the most interesting people to hang out with!
Q. What draws you to places like the North Pole and the Nepalese Himalayas?
I think it’s the scale of the places – the majesty of nature at its grandest and most imposing. The high Arctic, particularly, is an awesome place. I remember being dropped by helicopter in 2004; the sun was low over the ice and the whole place was bathed in this amazing orange and blue light. It was like landing on Mars. I’ve never been blown away like that by anything manmade.
Q. How do you cope with the solitude when you are on a solo expedition?
BS: I’ve learnt there’s a big difference between being lonely and being alone. I was very much alone at the geographic North Pole in May ’04 – I was the only human being in 5.4 million square miles. Yet, I never felt lonely. I had a purpose and I had a lot of people back home that cared about me. I’m sure there are lonelier people on the streets of London. I also took a tiny book, ‘Courage from Piglet.’ That was my secret weapon.
Q. What do your next polar expeditions involve?
BS: In March ‘08 I’m setting out to ski solo from Canada to the North Pole and I’m hoping to set a speed record by beating the 37 days it took Robert Peary to get there using dog sleds in 1909. In the 98 years since, no one’s come close.
Then, in October ‘08, I’m setting out on a 1,800 mile (2,900 km) journey on foot from Berkner Island at the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back – the first return journey to the South Pole on foot and the longest unsupported polar journey in history.
Q. You have run several marathons and two ultra-marathons. What is an ultra-marathon and how much do you think finishing one of those is about mind over matter?
BS: An ultra-marathon is a race that’s longer than 26.2 miles. I’ve run 40 and 58 mile races – both are definitely about mind over matter. Part of your mind starts looking for reasons to slow down or stop. You switch between feeling sorry for yourself, feeling proud of yourself and telling yourself off for being a wimp because you’re even thinking of quitting.
Q. As a motivational speaker, what is your favorite motivational quote?
BS: Probably Helen Keller’s wonderful words: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Q. Having achieved so many great feats at just 30 years of age, what’s left for you to conquer?
BS: I’m a terrible dancer, so maybe salsa lessons.
Q. What makes you happiest?
BS: So many things. I love the adrenaline of getting a big expedition off the ground. I love getting back home again – a decent steak, decent red wine, decent company. You really appreciate simple pleasures after these kinds of expeditions. And the people that are close to you. I never miss material things when I’m on the ice. I don’t miss my car, my TV or my wood floor. And yet so many of us waste time stuck on the treadmill of materialism at the expense of relationships, family and friends. But before you write me off as a raving hippie, I should probably own up to having a semi-secret passion for fast cars. Aston Martin, Maserati, Noble, that kind of thing.
Q.Where is your favorite travel destination?
BS: I always love arriving in NYC. There’s so much energy there. It feels like anything’s possible in New York, which is pretty much true, of course.
Q. What is your greatest vice?
BS: Caffeine and bikes (the kind that involve lycra, not leather). My current bike collection is worth nearly as much as my car.
Q. What are your top 5 hotels?
BS: The Whitepod in the Swiss Alps, The Clift in San Francisco, The Bowery in New York, Lake O’Hara Lodge in the Canadian Rockies and The Lugger Hotel in Cornwall (UK)
Q. What is your favorite restaurant?
BS: I had my last pre-expedition farewell at Nobu London, but I spend far more time in my local curry house, Nayab, on New Kings Road.
Q. What is your favorite museum or gallery?
BS: Frammuseet, in Oslo: the only museum that’s given me goose bumps. www.fram.museum.no
Q. What is your favorite beach?
BS: Sandwood Bay in the Scottish Highlands is spectacular (and usually deserted); either that or South Beach Miami (rather different to the North Pole).
Q. What film has had the greatest effect on you? Why?
BS: I absolutely loved Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). I’m a bit of a libertarian at heart and the film is a pretty stark warning about the dangers of an all-powerful state and the lack of respect for individuals and their liberties. It was spooky getting on the tube afterwards and seeing posters saying: ‘Seen anything suspicious? Report it now.’
Q. What is your favorite book?
BS: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard – it’s epic. Everyone should read it.
Q. What is your favorite ski resort?
BS: The old Winter Olympics course in Lillehammer, Norway. There are miles of cross-country tracks out there as well and the place is completely unpretentious, unlike many of the alpine resorts. I’ve mentioned Whitepod already but they do have their own private ski slope and lift, which is pretty cool.
Q. What cause is closest to your heart? Why?
BS: My plan is to start an organization that encourages and enables kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into the great outdoors. My brother’s a teacher in London and many of the teenagers he teaches have never left the city. They’ve never seen a hill or a valley. I don’t see how we can inspire this upcoming generation to take better care of the environment if they don’t really know what it is.
Q. What’s one thing you would like to change about yourself?
BS: I’d like to learn to type properly. I’m a two-finger-typer.
Q. Which artist do you admire most?
BS: Andy Goldsworthy
Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
BS: Either 1) reaching the geographic North Pole alone and on foot (a challenge Reinhold Messner called “ten times as dangerous as Everest”), 2) posing naked for a Nike ad campaign or 3) writing a note to the gorgeous girl who sat next to me on the tube a few months ago – it was packed and we both had iPods on, so there was no way I could strike up a conversation. So I wrote her a note on the spur of the moment and handed it to her. All three challenges involved that heart-in-mouth, there’s-no-turning-back-now feeling.
Ben Saunders starring in an advertisement for Nike
Q. Who is your favorite historical figure?
BS: Fridtjof Nansen
Q. What upsets you the most?
BS: A lack of aspiration in many of today’s young people. And people who litter.
Q. What is your favorite bar?
BS: I’m pretty clean-living, so I don’t spend much time in bars. But I thought Angel's Share in the East Village in Manhattan was great.
Q. What gadget can’t you live without?
BS: In the Arctic, my stove; anywhere else, my iPod Nano.
Q. What are you most afraid of?
BS: Not much, which sounds horribly macho. I’ve been attacked by a polar bear, I’ve had frostbite in a toe and I’ve fallen through pack ice into the Arctic Ocean on a solo expedition; and none were as bad as I’d imagined. My biggest fear is probably looking back, aged 90, and realizing that I could have done more with my life.
Q. Where do you love to shop?
BS: I’m going to have a suit made at Norton & Sons on Savile Row. It’s not exactly shopping, but they’ve been outfitting explorers for centuries and going in and looking at clothes and patterns was a magical experience. I love second-hand bookshops, and outdoor gear shops, obviously.
Q. What’s your favorite drink?
BS: Yorkshire tea, Guinness, good mojitos, freshly made smoothies and chocolate protein shakes (though probably not all in the same evening).
Q. What are your top 3 songs on your iPod? What’s your most motivational song
BS: ‘Pushin‘ On’ by The Quantic Soul Orchestra featuring Alice Russell,
‘All That You Give’ by The Cinematic Orchestra featuring Fontella Bass and
‘Gold in the Air of Summer’ by Kings of Convenience.
And my ultimate motivational tune, for those tough days of solo trekking, has to be Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again.’
— Laura Jakobovits