Transcript: Pen Hadow – “how I walked 440 miles to the North Pole and claimed my place in history” (Max#12)

Here is the transcript of Max#12, the motivating interview with Pen Hadow, Record Breaking Polar Explorer. He discusses his life after his Solo trek, how it changed him, what he learnt from the experience and how he has put those into not just his personal life but also his business life. The interview is designed to Inspire people to reach their goals and to be successful in their own lives.


Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.

Hello everybody and welcome back to another edition of the Maximise Potential podcast. This time we are back with episode 12 I believe. And we are continuing our series of episodes with Pen Hadow record breaking polar explorer. I am sure you will remember last time Pen left us hanging on a knife edge when he was just about to start his successful attempt to reach the North Pole and create what he called the solo attempt. And today we are very fortunate that this is the episode that we are bringing you. So I will let you sit back and enjoy it. This is another long one so please make sure you have got a cup of tea but as we said before these episodes are well worth listening to. It is an incredible journey that Pen was on and an incredible achievement that he made. So it is well worth sitting back, putting your feet up and have a good listen to how Pen accomplished something that nobody else has ever managed to do in the world.


Kvein: So Pen welcome back this is going to be part two of our interview series with you and we left off at the last time where you where just about to chat about the time when it did go right in 2003. Where you did actually realise your dream.

Pen: The journey can really be looked at in three parts. The first part is intensely cold you are in the -30 to -50o centigrade bracket that is an ambient air temperature that is excluding any effects of the wind which then just make it worse. Most of the ridging of ice, these chaotic jumbles of ice that you have to pull the sledge up and over are in the first third of the journey and of course your sledge is at its heaviest for the first third.

Pen: There is the second third where the temperature starts to become less extreme, the ridging eases off and the sledge is starting to me more manageable. And then the third phase which is the sledge is relatively light by far the biggest proportion of your weight is your food and your fuel which is now running very low by this point. You are in a much weakened physical state so you don’t get the full benefit of that lighter sledge but it is definitely better. You have got very little ridging but there is more water, there is more open water. So the ridges at the start have now been replaced by areas of open water. Because you are now moving into early summer if you like, later spring early summer.

Pen: So you have got that to contend with. Psychologically it also falls into three parts. You are in survival mode for the first third. In the sense of genuine survival because it is so incredibly cold more of which in the moment and you are trying to keep the dream alive. If you obviously give up for whatever reasons end of game. You have got to keep, somehow you have got to keep out there, keep going forwards.

The second third life becomes pretty good in a sense it all seems to be more doable you are on your way; you are hopefully on a schedule. Still all to play for, you know it is going to get very difficult at the end for different reasons open water, exhaustion both physical and mental. That middle third is almost the best third in a sense. And then the final third is stressful for different reasons because you are so nearly there but you are not and you may not get there for all sorts of possible reasons mainly external as far as I was concerned rather than sort of self induced and you don’t know how much open water there is going to be. And if there is a large amount of it that is one of the external factors that may put the kibosh on your dream.

I set off with a quite unusual outlook I think. Thought through the unusual. I used to say to friends and family I confess I didn’t necessarily say it to sponsors that I wouldn’t say to them when I get to the Pole I used to say if I get to the Pole. And my friends and family used to say that doesn’t sound very positive what do you mean if. Surely you have more faith than that. And I realised that what I was really doing was taking off some of the psychological pressure which for me normally I am quite capable and inclined to put enormous psychological pressure on myself and you have to actually drives you frankly the suffering. Embraced I mean you are doing it you know why you are doing it; it is not as though it is a surprise so I am not looking for any sympathy here. But it is very extreme but I wanted to recognise from the start that this may not work. Almost not because of anything that I have or haven’t done but because there are external factors that may be insuperable and that is fine. So don’t have this sort of, you are actually sort of vibrating with tension is it going to work am I going to get there you know I have told everyone that I am going to get there. It doesn’t work it is a stress. So I was just trying to take off any unnecessary negative stress. And when I set off I wanted to be in a position on footstep number one of 16 million footsteps and that was the number I knew that I would be taking that there wasn’t anything I could really of done to get myself in a better state in terms of equipment, in terms of training, in terms of psychological state than that. So that from now on I would just have to deal with whatever happened. That I was no point and no need to look back and think if only I had done this or that. No this is as good as it gets so bring it on.

And to give an example of what I mean, a small example, I sourced the lightest weight of everything. For example AA batteries, I needed some AA batteries to power my GPS, my little satellite location unit and so on. And you have used in the cold temperatures you want lithium ones. And I discovered that some AA batteries weigh 2 grams less than others depending on the manufacturer. Now if I defy you to hold 2 batteries and tell me which is the lighter one with the 2 gram difference right you cant do it. Well you can on electronic scales and you may say to me Pen if that is the sort of detail that you are worried about I think it is a rather unimportant thing to worry about. To which I would say yes but two things. First I knew when I pulled that sledge and you can hardly move it, it couldn’t be any lighter not by a gram that is quite empowering to know. And secondly it is straight physics every gram that you take, it is not holding it in your hand and juggling to see which is heaver, you have got to move that gram through 800km basically. So it is a gram multiplied by 800km and the energy required to drag it through that distance. That is a long way trust me because I have done it. So because you are not able to pull enough food and calories to replace all the calories that you burn over the course of an expedition like that, I lost about half a pound a day in weight, both a combination of fat and muscle.

Pen: It is the muscle bit that is relevant. As you loose weight because you can’t pull enough at the start you loose muscle. Some of it is muscle for various complicated reasons. It is not the fat; you would think that the body would burn all the fat and then start thinking about the muscle. No it thinks right I am in a state of survival here it is primordial mechanism you cant control it, it says got to reduce calorie burn rate so we are going to loose some muscle. So the body starts to break down muscle and get rid of it so it reduces your metabolic rate. So even when you are asleep you are burning less calories which then of course is weakening you. You don’t want that to happen but you can’t help it. So the less weight I pulled the less muscle I was going to have removed and therefore the stronger I was going to be on any given day and therefore more likely to reach my goal. That gives some idea of both the psychology and the mechanics of really what we are trying to do here.

Kevin: I was going to say it sounds like to me that just by crossing these t’s, dotting these i’s within your preparation it gave you that mental confidence to know that you had done as much as possible, that you control all the elements within your power to achieve what you want to for this.

Pen: See people often ask how much of it is physical and how much of it is mental doing this particular feat. And I now feel that it is; if you force me to give you a number, I would say it is 75% plus about what goes on in your head. And therefore one needs to really look at all the different ways in which you can give yourself control over how your mind operates and reacts in that environment. So there are two of you out there. There is you and your coach – split personality. In fact I had multiple personalities in the sense that I was there as a professional guide which is a bit like a coach. And I was also out there as a client. And the guide looked after the client in me. Because otherwise there is a danger that you get into the zone as it is referred to sometimes by sort of outdoor folk and in deed others. And you think that you are totally in tune with your environment. You are actually in a sense you really are, you are just in the grove as one with it travelling along. And my experience is that that is a dangerous situation to be in when you are in a hazardous environment because you need a third party objective perspective when you are entering a particularly hazardous situation. And really it is knowing when that situation, when you are going into that situation not when something horrid happens and then you need the third party objective. That is too late. So it is anticipating the issues and the crisis and the incidents before they happen.

And he is the rub the reason why 75% plus of all expeditions that have ever tried to reach the North Pole over the last 100 years have failed by the criteria that they set themselves at the outset. So often people reach the Pole but maybe they set off with five and only three make it and two are airlifted out because they fell out with the leader or they have got injured. Or they planned to have five resupplies by the aircraft so that their sledges can be lighter as they go along and therefore make more distance then reach the Pole but actually they have six resupplies because they weren’t going fast enough. The reason they failed is nearly always this, and most people don’t know this, I would argue that even some of the explorers that people have heard of, some of them don’t realise this. It is about how the human brain responds to being immersed over a period of time in a very cold environment. So yes it is about the cold obviously but it is about brain function. People tend if you ask the public, people when talks are given and so on and they say and I ask the question and they say well it is frostbite or it is falling in the water through the ice. No it is not those are secondary effects from not having been on top of your game mentally which is caused by the cold.

So it is like being drunk where you are, and it is like being drunk except like having drunk a bottle of whisky a day. Well in my case if you like I was drinking a bottle of whisky of day, I wasn’t I didn’t actually of course I didn’t have any alcohol at all. But imagine a situation where you are alone 75 days in an extreme and hazardous, extreme in an ongoing way and hazardous occasionally environment trying to do something that has never been done before, that is pushing the absolute boundaries on all fronts to be able to pull it off and yet you are half cut. And trying to maintain a policy of zero tolerance to mistakes of any scale while being half sloshed. It is virtually impossible. But at least I recognised that that was the actual challenge of this whole thing and it is having the mental focus and discipline and strength to override the brains natural propensity not to think about problems. It is so much easier, how ever hard it is, it is so much easier just to keep walking pulling the sledge and thinking in a vague sort of way about this might happen, that might happen. You know I feel a bit of pain here and I will keep going until the next pit stop, tea break or whatever. Because the brain doesn’t want to do it.

There are three stages to the process. You have got to identify the problem. You have got to hang on to that problem in your head and work it through to a solution. And then the third step is to actually act out the solution. I can’t tell you the number of times in the past when I have got to what the solution is but I am still walking along, I haven’t stopped to check the blister and change the bandaging on it. I haven’t stopped to load my gun and to get it off the sledge and put it on my back because I have seen polar bear footprints because it is easier just to keep going and not stop and break the pattern. That is really what it is all about. And one is probably not allowed to be proud of things these days but if I am proud of anything it is my mental toughness and approach really to the psychological aspects. I actually, you probably find a few if any explorers or adventurers, this is really a great feat of adventuring rather than exploration that we are talking about here, to have gone to see a sports coach. And I said look these are the five situations that I know I am going to encounter and I know I have struggled to deal with give me some tools so that when I open up the tool box and bring out the spanner the saw the hammer or whatever to deal with these things when they happen. And nip them in the bud.

When you are alone, well when you are alone and you start to go down get depressed lets call it and sad and it is a very fast spiral down and within, honestly within minutes you can go from I can do this to this is impossible I am wasting my time, no one cares, no one knows I am here, those that do know half of them hope that I don’t succeed because then they can succeed or they are just jealous or whatever. It is like oh forget no one will ever know how hard it is, no one actually cares why am I doing this, it is impossible, it is a bad year. The ice is just really bad. Are they going to tell people that, or actually believe it is the case. It is a really bad situation you go on something of a rollercoaster. And so it was nipping that in the bud as soon as I realised I was feeling a bit low about something. Right stop right there no one sent you here, you did this because it is tough, because you want to prove that you can do it. Here is something that is problematic, bring it bloody well on you know that’s why we are here. That’s why I am here. If it was easy they would all be doing it. But it is not and that’s why you are here so come on rise to the challenge. See this if you like not as an obstacle see it a bit like the way we treat Vager or the way I treat Vager, you know see this as an opportunity. This is where other people would fold. Don’t fold work it out. And it is a matter of working it out very often. It is about what goes on in your head it is not about just launching yourself in a sort of ignorant youthful positive way. That is not necessarily the solution in fact out there probably isn’t the solution. Probably if anything that is going to kill you or go wrong and then depress you even more.

Kevin: So how did that sports psychologist give you those tools? It sounds quite fascinating, and it sounds to me as though that was a real core ingredient that has changed the outcome of the solo expedition.

Pen: Okay well I will give you an example. I know and fellow sea ice travellers I am sure know where I am coming from on this. You come up over a ridge of ice lets say it is a couple of metres high and it blocks your view beyond until you get to the top of it. And you get to the top of it and sometimes you get to the top and all you can see isn’t just like a field of ice and then a hedgerow of ice of chaotic jumbles of ice and then another field. I mean it can look from the air and feel on the ground as though you are just going through a fairly old fashioned pasture land. You are going through field, over a hedge into another field it is literally like that. But sometimes just a chaotic endless row area actually of hedgerows, in this case chaotic jumble of ice. There is no flat spaces in between as far as the eye can see and at six foot and your eyes are four or five foot above that, so twelve foot you are looking at about 3 – 4km of distance. And you just know if you see that you could be in here for the rest of the day. It could take you two hours to cover 4km. You know it is desperate. And that puts you way off your schedule. It is all about the schedule. And you stand on the end and in the past I have just thought oh god you know right it is obviously a bad season you know everything is against me I ma never going to get, it is going to take me far too long to get through this I am feeling weak you know I have got to get through it how do I stop here for the day and just sort of put the tent up and gather my strength and go through it the next day because if I get stuck in the middle of that where do I put my tent up.

It is a bit convoluted but this is how I solved it. The short version is I come to the top of one of those ridges and I think bring it on. This is what it is all about, embrace it, enjoy it, this is it. The easy stuff is easy. Come on this is where you can prove the difference between you and everybody else. Get stuck in, it is just bits of ice; it is not trying to kill you or anything it is not out there with knives and swords and guns. Just work your way through it. It is completely passive you know that is what this is all about so don’t start going all wet and pathetic and wobbly just when the very thing it is all about presents itself. It is not a punishment, no one is punishing you. It is a privilege to be here to have this opportunity. You may have created it but see it for what it is, it is a privilege. There are lots of people who would love to have the wherewithal or the idea even of doing something not like broadly like this, some sort of big project they can get you know. Just once in their life they can crack open a big one. And um here you are so bring it on.

The deeper version is the technical thing is when I got to the top I had this very particular little video clip. And it is all very silly but some of you will remember the Hamlet advertisement where the chap looking very cool and relaxed smoking a Hamlet cigar while chaos is going on around him and it is a bit like that. but my version was and it had to be mine I had to think of it there is no point you telling me what I should have as my vision it just came to me while I was talking to the sports psychologist. Just the idea of a really cool dude in a music recording studio with all those knobs and dials looking through the glass at a punk band or a rock band really. And they are making this appalling noise you know through his headphones and the idea was, it is not even logical particularly, the rock band are looking through the glass at him and thinking he is really pleased because he is smiling but actually he is listening to some classical music in his headphones. And so it is this idea that just disconnect what’s out there is not, it is up to you to take control of how you view it. That’s what it is. So it was just instantly that put a smile on my face I would think I have got a tool for this and then I just relaxed and get on with it. Easy when you know how.

Kevin: I was going to say easy when you know how. And just tell us what that daily grind, and I will call it a daily grind because it must have been a hell of a however you try and use those mental tools you are dealing with day upon day of complete solitude and having to keep yourself so focussed and dedicated and accurate to what you are doing. Talk us through just some of the disciplined that it entailed and some of the feelings that you went through.

Pen: Is that it is a secular pilgrimage. I could fly to the North Pole in a helicopter that I charter and I could get out at the North Pole where nothing is I might add it is just another piece of ice floating around have my champagne and go how and be really excited and chuffed about that. And that is fine. Or I could do it the hard way or the hardest of ways and I chose to do it the hardest of ways. When you go to Mecca you don’t fly there in your first class jet, hope into the Rolls Royce and get chauffeur driven to Mecca and then pop out and say your prayers it is a pilgrimage. You go on a donkey or you go on foot from where you live. You don’t stay in five star hotels you stay in taverns or you sleep in a tent on the side of the road. And I realise some people will think of the context of pilgrimage will understand this. Through suffering and deprivation there comes learning and awareness and understanding that is not available to one in lets call it normal life. Which is not to say I might add that I have a normal life I go around in first class jets and Rolls Royce’s chauffeur driven.

And really I am behaving like a monk. I get up at a certain time in the day, I have exactly the same sequence of actions to start the cooker, get the snow to create and melt it to create the water that then enables me to rehydrate my food and provide drinks. I then go to the loo and then I take the tent down and then I hitch up to my sledge. And then I pull 75 minutes followed by a 10 minute tea break followed by a 75 minutes sledge pulling followed by a tea break. And I do that for nine sessions or more and then I put up the tent. As it were in this case for 63 days in a row. Life is very simple there is no treats, no luxuries. You have one goal and either you get there or you don’t and one of the things I liked about this is that it is extreme, it is absolute and it is pure. Just me no aircraft, no human intervention either I get there or I don’t, black and white, bish bash bosh. No fudging no lying no possibility of fudging it. It is what it is.

And it was undoubtedly down to me. I mean obviously there are a large number of people around me before I set off that enabled me to be prepared in all sorts of ways for it but when it comes to it, it is you and I love it about that sort of feat because you have. There is a whole raft of skills that you have to bring to bear to get you to the start line from fundraising and all sorts of things in designing new equipment and tralalala. But then you go into completely different mode related but different a different set of skills and tap into different set of experiences that then enables you to get to the far end. And I sort, I enjoy both those environments. I can work in a sort of complex normal business, let’s call it business environment. And I can work totally alone on a single focus project completely in isolation and do that and bring all my sort of another bunch of skills to play. I think it is very fulfilling actually for me in combination those two things aren’t hugely fulfilling. I think a lot of us spend a lot of time behind a desk, me increasingly, and it is very limiting. It is very asymmetric for ones character personality and I think people get very frustrated and I don’t blame them. You know I do myself. This exploration and all that it involves is a really holistic use of ones interests, attributes, variances. So I have talked quite a lot about you know the psychology because I think it is really important and I actually think that much of it if thought through is relevant to how, well certainly how I do things in my other life which is in the real world.

Kevin: And that’s the good thing because I think we are very fortunate that with the time that we have with you that we are actually going to focus our next little interview on that and that is why I am in many ways resisting to ask you about what you learnt about yourself and what you learnt about mentally because I think it would be very easy. Yeah. It is important to devote I think an interview to that. I tell you what I do want to know and this is purely a personal question. Polar bears did you meet them, what are they like? Did they try and have you for dinner I mean what is the score with those?

Pen: Right. I will tell you from an explorer’s point of view everything you actually need to know about polar bears. The first is they are the largest carnivores on earth. This is not good news. The second is that they are the only carnivores on earth bar none that regard themselves at the top of the food chain and will if minded track you down and kill you. The third thing to know that’s relevant as you tramp around on the sea ice is that they have a phenomenal sense of smell. It is their main sense of the five senses and they can smell three parts per million which is comparable to a sniffer dog at Heathrow looking for drugs or explosives. And here is another rub as an explorer you haven’t had a bath or a shower for days, weeks in my case months and you are laying down the mother of all scent trails across an otherwise almost entirely blank canvas. The bear is looking for about one seal to eat about every four or five days – that is a happy bear. There are very few seals and they are very sparsely located and difficult to track down for the bears so something that smells as heavenly as I do tramp tramping around to a bear I might add probably only a bear is you know one meal showing some promise. So when you encounter the bear the thing to bear in mind is that they pretty much assume you are a seal. Some of those bears really have seen very little other than clouds and stars the moon and the sun, fog, snow, ice, sea water and the odd seal and land you know a few rocks in the frozen waste of the Arctic Ocean. That is it so you smell organic, you smell food like, you have got to convince the bear in short order that you are not what he is going to assume you are unless he is given good reason to believe otherwise.

So you are an upright seal. Most seals are six foot long and lie on the deck. You are an upright seal which is novel but you are still probably a seal. Seals tend to retreat instantly they see a bear into the water. Do not retreat you are doing exactly as per the normal pattern of prey and that will really get their juices; they will be salivating at that point. So you need not necessarily to go forwards but to hold your ground. Third thing is that no seal has ever made a noise of any note. So shout, sing your favourite song, your football chant whatever it is get it out of your system as aggressively and loudly as you can. But wait to do that until it is really close. You see in the old days you could shoot a bear. A dead bear was a safe bear. I have seen pictures I have got pictures of old time explorers back in the 50s and 60s with a pile of three dead bears outside their tent in the morning which they had shot during the night. You can’t do that these days that is just not on. So we have a social responsibility and an environmental responsibility in deed not to do, sorry to do everything we can to deter the bear, frighten them off. And to frighten them off you have to let them come in very close so that they associate whatever actions you do with you and not some sort of general environmental thing. Because there are some pretty weird noises go on on the sea ice I have to tell you.

So let them come in then give them the good news. Which might be Kylie Minogue or it might be Chelsea football chant it could be anything a hymn just do it. And I have found in the most serious circumstances I have actually taken a bear on when my gun, reasonably famously jammed, I fired three separate bullets or tried to click reload click reload and as the bear is now, was 8m from me at this point and I thought well he is just going to take me out. And my client was standing right next to me and I was just so angry, this was day two of our expedition and I thought I am not having this I am just not bloody having this, you are certainly not having my client and if you are going to have anyone you can have me but you are not screwing up our expedition at this early stage. So I turned the gun round grabbed it by the barrel and went at the bear screaming like a banjee at it. And it stopped in its tracks. Because seals don’t take on bears. You know it has proven to be not a good idea. But hello I am not a seal and it stopped instantly and it started to turn and I then loaded the fourth only have five bullets and loaded the fourth and aimed it just over its head and whiplashed it and the pad, cotton wad that comes out of a shotgun cartridge hit it on the head, not the bullets didn’t hit the bear at all and it was the smell of the cordite really powerful on the bears face that it didn’t like because it ran off about 200m and then was wiping its nose in the snow trying to get rid of the stink of cordite. So um there’s some top tips for you should you ever encounter a bear.

Kevin: There you go everybody so at least you know how to cope with polar bears when you reach them or when you meet them in the arctic which I am sure every listener of this podcast is now going to go and book in for their next holiday. So can I just ask you where actually did you get those tips for handling polar bears? I am guessing these are actually learnt on the spot where they not.

Pen: Hard one experience, I don’t think I was ever taught it in fact some of what I have said this is counter to what the sort of government agencies in the far north recommended and for good reason. Because normally people have got snowmobile nearby or a building nearby or a boat nearby. But when you are absolutely on your own then you have to do things differently. And they are not written for people like us.

Kevin: In terms of when you got closer and closer to the North Pole was there ever a fear, you must have been constantly reassessing your timeline, looking at your food, looking at your supplies, looking at how much energy you were burning and looking at how far you had to go. Was there ever a point that you thought the sums aren’t adding up?

Pen: I knew the sums weren’t adding up when I set off and that’s one of the risks will you, can you make it to the Pole before you are so enfeebled by the lack of muscle unavoidably that’s lost that you just run out of steam before you reach the Pole. My calorie count was 5300 calories per day. That is how much food the input. The output averaged I now know 7500 calories per day. So some days I was probably over 10,000 calories of output especially when it is very cold which is another source of you know your body has to generate heat which requires energy so and the sledge is at its heaviest and all those ridges. So you are really ripping through the calories early on. So there is a net loss of 2200 calories a day.

Kevin: At a minimum.

Pen: At a minimum some days it would have been worse but the average over the 75 days was that. Which resulted in a loss of half a pound which is about 250kgs.

Kevin: Yeah a quarter of a kilogram. And the ironic thing of what you are saying is the amount that you were loosing as a deficit is actually what the average person takes in every day. That is meant to be the standard; it is between 2 – 3,000 calories that the average adult is meant to take in every single day. That is what you were loosing.

Pen: Yeah and there is this unavoidable situation where the body just says well we have got to loose, we are in a famine situation and therefore we are going to you know, the body, we the body are going to take some immediate action which is to get rid of some muscle so that our calorie needs drop. I have read a lot of accounts of adventures, expeditions, explorations over the year’s lots of accounts and so often there comes a point often towards the end where there is a seminal watershed moment. And it is not always an incident it is just a combination of things come to a head and it is at that point that you learn quite a lot of things. And sometimes you pull away and sometimes you work your way through it. And for me I was if memory serves me right, well I was a few days, just a handful of days away from the Pole as it turned out. And I pretty much knew I had just a handful of days. I had been through hell and high water to get to that point. I had all but cracked it, I had done all the hard work, it was there absolutely to be done and then I had this day which just was a disaster. Huge areas of open water with lots of ice unconstrained in it just bobbing about mush like a slush puppy. You can’t swim through it, you can’t walk over it, you cant, you just can’t do anything with it. You can’t go north and lots of things started to go wrong. I went up over a huge pressure ridge, a couple of flows of ice where two icebergs had come together and down the other side onto a normal plain and put my boot through some soft ice straight into the water. And normally those areas are under compression so this isn’t going to happen, it is all technical, but a whole bunch of stuff started to happen. And I covered in that, the first part of that day, I was going slower than at any other point on the expedition and I got to thinking if it goes on like this as it may do for the last 40 miles I am not going to get there, I am really not going to get there. This is so unfair. And I can remember putting my hands on my knees bending over and just sobbing. I just thought how can this be this is just so unfair. After all I have done everything I have put into this not just today, not just the last two months travelling on the sea ice, not just the year and a half preparing for this, not just the last 15 years, not just the whole caboodle and I am nearly there. I can metaphorically see the Pole now. And I don’t think I am going to get there because of this. Not because of me because of this. And I sobbed for a minute or so. And I can remember saying the words out loud I don’t think I can do this. I really need some help God. Because I was completely played out. Mentally I was completely fried after the effort of overriding the cold, not making any mistakes to this point, physically burnt, mentally burnt and now this. There was just a couldn’t do it.

Now this is one of those moments where you learn something, you have an opportunity to learn something. I will tell you what happened and then I will tell you what I feel happened. What actually happened was that I stopped sobbing after you know a minute or so. I stood up, I looked around, I put on my emersion suit over all my clothing and I just started to feel better about things. And within five minutes probably less I didn’t just think better about things I felt invincible. I knew then nothing was going to stop me getting there. It wasn’t blizzards, open water, nature drift on the ice dragging me you know taking me back south driven by the winds I was going to get there. It was an immense feeling.

Now when I made that out loud plea there are two interpretations of it and some people are going to really struggle with what I am about to say. And I think if I am honest I struggle a bit with it. I added on, I was played out, I recognised, I felt that I couldn’t do anymore myself I needed outside help. And so I added the word God on the end because who was I talking to. Well I had no one else to talk to the only person I could think of and it just sort of came out was God. So I made an application to God I need help with this. And what do you know two minutes later I am invincible. So hello Pen wake up see the sunshine what do you think just happened. But I am afraid and you can read into all the phrases I am using now what you like but I am afraid looking back I don’t see it as God that helped me. I see it as a deep, deep call into who I really am to open and unlock a door on something that had never been tapped into before by me but that I wanted to ask if there was anything else left in the locker. And by going through this what actually is probably a deeply spiritual in the broad sense of the word experience I actually accessed something deeper than I had ever been able to access before and that gave me, and I did have the power to do it I just needed to ask.

And that is really the fault line between some people will say well actually you had an external influence and you asked for it and you got it. And other people will say there is no God you are just tapping into a different part of you. And that is my interpretation at the moment.

Kevin: And the important thing is it enabled you to press on for those last few days.

Pen: Yeah and those last few days were pretty weird because I can remember the main thing going through my head was will I wont I, will I wont I, will I wont I. It was a driving me, it was sort of driving me mad. I just had to know was I going to be able to get there. And honestly only when I got on to the final pan ice flow and I knew there were no more ridges, there was no open water there was only 300m to go that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to fall over and break an ankle, I wasn’t going to be charged by a polar bear, there wasn’t going to be some huge area of open water you know I was going to get there. And I really enjoyed those last 300m. And the funny thing is it is very hard to actually locate the Pole because there is no pole, there is at the South Pole there is three poles at the South Pole. There is no buildings it is just drifting ice moving across the top. So what I experience as the North Pole is the, the moment in time that I get there will be different from what you experience which will be different from what I would experience actually if I went a day later or half an hour later. There might be a pressure ridge at the Pole or it might be open water at the Pole. It could be anything it could be fog, could be blizzards could be beautiful sunny day. For me it was a beautiful sunny day. I walked almost non stop for three days to nail it. I just had to know. And it was very good weather which means very good navigation so you could really navigate really efficiently to find the “best terrain” because obviously sea ice for your route and I knew the weather was going to break pretty soon so I just went on and on and on. Got there and I stood, I got within 12m of the Pole. So my GPS, some people know about GPS like a little mobile phone really, and it does trigonometry, it finds three satellites so it can compute your position on the surface of the earth. And I was trying to get to 90o north and what it actually said was 89o and 59 out of 60 minutes and 59.6 seconds out of a possible 60 seconds so four tenths of second of latitude to go. And each tenth of a second of latitude equates to just over 3m. Four to go, 3 x 4 I was within 12m of the North Pole. The point around which our planet is rotating. Now trust me when you get there in the same way as when you are on the equator you don’t feel as if you are being flung off like on a roundabout, you are trying to cling to the ground to stop being spun off the surface of the earth. Equally when you go out to the North Pole you get no sense of standing on the middle of a merry-go-round and everything spinning around you. And so I stood there looking at this thing and I had a lot of salt crystals from sweat over the three days around my face and I stopped I was sweating very heavily and it was running into my eyes. I had very bloodshot stingy eyes and I was looking at this GPS standing still and at 89 59 59 .6, .7, .8 now I was just standing still but I was actually for the only time in the entire expedition drifting with the ice due north, absolutely smack on due north. 89 59 59.9 and then for complicated reasons the manufacturers don’t assume that no one is actually going to go to the North Pole so it cant actually compute 90o north so I knew I had passed over the top of the Pole, well passed over the top of the planet and was now starting to go down the other side because the longitude flipped over almost 180o.

And I sort of I suppose in a way I sort of collapsed, well I didn’t collapse I just sort of dropped to my knees and you may wonder what does it feel like reaching the Pole after all of that effort of years. And this is what it felt like and it took me by surprise because I deliberately did not anticipate what it might feel like I just wanted to feel it and be taken, and just feel it in a genuine open way. And it felt like utter, utter relief. That was the main feeling relief. Not happiness, not pleasure, not excitement, not wahay, not victory just relief and I think I felt that first time in my life at last I felt free.

Kevin: Pen that is a lovely way to finish this interview thank you very much.

Pen: Thank you.


Kevin: And that was how Pen Hadow has made history and history that has not been repeated at all even though several people have tried to do exactly what Pen has achieved nobody has actually managed to and I think that just confirms even more what an astounding achievement that it was. Particularly when you put in perspective I have been trying to imagine this distance of 440 miles walking that day in day out for 60 odd days in -20, -30o over the most horrendous torturous landscape. I still struggle to even understand it in my own mind but Pen did. Pen accomplished it and that is why Pen is the only man in the world to have his place in the history books for this particular feat so congratulations Pen.

So our next instalment with Pen will directly follow this episode. It is very much a reflection on Pen’s life after the event dealing with what he learnt about himself and what he has taken into the business world with him from his lessons and just generally just him reflecting on achieving something quite remarkable.

I am going to leave you with a very apt track from Xerxes music this time called ‘Footsteps’ and this is from his Volume 2 album so enjoy it and tune in again very soon to enjoy the next instalment and final instalment of the Pen Hadow series. Thank you very much again.

We hope you found this content inspirational. The next motivating interview with Pen Hadow (Max#13) draws on how he maximises his potential by challenging himself everyday helping him to be successful in life. Follow more inspiring people on the Maximise Potential Podcast, all of whom display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!