ExWeb interview with Kevin Vallely, On an expedition like this the mental component is everything

Posted: Mar 24, 2010 05:58 am EDT

Everyones capable of pushing themselves, its just a question of being psyched to do so, says Kevin to ExWeb. In a speed record attempt across Lake Baikal in Siberia Kevin and his teammate, Ray Zahab, ran an average of 50 km per day with their 50 kg sleds. They dressed light and were wearing special screw in spikes lightweight shoes.

Kevin said his biggest concern before he left at the end of February was a setback he had last July when he shattered his shoulder in a mountain biking accident. I split the head of the humorous requiring a plate and 11 screws and have been in a lot of pain since.

I has only been able run without a sling for the last two weeks and the arm is still likely only at about 25%. This is my biggest concern, of course, but I feel very confident I can still do what Ive set out to do. And so he did.

ExplorersWeb.com: According to you, what was the previous fastest time and by who?

Kevin: I believe the fastest previous time was by Conrad Dickinson and his team at a time of 21 days in 2007. They brought kites but werent able to use them much for lack of favorable wind. Conrad has been to both the North and South Pole and is a very experienced adventurer.

There arent many detailed accounts of traverses across Lake Baikal like say the North or South Pole but 21 days is smoking fast so we suspect this was the fastest journey.

ExplorersWeb.com: How heavy were your sleds at the start? Food for how many days?

Kevin: Our sleds were around 110 lbs (50-55kg) at the start. They were heavier than we hoped them to be but very light by the standards of polar sled travel. We had 10 days of food with a contingency. Needless to say at 13 days we got into our contingency!!

ExplorersWeb.com: You did amazing distances per day. What was your average?

Kevin: Our average daily distance was 50km per day but some days were less and some days were more. Theres no question of true travel distance per day was over 50km even on our short days as the 640km distance down Baikal is as the crow flies. We never traveled as the crow flew!!

Jumbled ice, deep snow, etc forced us to take a more circuitous route. Our final day was around 65km as the crow flies but were sure we traveled 75km-80km that day. We were shatterered!!

ExplorersWeb.com: Before you left you thought you would even do more, what was "holding you back"?

Kevin: The conditions were tough. As with anything you go out with an intent of doing something and see where it takes you. Were extremely happy with the 13-day effort. I truly cant imagine going any faster.

Believe it or not we were running for large sections. One stretch we managed to run 35km non-stoppulling an 110 lb sled!! We hung it out for sure!!

ExplorersWeb.com: Did you travel at night? How much daylight did you have?

Kevin: We did a little night travel at the start and at the end but avoided it as much as we could. Once the sun went down it got extremely cold and navigation by headlamp is always much slower.

On Baikal you need to look several kilometers ahead at all times to pick the fastest line through the ice. At night youd be confronted with lots of obstacles (jumbled ice, ridges, etc) that would slow you to a crawl.

Sun was up around 7am and set around 7pm.

ExplorersWeb.com: How many hours did you travel per day?

Kevin: Our typical day started at 8-8:30am and went until 6-6:30pmroughly sunrise to sunset. We would travel pretty much non-stop from this point forwards. Our longest break would be only a couple of minutes at a time.

ExplorersWeb.com: What footwear did you wear?

Kevin: You wouldnt believe our footwear. We used super-lightweight high-cut trail running shoes by INOV 8 (weighed only 8 ounces per shoe) with screw in spikes in the sole.

Our feet stayed warm the entire trip because we never stopped moving. This is the key to fast, cold weather travel. Dress light but move fast!!

ExplorersWeb.com: How easy is it to run on the slippery ice?

Kevin: Running on the slippery ice was straight forward enough with the micro-spikes in the shoes but it was still slippery under foot. We needed to run with mid-foot/for-foot strike and pad along. You couldnt kick aggressively or youd slip. This held true when we strode along as well.

ExplorersWeb.com: Were you ever tired? You seem to have endless energy :)

Kevin: We were tired no doubt!! The key is just getting your head around it.

Everyones capable of pushing themselves, its just a question of being psyched to do so. We had each other to motivate the other when one of us started to bog down. Theres no question it was tough!!

ExplorersWeb.com: What and where did you physically prepare for Lake Baikal?

Kevin: For Ray and I it has been different. He lives in Ottawa, where its cold, and he runs on the snow-covered trails in and around the Gatineau Park. I live in Vancouver, BC where weve had the warmest winter in living memory (as all Olympic watchers can attest) and I spend my time pulling a truck tire on paved roads.

Weve both been doing lots of running of course but trust our years of expeditions and expedition training to draw upon when out there.

ExplorersWeb.com: What push your body beyond its limits?

Kevin: I believe its psychological completely. We are all capable of doing amazing things; we just have to believe in ourselves. On an expedition like this the mental component is everything!!

ExplorersWeb.com: For people who want to ski across Lake Baikal what are the main difficulties to look out for?

Kevin: Cold and wind will be the biggest obstacles. The winds have different names and can come from all directions. Some can be as strong as 200kmh!!

Its damp on the ice so moisture build-up will always be a problem. Id suggest traveling by foot with a crampon system and snowshoes as back-up. Im a skier and traveled to the South Pole that way. In my opinion, skis arent the way to go on Baikal.

The ice is not a static covering; it moves and has a life of its own. My two journeys across Alaska in the winters of 2000 and 2003 have given me a great respect for ice travel. Never take its quality for granted.

ExplorersWeb.com: Did you take a gun to scare off wild animals?

Kevin: We didnt taking a gun. The only time I would take a gun is if I was in polar bear country. There is a very healthy brown bear population around Lake Baikal but my hope was that they would still be happily hunkered down in hibernation slumber.

Ive heard the wolves can get curious but we were re not too worried. Last summer I woke to a wolf sniffing my head one night while biving on a trek I did here on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It took off when I opened my eyes. Theyre generally curious but scared of humans. I must admit, that wolf did make me jump though!!

ExplorersWeb.com: Have you been to Lake Baikal before? Where do you get your information?

Kevin: I traveled to Lake Baikal in the summer of 2004 with my wife and 9-month old daughter on a family kayaking adventure. Our travel agent here in West Vancouver issued us inadequate visas (something we didnt discover until they were already invalid within Russia) and we forced to avoid the authorities or wed have been arrested, deported and fined $25,000 USD.

Our travel agent abandoned us to the wolves, so to speak, and we were left scrambling. In the end we financially persuaded a police official to grant us exit visas. The irony that we were running from the law (purely created by someone elses mistake) in Siberia land of the gulag would have been humorous if it wasnt so scary.

ExplorersWeb.com: Why is Ray a good teammate?

Kevin: Ray is a great teammate because hes super strong physically and mentally and hes there because he wants to be. I never laughed as hard as I did in Antarctica on our way to the South Pole. It hurt like hell but all three of us had a great time!!

ExplorersWeb.com: Where does your family life fit in?

Kevin: I juggle my family life and my professional life. Its tough but my family is the most important thing in the world to me and they support me completely. They understand that this is what I do and accept it. Im hoping Im inspiring my young daughters to follow their dreams some day!

Kevin Vallely was born in 1964 (the year of the dragon, he adds) and works as a residential architect in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is married with two young daughters Caitlin (7) and Arianna (5). He loves to draw and paint and his favorite food is Indian.

In the 2008-09 Antarctic season Canadians Richard Weber, Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab set the fastest time from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole (1130 km) in 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes.

On March 14, Kevin and teammate Ray Zahab completed their speed record attempt across Lake Baikal in a time of 13 days and 16 hours; running/walking the 640 km (as the crow flies) in an average distance of 50 km a day with special screw in spikes shoes. They started from the small village of Kultuk on the southern side of the lake and finished at northern tip at a community called Nizhneangarsk.

In March-April 2008 Hardy BrandstĂśtter did a solo, kite-supported crossing of Lake Baikal.

During February-March 2009 Belgium adventurer, Hogan Beernaert, did a solo crossing of Lake Baikal. He mentioned meeting a cyclist on the lake.

Russian Alexander Semyonov reportedly traveled around Lake Baikal in Feb- Mar 2007(he mentioned meeting a Swedish skier on the lake)

In February/March 2003 Stefan Wackerhagen and his friend Stephan Reichelt became, according to them, the first expedition to cross Lake Baikal in Russia lengthwise on foot. They completed the distance in 32 days.

In 2007 the Northern Spirit Siberia Team, Conrad Dickenson, Hilary Dickenson, Alistair Guthrie and Antony Baird, crossed Lake Baikal in 21 days. They took kites with, but had favorable winds for only two and a half hours during he whole expedition.

Czechs Vasek Sura and Pavel Blazek started their ski across Lake Baikal in Siberia on February 23 and completed it on March 19 in 24 days and 6 hours they reported.


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Kevin: "The ice is not a static covering; it moves and has a life of its own. Never take its quality for granted." Image Kevin on Lake Baikal (click to enlarge)
Image by Ray Zahab, SOURCE
"We were running for large sections on Lake Baikal. One stretch we managed to run 35km non-stoppulling an 110 lb sled!! We hung it out for sure!!" (click to enlarge)
courtesy Kevin Vallely
"As with anything you go out with an intent of doing something and see where it takes you." (click to enlarge)
courtesy Kevin Vallely
"My family is the most important thing in the world to me and they support me completely." (click to enlarge)
courtesy Kevin Vallely
Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia (click to enlarge)
courtesy Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab, SOURCE

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