(By Correne Coetzer) On January 18, 2014, Marty and Chris Fagan became the first married American couple to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, unassisted, unsupported and unguided. It took them 48 days to complete the 890 km route from the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf.
"There were unexpected challenges that we had to figure out along the way, and we always stuck together as a strong team through it all,” Marty and Chris told ExplorersWeb when catching up at home with them and their son Keenan.
Was this expedition / experience what you expected it would be?
We meticulously researched and planned for 3 years before our expedition, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting ourselves into. We expected the expedition to challenge us physically and mentally – and it certainly did.
We had cold weather experience climbing big mountains like Mt. McKinley in Alaska, training in Ely, Minnesota (Chris) and Spitsenbergen, Norway (Marty) as well as around Mt Rainier and the Cascade Mountains near our home. Still, we had not been on a polar expedition of any kind, and we didn’t have experience pulling 220 lb sleds for 48 days through all kinds of conditions – soft snow, sticky snow, blizzards, white-outs, sastrugi, and extreme cold.
There were unexpected challenges that we had to figure out along the way, and we always stuck together as a strong team through it all.
Chris, what did you learn about Marty that you didn’t know?
Chris: Marty and I have been married for 14 years and we’ve completed many adventures together that require extreme physical and mental endurance. This expedition is by far the hardest thing that we’ve done together – and the physical, mental, emotional and environmental stresses were extreme at times, and felt cumulative over our 48-day expedition. At times we had to dig deep, and as I had predicted, Marty proved to be an ideal teammate.
In the end the expedition gave me a renewed appreciation for what I already knew about Marty – that he would be patient and strong, and handle stress well. He also showed what a big heart he has in the way he treated me, our son and our various family and friends supporting us along the way.
Marty, what did you learn about Chris that you didn’t know?
Marty: Chris and I had a unique and incredible experience together, a married couple skiing across Antarctica for 48 days with a 12-year old son at home! This adventure tested both of us on every possible level. I always knew we would be very compatible and be able to quickly work out any issues or disagreements.
I think what surprised me the most though was that as the expedition got further along, and more difficult, we both became more “Zen” than we already were. You hear about expeditions getting irritated with each other about every little thing, even the way someone chews their food. Chris and I tended to poke fun at each other about those tiny things and quickly resolve and discuss the bigger issues.
What were some of the tiny things that we joked about? Chris would gag every time she spit out her toothpaste. We don’t know why since it doesn’t happen at home. For me, after spending the whole day skiing in near silence, I would get in the tent and not really want to talk for an hour or so. I know Chris was just the opposite and really wanted to chat. I learned that Chris was willing to let go of her need to immediately discuss the day and give me time to decompress.
Keenan, what did you learn about, and from, your Mom and Dad with what they went through on Antarctica?
Keenan: I can see that you have to work hard to meet a goal. You need to have a positive mindset, because if you don’t, you will have a hard time and you will probably be unhappy. I am inspired by what they did and think that I want to do something big like that some day. I am very proud of my parents and what they accomplished. Now I am very happy that they are home.
Chris/Marty, there were times that you were challenged beyond your borders to carry on. What were the toughest and what pulled you through?
Chris: For me, with about 8 days to go, the physical and mental fatigue of the expedition left me feeling exhausted. We had only taken one rest day (back on day 21). We were losing weight and strength, the terrain remained challenging throughout (soft snow, sticky snow, tough sastrugi) and it was getting colder. We thought our pace would speed up as our sleds got lighter, but that didn’t happen. And I missed my 12-year old son so much at times my heart ached.
To help, we shortened days to 8 ½ hours (at that time we were doing 9 ½ - 10 hrs to get more miles) and slept in a little longer. Marty also took a food bag from my sled to lighten my load for a few days. Also, to our surprise, emails from friends flooded in via our satellite phone with uplifting, encouraging messages. And we started calling our son every day instead of every other day. It was fantastic to hear the excitement in his voice as we got closer to the Pole.
Marty: I think what challenged me the most was that after 3-4 weeks into the journey we started to realize that we weren’t getting any faster and every day seemed to toss a new challenge at us. I thought we would start to have things a bit “wired” by week 3 or so, but I was wrong.
I really believe our ultra-running experience helped us through much of our expedition, including our mental toughness and ability to break the journey down into manageable chunks, sometimes only thinking about the next hour.
We also had committed so much to take on this adventure. Three years of thought and planning, leaving our son at home, quitting my job after 15 years, and spending a lot of money will certainly motivate you to make sure you get to the Pole.
You have a 12-year old son who stayed at home, and you have met 16-year old Lewis Clarke before and after the journey. How did you experience him?
Chris: Marty and I spent some time with Lewis in Punta Arenas and at Union Glacier before our expeditions started, and coincidentally we arrived shortly after him on the same day at the South Pole. We were impressed with his humble demeanor, quiet confidence and the overall way that he carried himself.
Even though he had a guide and resupply, we were amazed at how well he handled the physical and mental pressure of the expedition at the young age of 16. We are so glad we were able to get to know him and we congratulate him on his success.
What were your favorite gear and clothes on the expedition?
Gear: North Face VE25, MSR Whisperlite stove, Goal Zero solar panel and battery pack, iPod Nano, Iridium satellite phone and hot spot
Clothes: Patagonia R1 Hoodie, Baffin Polar Mitt, buff, Wintergreen Anorak, Patagonia down hoodie sweater
After three years of focused preparing and an intense expedition, how do you look at life now?
Right now life feels like the wide-open landscape of Antarctica – we have so much open-ended time to consider what’s next. We are turning a page on our lives and both Marty and I are ready to write our next chapters.
Our expedition reinforced our belief that to grow, we must push beyond our comfort zones and imagine possibilities that seem beyond our reach. Like past adventures, Marty and I grew closer through our Antarctica experience, one that will provide fond memories for life.
We want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support during our expedition and after we arrived home. While it takes tremendous planning, determination, courage and willpower to complete this type of expedition, we feel it was ultimately the love and support of our family, friends and fans that gave us the final push to the Pole.
We named our expedition 3 Below Zero to honor these folks – they all represent our 3rd teammate. We cannot thank everyone enough for keeping us motivated when we most needed it. Most of all we want to thank our 12-year old son Keenan for his tremendous courage and endurance while we were in Antarctica. While we are proud of our accomplishment in Antarctica, we are even more proud of our amazing son Keenan.
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