Italian adventurer Alex Bellini is going to live on an iceberg until it melts in one of the most unusual expeditions of modern times. He spoke to Euronews Explorers about his plans, and why he continues to push the limits of his body and mind.
Tell us about the iceberg adventure?
In late Spring 2015 I’ll move onto an iceberg, calved from a glacier in North-West of Greenland. My aim is to witness the last phase of an iceberg. Once the iceberg will be identified I’ll be transported by helicopter and dropped off on its surface. I dream that it will end with me leaving the iceberg slowly and calmly after a year, but I expect it to end sooner with the iceberg flipping over. Whichever of the two events happens first, there will be the story of an iceberg to tell.
What will you eat, where will you sleep, how do you stay warm?
I’ll have thermo-stabilized food which is heat processed so it can be stored at room temperature for long period of time. The main difference between freeze dried food, the most common expedition food, and the thermo stabilised is that freeze-dried food has been cooked then quickly frozen and dried in a vacuum. To rehydrate the food water must simply added to the package. Thermo-stabilised food is a kind of food that has been heated to destroy pathogens, microorganisms and enzymes that may cause spoilage. Nowadays you can enjoy almost any food, from vegetable soup to chicken tandoori, for a more exotic taste.
I’ll be sleeping in a survival capsule, the same sort of capsule they use on oil rigs or off-shore platforms. This capsule is waterproof, shockproof, self-righting and very well insulated. To stay warm I’ll be doing some work-outs, such as rowing on a rowing machine. Exercise is not only meant to keep me in shape, but I’ll be using it to produce energy as well.
Will you be in contact with people from the iceberg?
Yes, I’ll be in contact with people via satellite communication system.
How do you choose a good iceberg to call home?
The iceberg will be calved from the Ilulissat Glacier, on the west coast of Greenland. The iceberg will be chosen for its shape and size. In order to minimize the risks, especially at the beginning of the adventure, the iceberg must have a tabular shape, that’s to say with a flat surface, and with an area of 6,000 square meters.
Will you get bored?
Yes, I expect to get bored, but this is part of the mission. In my opinion, the frustration that will come from the lack of control over the events will be even more interesting. I have always been fascinated by the idea of an adventure in which I could perceive and purposely explore the lack of control I had.
I had a glimpse of this on my two journeys across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was hard to understand that as a human being, in a small rowing boat across an ocean, there were just a few things I could have control over. I could neither control the tides, the winds, my bearing, nor the fury of the sea. I could just control my thoughts, the quality of the images I drew in my mind, and my self-dialog.
But at least I was still moving towards somewhere. I may have been moving slowly, but this gave me a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment at last. On that tiny iceberg I’ll mostly be still, waiting for something to happen. No physical effort to change the path ahead, I will just accept that it will happen. I think this is quite a timely topic to take into account, especially with our tendency to over-control things, a tendency that sometime leads to psychological problems. Adrift will force me to survive that, and teach me important lessons about this issue.
What can you do to amuse yourself on an iceberg?
Most of the time I’ll be running research on various fields, such as perception of fear, perception of pain, effects of lack of sleep. I’ll be doing video conferencing with schools around the globe, studying (I’m in my second year of a Psychology degree) and doing physical exercise to power my electronic equipment. Renewable energy sources will be the only way for me to get my equipment running, so apart from a solar and wind generator I dream of collecting energy from my own movement. We are still working out which will be the most effective exercise to do, although at the moment rowing is the most likely, but everything will be clearer as soon as we will have the available space onboard. Apart of this I won’t have much to do.
Icebergs sometimes rotate in the water, and sometimes they’re home to polar bears – isn’t it dangerous?
Instability is the most critical factor of the adventure. We are currently working hard in order to minimize the risks related to instability. Polar bears are dangerous as well, but the likelihood of meeting one of them is very low, which it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen
What do you hope to achieve with this project?
I believe that adventures have what I call “social value”. In other terms, I believe it can inspire, motivate, make people think about what we have around us, things that too often we take for granted. We also want to educate students all around the world with educational programmes based on the adventure. What is likely to happen is that a primary school teacher, in for example Sydney, who is teaching his students how environments and living things are threatened, or what are the connections between living things and their environments are, could search for “ADRIFT FOR EDUCATION” and download the module related to the topic. Doing so the teacher could have students learning in a more practical and engaging way. Moreover, we want to engage them with laboratories, workshops and live-conferences.
Adrift will be a great opportunity for the investigative committee of those involved in the project, composed of scientists, environmentalists, bloggers, artists, thinkers and lecturers. It will provide an unprecedented and multidisciplinary perspective over something that concerns everyone. We also want to develop the concept of the similarity between the iceberg and our planet. Both ecosystems have very delicate balances. As with any iceberg, nothing is forever, so I ultimately want to inspire people to seek joy and satisfaction in their life today, not wait until tomorrow.
Why an iceberg, rather than a desert island threatened by sea level rise, or a glacier or other lonely climate-threatened location?
In 1928 Umberto Nobile, an Italian pilot, flew over the North Pole with an airship. On his way back, due to a rough weather, the airship crashed on the pack ice. He, along with 10 members of his team, managed to survive on the ice for 40 days. Since I read this story for the first time, I have always wondered how they coped with the lack of control and the inability to move anywhere. I have always been fascinated by the idea of an adventure in which I could perceive that ‘lack of control’. Rowing across the Atlantic and Pacific gave me a glimpse of it. In general people struggle to control situations and hate to be controlled by them. Adrift will force me to survive that. It is quite amazing that those events from which we benefit the most aren’t those calm and under control situation, but rather those that seem to be harmful.
All the adventures I’ve done so far are equally important. Each of them has taught me very important lessons. That said, going to Alaska was the initiation into the magical world of adventures, so it was a great experience because of the lack of knowledge I had. Running across the United States gave me the chance to develop self-hypnosis skills that I consider the most extraordinary and powerful tool one can have to reach peak performance.
Do you consider yourself an explorer?
It is hard being an explorer nowadays. As people over history we have pushed ourselves very far and wide, and the meaning of exploration has changed deeply. I believe in self-exploration, by which I mean that any experience we do brings along important information about ourselves. So, from this perspective, yes, I would consider myself an explorer. But first and foremost I’m very curious.
What are the most memorable moments you have had out on the ocean waters?
In 2004, in my second attempt to row across the Atlantic, when I got shipwrecked on Formentera island, and then in 2008 when, after 294 days of rowing, I quit my attempt 60 miles off the coast of Australia. The situations from which we get the best benefit are those that, at the beginning, seem to harm us.
You started with the Marathon des Sables – why that race?
Since I was a young boy, I used to hear my father’s stories of him riding motorbikes in Africa. He really loved Africa. When I came up with the idea to run the Marathon des Sables my father wanted to escort me and to assist me through the desert. I struggled more to convince him to stay at home than running the whole marathon.
You’re interested in psychology- what’s the psychology of the explorer?
Explorers are ‘antifragile’. They benefit from shocks, thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, risks, disorder and uncertainty. They not only can survive these situations, they eventually get stronger. My favourite current day explorers are Borge Ousland and Mike Horn.