The sun never sets, temperatures can fall to 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and there are several different ways to die.
Aaron Linsdau has dreamt of making a trip from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole for eight years. Until yesterday, he sat waiting in a hotel room at the southern tip of Chile chewing on blocks of butter.
A plane brought him to Antarctica Tuesday, where the 38-year-old began his 1,400 mile, two-and-a-half month journey to become the first American to accomplish the feat aided only by skis.
That means more people have stood on the moon than have successfully completed a trip from the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back without resupply, kites, dogs or some other form of support.
"Challenging the seemingly impossible, experiencing something out of the ordinary and pursuing my life's dreams are what I look forward to every day that I wake up," the San Diego State University graduate told IB Patch via email. "We have exactly one shot at life, so I want to make the best one that I can."
When asked what people should know about him if he dies, Linsdau said, "I won't die. However, I'll say that I pursued my life's passions, so when I'm old and falling asleep in front of a NASCAR race, I'll know I chased my dreams rather than fearing them."
There are no plants, people or animals to fear, but like space travel, the inhospitable environment comes with a host of dangerous risks: falling into large cracks in the ice called crevasses, white-out blizzards, strong winds, hypothermia, frostbite and hallucination due to a lack of noise or human contact.
To keep his sanity, he will listen to books about George Washington and Aaron Burr, the Bible, To Kill a Mockingbird, and music from the Rocky IV soundtrack.
What it Takes
To prepare for his trip, Linsdau made three treks through Yellowstone National Park and one across a tundra in Greenland.
Months prior to the journey, Linsdau dragged a tire up and down the hills of Carlsbad and a mountain pass in Wyoming to get used to high elevation.
He also ate butter—a lot of butter.
Butter will make up a major source of necessary calories for Linsdau. Part of his breakfast every morning will be two sticks of butter. He will eat 6,000 calories a day, but still expects to lose 15-20 pounds.
Linsdau's parents Tim and Vicki, who live in Nestor and attend St. James Lutheran Church in Imperial Beach, helped him prepare. The Linsdaus moved to San Diego from Wyoming when Aaron was 7-years-old.
Vicki sewed two layers of fleece into his pants and Tim helped attach skis to Aaron's sled.
Both helped find random equipment needed for the trip which weighs more than 300 pounds.
Some sponsors and donations from friends and family helped pay for the trip, but much of the journey was self-financed, and comes to a total cost of more than $70,000.
Part of that cost pays for rescue or medical evacuation if things go wrong.
"Yes, I think understanding the level of preparation for something like this is a very daunting task," Tim said. "There's an awful lot to it. I mean just every little nut and bolt detail becomes really important out there.
"It's not a whim. It's two and a half months in the most inhospitable place on Earth. It takes everything you've got."
Part of the process in helping their son get ready for the trip also meant learning a lot about Antarctica and learning from the sort of mistakes others have made traveling the expanse.
"When he first started talking about it, I don't think I realized how serious it was," Vicki said. "I don't know if that made it [concern] worse or better for me."
Being a parent worried about your child taking such a journey means going through "emotional waves," Tim said. "You want him to succeed, but you also want him to be safe."
But this isn't the first wave to make Aaron's parents hold their breath.
"As a parent, there's a stress level there that you're dealing with that an average person might not," Tim said. "But I've had those: the first time I knew he was going to cross Yellowstone, I know what the weather's like cause I grew up up there and that was scary, if you will, at that time."
During his prepatory trips, he was tracked by a wolf in Yellowstone, and in Greenland he fell into an ice cold stream, Tim said.
Part of Aaron's desire to take the trip is also to raise awareness about prostate cancer, which Tim was diagnosed with four years ago.
Aaron's love for the outdoors started in the Boy Scouts with his father. When he got older, Aaron began to travel around the world.
"Well he's always been, I guess you could say, driven," Tim said. "I remember his first grade teacher coming to us and telling us that he tries so hard to please. It wasn't that so much as he just tries so hard in any endeavor to get it right. To master it."
Linsdau's progress can be tracked via GPS on his website. Audio dispatches will also be posted on his website along the way.