100% Biker 204

100% Biker 204
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In these days beset by health and safety regulations and risk assessments, we should treasure men like Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Worsley who died in a hospital in Chile on 24th January 2016.

Worsley set off in November of last year to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, travelling alone. It was intended to be the very first solo unassisted crossing of Antarctica, a feat that no-one had yet achieved. Sadly, with the passing of Worsley just 30 miles from his goal, that challenge remains unconquered.

He was following in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton who, a century before, had attempted to cross the continent. Shackleton’s quest too had failed when his ship, the Endurance, became frozen in an ice floe and would later sink. It is difficult to imagine the sheer inhospitality of the Antarctic continent, but to attempt to travel a thousand miles across it, as Worsley planned, in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while towing a sledge containing 80 days of food, fuel and gear and weighing over 300lbs (over twice his weight) seems utter madness. But what a glorious madness.

There was no reason for Henry Worsley to undertake this journey. Indeed, he was aiming to raise £100,000 for wounded military personnel, having served for 36 years in the Royal Green Jackets and the Rifles Regiment, but there are surely many less arduous ways to tackle fund raising. Instead, he was following in the finest traditions of people who do such things simply because they are there, who believe in testing themselves against the world and pitting human endurance against the pitiless might of nature. Few of us would want to undertake such endeavours, but we should be grateful of those who do, of those people who believe in the long way round.

Shackleton, at least, on his ill-fated trip had a ship—even if he did lose it—a crew (including a meteorologist and a photographer) and dozens of dogs. Henry Worsley had only himself upon which to rely. During his 970 mile trek, he lost over 50lbs in weight and was eventually forced to stop when he could almost see, almost taste his goal.

Like Shackleton, he kept a log—a video and audio diary—and its final entries are almost unbearably poignant. Pinned down by a storm and having been unable to move from his tent in two days, Worsley realised he was too ill to go on. Shortly before calling for help, he said; ‘My journey is at an end. I have run out of time and physical endurance—the simple, sheer inability to slide one ski in front of another to cover the distance required to reach my goal.’ Fighting for words, he added; ‘There is nothing to see but white darkness’.

Rescue—and perhaps the call for help—came too late. Suffering from bacterial peritonitis, he died of complete organ failure. But, while mourning his passing, I can only respect the bravery, courage and, yes, foolhardiness, that impels men and women to still go forth into the white darkness.