Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl podcast. I'm absolutely delighted to have Ann Daniels with us today.
Ann is a great British polar explorer. She's a record breaking polar explorer. First woman in history to reach the North and South Poles as parts of all women teams. She's led three major expeditions in the Arctic Ocean and is being named by the daily telegraph as one of the top 20 great adventurers of all time. Ann, welcome to the podcast.
Ann: Welcome to you Sarah!
Sarah: I'm so delighted to have you here! I have to ask, have you always wanted to be a polar explorer? Was that the dream when you were younger.
Ann: No. Not at all. I didn't ever imagine I would become an adventurer. I was born in a city and I didn't do anything outdoors at all until the ripe old age of 30.
Sarah: 30! Wow. What happened, what changed?
Ann: I had triplets, that was the first challenge. I didn't expect to have triplets and it was just having them leaving that normal, secure job and the things we do in our everyday life and coping on my own with triplets. I didn't have family around and unfortunately when they were very young, my marriage split up and it was just having that that gave me that confidence in myself. Then, it was pure chance.
Actually, my husband at the time had seen a number in the newspaper asking for ordinary women to apply to be part of the first all female team to go to the North Pole. I had every reason I shouldn't do it. I got baby triplets, I never had walked in boots on my feet, I knew nothing about the outdoors. But I'm a bit of a believer in opportunities and I thought oh, just give it a go. Go down, see what it is and just see what happens. Pretty much, that was it.
I went to Dartmoore, did some training, found out I was rubbish. I never would have been selected. I was the worst. There was about 250 other women had applied. They were all outward bound instructors. Again, it was just that choice. I'm so bad, I was the only one who had no experience. I either give it up or just go for it. I thought if I go for it, I might not get it but I certainly won't if I give it up. So, I spent nine months there with picking the team in nine months. I spent nine months on my own with children running around the park. Friends taught me how to read a map, I got physically fit. I would be doing pressups on the patio while they were asleep. It was madness but when I went back down to Dartmoore, I couldn't believe it. I actually got on the team!
From that, that was a relay so that was my introduction and we went to the Arctic. I couldn't ski. I had to learn that. I was the worst. But I kept going and at the time actually it wasn't necessarily belief, it was just keep taking one step at a time. Just keep learning the next thing. We made the relay. I was on the first leg.
And then we came off and that's where I actually fell in love with the Arctic and nature. Just testing yourself, whatever come challenge, it brings your life alive and it gives you real faith that you can do something else. I got introduced to it, led my craft and thought this is what I want to do. I found it at last! That's when I went on and we put the South pole together and the whole North pole and it just snowballed from there.
Sarah: Oh. My goodness. I mean, having triplets, that would be, even just having one baby would change someone's life forever but having triplets. And then training for this race, it just must have been absolutely phenomenal. How did you overcome those various challenges?
Ann: I think it was complete focus. I knew I had to train and so I got a plan together, I joined a gym and somebody gave me exercises on the patio. But most of all, I had to look after the children. It worked around them, three very small children are quite demanding but as soon as they were in bed, I would be training.
Also, I found ways to combine it so I took them out of the house a lot. I didn't want three babies crying in the house. I would put them in the pram and I would run around the park with children. We did a lot of outdoor things. I learned how to navigate around the streets while pushing a pram. I just found new ways to do what I needed to do. That was what it was about. It was an impossible task to look after three children and train so just worked it out. How can I combine the two and do both things well. And, it worked.
Sarah: I remember, there's a great quote, I can't remember it exactly, those who want to find a way will find a way, those who don't will find an excuse. From that, you could have had so many excuses, I can't, I've just had three children, I don't have the time to go to the gym, I don't have the time to exercise, I can't do this. Where you've obviously taken the other route where you're going to make this happen by putting that focus and having a plan. You've obviously turned this around over the nine months while you went on the expedition.
You mentioned it was a relay, for those who aren't up there with all the vast sort of Arctic knowledge, can you explain a bit more about what that involved?
Ann: Okay. To go to the North Pole from land, it's 500 miles across moving ice and water. And actually, in '97, it had been only completed by about 60 teams since Peary first claimed it. And so, we were a bunch of novices and it was put together with two guys. What we did was we left from land.... island, I was part of the first leg with four women and two guides.
They helped us, they taught us how to survive in the cold. They taught us how to navigate and we went for 17 days on the ice. At which point, the twin....on skis, a very small propellar aircraft came in to where we were. We got on the plane and the next group then set off. That wasn't part of my world record.
That was relay and then they finished and the next team came in and the final team, team Echo did the last to the pole. The only people that did the whole way were the guides and just changed up the women to pull the sledges etc.
It was very unique. That in itself was a record but for me it wasn't for me, it was just a relay that really got me into the art of..... and the place that is so wondrous that I feel honored to have been a part of that.
Sarah: I was just going to ask you about this. I would just think the Arctic as being incredibly cold, there's nothing to say but you've obviously fallen in love with it. Can you try to describe how you fell in love or what there was about that place. I know that's a difficult question.
Ann: No. It's not. It's really not. For somebody that had never done anything before, ever, apart for a couple of selection weekends on Dartmoore and some training. It blew my mind.
The Arctic, I had the same thoughts that you did. But when I landed, the cold was debilitating. You feel like you're lungs are freezing when you breathe. The air turns your breathe into crystals. But, then you look around and these magnificent ridges of ice because the ocean pushes them and the Canadian end towards the shore. You've got racks upon racks of ice, meters in thickness and height where they all crash together and they look so solid and beautiful but they move because there's a current underneath. You'll see physical mountains of ice that your brain goes wow, that's stable and then it starts to move. It's like a beast. It makes a lot of noise. Sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it looks aggressive. And then it will crack and you'll get areas of flat ice and then that cracks and you see the black ocean. As the ice starts to form on the cracks which are like rivers of folk and mortar, it sort of captures the ice crystals and they have beautiful little ice flowers.
It's just an incredibly different place. The colors, there's blues and whites and the sun has rainbows that go all the way around. They circle the sun on good days. It's breathtaking.
Sarah: Oh my goodness. It sounds absolutely incredible. One question is do you get used to the cold?
Ann: No. You don't. No. You survive it in the beginning. On our major expedition when we went the whole way to the pole in 2002, it was between -48 and -58 on the thermometer for the first 27 days. In those temperatures, you're surviving, you're fighting frostbite because your body can't recover. A tent is also in those temperatures. We have sleeping bags and big down ones, and you're just, you're never warm.
You never get used to it, you're always almost the end of me and you've got to keep your fingers and toes from freezing and it's painful. No. But, as you go along on the expedition, the weather gets warmer because you're walking into the sunlight. About halfway, you start to feel a bit of warmth and by the end, because you're pulling really heavy sledges using maybe only -16, you're actually really hot. You're taking clothes off and you're almost suffering from heat exhaustion.
It's a really unusual journey to make and it's very easy to step on that plane on the end with euphoria of forgetting the horror you went through at the beginning.
Sarah: Definitely. You had your first expedition in 1997. You did these 17 days as part of the relay. You fell in love with it. You then obviously came back to the UK. How did you get involved with your next expedition.
Ann: Unfortunately, my marriage was having a lot of trouble and I was left with the children. I just didn't know, I had no money, no job, I thought, what ...
This is what you love, you could do this and provide a really good living for your children and be able to bring them up. It was almost a way, again ...
I started when I was divorcing so it was almost a way again of picking myself up and making a life for my family. I contacted some of the other girls who were also wanting to do something. Together, five of us got together and said, what could we do? We didn't I don't think at that time have the experience to do the whole north pole which had not been done by a woman's team so we went for the south pole and said no British women's team had gone to the South pole.
And that seemed important for sponsorship to be able to give something back. We put it together and this time we trained ourselves, we put the kit together, we learned everything and we flew out to Antarctica and started on the very edge, Hercules inlet.
The Antarctica is so different to the North pole. It's 700 miles of snow and ice without a break. It doesn't move like the pole does because it's on land and so every mile forward is a mile toward your goal but you don't see anything in Antarctica. You don't have the problems in Antarctica with the ice moving. You get white out days and you can see nothing for days. That, I think, is a really tough challenge to just keep skiing when your sledge is heavy, you're cold and exhausted and there's nothing to relieve you of boredom.
Five of us, we just kept going, we had a couple of crew..... In the South pole you have to keep every bit of your skin covered because all the winds come from the South pole at.... so they're always in your face. If you don't keep everything covered, you can very easily get frostbitten face. That's what's also good about being part of the team because we checked each other regularly, if somebody was having a bad day, somebody else would pick him up. Do you know what I mean? It was a very difficult journey but very different to the North pole.
Sarah: I suppose one of the interesting aspects must have been the relationships that you built with the people. You're obviously going through this intense time on this journey and it's how you interact with each other. You must all need to have a certain temperament or attitude. And you must have built fantastic bonds with these other women. Were you already a well connected team before you started or did this just really cement the relationships?
Ann: It cemented. We weren't necessarily a well connected team when we started the South Pole. We did training so we actually started to bond together but the team is made up of different legs. I was on the first leg of the relay and nobody else on the team was on that leg. Rosie was on a different leg but actually Pom and Caroline and Zoey were on the last leg and they were quite a team. Myself and Rosie had to integrate ourselves. I think what that was about very much was we each had our own skill set and it was respecting each other's skill sets and what we brought to the team that actually made us really cohesive as one group and definitely enabled us to do this. We weren't professional explorers, we were just a bunch of middle aged women that decided this is what we were going to do.
Sarah: Yeah. I think it's incredible. You're going for 700 miles through this incredibly tough landscape.
What would a typical day be like?
Ann: Every day is the same and every day is different.
We would say each morning, your day is a very routine based. Everything you do has to be routine because you can't think about things. You put your gloves in the same place, the cookers every night went in the same place, the matches went in the same place. Everything you needed that couldn't freeze went in your sleeping bag in plastic bags or vapor barrier liners. Each day, the alarm would go off, I would get up and light the cookers, start the water and then everybody would start rallying out of their beds. We would sit around and it would take you two to three hours to melt the water and snow to make the water to make breakfast and then two liters of water for during the day. That was very routine based, we got up, we did bop, bop, bop and then we would take the tent down, put our skis on and set off.
Even the days were routine. We did an hour and twenty minutes skiing. We were not allowed to stop unless there was a major incident during that time because we didn't want to disturb our skiing. Then we take a break for ten minutes. Stop, and if we needed to do anything, go to the loo or anything, that's when we did it. It was important to refuel. Then we do that eight times and then stop and then the night time routine would be the same. Put the tent up, light the cookers, take our position, we didn't navigate by GPS, we navigated with the sun. At the end of everyday we would get the GPS out and all gather around it to see how far we'd gone. Ate, drank, did all our...., you know, how far we are, what the weather is like, our scientific data and got into bed and in that respect it was the same every day.
But, during the day of course, the terrain was different, the weather was different, we'd feel different, our conversations were different. It never felt like the days were the same. We might see a crevass one day, we might see nothing or would be a white-out, so the conditions and our own personal emotions were different. But definitely, the routine was key to getting to the pole.
Sarah: What was it like when you eventually got there? How long did it take you to get there?
Ann: It took 60 days to get to the south pole. And that was absolutely incredible.
It was at the millennium. We celebrated the millennium on the way there, we did every timezone so we cheered. Had Christmas out there and then when we got there, we were about three days out, we'd been told we'd probably see the south pole and Carolina and I were the navigators and we'd take turns from the front, one would go off one session and then the other person and so on. We couldn't see the pole for three days out, we didn't know how far we were away. We couldn't see the pole two days out and then halfway through the last day we started to think, oh my god, what if we've gone horribly wrong because there was all these messages that GPS's were going to go mad because there was a millennium burp. What if we're not going to get there? Then we had to fly past these aircraft switched down twice and wiggled their wings and we went, oh, we must be, they've sent somebody out. Then we had confidence and started skiing and it just rose out of the horizon and it was like a James Bond movie.
Because the south pole's on land, there's an Amundsen-Scott base there where there's a lot of scientist doing work and we could see.....and this dome came out and the adrenaline. We skied almost to the pole, we could see the base and then the guys in the base had been looking out for us. And they sent out three people. We thought we'd done something terribly wrong because we suddenly realized we were stood on the runway and this Hercules was trying to take off and we didn't let it go forward or back and we became very English and stood there. And then all of a sudden these three girls ran up and hugged us and oh, it's marvelous, we've been waiting for you, the British skiers. And what really struck me is they'd sent three girls out and said do you want us to escort you the last 10 meters to the actual pole? We said, that'd be lovely. And they didn't send any men because of course we were the first British women to ski to the south pole. If they'd sent men, even for the last 30 meters, it wouldn't have counted.
It was really, really amazing. The whole base came out and celebrated and, oh, it was just to overcome that challenge to do something that you never thought possible brought it's own rewards. It was magical.
Sarah: That's absolutely fantastic and thank you on behalf of all British women out there for doing it and being the first ones to do it.
Ann: Thank you.
Sarah: What would you say you learned most about yourself on that journey?
Ann: That I have an ability to just keep going. I wouldn't say that I'm fantastic or I'm amazing or a great skier because I'm not but I have a real ability that when it's really difficult, to just take each day and keep going and believing in the dream and just doing the steps necessary. I learned I had the ability to just keep going and whatever happens. That was nice. I learned a lot about the other girls and how I interact with people. I came out thinking gosh, having come through a quite difficult divorce not long before, I came out thinking, you know what, you're not a bad person. You've got something to give.
Sarah: I know the polar world is very sort of male dominated you know, it could be about physical strength and the ability to endure extreme hardship. The fact that you've done this with five other women obviously proves that's not the case. What are your thoughts on that?
Ann: I have always been supported by men. Always. Whether the military helped me to do the training for the south pole, the polar guys have always been fully supportive of me.
I think the reason that it's very male dominated is because women don't have their own belief to go out and do that. I think you hit ... Where there might be a bit of a problem is sponsorship is very difficult, I think more difficult for women to get a hold of.
We all know there's more sponsorship for guys out there. Besides that, I think a lot of the time it's us that doesn't feel that we can do it or really have a go and take the steps.
I think that women have so much strength, so much power, mentally and endurance wise physically. Okay. I couldn't take as big a pack as a guy can but I can keep going. I think we need to believe that and get out there and know that we're capable of anything we want to do.
Sarah: Absolutely. I think that's very important. A lot of the women or a lot of the girls I've talked to when I go out to schools is almost like their lack of their self-belief or their own self-worth or what they believe of themself. They just don't have that inner confidence to try new things or to give things a go.
I think it's really fantastic that we now have role models such as yourself and these other women out there who are doing these great challenges. It's normal women, who have three children, have been through a really tough time with your divorce but still that hasn't stopped you from becoming this fantastic, this record breaking polar explorer.
Congratulations on doing the south pole! What a fantastic achievement. I know that you went on to become the first British female North pole guide. How did that come about.
Ann: Well that was obviously by now, I'd learned how to deal with the ice and the outside conditions. I'd done the North Pole and I could do everything to do with that. A friend of mine, Pen Hadow who's also a big arctic explorer, he had put an expedition together for the last degree with clients. That's the last 60 miles to the pole. But unfortunately, well fortunately for him, he then got a sponsorship to do his big solo expedition and so he called me and said, I can't think of anybody else I would trust my clients with other than you. Would you be prepared to guide them on this north pole expedition?
I had to say to begin with, I had some doubts and thought, gosh, I'm taking other people. He said, nobody's got the experience that you've got now in England. You can do it. He had faith in me, I happened to wobble, but he had real faith in me and so I said, okay, let's do it. I want to start off, and I actually started off in Siberia with a smaller group with people who wanted to do something else in a more contained environment so I know that I can do it and that I'll be able to lead these guys, I've got everything.
That went fantastically well so I flew out to the Arctic, 10 multinational men, I had an assistant guide with me and we led them the last 60 miles to the north pole. It was a fantastic experience because I felt that I was sharing this wonderful experience. It was their expedition not mine and I felt really confident in my skills and showing them what to do and helping them to understand the beauty of the Arctic ocean and how precious it was. It was really successful. We had a lot of problems. We had a lot of upper...... One guy had diabetes and had to take insulin but we got there. And again even though it was their success and their talent, I felt just a lot of euphoria to be able to do that, to be able to lead them. Then that gave me the confidence and then obviously I began to lead other last degree expeditions, etc.
Sarah: You must have learned a lot about leadership and being a woman in charge of a team.
Do you have any tips or advice or anything that you learned from that experience that you can share?
Ann: Yes. It was not my first leadership role but my first leadership role in those really tough conditions. And with men who are captains of industry. These guys had done a lot with their world. I learned first and foremost, be yourself.
Don't pretend to be somebody else. I didn't come across as a real shouty, telling people what to do, because that's not who I am. You have to be yourself. You've got to find out what everybody's skills are, what they're good at, and then really let them shine and not hold on.
It's not about what you can do, it's about what you can empower them to do.
My main goal was, I want them to learn how to navigate and take ownership of this expedition, them to do all the cooking, them to really, as a team, work together to challenge themselves and to overcome all the obstacles and not keep it to myself. I'm the big guide. It was about empowering them and really appreciating what they can do. It was their first time on the ice so obviously at the beginning, they weren't as proficient as they could. Being patient and showing them and then letting them take the way. There are times as a leader where you also have to be strong. Sometimes the ice would be thin and then you had to, you cannot do this, you cannot do this, these are parameters. If people are clear about why the parameters are there, and what can happen if things go wrong, then they respect those parameters and that's what I learned and I loved being part of that group and able to lead them.
Sarah: Yeah. That's great. You mentioned that you had a number of different problems and situations. How do you handle those tough situations?
Ann: Well, there's a few. I guess I'll sort of tell you, it could be the terrain but there was one particular incident where one of the guys, this is a different leading expedition rather than the first. I was taking a different group of men up there. I was the only woman on that one.
One of the guys had a physical injury and had hurt himself quite badly and was holding the group up. Actually, if he didn't ask for help and pass over the weight of his sledge, we would not have made the pole. I didn't want to tell him, I'm sorry you can't do it, pass all your things over because that would not be great for his confidence.
We talked about it because he's never asked for help. He runs his own business, he's a very strong man. I kind of said, how would you feel if somebody on this trip had an injury and they needed your help. Would you be willing to help them? And he was like, Yeah. And how would that make you feel? Well, it would make me feel really good. How would it make you feel if someone had an injury and if they wouldn't have help, they stopped you from getting your dream. He said, ohh. Just think about it, you've got a friend because he had a particular friend there. Do it quietly. You need to pass over some of your weight, you've got an injury. He did at first and that helped him and that really made him feel good and then by the time we got to the next break, the whole team were carrying his things. That must have been a bit fractious about it. They were laughing and joking and he came up to me and said, I have never asked for help in my whole life and it was really difficult to do. And now I did it, it made me feel really brave and courageous and thank you for that. I'm really pleased I did that. It felt great.
It's not always necessarily the physical challenges, we still had cold weather and moving ice. Sometimes, it can be overcoming, somebody's emotional blockages on a team.
Sarah: I think a lot of people forget actually that they can ask for help and it's not a sign of weakness to reach out to other people and say, I need your support, I need your help with this.
That was a wonderful example. Thank you for sharing that.
I want to carry on really you passed on a journey of going to the poles. You did your record breaking polar expedition and that was to the North Pole.
Ann: Yeah. It was guiding the men and I told you I was the only female. It was almost an epiphany on one of the journeys I was, I've done the last bit to the pole with the guiding. I've done the beginning but I just knew as women, we could do this, we could be explorers with these men who are physically stronger than me but out there when it's cold, it could be a leveler.
I could perform on a par if not better than some of them, and I thought we can do this. We can be the first women in the world to walk from land all the way to the north pole. Not as a relay, not bringing other people in but just as from the beginning to the end. It never had been done by women before.
I called Caroline and Pom who were on the South Pole. I wanted them on the team. For me, they were the strongest. And I said look, we can do this but this is a big, do you want to do it. At first they didn't but I think you have to believe in your dream and a vision or else you can never get anyone else to believe in it. Eventually, after lots of talking and lots of persuading and speaking to them about the guiding and the men I've been with, they eventually agreed that we'd have a go and we'd leave from Waterton Island again.
Five hundred miles, sledges that were over 300 pounds to go to the north pole. We managed to get the money together, thankfully M&G who were our South Pole sponsors came back on board so that was we didn't have to waste energy doing that. We just trained again and when we set off, the temperatures were so debilitating.
In the first, nobody thought we'd get there. I mean, in 2002, only 68 expeditions had ever made it from land ever, that's with dogs, skidders, whatever and we were attempting it as women.
We had carbon monoxide poisoning. The thing about the north pole is it's not one mile forward and then you're closer to your goal. You can go one mile forward and the currents when you leave from Canada are against you. They will bring you three quarters of a mile back. We had to relay our sledges because we physically couldn't lift them over the ridges. On day 37 of a, what we thought we'd go 75 days, day 37 we had only gone 69 miles of the 500 miles.
We'd got frostbitten fingers, frostbitten toes, we were in a mess. So much that Caroline's hands, she couldn't even dress herself. She was at the stage, talk about asking for help, she was incredibly brave and we even had to take her to the toilet. She couldn't even wipe her own bottom it was that bad. Pom's feet were so bad that when she put her boots on she sobbed with the pain from the frostbite and the wet gangrene. We were.....to be quite honest. Everybody wrote us off. We just regrouped and said, this is now an impossibility. We have to take one day at a time and we have to just keep going.
Also at the North Pole, is there's a lot of obstacles every day. Ridges you can't get over, water that's ice that's churned up and it's literally like a moving lava flow except it's obviously cold and you can't walk on it. It's quite a terrain and unfortunately, we had to resupply on day 47. If Pom hadn't have left the expedition, we couldn't extend our days, we couldn't go any faster. Pretty much she would have lost her feet, they had a medic on board.
She had to leave the expedition on day 47 which left me and Caroline 300 miles left. No time at all. We just took everyday. New plans every day. How many miles have we gone total, okay lets divide that by the days, this is what we've got to do. Every time we'd ski for an hour and twenty minutes and if we hit an obstacle at our break time, whether it was open water or a ridge, whatever it was, we'd go over the obstacle then we have our break. At the end of every day we add another session and then we'd always go over the obstacles. Just by doing that every day, doing that bit more, that bit more, in the end we were down to three hours of sleep a night. I don't think we thought we'd do it until two days before we both came out of our sleeping bags.
By now we're one person. We're having the same emotions, we've just become almost a unit. We both had tears in our eyes and went, I actually think we're going to do it. I think we're going to do it. Even then, we put the GPS on in the morning and we drifted back nine miles. That would be about four days. On the second day before, we couldn't go north. It was such a big body of water, it was east. We went to bed and said, we're not going to make it. We've gone back eight miles. We're not going to make it, we're not going to make it. We went to bed and the Arctic, actually as we slept took us forward up north. We couldn't walk, the ocean and the Arctic at last became our friend and took us closer to the pole so that our last day was doable.
The planes were on their way, they take two days to get to you. We were literally within hours we had to get there. We literally got on the pole with an hour left to spare. All that time, everything. And that was magical. Because we stood where nobody had ever stood. No other human being had stood on that piece of ice, because it moves, at that point ever and never will. It was our own North Pole because the ice moves as soon as you're on it. That was, I can't even describe how wonderful. We knew what we'd gone through to get there in a way no one else will know about. To get a world record just a single mother of three with no skills was pretty mind blowing.
Sarah: As you told me that story through the ups and the downs and the frustrations. How did you deal with the constant up and downs. Day 37 only having walked 69 miles. And suddenly 47 days in you lost a member of your team. Obviously for the right reasons, no one wants to lose their feet. Emotionally you must have really been put through the ringer, both of you on this journey.
Ann: Definitely. I think that's why we actually did become, it was actually like we were the body, we were a driving force. One problem left, that day when we set off, we actually had half a day left. We actually went in circles and we were devastated. We'd lost, we'd gone through so much a team of three and then we just stopped and said, all right, let's put our tent up and we had almost new supplies and we sat there and cooked and we looked to each other and said, god we're going to have to do something because we're not performing. We both just talked and talked and talked and talked it through and said, we can't give in, that's not an option. We're not giving in. If we don't make it, that's one thing but we have to give it everything.
We had to knew if your motivation from Pom going, conversely, once we stopped, we had done it for our family up til then and our sponsors and ourselves, all that way. And then we suddenly went, we can't let Pom down. We have to get a plan. We just have to. We've no choice, and that's why we just went, right, what plan are we going to do. Let's divide the miles, divide the days and this is what we're going to do. Every time we had any kind of ohh, oh my god, we just went right, and put it in a box, what do we have to do and go back to the plan. One thing didn't work out of we didn't make those miles, we just change it. What can we do different? We'll reroute the miles, we'll do an extra hour to make up the mileage we lost and so it became a real calculated force. What do we have to do every day and every hour and every break?
It was let's not frighten us at this break. And we didn't think about the pole.
It was what do we have to do today and how can we make today work better. That's how we did it. We didn't even take toilet paper because that was too heavy. We wiped our backsides with ice wedges. It was everything, everything. Think about how we can make everything better. We swam across the water. We used our sledges as bridges if it was too wide to jump across. It was problem solving. We can't get across here, what way do we get around? And just by doing that, rather than by even thinking we're going to the north pole, what do we do this hour and we did it together. We put everything else to one side and it became so focused on that hour and on that day and gradually each day became another day and another day. That's what I mean by about four days out, we suddenly went, oh my god. It's within our grasp. We hadn't concentrated on that. It was such a long time.
Sarah: A huge, huge congratulations for doing that. The journey and just what you went through physically and mentally is just phenomenal to get you to that point. There's so much advice that you've given from just breaking it down, focusing in on just that one day, just that one task. How can you get around it, how can you get over it. How can you deal with those obstacles which I think a lot of people should be able to translate in their own lives with their own goals, with the stuff they're trying to achieve.
Sarah: Do you get collected by an airplane and flown home? That must have been the biggest shock to the system ever after spending how many days were you actually on the ice? Did you make it in 75 days?
Ann: Eighty. We managed to get an extension. The ice breaks down so the pilots are the ones that it's never a definite end. The pilots will monitor the ice and go, you're coming out now because the ice is breaking up and it's not safe to land. So we could have only had sixty days but we managed to get eighty days. That's how we knew it was the last day. This is the last day, the ice is going so this is it. We did it in eighty.
Sarah: You got collected by the plane, taken back to the UK, what was it like coming back to normality and not having to do your daily routine everyday on the ice?
Ann: It was very strange. The first thing was even on the way back. The first thing we had to do was wash four times before we're allowed in the building because we absolutely stunk, we didn't change our clothes for eighty days. Then we were led into a room with an array of food on a buffet. Both of us looked at each other and we couldn't make decisions. We couldn't even decide what food we wanted and how we wanted it. We've never had to make those kinds of decisions because it'd been the same food. We kind of shut down so every day decisions ... I don't know what to wear in the morning were just kind of gone completely.
It took us three days to get back which was a blessing but I was really lucky because when you've absolutely concentrated on a goal, and the training for like everything in my life had adopted that professionally, and then it's gone, you've done it. There's a big gap. I was really lucky because I hit Heathrow and I had three children, I was still on my own, and bang, I was into life and had to make decisions and look after them. That really brought me back and gave me structure in my day and I was really busy and filled that hole.
Caroline I think struggled a lot more than me because she doesn't have children, she had a job but for her to come back down was a lot more difficult and we spoke every day. Every day, even now and that was what 2002 and it's 2015, 13 years I cannot go a week without speaking to Caroline. I have to have contact with her.
Sarah: How did you ... For the people who are listening who've got children, how did you cope being away from your children for two and a half months?
Ann: Well, again, it's like when you go to work, you miss them and then you start your work. But it's not the same for eighty days. I believed in what I was doing. I had to have a talk with myself, is this the right thing and I, number one, there's two things. I believed that what I was doing was couched on teaching my children how to live, believe in yourself, get out there you've got one life. But on a really kind of physical basis, it provided me financially so that I didn't need to work then the rest of the year or the year after. I did the talk to bring in some money. I didn't really go out and do an awful lot in those days. I speak now but not then so much and I can be a full-time mom. I took them to school everyday, I picked them up. That for me helped me when I was on the ice because I'd believed I was providing a better life. Not saying that's why I did it but that helped me with being away from the children.
When I was on the ice, you had to concentrate to survive. You couldn't let family emotions distract you so I put them in a box. But when things got really difficult, I chant their names just to get through. If I was skiing and I couldn't ski any more, Lucy, Rachel, Joseph and it was kind of a beating a drum to keep going. And then, every twelve days, I would suddenly I can't go without them but we have such light phones, I was able to call them. That was built into the ... We knew that was going to happen.
I would call home every 12 days, it was a mental thing for me and every time I spoke to them, children are inherently just selfish and it's about them. My parents looked after them so they had a loving family and it was always about them. Mom, I've been here, I've done this, guess what happened to me today. And then at the very end, I would hear my mother in the background, oh, and how are you getting on? And then I knew they're fine and they were happy and they were safe and then I'd put them back in the box and get on with it. That's how I dealt with it every twelve days. Just believing in what I was doing. Am I right that we are real people and we can care for our children and still have a life and still perform and still be individuals.
Sarah: You've conquered the North Pole, you've conquered the South Pole, you've led major expeditions across the Arctic. What future challenges do you have or what future challenges are you involved with for the next six months or so?
Ann: One of my children, I've got four children now, I mustn't forget Sarah. I've got a new wonderful mom. I really have relived my life again. I've got Sarah. One of the triplets, when she got to around 18 had a real lot of mental traumas.... on her and at first just became a little bit withdrawn and then really suffered quite bad mental health problems.
As much as I've achieved, I felt completely helpless because I couldn't help my little girl. There was nothing I could do. Everybody was the enemy, the world. It was as if something had taken over her eventually. She was dangerous to herself and everybody else. She was sectioned which is a horrendous thing to have to go through both yourself and for your parents.
Thankfully, she responded and she's on the mend now. She's left hospital and she's at University. She's doing really well with her degree. She's still being helped. She's not out of the woods completely but having gone through that, I've got a whole understanding of what it's like for especially young people and just how many people out there are struggling. We've always been quite open and this has happened with that. When you are going through it, people tell you they never knew you had problems and a lot of it's behind closed doors. What came across was how these people are suffering on their own and lonely and feeling it shouldn't happen to me, I've got everything I need and oh gosh, I'm a bad person. And this is stigmatism. They feel really lonely.
As part of Lucy's illness, I got very involved with the mental health team who can not reach everybody. They do not have the funding or the staff to reach everybody so what we've done is I feel really passionately about trying to reach especially young people and their family, you're not alone. It's normal for people to have illnesses now and more prevail and not only will you recover, you can go on and have a full and happy life. To that end we're putting an expedition using my skills the last degree the 60 miles in April when the whether is cold but not life threatening and we're going to hopefully take six recovered mental health individuals to the north pole. There will be two clinicians, myself and Caroline's agreed to help me lead it with a mental health team and it's about reaching out there. For me, Lucy will be considered. Everybody who is considered will need to go through a rigorous selection process to make sure they can cope on the ice and that's what I want to do.
We hope to raise three million pounds. More for me, it's reaching out to people who are suffering and you're not alone and it's very prevailing. It's something that is in our society and you can live a great life and recover and that's what I'm up to now.
Sarah: That's absolutely fantastic. I think what you're doing is so important. I think mental health does get stigmatized where it's actually young people need to know that there is support out there.
Your goal to raise three million pounds is absolutely brilliant. If people are listening and want to sponsor or to get more involved or to learn more about what you're doing, is there a website that they can go to?
Ann: I have a website and I would say eventually the link is going to be put on. We're at very early stages so we're still meeting with the clinicians and starting to get the idea going and reaching out to ... We're just getting our own team together at the moment. It's important that it's done right. We won't be leaving until 2017 to make sure that we get the people, they've got enough time to train.