HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Daniel Burton says he is not a super athlete and, in fact, was frequently picked last on the playground sports scene as a child — but that didn’t stop him from completing an athletic feat no none had ever done before.
Burton was a featured speaker at a Friday afternoon TEDx event at Hill Air Force Base.
In January, the Saratoga Springs resident became the first person on record to travel across Antarctica to the South Pole by bicycle.
Burton’s expedition began at the edge of the Antarctic continent and traveled about 750 miles south to the South Pole.
Aside from the mental exhaustion one would expect to encounter biking across Earth’s most unforgiving continent, Burton also had to battle prevailing headwinds, extreme cold, crevasses and sharp, irregular grooves and ridges that formed on the arctic snow surface while climbing from sea level to over 9,000 feet.
Burton’s 51-day trip to the 9,300-foot South Pole Summit was all uphill, with temperatures as cold as 35 degrees below zero, with a headwind.
Burton’s early calculations during the expedition told him he wouldn’t have enough time to reach the South Pole by a deadline he needed to meet for when the last plane left Antarctica for a while.
But weather changes hardened the snow he was traveling on, allowing Burton to start accruing miles in a rapid fashion.
“Now I can actually start making better progress,” he said.
“I got to where I was getting 15 miles a day, then 24 miles a day, and I could see the South Pole. I started getting better and better mileage every day.”
Burton encountered plenty of challenges along his trip. Whiteout conditions had him traveling in circles many times, and miles into his journey, Burton’s rear wheel broke.
“It would have been really easy at that point to say, ‘I’m done,’ ” he said.
“But I had determined before I left, there was no way I was going to quit. The mental preparation was just as important as the physical.”
Burton was able to repair the wheel with materials he had on hand and trudge forward, reaching the South Pole in late January.
So why on earth would he subject himself to elements so severe?
In part, Burton said, because he loves a challenge — and the appeal of doing something that has never been done before was too great to pass up.
But he also wanted to use the expedition as a way to promote healthful living.
Burton says the world is facing an obesity crisis — with most people living a physically easy life compared with even our most recent ancestors.
He said food is relatively cheap, labor is relatively easy, and entertainment is becoming less and less physical.
Burton said everyone should exercise, but sustaining a program is nearly impossible unless the exercise is enjoyable.
For Burton, nothing is more enjoyable than pedaling his bike constantly forward.
Burton says that nearly a quarter-century working as a computer programmer left him overweight, out of shape and with a host of health problems.
Burton took up mountain biking, which he says saved his life. He opened a bike shop after getting laid off from his computer programmer job and has been focused on getting people on bikes ever since.
He has started the South Pole Epic Legacy Project, a nonprofit charity that aims to get quality bikes into the hands of teenagers.
“I used the South Pole to improve my life, and I am using my life to improve the world,” he said.
The TEDx events are independently organized conferences that take place throughout the world and are modeled after the popular Technology, Entertainment, Design conferences that address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling.
Friday’s event at Hill also featured information about Internet filter bubbles, ways to teach children about healthful eating, and a presentation from Weber State University physics professor John E. Sohl about the sun and its role in Earth’s human population capacity.