On the 27th December 2013, Welsh born, Maria Leijerstam became the first person in the world to cycle from the edge of the Antarctic continent to the South Pole. The gruelling 500 mile ride also saw Maria set the new World Record for the fastest human powered coast to pole traverse, completing her journey in 10 days, 14hrs and 56 minutes.

Interview with Maria Leijerstam on cycling to the south pole

Name: Maria Leijerstam
Home: Vale of Glamorgan, South Wales
Age: 38
Environment I like most: Snow & Ice
Best place I have visited: Antarctica
Favourite adventure: Extreme, remote, wild, no technology!
Dream adventure: Something with my little girl.
Can’t go on an adventure without? My toothbrush (cut in half to save weight obviously!!)

How did your South Pole cycle expedition come about?

Whilst cycling the length of New Zealand. I was cycle fit and found out no one had every cycled to the South Pole so I thought I’d give it a go! After all it would be a World First and the only Polar World First to be held by a woman in history.

cccHow did you plan it, where did you start and how did you find sponsors?

It all began on google! It took my 4 years to plan. I spoke to American Scientists based in Antarctica, Icelandic expedition specialist, about 1000 companies to try and get sponsorship, two specialist bike companies and my family. I didn’t tell any of my friends or work colleagues about my plans until about 2 weeks before I set off. Secrecy was all in the planning as I know there were others now also attempting to do the same thing!



What did an average day look like for you while doing the South Pole cycle?
I cycled for 17 hours with only a few very short (2/3 min) stops. I slept in a solo hilleberg tent and spent about 3 hours a day on food prep and physical recovery.

What was the most memorable moment of the adventure?
My fascination with the nothingness. Also the Leverett Glacier (3000m Trans Antarctic mountain range) which I cycled up whilst crevasses were opening up on either side of me.


What was the hardest part?
The mountain range at times was a gradient of 25%. That really hurt with my 55kg of kit, my 25kg polar cycle and my 62kg body weight!!! I was determined to cycle every inch of the way so some places that would have been easier to tow the polar cycle I stuck with it and cycled. My thighs and acute knee pain were screaming at me for 10 days.

What is the Antartica like?
White, Cold, Empty, Eerie, Bleak, Endless, fascinating, addictive.


What would you say is the factor that sets you apart from other people, that drove you to turn your dream into a reality and become a record breaking adventurer
Either you have it or you don’t. I love Type 2 fun (Not fun at the time but the rewards afterwards are phenomenal) It doesn’t suit everyone. I also have a very high pain threshold so can put up with more than most. I also love the feeling of uncertainty, being scared and unsure if I can do something. It’s what makes me feel alive. 


What advice would you give your 10 year old self?
Give everything a go. Nothing is forever so don’t be scared to make a bold decision.

What next?!
Too much! The Burn Series Adventure Races that I organise her in South Wales that anyone can get involved in. I’m also looking to cycle the Haute Route in August. I want to go to the North Pole. Traverse Mongolia by LandRover/Bike/Kayak with my fiancé and daughter (Who is 16 months old) in the next few years.


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