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One hell of an extreme challenge
Commando Joe campaign manager Adrian Bell
Commando Joe campaign manager Adrian Bell
Last updated: 02 December 2004 1301 GMT
line Commando Joe's campaign manager Adrian Bell tells us about the three extreme challenges the group are going to take on over the next three years...
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Commando Joe will be taking part in three rather extreme challenges over the next three years to raise money for the Meningitis Trust.

In 2005, the team will be heading for the Arctic circle where they'll be taking part in the Polar Challenge - a 350 mile foot race in sub zero conditions.

In 2006, they will be taking on the Atlantic Challenge - an attempt to row 2,800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in less than 55 days.

Finally, in 2007, they'll be taking on the infamous Marathon Des Sables - a 151 mile foot race across the Sahara desert.

Adrian Bell interviewed

We caught up with campaign manager Adrian Bell at a recent fund-raising event for Commando Joe in Cheltenham. He explained exactly what the team have lined up for themselves over the next three years...


Adrian, what exactly is Commando Joe?

Adrian Bell

Commando Joe is a group of four ex-army lads, all commando trained. They've come together with a common cause - one of their members, Pete Rowlands, lost his son to Meningitis last year at the age of 16, and he really wanted to do something to remember Gareth [Pete's son] and also to thank the Meningitis Trust for all their support they gave him and his wife after Gareth's death. We came up with the idea of three extreme challenges over three years, things which really physically tax us, mentally taxing - things that not everyone has the chance to do. So we came up with the idea of racing to the North Pole, rowing across the North Atlantic and finishing off with a super marathon through the Sahara desert. The Polar Challenge is the first one, to take place in 2005, followed by the Atlantic Challenge in 2006 and finishing off with the Sahara in 2007.


What sort of equipment will they need to take on the first challenge?

Polar Equipment

Firstly, the skis are quite striking. They're very narrow, very different from your normal downhill skis and designed, really, for speed and ease of movement over the ice, with the binding only at the front so it allows full leg movement. Moving onto the equipment which they'll be taking with them, particularly the clothing, a very thin, surprisingly thin, outer covering. That's really designed to stop the wind - the idea is that all the team-members generate enough heat by the exertion of moving over the ice, some quite difficult ice in places, so they don't actually need a very thick layer on top of them - it's mainly to keep out the wind. Then we've got the pulk, it's a bit like a kid's sled in a way. It's an orange plastic tray but this is what each team member will have to carry behind him. When it's fully laden it'll be 90 kilos in weight and they have to pull that each day over the 320 miles to the North Pole so we're looking at probably taking 17 or 18 days to get there and hopefully be the first.


What sort of conditions will they face on the way to the Pole?

Obviously it's very cold, down to -40 perhaps -60 with the wind chill, and that'll be the first thing that people won't be used to. It's three times as cold as a domestic freezer so it's intensely cold. The other exciting thing is the Polar Bears! The North Pole has the highest population of Polar Bears in the world and so the team will be equipped with rifles in case they need to defend themselves against these bears.


Quite an impressive array of equipment that they'll have to haul with them then.

Absolutely. It's all been very carefully tested obviously, with people like Sir Ranulph Fiennes [and] Mike Stroud - they've already been to the Pole, they know it works. So they're perfectly safe in doing it but it's still impressive and there's still a lot of equipment to take with them to keep them safe, to keep them warm. April 2005 we start that one.


The Atlantic Challenge in 2006 is another massive endeavour, what can you tell us about the boat they'll be travelling across the ocean in?

The boat is 30ft and about 7ft wide. It's not a big space for four people to have to spend maybe up to two months in as they row across the Atlantic. The way we're aiming to do it is that there'll be two people rowing at any one time for those 55 days or so, [that's] the record we're aiming to break in doing the crossing. So two people rowing on [for] two hours, two having a break, and that's going to be it for 55 days.


The living quarters, there's one at either end of the boat. They look pretty small, about two metres in length and two metres wide. There's not much room there...

The boat for the Atlantic Crossing

That's right. We don't really refer to them as living quarters because the idea is that the team will be pretty much out on the deck for most of the race. What is important is that they're watertight so they'll be able to store all the food and all the equipment they'll need for that voyage. And some water, we aim to have an emergency supply of water onboard in case our water machine breaks down, and it's important that all that sort of stuff is kept watertight Obviously the hatches are big enough to get into and, if there's a particularly bad storm, the team will be able to take refuge in there. We're expecting that it'll be a less than comfortable voyage for the four of them.


What sort of safety features does the boat have?

It is very stormy [the North Atlantic] and we are expecting some big waves, and possibly even icebergs when we set out in June 2006. So it's important that the team is as safe as they can be and clearly we'll have a lot of safety equipment onboard - navigational beacons, life rafts and that sort of thing. The most likely thing that can happen in a storm is that the boat hits a particularly big wave and turns over. The self-righting is simply designed that, should the crew be thrown out [of the boat], then at least the boat is able to right itself and they're able to get back into it as quickly as possible.


Again this is another massive challenge. They'll be rowing over a distance of around 2,800 miles - is that correct?

That's correct. Actually the Atlantic Challenge was the first challenge we intended to undertake. Originally it was going to be in 2005 but then the race was put back a year so we could get a new boat, and get it tested - that was when the idea of the Polar Challenge came in as a stopgap measure, if you like. So there's still an awful lot to do before 2006 - fund-raising, equipping the boat and that sort of thing. We're not expecting these 2,800 miles to be easy but it's certainly an impressive challenge. It's something to think about that, in actual fact, more people have climbed to the top of Everest than have rowed an ocean. It's a very elite club they'll be joining.


The boat itself also has a local Gloucestershire connection doesn't it?

It has. One of the designers lives just the other side of Gloucester in Little Netherton.


Moving onto the 2007 challenge, a 151 mile race set in the heat of the Sahara Desert. It's another massive extreme challenge isn't it?

Sahara Desert dune

The full name is Marathon des Sables because it's in a French area of the desert and, as you say, it's 151 miles. It's equal to about five or six normal marathons and it's spread over only five or six days so it's a very intense race. Obviously it's not like a normal road race, they'll be running through desert - shifting sands, shifting dunes and extremely hot weather. Again, the competitors have to carry their equipment with them. Not water but all the other equipment they need so their tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment [will be] all carried on their back. It's tough going.


I expect there are some nasty little creatures to look out for in the desert too...

I think so. The rest of the team will know about that, having done their desert commando training and so on but it's the things like scorpions climbing into you sleeping bag or into your boots, not checking them in the morning before you put them on that's the worse thing.


Three very impressive and tough challenges in store for the team then.

Yes. Three years and we'll be done!

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