Joe will be taking part in three rather extreme challenges over the
next three years to raise money for the Meningitis Trust.
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.
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.
in 2007, they'll be taking on the infamous Marathon Des Sables -
a 151 mile foot race across the Sahara desert.
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?
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?
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?
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
Quite an impressive array of equipment that they'll have to haul
with them then.
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?
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...
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
What sort of safety features does the boat have?
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
Again this is another massive challenge. They'll be rowing over
a distance of around 2,800 miles - is that correct?
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
The boat itself also has a local Gloucestershire connection doesn't
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
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...
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
Three years and we'll be done!
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