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All Expeditions Share These Three Phases - Preparatory Phase

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

Most people who join a professionally organized expedition tend to think of it as one big event that has a start date and an end date. Simply put, you show up, you bust your butt to achieve your goal, and you go home. But the reality is that every expedition has a trio of phases, each with its own unique challenges, rewards, and importantly, opportunities for growth. Understanding these phases will redefine the way you think about the expedition and help you make the most of your experience.

An expedition's first phase is the Preparatory Phase and it starts the moment you commit to the expedition. It can be the most exciting phase as you anticipate the adventure ahead and plan for success. At its core this stage focuses on educating yourself about the expedition, defining your objectives, your physical training, your emotional readiness, familiarization with your gear and your travel plans.

A list used for South Pole Last Degree preparations
Lists are a big part of the Preparation Phase

In the beginning the Preparatory Phase can feel like a big empty slate that's waiting to be filled in. Are you ready to recognize the potential that exists in any adventure of this magnitude? Now's the time to think about the "big picture" benefits that are possible. You may decide that you want to use the expedition as a way to bring attention to a cause, or perhaps you need a plan of action to find sponsors. Maybe you're doing the expedition just for sport or to experience a place of which you have always dreamed. Now's a good time to outline some initial goals and loosely define your objectives. For example, identifying that you want to take time every day to witness the beauty of where you are can help you think about ways to make this happen. Or if you're longing to feel a connection with a place you can create a plan to learn as much as possible about it in the months or weeks before you depart.

A man pulls a tire to train for a South Pole Last Degree Ski Expedition
A good tire-pulling routine will help you train your sled-hauling muscles and develop some important muscle memory.

Training is a BIG part of the Preparatory Phase. When making your training regimen consider the specific demands of your expedition (here are Five things I always keep in mind). Additional training tips include the following:

  • Pay attention to your body while you train and listen to what it's telling you. How long can you go before you need a snack break or water break? How long does it take you to get back into a rhythm after a break? What happens on days when you miss a meal, sleep poorly or have a lot of stress?

  • Train in all weather conditions, not only when it's a nice day. Train when you are tired or hungry. We call this Training Outside The Box, it will pay off!

  • If you have any chronic issues (tendonitis, sore knees or elbows, etc.) check in with a physical therapist to learn stretches and taping techniques that will support these trouble spots during the expedition.

  • Don't forget to care for all parts of your body that will carry you through the expedition. Visit your dentist (there's nothing worse than having a toothache on an expedition) and consider ordering some prescription goggles if you wear glasses or contacts.

  • If you're working with a personal trainer, have them reach out to PolarExplorers. We can share the specifics of the expedition and help your trainer fine tune your workouts.

  • When breaking-in your gear try to simulate the actual use of it. Can you use your zippers when wearing your mitts? Do you need longer zipper pulls? What other gear adjustments and modifications should you consider before you depart?

  • Simulate your tent space by marking off a 6ft x 2.5ft rectangle on your floor with tape. Practice laying out your sleeping pads and going to bed within the confines of this rectangle. Where will you put everything? How will you prepare for sleep? What will go in your sleeping bag? What will you use as a pillow? What items can be left outside in your sled?

  • Also practice waking up in the morning. Where will your essential morning items live so that they are not frozen in the morning (glasses/contacts, gloves, socks, boot liners, etc.)?

  • How familiar are you with your Pee bottle? Practice makes perfect!

  • Don't underestimate the flexibility that's required to climb in and out of a tent several times a day or the amount of bending over, kneeling down and standing up that you'll do on an hourly basis. Yoga is a great way to prepare your body for these demands.

A sleeping bag and gear for a North Pole Last Degree Expedition
Practice using your tent space wisely. Taping out a space of your floor can show the approximate tent dimensions.

The Preparatory Phase is a great time for family and friends to be a part of your journey. Ask them to train with you. Have them make a few playlists for when you need motivation or relaxation tunes. Look to them for audio book recommendations and written words of encouragement that you can tuck into your pockets. As the expedition approaches make sure you've arranged the care of your loved ones, including pets, to your satisfaction so that you can be present during the expedition and not worried about things falling apart at home. There are plenty of ways to do this. PE Guide Keith Heger arranges to have flowers delivered to his wife during each of his expeditions to thank her for her support (guys, this is a GREAT idea!)

An image of a play list used for polar expedition training
My daughters make me training playlists to help me get ready and to be a part of my adventure.

Finally, how will you record your experiences during the expedition? Will you keep a journal? It takes considerable effort to write in a journal every evening but having a record of your experiences is an incredible gift to your future self. If you don't have that commitment, consider making voice memos (super easy with a voice memo app) or simply jotting down a few words; maybe one word to sum up the emotions of the day and another to remind you of specific events. Create a plan that makes recording your experience both a priority and, at a minimum, a simple action you can do every day. Tip: Start your journal now, during the Preparatory Phase, even if it's only one entry every few weeks. The vast majority of emotions you're having now will be forgotten after the expedition. Get into the habit while you're still at home and it will be that much easier during your expedition.

An image of a person with King Penguins in foreground, South Georgia Island
Shackleton Crossing, South Georgia Island. How will you record the expeiences of your expedition?

What are your priorities in the months leading up to your adventures? Do you have any tips or recommendations that help you prepare? We'd love to hear from you!

Read about the Expeditionary Phase here.


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