Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Londoners love to stretch their city limits but some go further than others – we tracked down postman Barry Payne who finds that early mornings pounding cold pavements are all just part of the prep for polar expeditions.
Like thousands of Londoners, despite living all his life in the city, Barry connected with wilderness through a parent. His mother is from Dalmellington in Scotland, on the edge of the Galloway National Park, and so most of his school holidays were spent exploring the hills and surrounding fields and streams of this beautiful area.
Barry’s dad was also very much a hill walker and an outdoor lover. “From a very young age, he would take me to the hills of Scotland, the Lakes and Wales. As I got older, we would go rock climbing, starting out at indoor walls in London, and then later doing outdoor climbs in Snowdonia.”
Then, one day, something happened that made Barry think bigger.
“I've always been a very active person, having trekked around the world and climbed a few mountains, but never anything too big. Then, I came across a guy called Ben Saunders. I have always been into big expeditions and adventures - but through books and TV, and never dreamt that one day I’d be on one of these crazy adventures!”
Ben Saunders fired Barry’s imagination when he was leading the Scott Expedition, the longest human-powered polar journey in history, and the first completion of the Antarctica expedition that defeated Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton.
With his passion for extreme polar travel fully ignited, Barry sought out an expedition company dedicated to training like-minded people and getting them to cross snow, ice and frozen seas. In April 2019, he crossed Svalbard from East to West, guided by a company called Newland.
“The Svalbard crossing was simply a dream come true. The month before, I was on a training course in Norway with polar explorer Helen Turton, one half of Newland. I was taught everything I would need to feel safe and competent out on the ice for the 11 days it took to cross. But I learned more every day of the journey. I don’t think you ever stop learning.”
Polar expeditions need careful, long-term planning, and Barry already has his sights set on Greenland for 2021, when he will make an icecap crossing. The first stage is a Greenland prep course in Norway this coming January.
“This will be to familiarise ourselves with the equipment that we will be using on the crossing. And it’s the perfect time to meet the team and form bonds. You need complete trust in the team to get you through what will be one hell of a journey.”
The Greenland crossing will take around 28 days and is one of the "Big 3" polar expeditions - North Pole, South Pole and Greenland Crossing. But before Greenland and after the prep course, he’ll be back to Svalbard in April 2020 to ski/climb their highest mountain, Newtontoppen at 1,713 meters.
The trip will last around 12 days in total, but there is a lot more to training than these trips - Barry also drags training tyres around Walthamstow marsh, Hackney Marsh and the Olympic Park, doing over 50km a week.
“Since last year, I haven't stopped training for this. I have slowed down at times, but I’ll always be doing something in preparation. I train mainly by pulling two tyres behind me three times a week, which gets me some very strange looks from people here in London, but it’s important to simulate pulling the pulk (sledge). My worst nightmare is an injury. If we didn’t make the crossing because of bad weather then that is out of our hands, but an injury could become very serious out on the ice, putting the whole team at risk.”
Another key factor, of course, is kit - and Barry doesn’t hold back here either…
“The kit I have is very specific to what I’ll be doing. Everything has to be able to keep me warm down to 30 below, but my most-loved piece of kit is probably my pee bottle. You really don’t want to be going out at night for a pee!”