Dan Burton: Antarctic pioneer

Dan Burton: Antarctic pioneer

(Courtesy of Dan Burton)

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EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Some people reward themselves with a motorcycle for their 50th birthday. Others reward themselves with a vacation. Dan Burton of Eagle Mountain rewarded himself with an expedition to the South Pole. In total, he spent 51 days battling grueling winds and debilitating cold in an effort to ride a bicycle from Hercules Inlet at the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole interior. Looking back, he has the marks of frostbite and a memory that will last a lifetime.

Dan Burton is a bicycle shop keeper in Saratoga Springs, Utah. He opened his bike shop, Epic Biking, to sell a few bikes and get more people into cycling. Burton's obsession with cycling started years ago while working as a computer programmer. He was out of shape and realized he needed a lifestyle change if he was going to stick around for his wife and four children.

Burton became an avid cyclist, often riding from his home in Eagle Mountain to work in Provo. His morning and evening commute around Utah Lake was a starting point for his endurance preparation. Cutting through trails in the mountain canyons helped strengthen his legs for his eventual epic adventure to the South Pole.

It wasn't until Burton bought a "fat bike" in the winter of 2012 and rode across frozen Utah Lake, however, that the thought occurred to ride a bike to the South Pole. Some people have ideas, others execute them. Burton has always been an executor of ideas, whether it was through inventing and patenting, opening a bicycle shop, or embarking on a life-changing ride across the most formidable landscape in the world.

After nearly a year of preparation, Burton boarded an airplane to Punta Arenas, Chile. Despite plenty of dissuasion, Burton was executing his idea. While his biggest fans, family and friends thought his idea was "cool," even his most ardent supporters now tell him, "We thought you were going to die out there."

Two weeks were spent in Punta Arenas before the weather cleared enough to fly to Antarctica. His two-week layover in Chile narrowed the already small summer riding window in Antarctica. On Dec. 2, 2013, Burton arrived at Hercules Inlet with hundreds of thousands of pedal cranks ahead of him. The first one was the easiest — it all went downhill (figuratively speaking) from there in his trek to the most southern spot on earth.

For 10 days, Burton rode on his Borealis fat bike. Even a five-inch tire mounted on a 26-inch wheel struggled in the soft snow and headwinds Burton encountered. Pulling a 150-pound sled loaded with supplies through powdery snow in perpetual ascension toward the polar plateau, he prayed things would "level off a bit." He cranked onward day after day, averaging only six miles per day for the first 10 days. Burton knew when he left that his epic journey was going to be difficult, but nothing could prepare him for the welcome Antarctica had in store.

After day 10, Burton called his wife on an Iridium satellite phone and told her he probably wouldn't be able to make it to the South Pole. He told her he was going to travel as far as he could, but he feared he was going to be the guy who tried riding to the South Pole with punch, but no follow-through. Climbing from sea level to over 9,000 feet, he began realizing he wasn't alone. Even though he could see no one and could hear no one, Burton kept a prayer in his heart — and his mind. Burton said he was constantly "biking and praying with God."

Antarctica's frozen landscape was devoid of contrast, even when the slightest bit of cloud-cover rolled in. The lack of contrast made everything appear exactly the same. Even the snow under Burton's front tire lacked contrast. The hue-less landscape made obstacles invisible — leading to several dangerous moments during the expedition.

Just a few days into his ride, Burton stepped off his bicycle, directly into a crevasse. As he began dropping into the crevasse, he hooked his arms on his bike. He managed to pull himself up and extricate himself from the chasm — a fissure in the ice that could have been hundreds to thousands of feet deep. Burton will never know how deep the crevasse actually was. He was too shaken and scared to crawl back out to its edge and look.

He was studying German, and as he traveled, the Book of Mormon in German played on a continual loop through his headphones. Burton laughed as he reflected back and said, "I think I have the Book of Mormon memorized in German." In addition to his Deutsch scriptures, he also had audio versions of the English Book of Mormon and Bible playing. He listened to the iPod to break the silent void that was Antarctica and to draw inspiration to keep going.

Burton struggled with the idea of riding on Sundays before leaving for Antarctica. He knew he would be hard-pressed to make it to the South Pole. On that first polar Sunday, he decided he would "take it easy." He immediately learned there was no "taking it easy" in Antarctica. A 40-mph headwind and soft snow made it impossible to ride forward. He abandoned his ride that Sunday and set up camp. On the second Sunday, there were whiteout conditions. Burton ultimately decided that like Mormon pioneers, he would rest on Sunday. To make up the missed travel time, he rode longer on Saturdays and Mondays. Burton said the decision to not ride on Sundays actually aided his journey because it allowed his body time to rejuvenate itself and recover. Riding 13 hours a day, every day of the week, didn't afford recovery time for his body. Resting on the Sabbath was the blessing his body needed.

Although Burton's family was in another hemisphere, thousands of miles away, he felt they were always close to him. His wife and four children were in his heart. His youngest son Myron, who leaves for his LDS mission to Barcelona, Spain, in August, asked him for his Borealis bicycle as his "inheritance." Burton still doesn't know what to think about Myron asking him for his inheritance *before* he left for Antarctica. Burton's daughter Carissa, was serving an LDS mission in Croatia. His oldest son Stephan was finishing his Ph.D. in Michigan, and his daughter Danae was working as a social worker, working with children during the epic ride. Burton's wife Media, kept the family together as he rode.

More than 600 miles of riding left Burton's body low on energy. His supplies were dwindling and he still had 100 miles to go. With the end so close, yet so far, Burton could only think, "What if I'm the guy who makes it within 100 miles of the South Pole, but can't quite make it?" The thought was debilitating, but the fear of failure drove him on. He kept pedaling and after 51 days of riding and with only 13 more miles to go, the buildings at the South Pole began breaking up the white, barren landscape. Burton had already missed Thanksgiving (spent in Chile), his 50th birthday (on his second day of riding in Antarctica), his wedding anniversary, Christmas, New Years, his wife's birthday, and his son's birthday. At least he would make it home in time for Groundhog Day, he told himself.

Reaching the South Pole marker made Burton think, "How great is my joy!" More than 700 miles of riding while pulling his 150 pound sled had exhausted him physically, but mentally he felt strong. Pedal after pedal of clarity helped Burton formulate an idea for a charity to provide bicycles for children and increase their physical activity. Burton plans to host workshops and teach kids to ride. As they progress in their enthusiasm for riding, first learning on pavement, then dirt, and eventually in the mountains, they will earn their own bicycle.

Burton became the first explorer to truly ride a bicycle to the South Pole. Two other cycling expeditions to the South Pole started this year. One woman rode a special tricycle on a heavily traveled, packed road with constant support from an accompanying truck. She only managed 300 miles — less than half the distance Burton rode from Hercules Inlet. A man from Spain traveled the same route, but used skis to aid his excursion. Most of his trip was done on skis — pulling his bicycle, rather than riding it (a much easier method). The man from Spain also skied exclusively during the first 10 days, never riding his bike during the hardest part of the journey. Many people have skied to the South Pole, but Dan Burton of Eagle Mountain, became the first person to ride a bicycle on the record-recognized route from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole — more than 725 miles. He did it by relying on strong legs, endurance, faith, and his refusal to accept failure as an option.

Since Burton's return from Antarctica, he has been interviewed by several media outlets, including National Geographic. He is working on a movie documentary and book recounting his epic ride and adventure. Those interested in donating to Burton's charity, can reach him at Epic Biking in Saratoga Springs. Also, check out his blog: epicsouthpole.blogspot.com. If you have an inspirational story you would like shared in an LDS Life article, please email the author. Matt Schauerhamer may be reached at mattschauerhamer@gmail.com.


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