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Row, Row, Row Your Boat To Antarctica


The last time we talked to Colin O'Brady, he was sitting in a tent on a glacier in Antarctica. He was waiting to be picked up, having just become the first person to trek solo across the icy continent completely unassisted. Now Brady has found a new challenge. Next month, he hopes to be part of a team aiming to be the first to row unaided from Cape Horn at the tip of South America to Antarctica.

Colin O'Brady joins us now from Portland, Ore. Welcome.

COLIN O'BRADY: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what, you just didn't get enough of Antarctica the last time?


O'BRADY: Yeah, you know? That time, I was crossing in the interior of the continent, but this time going back to Antarctica in a completely new way - this time in a rowboat across Drake Passage, which is, you know, known to be one of the most treacherous seafaring passages in the world - the convergence of the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Southern Ocean.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, I've seen some terrifying footage from some of the waters down there, and it's six to eight hundred miles across some pretty rough seas.

O'BRADY: Yeah. You know, we're expecting to see, you know, as big as, you know, 30-, 40-, maybe even 50-foot waves. Our boat is pretty small and completely human-powered - so open hull rowboat, 29 feet long, about 4 feet wide. So a 30-, 40-foot wave in that little of a boat would be quite dramatic, to say the least.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've read that up until a few months ago, you had never even rowed a boat. Is that true?

O'BRADY: (Laughter) That is indeed true. You know, I have kind of this curiosity of, you know, pushing my own limits and, you know, discovering the potential that lives inside of me. And I always like to say I think the muscle that's the most important is actually the six inches between our ears.

And so it's kind of a curiosity around mindset of taking, you know, the expertise that I've gained in, you know, world-record-setting expeditions around the world - the mindset, the perseverance, the endurance required in that - but taking it into a completely new medium. But I've teamed up with an incredible group of guys, all who have different levels of expertise, and some really, you know, accomplished ocean rowers in that team.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it easier when you're part of a team? I mean, before, you were by yourself.

O'BRADY: After doing something solo, you know, I wanted to take on the challenge of a team dynamic. You know, in a lot of ways, there's some benefits, obviously. The loneliness isn't there. You have camaraderie, all of that. But also, there's challenges in really having to, you know, harness the power of a team.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How long do you expect it to take?

O'BRADY: It's going to take most of the month of December, and it's a - it's pretty exciting. You know, we've got it set up so that people can come along for the ride. We've kind of invested in a bunch of satellite technology in a partnership with Discovery, and so we'll be able to actually send live content from this row every single day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow. And are you worried?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I'm worried for you.

O'BRADY: You know, I prepare for these things really well. You know, it's not like - I'm not, like, haphazardly going into this. I know we joked before that I've never rowed a boat, but obviously, I've been really hard training, you know, my body, my mind - all the technical training. So the preparation is there.

You know, you can never fully control Mother Nature. That's for sure. And you know, going into a situation where there's going to be massive waves and swells and icebergs as we get close to Antarctica certainly is - will be harrowing, to say the least. But you know, I try to not focus too much on the fear - all the things that can go wrong - but rather prepare myself and be able to adapt when the things do inevitably get hard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just finally, what does your family say when you told them, hey, you know what? I haven't had enough. I'm heading back south.

O'BRADY: You know, I'm fortunate. My wife Jenna - we build these projects together. We dream them up together. She's really the backbone of everything that we do and create, and so she has undying support.

My mother - wonderful woman that she is, a huge inspiration for me in my life - but people interview her and ask her that question - you know, are you afraid? And she goes, you know, careful what you wish for when you tell their kids when they're young, you know, they can do everything they set their mind to. So she's proud of me. But also, she's a mother, and she's obviously nervous and will be happy when I return safely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Colin O'Brady plans to depart Chile next month. We wish you all the best, and thanks for speaking with us.

O'BRADY: Appreciate it. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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