To the South Pole
French explorer Matthieu Tordeur has achieved a lot in a short amount of time. Aged just 26, he’s already sailed from the Caribbean to the UK, run through the Sahara Desert, and cycled across Africa, Europe and Asia. Last year, he became the youngest member to ever be accepted into the French Explorer’s Society.
Matthieu has just set off on his biggest trip to date: to ski from the coast of the Antarctic continent to the South Pole, alone and unsupported (#fuelledbyFirepot). This would make him the first French person to achieve the feat, skiing for 50 days in temperatures of -50C. We catch up with him as he finishes his last-minute packing.
Describe a single place that means something to you, and why.
I grew up near Paris, but I’d spend every summer at my grandparents’ house by the sea in Brittany. It’s very similar to the Cotswolds with its cottage box houses and little villages, but it also has amazing sandy coastlines where I’d play with my brothers and sisters. We’d run along the beach or sail out on the water in our little dingy. It always seemed to rain, but those wet days hold the best memories.
What keeps you up at night?
Antarctica. I can lie awake for hours thinking about it. I’ve been dreaming of going since I was a boy and now that it’s finally about to happen, my mind has gone into overdrive. Even just talking about it feels unreal.
Are you a man to play by society's rules?
Yes and no. Extreme expeditions aren’t exactly part of society’s rulebook, but at the same time, a huge part of exploring is preparation. I spend more time than you can imagine with excel spreadsheets; planning trips, admin, budgets, promotions. My day-to-day is very normal, I just happen to be working towards a very abnormal goal.
In 2013, Matthieu travelled round the world to promote entrepreneurship and microfinance: the provision of financial support to people without easy access to bank services
What does 'progress' mean to you?
I think progress is linked to freedom — the freedom to do what you want, and to be financially independent. Without freedom, society can never progress.
Is social media important?
Social media is a double edged sword. It wouldn’t be strategic not to use it — especially at 26, I’m part of a generation that uses it instinctively. It’s great for promoting trips, fundraising and reaching a wider audience. It also allows me to share my journey with supporters. But at the same time, I struggle with the fakeness sometimes found online. You have to be very conscious of the message you’re putting out and the way your followers perceive it. As an English-speaking Frenchman, I also want to appeal to my French supporters without alienating my English-speaking supporters and vice versa. It’s a tight balancing act.
You can only pick one superpower: Invisibility or flying?
Easy: flying. I always feel like invisibility suggests you have something to hide. Also, imagine just opening your window and flying off to work.
What three things do you need to survive in the Sahara Desert?
A compass, water and a shesh (a long scarf you can wrap around your nose and head). Or — if I could — I’d take a map with all the wells mapped out so I wouldn’t have to carry water. The Sahara is an incredibly intense environment. I’ve biked across it, from Egypt to Sudan, and also ran part of it during the Marathon Des Sables. I don’t recommend going in August; it’s hot beyond belief. We’d spend all afternoon lying in the shade, unable to move, then push on in the early hours when temperatures were still at +40 degrees.
Is there an occasion you regret?
I make the choices I have to at the time I need to and try not to dwell on the past.
What trait would you change about yourself if you could?
Trying to constantly outdo myself. I think this is one a lot of adventurers can relate to. We push ourselves to attempt the impossible, and then when we reach that goal, we start thinking about the next ‘impossible’, which is always bigger and harder. I’m proud of my achievements, of course, but as soon as I finish one trip I can’t help but think of the next. I guess I’d like to feel a bit more content about what I’ve already achieved.
Hot or cold?
This might be the hardest question of all. In the Sahara, I despised the heat; when I was training in Svalbard, I cursed the cold. I suppose in a cold desert you have an unlimited supply of water if you have fuel. But equally, the cold numbs you so that you no longer feel pain, which can become fatal very quickly. Let’s talk about this when I’m back from the South Pole, I’m sure I’ll have a different answer then...
What do you never travel without?
A smile. Smiling is your passport to the world; it unites people when language can’t. It can open the door to people’s homes, encourages camaraderie and can even get you out of a tight situation with the police. Turn up to a new country with a smile on your face and you’ll see what a difference it can make.
If you could time travel, where would you go?
I’d definitely go back to the 19th century. It was the age of the explorer, when there were still so many places to discover. I would have loved to have been in Scott’s team exploring Antarctica for the first time — or actually, Amundson's, since he didn’t die on the way back.
Matthieu Tordeur was #fuelledbyfirepot during his training expedition in Svalbard. He will be taking a range of Firepot meals as he attempts to be the first French person to ski solo to the South Pole.