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Ben Fogle vs Mother Nature


Ben Fogle vs Mother Nature
Ben Fogle first exploded onto the survivalist scene as the star of BBC series Castaway 2000. 13 years later, he’s riding a camel, commando. “The desert is unforgiving; I wish I had worn pants”, he laughs, recalling the time he followed in the footsteps of legendary British adventurer Sir Wilfred  Thesiger, crossing a brutal stretch of Middle Eastern desert. “We did it authentically, wearing original clothes as worn by Thesiger. He didn’t wear undergarments and neither did I. But chafing aside, the trek across the Empty Quarter of Oman was the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done because it was a lifelong ambition.”

The then 40-year-old’s rapid adjustment to the challenging environment shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, considering his varied, outdoorsy early years. “I spent all my summers in Canada at  the cabin my late grandfather handbuilt on a lake. It was an idyllic Swallows And Amazons childhood of tree houses, fishing and raft building. I did a degree in Latin American studies after spending two years living in the colourful continent. I loved it and wanted to learn more. My degree included a one-year overseas programme so I went to Costa Rica. I would recommend Central and South America to anyone.”
A stint on Castaway 2000 followed, in which Fogle and 35 other men, women and children tried to build a community on the Scottish Island of Taransay. It was a hotbed of disagreement, argument and drama but he managed to rise above it, becoming one of the stars of the show. “I applied for Castaway 2000 because I was looking for an excuse for adventure”, he says. “I liked the idea of spending a whole year marooned on a remote island. The experience was life changing in every sense. It taught me so many life skills that still serve me today.”

The social experiment ended a year later and back in London, the TV presenting jobs came flooding in. But with adventuring clearly in his blood, Ben sought another challenge and decided to take part in the Marathon des Sables (MdS). This epic six-day race, known as the toughest footrace in the world, takes runners around 240 kilometres (150 miles) through the Sahara Desert. Those taking part have to contend with scorching heat, terrible blisters and sand storms. Despite this, Ben managed to finish the race in less than 60 hours. “Anyone who has raced the MdS will know there are points when you want to give up, but it’s not so easy in the middle of the Sahara”, he explains. “You can’t just jump on a bus.”
Having conquered the Sahara Desert, two years later Ben entered the epic Atlantic Rowing Race with former Olympic rower James Cracknell. The pair crossed the 4,717 kilometres (2,931 miles) in 49 days, 19 hours and eight minutes, finishing second overall in the pairs classification. “I was looking for a challenge to make me stronger”, he says. “I applied for the Atlantic Rowing Race and then set about finding myself a rowing partner. We spent a year getting ready for it. It was a grueling experience, we capsized and nearly drowned but, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Not content with rowing all the way across the second biggest ocean on the planet, the harsh Antarctic was Fogle’s next challenge, once again teaming up with James Cracknell to take on the Race To The Pole, a team event that transports competitors to the southernmost tip of the planet. “Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest place on Earth,” Fogle recalls. “It’s a desolate, tough, unforgiving environment. We trained in Norway with the Marines and on a Swiss glacier with personal trainer Bernie Shrosbree. We had to bulk up before the race and take 5,000 calories of food per day for the race itself. The kit is essential to survival and we took advice from people who had previously trekked in Antarctica. The most important thing to remember is never sweat. Sweat and you die. It’s difficult to race and not sweat.”
In recent years there’s been no avoiding a spot of perspiration, as his series Extreme Dreams took him to the jungles and mountains of South America and Africa, and his latest show Storm City investigates the effects of our planet’s extreme weather. “One of the hardest things I have to face on my trips is disease and poverty”, he says. “I still hate to see suffering in the world. It makes me feel guilty for what I have. Having said that, my job allows me to explore the world and meet incredible people.”
As someone who’s visited most of the hostile places on Earth, there aren’t many options left for his next extreme expedition, but he’s got a spot in mind. “The Moon. Watch this space.”

Ben Fogle vs Mother Nature