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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
'The wife knows what I'm doing this time'
David Hempleman-Adams - the first man to reach the geomagnetic North Pole solo on foot, but who didn't tell his wife he was going - has a new challenge. He hopes to cross the Atlantic single-handed in a balloon.

David's trans-Atlantic attempt last September
The Wiltshire-based explorer's first attempt hit technical problems
I'm stranded in Pittsburgh at the moment, waiting for the right weather conditions to guide my open-basket balloon across the ocean. I've been here so long I'm running out of clean clothes - I might have to learn how to use a washing machine.

We hope the flight will coincide with the Special Olympics, being held right now in Dublin. For three weeks we've been waiting for the right weather as ballooning is totally at the mercy of the wind. Unless we have the right weather - for take-off, for tracking out to the East Coast and across the ocean to Europe - it's a non-starter.

A couple of weeks ago we had a lovely track, but it went right over Camp David - President Bush was in residence, and they said 'don't go over or we'll shoot you down'. There's another one this weekend which will take me over the Azores to land in Portugal, so fingers crossed.

Too old for the poles

I got into ballooning because at 46 I'm getting too old to ski and to climb. I'm sure there will be other balloon trips; I don't know if there'll be any more hard ski trips, especially solo ones.

David with a balloon reflected in his sunglasses
I wanted to get back to Phileas Fogg real adventure rather than go hi-tech

Back in 1998, I finished what's known as the Grand Slam - highest mountains and the north and south geographic and magnetic poles.

The last part of that jigsaw, which took me 15 years to do, was the geographic North Pole. On my third attempt, we skied for 10 hours, made six miles progress and drifted back seven. It was -45C and I thought there's got to be an easier way to get to the Pole.

I remembered as a kid reading about a balloon trip to the North Pole, so I did a bit of research on these guys, who in fact all died attempting it back in 1897. I set about trying to recreate that journey.

Fast-forward to 2000, and I set off from Norway in a Roziere balloon [which combines helium and hot air] and got to the Pole and back.

The team was so good that I thought it would be nice to keep together. We've all got proper jobs; we all do adventure part-time and we decided to try the Atlantic in the same balloon.

Everest to climbers is the epitaph to your career; with ballooning it's crossing the Atlantic. Yet few have done it solo, and none of them Brits. They've all done it in much bigger balloons with pressurised gondolas, whereas mine is just an open wicker basket.

I wanted to get back to Phileas Fogg real adventure rather than go hi-tech. What we've done is minimise the risk with up-to-date satellite phones and tracking systems. What we're trying to do is beat the distance record which has been held by the Americans for 12 years now.

You go much slower in a balloon than in an aircraft, so you get more time to look out and see the open water and blue sky - it's just stunningly beautiful. But most of the time I'll be busy checking the weather and logging my position each hour - I don't want to come down in the ocean with nobody knowing where I am. A lot of people have died doing this, so I want to make sure I have a pint of beer when I get home.

'Will flowers do it?'

The basket is eight feet by four; one side is for my sleeping bag, the other for equipment. Just in case I land in the sea, I've got a dinghy and life jacket.

RECORDS HE HOPES TO BEAT
Map of the Atlantic
UK solo distance: 2,294 km
UK record in this type of balloon: 4,823.7 km
World record in this type of balloon: 5,340.2 km (US held)

There's a little stove, but ballooning I just tend to nibble on pork scratchings and chocolate - stuff I love but never normally eat at home.

I took some flak for only telling the wife I was off skiing when I set off for the geomagnetic North Pole in April [during an interview from the Pole, he asked the BBC's John Humphrys if a bunch of flowers would do by way of apology].

The wife knows I'm doing this, I phone her up each day and she knows what's going on this time. But I'm away longer than I thought I would be, so flowers might still be a good thing.


Send your messages to the intrepid explorer using the form below:

Good luck mate, you crashed up our street last time. Drop in for a cuppa next time.
Alex Rose, US (expat)

We cross fingers for good weather on Saturday. Never said "good luck" to you, David, not this time. Just step on it, and be friends with King Wind. This will be really exciting...
Rune Gjeldnes, Norway

Here's to travelling at a more relaxed pace - 4 friends and I cycled from Stoke on Trent to Singapore via Siberia between 2001 and 2002 and managed to see all the places between that you would miss on a plane, train or car. I hope you inspire more people to do likewise.
Toby Wilsdon, England

Cross the fingers, now it is time to climb. Happy flights.
Benoit Simeons, Belgium - European Balloon Corp

Look, the Andes were 23,000 feet, so Atlantic waves should be no problem. Here's to fair winds, David... wish I was there!
Keith Wootton, Carlton TV, UK

Maybe your adventures are not 'good for anything' - but good luck and keep it up! The Phileas Fogg reference caught my eye (and my imagination) - you will have to work very hard indeed to catch up with him. And be sure to get that pint!
Douglas Fear, Germany

Magnificent, I'd happily buy you several beers as long as you tell me more about adventuring.
Alex Keenan, UK

Good luck David from one Hempleman to another!
Mark Hempleman, England

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