In the spring of 2015, Alex Bellini will fly to Greenland, jump on an iceberg, and live there until it melts.
As the chunk of ice floats southward to its thawing doom, he'll witness his new home get smaller and smaller until it is no more and he finds himself adrift in the ocean. He hopes to raise awareness of climate change and global warming, and to draw parallels between his mission and the broader human condition. The main challenge, however, will be finding ways to kill time; he'll be there for up to 12 months, the limit he's set on the task. It sounds tough, but Bellini's got a pretty solid track record when it comes to weird endurance stunts.
Bellini defines himself as an "adventurer." Born in a mountain hamlet in northern Italy, his life wasn't always one of great excitement. In 2001, he was a 20-year-old student in Milan, looking toward a career in banking. But as the prospect of spending his life in that sector began to look more and more concrete, he felt so turned off by the idea that he embarked on quite a drastic diversion: he left for Morocco to run the Marathon des Sables, a 254km race on foot through the Sahara Desert, with virtually no training.
Since then, Bellini has turned his efforts to a string of bold challenges. In 2005, he set out to traverse the Atlantic Ocean in a seven-metre-long rowing boat; in 2008, he doubled-down and rowed across the Pacific (though he had to have some help right at the very end); in 2011, he pulled a Gump and ran from LA to New York in 70 days.
Essentially, he managed to escape the spectre of a desk-bound future and found a way to bring home the bacon hopping from one farfetched feat to another (and moonlighting as a motivational speaker). But the iceberg thing promises to push the envelope even further.
Bellini now lives in the town of Thame, Oxfordshire, in the UK. I caught up with him in a café in Oxford to ask some questions about his upcoming adventure, and we ended up talking about the pendulum of life, shitting in buckets, and self-hypnosis.
Motherboard: First of all, why do you do what you do?
Alex Bellini: When I decided to become an adventurer, I was simply trying to satisfy my inner urge for movement. By moving around, I have realized that it’s not what I do that matters, but what I feel while I’m doing it. And, while I am moving, I come up with much more creative thoughts—not by chance, great thinkers achieve their maximum lucidity when they’re moving. The best answers I’ve found in my life, I’ve found them while I was moving, not by googling them.
So why don’t you just go and have a walk on Main Street? Why do you need to cross an ocean?
Life is like a pendulum: the higher you lift your ambitions, your commitment, the difficulties you’re ready to go through, the higher the reward you’ll get. Meandering on Main Street hardly puts in motion the life pendulum, whereas the sea amplifies everything and gives rise to a great swing of the pendulum.
I see. Could you explain how you made being an adventurer your job?
You need to define “job”. In my opinion, a job is something you can make a living from. I make a living as an adventurer, since there are some sponsors that invest money in my adventures. Many firms fund me because they want me as a brand ambassador who conveys their corporate values in a clear way.
Bellini at the end of his Atlantic row in 2006. Image courtesy of Alex Bellini
How do you choose your sponsors?
When I started this job, I didn’t choose. Beggars can’t be choosers: whatever sponsor came forward, unless it was a gang, I accepted it. Now things have changed and my sponsors have to conform to some fundamental ethical criteria. For example, the iceberg project is aimed at raising public awareness of the issue of global warming, so obviously I can’t be funded by a firm that pollutes the planet recklessly. We haven’t chosen the sponsors yet, but clearly sustainability will be a non-negotiable value.
Right, the iceberg. Explain what you’re up to.
In the spring of 2015, I will descend on an iceberg in Greenland, together with some 300 kilos of dehydrated food, electronic equipment and a survival capsule. Survival capsules are sort of floating Kevlar saucers, four meters in diameter, which are used as lifeboats on oil platforms. I will live in the capsule on the iceberg until it melts—which generally happens within eight months—or up to a maximum of one year. Then, I’ll go adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, inside my capsule again, until I wash ashore.
How will you pick the right iceberg?
I will choose it on the basis of its dimensions and shape. It will have to be tabular, flat, and measuring about 60 by 20 meters.
Why did you decide to go to live on an iceberg?
My objective is reporting and investigating, by means of scientific methods, the entire lifetime of an iceberg. I want to prove how the pace of ice-melting has dramatically accelerated over the last decades. We’ll also play the symbolic card: the adventure of a man floating adrift on an iceberg will come to represent the condition of the whole humankind going adrift on an endangered planet.
But the adventure will also be an occasion to experiment with new technologies. I’m thinking about communications technologies, which I will use to keep in touch with my family and my team, but also energy technologies. For example, my technical equipment will be powered by a rowing machine that will convert my muscular energy into electricity.
Photo by Jonathan Shkurko
Talking about technical equipment, does the survival capsule come with a toilet?
Nope, I’ll use a bucket for that. It’s funny, it has taken me a little bit to realize that the bucket is the best pooing device. When I was crossing the Atlantic, at first I tried to poo jutting out my butt from the boat. Problem was that, when the sea was rough, it kept throwing the stuff back into the boat. At some point I started using the bucket and it worked nicely. Later, I even learned that poo was an excellent bait for fish: every time I emptied the bucket into the sea, hordes of fishes always came, and it was much easier to catch them.
That’s interesting. Let’s go back to you living on the iceberg. What are you going to do all day?
It will be challenging, since there won’t be any significant physical effort involved in this adventure. The task will be exactly that of standing inactivity (and a temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius). I’ll take something to read, of course. In addition, my wife and I enrolled in the psychology program of an online university, the Open University, so we’ll try to study “together” via the internet.
I am interested in exploring the underlying reasons for human behaviors, and the issue of hypnosis. In fact, I am working on a dissertation on sport hypnosis.
You know, every athlete, to achieve extraordinary results, has to overcome some unconscious psychological blocks that thwart their performance. I’m learning how to help athletes get rid of these blocks, also by means of hypnosis. I’m not talking about stage hypnosis, but about a particular kind of meditation that helps people harness their energies in the best way.
Can you hypnotize yourself? Are you going to hypnotize yourself when you are on the iceberg?
Of course I will. I’ve already performed self-hypnosis many times. For instance, when I ran from Los Angeles to New York, I did it while being in a hypnotic trance.
Bellini during his LA to New York run. Image via Flickr/Jeep-people
Isn’t that dangerous? I mean, a truck could have easily hit you while you were in trance?
That’s right, the possibility of an accident or of simply going the wrong way while you’re in a trance is there. That’s why in that case I tried to have somebody running by my side to avoid such things.
Technically, how does this “self-hypnosis” work?
There are two ways to do it. The first one is focusing your mind on some kind of rhythm: some indigenous peoples go into a collective trance playing drums and dancing. The second technique is the “mono-idea”: you concentrate your mind on one single thought until you enter a trance and you become easy to be influenced. When you are in this state, you can send yourself the right instructions and you are able to attain great results.
Jeez, we were talking about climate change and we wound up in the field of hypnosis…One last question: the great adventurers of the past made some key geographical discoveries. What would you say you’ve discovered during your adventures?
Obviously, I haven’t made any geographical discovery. Today’s adventurers make more introspective and personal discoveries. For example, I’ve discovered that some things are beyond your control: where you are at sea, you can’t waste time trying to control them, otherwise you’ll put your life at risk.
I’ve discovered that doing something I don’t like is too difficult for me. And, finally, I’ve discovered what I like to do. It’s no little discovery: today, people are free but don’t allow themselves to be happy.