George Bullard is an explorer, expedition leader and world record holder. In 2008, at the age of just 19, George embarked on an expedition with Alex Hibbert to break the world record for the longest unsupported journey across Antarctica.
After 113 days, hauling 200 kilos of equipment, clothing, tents, food and supplies George and Alex covered 1,374miles to set a new world record. Their journey took them from the south-east to the north-west coast of Greenland and back again.
George is only 25 years old but he has been pushing himself to the limits of human endurance for over a decade. While still at school he was part of an extreme swimming team that took on challenges such as, swimming the English Channel, around Barbados, around Manhattan Island, and around Lake Zurich.
One of his most recent challenges was to cycle 2,500miles from London to Greece. Overall, he has led expeditions to 6 of the 7 continents of the world; from the depths of the Amazon rainforest in South America to the Asian sub-continent of India and Nepal.
What I learnt from George in his own words:
“I was scared and apprehensive when the helicopter dropped us on to the ice cap. I had never walked on a glacier before. I had never pulled a sledge. I had never done cross country skiing. Both Alex and I were super apprehensive not only about that fact but the fact that nobody has ever pulled sledges this heavy before, they were 200 kilos.”
“The physical challenge sounds big, and it is daunting but compared to the mental challenge it’s nothing. People say they are bored at work but until you spend 113 days looking at nothing but white, white, white, white. Sometimes the sky is blue, sometimes it is grey but often it is a complete white out. You unzip your tent and all you can see is white. There is no contrast. You don’t know how far you can see. It’s so disorientating. You can’t see the horizon to recalibrate yourself. So it’s extreme boredom.”
“I was on the ice for 2 weeks and we were madly looking for excuses not to be there. On an expedition like this, you can’t even see the end its so daunting. We did 11 hours of walking a day, not 11 hours including breaks that is 11 hours solid walking every day. Sometimes, I could look back behind me and almost see where we had camped the night before. Mentally that kills you. The weather was miserable too and that influences your mood. I decided to drop back because I was unhappy and trying to get my own personal space, which is ironic because you are in the middle of a huge open whiteness. The problem is you can’t do that, my expedition partner is so reliant on me and I am reliant on him for survival. If a polar bear came along for example he was the one that had the rifle. I just got some space and started crying into my goggles.”
“I started to think about my family and friends and what they were doing. Why am I doing this? What is the point? All the mental process and mental outcomes that you get during expeditions are extreme. You are either really happy or you are depressed and thinking what the heck am I doing here? At that time I knew, all my friends were on a beach in Thailand getting drunk and shagging, so mentally for me that was even harder.”
“When we were feeling down we would compare ourselves to refugees. I know it seems like an extreme and weird comparison to make but Alex and I realised we had a set number of guarantees. We were so privileged compared to every refugee in the world. We were guaranteed three things: warmth, shelter and we had our next meal. And we were guaranteed when the food ran out and we had had enough, we could go home. We were still lucky compared to them.”
“Expeditions have an amazing way of levelling people. Irrespective of your background or your money, everyone is the same, you are in the same alien environment. I became passionate about that aspect. You have no worries, you just worry about if you are fed, watered and warm. The amplitude of my emotions on the expedition were huge and now I am back they are much more subdued where as everyone around me seems more volatile. So, having had this experience everything in life translates differently.”
“The one thing that kept me going was not the the fear of failure, it was the fear of missing out on an opportunity that was only there once. I knew I could go home at any time but we would get home and sit down and think I am warm and cosy but then you would think well what the hell was wrong with me? You would realise you had an unbelievable chance to do something you would never be able to do again. So the thing that keeps me going is the fear of missing an opportunity. It’s not a fear of failure because failure is not a bad thing.”
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