New on Sidetracked:

“Maybe” by Alex Hibbert

Review by John Summerton

Maybe by Alex Hibbert
“Using my ski poles and every ounce of effort I had, I lurched forward and felt the ropes connected to my harness pull tight and yank back. Relieved not to be hurtling backwards into the abyss, I was nonetheless going nowhere. My sledge had caught on an ice outcrop. Through all of this, I had not had the chance to check on Wilki. To my horror, he was in exactly the same situation as me. Exchanging sheepish glances, we had to come up with a plan, and fast.”

Maybe is the third book by British polar explorer Alex Hibbert, and covers the period following The Long Haul expedition (the longest unsupported polar journey at that time), specifically detailing his attempt at the speed crossing record of the Greenland icecap, an expedition crossing the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland and an expedition to prepare and set depots for a subsequent phase to attempt to reach the North Pole unsupported in winter. The Dark Ice Project.

Entwined within these stories Alex reflects on life as a polar explorer, the challenges faced with the corporate and sponsorship side of things and his reasons and opinions of guiding and the speaking circuit. He reveals his reasons for distancing himself from the Explorers Club and The Royal Geographical Society and shares his opinions of celebrity and tourist expeditions, the current media driven trends and people earning the right to visit the polar regions and keeping adventure in this region pure. You may or may not agree with him but he presents his opinions well and argues a very strong case.

The expedition narrative is gripping, descriptive and emotive and encompasses the mental and physical challenges faced by Alex and his teammates. At times Alex comes across as quite uncompromising but, bearing in mind the situations he finds himself in, this is understandable and he constantly faces up to tough decisions whilst remaining professional and pragmatic. In particular, there were some very tough times during the events that took place during the first phase of the Dark Ice Project, in which he and his expedition partner had serious problems halting progress early on – frustrating considering the thousands of hours of preparation required to get the project underway.

There is also plenty of useful and interesting information for those wanting to explore the polar regions or simply learning more about this subject, from information on clothing and equipment to deterring bears and last resort action, to costs and generating expedition sponsorship. In all cases, Alex lays out the cold hard facts and, at times, paints quite a negative picture. The fact is that this is how Alex sees things. There are no rose tinted goggles here.

Maybe by Alex Hibbert

Throughout the book, Alex is brutally frank, refreshingly honest and has strong opinions that he is certainly not afraid to share. He chooses to push his own boundaries, and is tough on himself and his peers. Within the three aforementioned expeditions there are many problems, and there are failures and Hibbert attempts to explain and justify these issues. You have to wonder what drives Alex. Why put yourself through this again and again? Why battle with the logistics and put yourself in potentially dangerous situations? Alex addresses this with an excellent “The Point Is?” essay within the book. And whilst recounting the Greenland speed crossing (a story that we featured in Sidetracked Edition 03), Hibbert explains:

“The question is whether risk has a purpose that you are comfortable taking ownership of. I would go so far as to say that I cannot afford not to take risks; my life would lack much of its value without them. An existence of routine, habit and monotony sounds far more perilous.”

As Andrew Mazibrada discussed in our recent feature “Why Explore” we need people willing to inspire and push the boundaries of human endurance and understanding – to seek a different perspective on the world we live in. We need more understanding about us, as individuals and as a species, as this then gives us the knowledge to make informed decisions about who we are where we want to be.

Hibbert strives for this. He is an inspiring character. A perfectionist who’s driven to achieve more for himself and more for polar exploration in its purest sense. It’s clear to see that his passion is on the ice and he is very keen to preserve the integrity of true polar exploration. This is neither a formulaic travel book nor a polar classic but for anyone wishing to learn about this field in a well grounded, frank manner, and if you are at all interested in the logistics and behind the scenes of such an expedition then Maybe is definitely worth a read.

Maybe by Alex Hibbert is published by Tricorn books and available on Amazon or on Alex’s website.