OLLIE MCATEER INTERVIEW: Arctic explorer to invent imaginary friend

JPCT 080313 Jon Whymark is going on a ten day trek across the Arctic Circle for charity. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 080313 Jon Whymark is going on a ten day trek across the Arctic Circle for charity. Photo by Derek Martin

Tom Hanks had Wilson, but Jonathan Whymark has yet to name his castaway companion.

An imaginary friend will be the only thing keeping him from going insane believes the explorer during a solitary ten-day trek of more than 200km across the Arctic Circle.

“Providing you say goodbye to him and he doesn’t get on the plane home with you, it’s good to get into that sort of mind set,” said the 44-year-old from Horsham, who occasionally teaches.

“You start to have conversations with yourself. You know the sort of chat you have where later on you think ‘I wish I had said that’ - that’s what I’ll be talking about.”

When Jonathan sets off from Russell Glacier in Greenland - birthplace of the iceberg that doomed the Titanic - he will have to wait more than a week to be rescued if things go wrong. With zero mobile phone reception, no one will be tracking his progress.

“A friend of mine suggested it to me and I really took hold of the idea and started organising it,” he exclaims with an intense dazzle in his eyes I’ve yet to chalk up to passion or sheer madness.

“But unfortunately he had a massive redecorating bill and his wife had a list of things for him to do so I don’t think he’s allowed to come out and play.”

Unfazed by his dangerously lonely voyage, he delves deep into a hulking bag and shows me the essentials to surviving a barren wasteland.

I’d asked him to bring it along for a photo, unaware of how gigantic it was - probably the biggest bag I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen my fair share of bags.

I watched him attempt to tame the sack as he struggled up the County Times stairs like they were the Himalayas.

I didn’t have the courage to tell him our photographer wasn’t in.

“This is lunch and dinner,” Jonathan produces two unappetising packs of foil containing powder. He’s proud of them. And rightly so; he had written to a company asking for sponsorship in the form of equipment. The specialists in all things outdoor refused. But out of sheer coincidence Jonathan entered a raffle and won food worth £100 from the very same company. It’s the little victories in life.

He hopes the food will be enough to power him through ten to 15 miles a day.

With temperatures dropping as low as -5, cold is not the real issue. Instead he will be on guard for quicksand. The unpredictable surface of Greenland will seriously slow down his pace as he pokes the ground ahead with a stick to avoid being swallowed up.

“And musox,” he hands me a map and points to a photo of an aggressive looking buffalo.

“There’s always a risk that if you find one he won’t like the presence of you.”

For someone who’s never done anything like this in his life, Jonathan has fully accepted the life-threatening situation he’s putting himself in, and what’s more, he seems to be relishing in it.

“When I get there I think it will be one of those moments where you sit down and wait for the noise of the engine and anything else man-made to disappear.

“I have no idea how I’m going to feel.”

Like many great challenges this newspaper reports on, Jonathan’s is spurred by a charitable cause. His sister-in-law died of cancer at the age of 29.

The family hold the hospice she was cared for in the highest respects. Jonathan hopes his trip in August will raise money and awareness for Help for Hospices.

Over the coming months he will be involved with fund raising events in Horsham including a pamper day at Mi Spa on April 28, and a pub quiz at the Holbrook Club on May 23. Visit www.justgiving.com/ArcticTrailChallenge or http://arcticcircletrailchallenge2013.blogspot.co.uk