Alex Bellini’s blue eyes blaze with the intensity of a seeker, or a true believer, with a fire that must inspire, or perhaps intimidate. I first learned of Bellini while putting together a gallery from the book Ocean Portraits — Alex was photographed not long after an epic solo row across the Pacific Ocean, a voyage in which he radioed for rescue just 65 miles from his final landfall — framed by his bushy hair and beard, the charisma and passion behind those his eyes was tangible even in the static two-dimensionality of a picture.
Bellini has run more than 23,000 kilometers, competing in the Marathon des Sables, and twice racing the Alaska Ultra Sport, finishing fifth in 2003, taking 27 days to cover 800 miles. He has rowed across the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Pacific oceans. And now he’s tackling what might be his riskiest adventure of all: to spend a year living on an iceberg until it melts or breaks up.
His goal is to punch through the stasis of climate change inaction and encourage people to take action. “On the iceberg, I will be generally alone, but for short periods of time I will be meeting with writers, bloggers, environmentalists…I dream that this will become the era of responsibility, where each of us can take on his version of responsibility to try to reverse this trend.”
We caught up with Bellini to learn more.
1. Are you crazy? I’m just kidding. No, seriously, are you crazy?
Well, I want to be honest with you: yes, probably I’m a bit crazy, but is it not equally crazy someone who lives a life constantly dreaming of something different? Is it not equally crazy someone who procrastinates, someone who, fearing to be or look imperfect, refrains from dancing, acting, singing, wooing a girl? Is it not equally crazy someone who postpones his happiness to future events that might never occur? Maybe I’m crazy because I chose sacrifice, remoteness, and solitude or because I decided to live the life I love, but as you can see nobody is straight.
2. Tell me the plan. You’re going to spend a year on an iceberg?
Exactly! I’ll be living on an iceberg to witness the last stage of this piece of drifting ice as it slowly turns back to be water. It will be a long journey, and its underlying challenge will be “accept what you can’t change.”
3. Where did you get the idea to sit on an iceberg until it melts?
Like any other adventure I lived in the past, I didn’t choose it; she chose me, so to speak. The influence of the environment, I must say, has played a key role. I am a big fan of exploration and I often study its history. One of the characters I admire the most, a man who left his mark on the history of the last century, is Umberto Nobile. He famously made a journey to the North Pole in 1928, in which he survived for 48 days on the pack with eight other team members. He inspired me. And don’t they say that innovation always gives a glance at the past?
4. The last few years have shown us that it’s very difficult to turn our knowledge of the repercussions of global warming into effective action. What do you hope to accomplish?
I do not want to be labeled as a new kind of environmentalist. I am and will always be an explorer. In this new mission I wish to become the bridge between the researchers and the rest of the world, and I hope I will help all those who will follow the adventure understanding the urgent need for action and for a greater sense of responsibility.
5. In 2008, you spent 10 months rowing and drifting across the Pacific, only to call for rescue 65 miles from Australia. What happened in those last few weeks or days that forced you to call?
The last 65 miles of my crossing were the most beautiful of my life. Of course, for 10 months I rowed toward that little dot on the map (Sydney), which was the objective to be reached, but the closer I got to that dot the more its value lost meaning compared with those bonus achievements (all the little treasures) collected along the way. In 2006 I reached Fortaleza (Brazil) after 226 days of rowing, but the very moment when I set foot on the ground didn’t make me a better person; it didn’t even change my life. What did so was the long voyage, the months of solitude, the many times I wanted to give up only to find a new reason to continue. Deciding to stop just 36 hours from the land was hard, but it was the best thing that could have ever happened in my life.
6. How do you think about the experience? How do you frame the ending? Do you think of it as a total success, a partial success, a failure? People want to put things in neat little boxes — it that even relevant, to label it? And what have you learned about yourself from it?
I agree with you — people need labels in order to understand things. And this is true for everything. To be an adventurer in Italy is, itself, an extreme sport. You are considered a time waster, one who has nothing else to do in life other than becoming a daredevil. The same thing applies to the paradigm of success-failure. But, I’m asking you: nowadays, what do you mean by failure? Let’s try to see things from a different perspective: how would you define failure or success? Personally, I think success makes my life better, while failure, somehow, makes it worse. I got off the boat wiser, more aware of my life and everything around me — definitely a successful experience.
7. Where will you select the iceberg? What are the criteria?
The iceberg has yet to be formed, of course. The north west of Greenland, between 70°N and 74 °N, with its many glaciers that reach the coast, is the ideal place for the formation of icebergs. We will select one with a tabular shape (flat surface) with a size (approximately) of 60 meters by 20 meters.
8. What is your escape plan when the berg melts? As you know, they are often unstable and will roll, rather then gently melt away. How will you deal with this?
We are all aware of the risks I will potentially be facing, but part of the adventurer’s job is also risk managing.
When the iceberg will be too small and weak to keep me on its “back,” or simply when the risk will be too high, I will use my survival shelter as a life raft with which I’ll go adrift and I’ll then wait to be picked up and rescued. The North Atlantic is a very busy area and I expect to stay at sea up to 7 to 10 days.
9. What have you told your daughters about your plan?
We talk about this project every day, and my wife is the coordinator of the team. We can say that it’s a family business. Both my daughters know that I will live for a few months on an iceberg to draw the world’s attention on environmental issues. When I told her, the elder (4 years old) replied: “It’s an important thing, Dad.”
10. How do you define adventure?
Adventure, to me, is the quickest and shortest way to get back in touch with ourselves. It’s a self-exploration.
Learn more about Alex Bellini’s iceberg project at adrift.alexbellini.it. Follow Bellini on Facebook, Twitter, and at alexbellini.it.
Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.