Parker Liautaud reflects on the origin of Willis Resilience

1st November 2013, 03:55pm


Today marks one month before the start of the Willis Resilience Expedition. In just over 30 days, Doug and I will depart the coast of Antarctica, cross the continent by vehicle to conduct climate research, and then we’ll attempt to walk unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. The whole journey should take around six weeks.

Shamefully, this is my first real blog post. I’ve been so self-absorbed in the past few months… with training, preparing gear, trying not to fail classes… I haven’t spent much time just reflecting on everything.

I’d like to take a moment to look back on the the journey up to the journey: what we’ve been through from conception to today. After my third North Pole expedition, in April 2012, I didn’t do much other than sleep and study (I had A Levels in May and June, the British national exams that basically determine what university you get accepted to). I thought lazily about what my next challenge would be. Since I wasn’t prepared to start the expedition machine again (I wanted to recuperate first and get past exams), I ignored reality and thought a bit more freely. The South Pole was the kind of expedition that I only thought about when I had time to daydream. In Antarctica, distances are monumental. The continent is bigger than China and India combined. The opportunities for scientific research are amazing, but present extraordinary logistical challenges. Plus I was terrified of the idea of crevasses, which had never been a problem in the Arctic.

But I was hooked. My initial plan was to walk from the coast to the pole in November 2012 to January 2013, along a route through a little-studied part of the continent. I was devastated when I realized I couldn’t make it happen. It was the first time I had truly failed to make an expedition a reality. I had failed to complete expeditions before; other times I have had to change the plan and do something different; but this time, I had pretty much nothing to show for it.

I took a break, because there was something about the way I went about this plan that was just not right. I needed to figure out what that was before getting back in the game. November and December were strategy and planning months, and by the time people came back to work after New Year’s, I was ready. Every Sunday through Thursday, I sat myself down between the hours of 9pm and 1.45am (when the library closed) and wrote emails to people I didn’t know. It was not hard, but I relied on 5 Hour Energy and Starbucks (a bad habit which has been kicked) to get me through the sheer boredom. That being said, I felt impatient when I couldn’t work on my expedition. On more than one occasion, I lost my temper while doing economics or math homework because I felt like I wasn’t getting anything done.

It took a while, but eventually I had my first call with a potential sponsor: Agility Logistics. I remember feeling lucky, because there was a really strong link between what I was trying to do and what Agility seemed to stand for. In the end, Agility was one of my first big sponsors. To a certain extent, they were the catalyst for several other sponsors.

The turning point was EMC. One of the largest IT companies in the world (one of the only ones I actually thought was cool as a kid). I had gone past their office in London every week when I was in high school, on my way home from boarding school. I never knew what they actually did until I was 14 or 15, when I got an unpaid internship one summer working for a data management startup in Silicon Valley. When EMC came on board as Platinum Sponsor, I felt like things were finally underway.

Then everything stalled. Potential sponsors seemed to drop like flies. Something was wrong again. It was all very familiar. I couldn’t figure out why. A couple months later, only a few companies were interested anymore. Then I got a response from the Deputy CEO of Willis, a leading global risk advisor and insurance and reinsurance broker. He agreed to have a conversation with me. I eventually met with their Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Joshua King, in New York. There was something about Willis that was inspiring. Everywhere I looked our messages overlapped. Josh saw the expedition on a different level. There was a bigger vision – that was when the idea for what became the Willis Expedition Vehicle came about, as well as the live stream, and everything we’re doing around that.

A few weeks later, Willis came on board as the Title Sponsor, and the Willis Resilience Expedition was born.