After driving a tractor the length of Africa, Dutch adventurer Manon “Tractor Girl” Ossevoort is setting out to fulfill a decade-long dream of chugging her way to the South Pole.
Asked whether people think she is crazy, the 38-year-old actress replies with a wide smile and bubbly confidence: “Only if they haven’t met me.”
She’s at least partly right.
“The world needs people who are a little crazy like this,” a burly South African tractor mechanic says as Ossevoort clambers onto a huge red Massey-Ferguson in a shed north of Cape Town.
Wearing a mini-dress in the summer heat, the ebullient new mother of a 10-month-old baby girl perches on the seat and chats about her epic trip as mechanics put the final touches to her beloved tractor.
Ossevoort will spend about 12 hours a day in that seat – having swapped her summer outfit for Arctic gear– as she heads for what she likes to call the “end of the world.”
She will make a 4 500-kilometre round trip across the largest single mass of ice on earth, from Russia’s Novo base on the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back.
When not pushed to the limits by the hostile environment of frozen mountains and deadly crevasses, she will have plenty of time to admire the scenery.
“Ten kilometres an hour would be good,” she says. “Fifteen would be nice, 20 lovely.”
Ossevoort travelled alone through Africa, but in Antarctica the tractor will need to creep forward day and night, so French mechanic Nicolas Bachelet will share the driving.
That way, they hope to make 100 to 200 kilometres a day and complete the trip in four to six weeks.
“I think I’ll love the experience, travelling the last leg in relative silence over this vast and white continent,” she says.
“It’s a beautiful last phase in a long pilgrimage.”
In total, she will be accompanied by a team of seven, including crew who will film the journey for a documentary.
‘Belly of a snowman’
Ossevoort began her trip in 2005, taking four years to drive from her home village in Holland to Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa – and then missed the boat that was due to take her to Antarctica for the final leg due to delays.
Frustrated, the former theatre actress spent the next four years back in Holland, writing a book, working as a motivational speaker and desperately trying to get back on a tractor.
With sponsorship from Massey-Ferguson and other companies, she and her tractor will finally fly to Antarctica from Cape Town this week and set off for the pole around November 20.
While fulfilling her own long-held dream, Ossevoort will be carrying with her thousands of ‘dreams’ collected from people in Africa and around the world.
Scraps of paper and emails have been converted into digital form and will be placed in the belly of a big snowman she plans to build at the pole – to be opened only in 80 years’ time.
“I want to turn them into a beautiful time capsule of the dreams of the world so that in the future children and people can read something about our dreams and not only about politics or war.”
Fear holds people back from pursuing their dreams, she says, and many believe that “putting them into reality is as impossible as driving a tractor to the South Pole”.
“The tractor for me symbolises this very down to earth fact that if you want to do something, maybe you will not be so fast but if you keep going and keep your sense of humour you will get there.”
The pull of her own dream is so strong it has trumped being at home for her baby Hannah’s first Christmas.
But she has the full support of her partner, airline pilot Rogier Nieuwendyk, who will look after Hannah while she is away.
“We’ll be there to meet her at the airport when she comes home,” he said, cradling Hannah in his arms as she phlegmatically watched her mother prepare to leave.
Ossevoort’s tractor is named Antarctica 2 in honour of legendary explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, who travelled to the South Pole on a tractor in 1958.
His vehicle was equipped with full tracks, however, while Ossevoort’s has normal inflatable tyres which have been slightly modified for better grip on the snow and ice.
Her progress can be followed on the website antarcticatwo.com.