The environmental adventurer

Alex Bellini

Alex Bellini is an explorer and environmental advocate from Valtellina who has rowed solo across oceans and the world’s most polluted rivers, traversed glaciers, and ran across the US from Los Angeles to New York…

Some time ago, he came to visit us at the LiDuP Laboratory’s climate chamber to test the resistance to the cold of Alaska (which reaches -40°C) of his 3D-printed bicycle made of recycled polycarbonate, which he then used to travel 1,800 km over snow and sand. This is how we got to know him and today, on his return, he tells us how it went and how important it is to be fully ‘equipped’ in order to face such a challenge.

“I am not man, I am dynamite,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, and I believe that all of us, each in our own way, are explosive. That is why the most urgent and valuable work we can do is to find out how much and what type of explosive we contain, where it is stored and how we can use it to generate something good.

It is an inner work, on irrationality, on feeling and passion: on that part of us on which happiness essentially depends. Exploration is how I get in touch with the explosive in me.

I encountered a great many difficulties. From the more technical to the purely existential (do I go on or do I stop?). The latter are far more demanding, because while there are plans B or C that can be devised for the former, those that concern ‘being’ can only be managed, without ever solving them completely!

I was often very afraid: in a way, this is fortunate because fear gives the measure of things and forces reflection on the sense of limit. The day I stop being afraid is the day I have to start being really afraid (if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase).

Alex Bellini rides his recycled polycarbonate fatbike in Alaska

It was quite an adventure in Alaska. It was also very tough. Tough, but not impossible, so all in all enjoyable, although at times pushing the bike over walls of fresh snow forced us to call on all our energies, including those most hidden. The weather hindered us: so much snow and so cold, but it was no surprise.

I was already familiar with Alaska thanks to two expeditions I did twenty years ago. It went well with my companion: it was a kind of initiation for him and I am happy to have accompanied him on his first big adventure.

Alex Bellini and Alessandro Plona in Alaska

Athletic preparation is an important factor, but for this expedition I devoted more time and energy to the technical preparation of the means of travel (the bicycle) than I did to cycling.

That’s right. The bike is a prototype designed and built in collaboration with a collective of engineers and material scientists. The idea was to breathe new life into plastic (post-industrial polycarbonate) using 3D printing technology. We created a monocoque frame that resisted well in the cold and under stress. The only negative factor with this prototype was its weight: fully loaded, it was over 60 kg.

It was in my ocean crossings in a rowing boat. Then, my life was totally dependent on technology: satellite detection systems, telecommunications, solar panels, manual watermaker, the boat itself…

Alex Bellini crossing the ocean

Since 2017, when I crossed Europe’s largest glacier in Iceland, which is in danger of disappearing by the end of this century, each of my adventures has been nothing more than a pretext to inform, educate, and stimulate my audience and the general public on topics of global interest such as pollution and understanding the cultural and social impacts in relation to the changing climate.

I am already at work planning the Greenland expedition for 2025. Again, I will be accompanied by one person, this time a Greenlandic explorer who will teach me about the cultural and social impacts of the changing climate.

For the Arctic Ocean expedition, everything is still to be finalised, but the feeling is that time is running out for expeditions to the North Pole. Global warming is affecting the quantity and quality of the sea ice, making it thinner and more fragile.

I combine passion, work and everyday life like a juggler. Sometimes I manage without any problems; other times, I mess it up.