Expedition Watch: Riding a Fat Bike to the South Pole
In the spring of 2002, when Eric Larsen was living in Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior and near the Boundary Waters Canoe area, he started watching the lake ice very carefully. He was waiting for some incredibly specific conditions. Just after the snow melted and seeped through the ice, he knew it would leave a soft, rough surface for a period of one to two days. When that happened, he and some friends grabbed their mountain bikes and headed out. "Being on a bike on the lake ice felt really weird, but it was also really fun, too," he says.
Six years later, he started seeing fat bikes. While skiing a hard and relatively flat route to the South Pole that winter, he had an idea. He should ride a fat bike to the South Pole.
"Of course, there is a bit more to the story," he says. "You see, I love bikes. I have all my life. Raced for a bit, worked in bike shops for forever. The whole eat, sleep, and breathe two wheels thing. But the catch was, I love wilderness and winter more, so there was always this choice—expeditions or bicycling. So perhaps maybe my brain had been trying to subconsciously connect the two for quite some time."
He plans to start pedaling toward the South Pole this December, on an expedition he's titled Cycle South. It will be the fourth Christmas in the past five years that he's spent in Antarctica. This time, he's given himself a pretty small window—about a month and a half—to get things done. "One of the reasons that I'm on a pretty tight timeline is that I've got a five-week-old baby boy that needs my love and attention," he says. "Being gone for six weeks is no cake walk on my partner Maria, either."
We called him up to find out a bit more.
WHO: In 2010, 41-year-old Eric Larsen completed a year-long Save the Poles expedition in which he climbed Everest and traveled to both poles. The Minnesotan has snowshoed, dogsledded, swum, trekked, and skied across polar habitats on a slew of expeditions. In case it's not clear, he loves ice and snow. If you have a good picture of the cold, white stuff, he'd like you to share it with him via Twitter @ELExplore.
WHAT: Larsen will ride a Surly Moonlander fat bike 750 miles, from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. If conditions and time allow, he'll bike back. "The goal is to get to the pole," he says. "No one has ever completed that journey before. To travel back to the coast is a gravy trip, icing on the cake."
Along the way, he'll down anywhere from 5,000 to 6,500 calories a day. His daily menu includes Mountain House freeze dried meals spiked with olive oil, five to seven Clif Bars, salami, cheese, soup, chocolate, and nuts.
WHEN: He leaves Colorado on December 13, lands in Antarctica on the 17th, and plans to start pedaling on the 20th. In perfect weather, he thinks he can make it to the pole in 20 days. If he gets that done, he feels good, and the weather looks promising, he'll bike back. "The Antarctic season ends on January 27—that's when the last Ilyushin flight leaves the continent," he says. "So I have to be done by then or else."
WHY: "I'm not going to lie, I really love camping. I also like the physical and mental challenges of expedition travel. In the past, it was, 'because it's there.' I tend to think a little differently ... because these places might not be there in the future. The goal of all my adventures is to connect people to places. Not everybody has the desire or ability to travel to these places, but that doesn't mean they aren't interested in learning more about them. I have a background in education so sharing my experiences seems to be a natural part of the journey. The ultimate goal of the Cycle South expedition is to demonstrate how each of us can use a bicycle to change the world. Through direct donations to a variety of charities people can use a bicycle to fight climate change, fight Parkinson's disease, protect our winter wildlands, and improve bike safety and commuting routes."
FOLLOW ALONG: Larsen will go alone. "This is my first big solo trip," he says. "I'm not worried, but there is an 'I've got your back' component to traveling with a teammate that I'll really miss." He'll stay in touch using a DeLorme beacon and Iridium satellite phone to tweet, post Facebook messages, and provide online updates. You can follow him on EricLarsenExplore.com, @ELExplore on Twitter, and on Facebook.