As a kid, Eric Larsen did a lot of camping and canoeing with his family in Wisconsin, so it makes sense that he’d grow up to be outdoorsy. But a ski-to-the-North-Pole-by-yourself kind of adventurer? That’s a level Larsen found entirely on his own.
If you’re not already familiar with Larsen, here’s a quick highlight reel. One of the greatest polar explorers of our age, he’s fat-biked 700 miles to the South Pole and skied to the North Pole during summer, when the melting sea ice is especially treacherous to navigate—both first-of-their-kind expeditions. He’s been to the poles more than any other American and is the only person on the planet to have skied to both poles and summited Everest in the same year.
Of course, when you go as big as Larsen does, you’re going to have some hiccups along the way. Like in 2005, when he was a week into his first summertime expedition to the North Pole, pulling what he calls an “impossibly heavy” 400-pound sled across the southward-drifting ice pack. He ended up 30 miles farther south than where he started—and was forced to abort. More recently, in January 2019, due to heavier-than-average snowfall, Larsen had to abandon an unsupported solo crossing of Antarctica, a 700-mile journey he’d hoped to complete in just 24 days, which would have set a new speed record. “Doing difficult things that nobody has ever done before—the chance of success is pretty minimal,” Larsen reflects. “So I’ve probably failed more often than I’ve been successful.”
He’s certainly done lots of both. At 12, he got a paper route so he could afford a road bike and explore Wisconsin’s back roads—often 80 miles at a time. By college, he was getting lost in the Boundary Waters, moving without a compass, suffering through storms, figuring out the details as he went. At age 24, he was mushing teams of dogs across frozen Canadian tundra. “By the time I did my first polar trip, I’d busted my ass so many times that I was going from 95 to 100, not zero to 100,” Larsen says. “I still fail, but I’ve seen so much that I tend not to get terrified anymore.”
These days, Larsen spends more of his time closer to home, in Crested Butte, Colorado, educating people about the polar regions and setting out on multisport sufferfests across entire states (he calls them StateAthons). So far he’s done Wisconsin and Colorado. Next up: New York. But you’ll most likely find him exploring the wilderness right out his backyard with his wife, Maria, and kids. The latter, he says, is especially important. It’s through family camping trips and after-school bike rides that Larsen has seen his kids—Merritt, seven, and Ellie, four—glean many of the same lessons that have defined his life. And for an explorer-slash-father searching for balance, that’s validating.
“When you’re on an expedition, you remove everything from your life, and existence becomes very stark,” says Larsen. “But that’s when you more sharply realize what’s important. I don’t miss seeing a movie or eating a hamburger when I’m out there. I miss my family. They’re the most important thing in my life.”
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