How many of you carried on cycling through the brief squall that blew snow through Vancouver just before Christmas?
They wasn’t exactly picture-perfect cycling conditions, but with the aid of a downhill bike with big grippy tires, some ski goggles and a lot of insulating layers, I was able to make it to work in reasonable comfort. In the evening when the snow had been packed down and frozen, even the nubby tires slid around on the ice.
But if a couple inches of snow made for a challenging commute, imagine this: while we were celebrating the holidays and tucking into Christmas dinner in warmth and comfort, Eric Larsen, a 41-year-old adventurer from Colorado, was attempting to become the first person ever to ride a bike to the South Pole.
Larsen’s goal is not only to achieve a transportation first by completing this demanding and inhospitable journey, but also to raise funds and awareness of Parkinson’s disease. He is also promoting cycling advocacy, which he says can “demonstrate the many ways in which people can use a bicycle to protect our environment as well as improve the quality of our lives.”
Eric Larson cycled across the Antarctic. To prepare for the conditions, he trained on frozen tundra in Churchill, Manitoba.
It was, to say the least, an epic undertaking. He cycled 750 miles across the frozen Antarctic wilderness, carrying all of his supplies — more than 100 lbs of camping equipment, a tool kit, clothing, communications gear, and not least sufficiently, food to fuel an energy expenditure of up to 6,500 calories per day — all loaded on a fat bike equipped with custom panniers. He trained on the frozen tundra of Churchill, Manitoba.
The route took him from the edge of the Antarctic continent at Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole, a distance of 600 nautical miles. Three year earlier, he skied the same traverse in 51 days.
Larsen began turning the pedals on Dec. 20, 2012 as an eager global audience followed his progress online.
Almost from the outset, I thought it sounded like an impossibly tough journey. Manoeuvring heavy drifts of soft snow, battling freezing winds to the point of exhaustion, withstanding poor visibility that limited his ability to see. Yet he also wrote about the compelling nature of the frozen Antarctic landscape and the sense of strangeness that came from doing something as simple and familiar as riding a bike in such an alien and yet beautiful place.
Slowed by strong headwinds by day 10, Larsen realized that in spite of steady progress, he wasn’t going to make it to the Pole before his food ran out. Reluctantly, he turned his bike around. By Jan. 5, he was on a plane back to Punta Arenas, Chile, the southernmost city on Earth.
Larson may not have reached the South Pole, but his expedition was still an incredible and noteworthy achievement.
His Surly Moonlander bike held up to the rigours of the journey, and he made it 220 miles across an unimaginably inhospitable landscape.
Perhaps more significantly, he pushed the envelope of what a bike can do. Negotiating traffic on the downtown streets on my own ride to work, I think of Eric Larsen and remind myself that the two wheels underneath me could, if I chose, take me anywhere I could imagine.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at www.sidecut.ca, or send a comment to email@example.com.