Eric Larsen’s Cycle South Expedition was an attempt to ride 750 miles from Hercules Inlet to the geographic south pole. Larsen has already done amazing things: Climbing Everest and making it to the South and North poles in a single year. This was a different sort of try: to be the first person ever to bicycle to the South Pole. All this is past tense because on December 28th, not even two weeks in, Larsen had to pull the cord. He realized that his progress via a Surly Moonlander (with 4.8-inch tires and laden with 90 pounds of gear) was just too slow. He was averaging less than ten miles a day, where he needed an average a lot closer to 20. At his slowed pace, attacked by severe headwinds and a constant uphill slog, not to mention massive snow drifts that forced crash after crash, Larsen made the call to turn around rather than do the unthinkable: ride until he was out of food and risk not being rescued.
But in the Antarctic, even turning around requires work. Daily drudgery there isn’t like a hike in the local woods. Here’s a dispatch from Larsen’s website from New Year’s Day. It puts in context, if anything can, what happens when you remove yourself from humanity to try something never done.
I’ve always felt that the way to determine what is important in your life is by simply (well maybe not so simply) removing everything. Then you realize very quickly the things that have meaning and the things that don’t. For me in Antarctica, I am surprised by how few things I really miss. My new couch, although very nice is not a necessity to my life and well being. A chair, maybe a little different story.
Maria and Merritt are obviously important, but I have to work to keep their memory sharp. I am at that weird part of an expedition where all my other life starts to fade away. Football scores, news from friends and other information has so little context here that I struggle to feel connected, or worse, even interested.
It can be hard to feel distant from friends and family but it is also a necessity. The amount of physical and mental energy that is required to be out here every day is substantial. And it’s not like the effort ends as soon as I decide to camp. It takes me nearly an hour after pulling up to an hospitable piece of snow before I can climb in the tent. the process goes like this: put on my Bergans down jacket and Ergodyne big gloves, set up the Hilleberg hotel, shovel snow on the snow flaps, make a snow wall (if its windy), dig a trench for the Moonlander, set up the GoalZero gear, being all my gear into the tent, make snow blocks for melting, set up the MSR stove… Ad Infinitum
It’s hard to say what is going on in my mind at any given moment. Today, I was literally lost is some pleasant day dream when my front tire hit a ‘greasy’ patch of snow and I wiped out instantly, the end of the handlebar jabbing deep into my thigh. Laying on the ground writhing in pain, I realized I had literally been smiling at whatever my daydream was at the time of the crash!?! The pain subsided and I got back on my bike and immediately got lost in another daydream, smiled again, crashed again and had the other side of the handlebar jab into my other thigh. ‘Seriously Antarctica?’ I yelled.
It was overcast and windy today making it hard to see much of anything. I spent most of the day spinning out in one drift or another and crashing more times than I care to count. Despite the constant struggle, I got a mental boost by sighting the Patriot Hills in the distance. Most of the time it seems like you’re traveling in just some arbitrary direction, so to have actual land to aim toward provided a notable improvement to expedition moral.
A little news of the weird: yesterday’s sun did a number on my shaved head. I had my Ergodyne multi band twisted up like a headband. I put sunscreen on my face, but not the top of my forehead. I now have a perfectly straight line (sunburn) across my head. Good thing no one can see me.
News of the hungry: I haven’t calculated how many Clif Bars I’ve eaten so far but I know it’s a lot.
News of winter camping tips: Chip from DeLorme sent me an inReach message asking for three insider winter camping tips: I replied, 1. Pee Bottle 2. 1/4″ plywood board for stove 3. Use two RidgeRests (or one RidgeRest and one Therm-a-Rest). Any other tips out there?
I have gotten lost in time. It’s hard for me to know what day it is or the date. Luckily, I double checked my calendar today and saw that it was Tuesday – just in time to remind everyone to get their cold on! Tomorrow is Ice Photo Wednesday. Help make cold, cool by posting your picture of snow or ice!