The first Trek to reach the South Pole
Every company has its legends. Narratives are told throughout organizations and passed from executive to manager to employee until the moral is deeply ingrained. One of Trek’s favorites is the tale of the legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole.
Amundsen’s success was largely credited to his meticulous planning, which included cycling 2,000 miles from Norway to Spain; studying Inuit tribes’ movements, clothing, and culture; and becoming an expert cross country skier. Amundsen’s forethought to mitigate potential problems — he brought four thermometers to cover for any accidents and marked supply depots on both sides of his path in case he got blown off course — is why he succeeded, whereas his less-prepared polar adventure colleague Robert Scott perished attempting the same feat at roughly the same time.
The race to the South Pole is a well-told story within the walls of Trek HQ, and so in November of 2015, when polar adventurer Eric Larsen came to them with the ambitious goal of riding a bike there, the company was intrigued. Though its hardened winter-weary Wisconsin souls shook at the suggestion, the question of what bike to ride was easy to answer: Farley. But there were trickier questions at hand.
Could tire sealant withstand -30°F for a week at a time? How would brakes handle such extreme conditions? Whereas the North Pole is a rapidly melting floating sheet of ice, Antarctica is actually a continent with undulating terrain and elevation. It may be an endless landscape, but it’s not always consistent. With the lessons of Amundsen fresh in their minds, Trek loaded Eric up with everything they thought he might need. The rest was up to him. The following is taken from his first-hand account of the voyage.
Riding Day 1: Let’s get started
January 4, 2016, 21:43 CST
Our goal? The South Pole by bicycle! I am guiding for Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions. My client Yoshi and I couldn’t be more excited as it’s been a fairly busy week in Union Glacier testing and packing gear, as well as going on training rides. Everyone in camp was very jealous of my Trek Farley.
The flight from Union Glacier to here is nearly five hours with one refueling stop at a fuel depot called Thiels Corner. The last time I was there was in 2008 while I was guiding a group of four clients to the South Pole via the same route that Reinhold Messner pioneered. I remember the day vividly as one of our resupplies included a special treat—extra cookies and chips if I remember correctly. At that point, we were roughly half way through our 43-day expedition and still needed to make the long and arduous climb up to the polar plateau.
The plateau is at an elevation of roughly 8,500 feet but it feels more like 12,000 feet to your body because the Earth’s atmosphere is thinner at the North and South Poles. Coming from about 2,400 feet at Union Glacier, many people make the mistake of pushing hard right away. This can lead to altitude sickness and there have been several medevac flights already this year. Our plan is to have a relaxing night and morning, then hit the trail for six hours tomorrow.
I’m not going to lie, it is incredible to be here. We are completely surrounded by snow that extends toward the horizon in every direction. It is cold. -30°F, and the 10-knot wind knifes at any exposed skin. But this place is my home, and to succeed in Antarctica is not to conquer, but to cope.
Riding Day 2: This is Antarctica
January 6, 2016 07:13 CST
Sunny and slight wind, -27°F
One of Antarctica’s dirty little secrets is that camping here is actually quite comfortable. Once you set up the tent, inside it is generally above freezing. Because it is so dry here, all the frost quickly melts off of my ruff and nose beak (that I sew onto my Zeal goggles).
Still, life here is no picnic and the vastness of this place is intimidating to say the least. It’s also very, very cold here, which adds a distinct severity to everything that you do. Getting a drink of water or adjusting base layers become monumental feats of survival in this environment. I’m not kidding. Lose a glove or a mitten and you can kiss your fingers goodbye.
Despite all that, I do feel lucky to be here. I love the starkness and the snow. Cycling hasn’t been as pleasurable, and we struggled—half-pushing, half-riding, and regularly getting bogged down in soft spots. Because it is so dry, the snow acts like sand paper against our sleds so that it feels like we’re towing an anchor behind us, which adds another level of difficulty to the whole mess.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when facing these kinds of odds and I had to talk Yoshi off the cliff at the end of the day. Exhausted, uncertain, and ready to give in, he was emotional.
“Never make a decision at the end of the day,” I advised him. “You will be surprised how much a warm meal and a good night sleep can improve your perspective.”
And so now I am snuggled up in my Therm-A-Rest sleeping bag covering my eyes against the 24-hour daylight hoping that the morning will bring a new perspective and another warm tent at the end of the day!
Distance traveled: 7.5 nautical miles.