An adventure close to home, dear to heart

Eric Larsen is hiking, biking and kayaking across Wisconsin to illustrate the value of adventure, raise money for Riveredge before setting off on a trek more typical of the extreme explorer

PICTURED WHILE TRAINING in Winnipeg, Canada, for his upcoming solo speed expedition to the South Pole, Eric Larsen will first complete the across-Wisconsin trek he started Tuesday.
Ozaukee Press staff

Cedarburg High School graduate Eric Larsen has led expeditions to both the north and south poles and climbed Mount Everest — actually he was the first person to do all three over the course of a year — so his latest adventure should be a walk in the park.

Larsen set off Tuesday on what he calls WisconsinATHON, during which he will hike, bike and kayak across Wisconsin, starting on the Ice Age Trail north of St. Croix Falls in the northwest corner of the state, continuing through Ozaukee County on the Milwaukee River on Oct. 22 and ending at Discovery World on the Lake Michigan waterfront in Milwaukee on Oct. 24.

But typical of Larsen, this is no vacation. He plans to do the 500-mile trek in just nine days.

“There’s not much danger of getting eaten by polar bears, but the timeline for this trip is tight enough that it’s not going to be relaxing,” he said, noting that he plans to hike about 25 miles a day for the first three days of his expedition, bike 100 miles a day for the next three days and finish with three, 25-mile days of kayaking.

Also true to form for a man whose motto is “Have fun, do good,” he’s on a mission, this time to illustrate the value of adventure and the fact you don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to find it.

“I came up with this idea a long time ago remembering growing up in Wisconsin and trying to find something exciting to do while exploring my surroundings,” said Larsen, who now lives in Crested Butte, Colo., and last year completed a trek across Colorado.  “As kids, we’d canoe down Cedar Creek and portage through downtown Cedarburg.

“In this world of constantly trying to find crazier and crazier adventures like climbing Mount Everest — and I’ve already done that — you realize there’s a lot of great adventures in our own back yard.

“And adventure is really a great teacher. Putting yourself in situations where you’re constantly challenged is so important, probably now more than ever.”

There’s another goal of the mission — to raise money for summer programs at Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville, which for Larsen is hallowed ground, the place along the Milwaukee river where his late father Andy Larsen was the longtime executive director and heart and soul of the organization’s mission to inspire a love and understanding of nature. It is where the younger Larsen’s adventuresome spirit was nurtured.

“For me, a lot of that exploration happened at Riveredge,” he said. “Riveredge was really a big part of my life as a kid. I really learned a lot there.”

If there’s any concern that at age 47 the man who has pushed the limits of survival in the world’s most inhospitable environments is getting soft with his trans-Wisconsin expedition, don’t worry. Twenty days after completing the trip, Larsen plans to set off on a solo expedition to the South Pole.

“My dirty little secret is that I’m using the Wisconsin trip as training for my South Pole expedition,” he said. 

His mission is not just to survive the Antarctic journey but to “push the leading edge of adventure” by completing the 700-mile trek on skis while pulling a sled laden with 160 pounds of supplies in temperatures that range from -15 to -35 faster than anyone else has before. The record is 24 days. Larsen plans to complete it in 22. 

“A speed record in the Antarctic is kind of an oxymoron when you’re skiing at 2.5 mph,” he said. 

Larsen will need to ski 14 to 16 hours a day and, if he’s lucky, catch four hours of sleep a day. 

“It’s a really difficult trip,” he said.

Having trekked to the South Pole several times before, Larsen knows better than anyone what to expect in Antarctic. But on this trip, he will be alone in the most desolate place on the planet — no partners, no support team.

“It will be an unsupported trip, so everything I need will be on the sled I’ll be pulling,” Larsen said.

His South Pole speed record attempt is about as extreme as it gets, but for the father of two children, ages 3 and 6, it’s as much an opportunity for life-affirming adventure as it is a shot at a record.

“I think a lot about the nature of the world my children are growing up in,” he said. “There’s a lot of structure in our world today, yet there’s so much value to unstructured time and so many lessons to be learned from challenging ourselves.”

For more information about WisconsinATHON and to donate to Larsen’s Riveredge Nature Center summer program fundraiser, go to


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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