A Letter from the South Pole

01.11.2012 | 9:57 am

I got a letter a couple days ago. The subject line kind of caught my eye:

Fat Cyclist at the South Pole

Yeah, I decided to read it. Here’s what the author, Nate Cannon, had to say:

Fatty, I’ve been reading your site a while now and wasted many a working hours reading your race write ups, technical reviews, and general hilarious blogs.

I am currently 3 months into a 13 month stay at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station working for the US Antarctic program. Being that I was planning on being here a over year, and the thought of riding only spinning bikes makes me crazy, I bought a Pugsley fat tired bike before I came down.

And after years of regretting not buying a FC jersey, I picked up a full kit this summer, which I’ve really enjoyed. I finally got the time to have a friend come out to the South Pole with me and take the obligatory “hero” shots with my bike and rocking the FC jersey.

Hero 01-09-2012 017.jpg

It was a nice relatively calm -14F, I’d taken a few rides that were well into the -20’s with wind chills reaching -40 and it’s hard to dress for that. I rock the bibs under 2 pairs of long johns and a pair of windproof pants, and it’s ok for a bit over an hour.

My friend taking pictures made me try to pop a wheelie, it was not a very good attempt.

Hero 01-09-2012 019.jpg

I thought you might enjoy the pictures, I’m going to try and ride the bike all year, but in a few months we will have 24 hours of darkness and temperatures dipping below -100F, so I’m not sure I’ll be getting outside too much.

The next time I think it’s too cold for me to get out on my bike, I’m going to think about Nate. And go ride.

PS: Nate says he’ll check back on the blog and try to answer questions left in the comments.


  1. Comment by Dave | 01.11.2012 | 10:12 am

    That is freaking awesome! Nate you are my hero!

  2. Comment by Justin L | 01.11.2012 | 10:14 am

    Holy crap, 24 hours of darkness and -100. Your pretty badass for even dealing with that. I was not going to ride this morning because its 30 degrees outside, but now you have motivated me. I am going out to ride. Thanks Nate

  3. Comment by Bicycle Bill | 01.11.2012 | 10:21 am

    Question for Nate — Are you a member of the “300 Degree Club”?

  4. Comment by roan | 01.11.2012 | 10:41 am

    Nate, have you thought of Fatty’s 100 miles of Nowhere ? If ever there was someone doing this ride you are at the perfect location. Though I would admit 100 miles would be a bit more than down to the bone chilling. Maybe Fatty would grant you a waiver of grace, like 3 months. I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to know how far one could ride WAAAAAY Down Under…hummm maybe a half mile out & back, 100 days of riding ?

  5. Comment by Grannygear | 01.11.2012 | 10:41 am

    Talk about 100 miles of nowhere!

    Does your chain lube freeze? Among other things that might freeze….

  6. Comment by Mike | 01.11.2012 | 10:48 am


    I’ve tried to talk Nate in to doing the 100MoN and so far I’ve been unsuccessful. Maybe a few more people piling on the peer pressure can get the job done!

  7. Comment by Obstinate Roadie | 01.11.2012 | 10:57 am

    Hey Nate, where do you go on your rides?

  8. Comment by Jim Tolar | 01.11.2012 | 11:05 am

    Nate, way to harsh my buzz. I was just patting myself on the back for being a perfect 8 for 8 commuting days in 2012 (so far) and how I’m not letting the brutal dark, cold Winter conditions keep me from riding. Now I feel lame.

    Phoenix Arizona

  9. Comment by daddyo | 01.11.2012 | 11:21 am

    do you keep brass monkeys around to determine if it’s too cold to ride?

  10. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 01.11.2012 | 11:25 am


  11. Comment by KM | 01.11.2012 | 11:44 am

    Well I feel like a wimp now when I opt to sit on the trainer b/c it’s “..under 40, windy and cold.” Thanks to Pipebaum’s post yesterday, apparently I have forgotten rule #5. I’m ashamed…..


  12. Comment by Liz | 01.11.2012 | 11:45 am

    Are your arms bare in that picture?! Oh, my.

    Are there “roads” there? Any place to ride to? Any danger of getting lost? I don’t blame you for wanting a real bike despite the harsh conditions rather than an exercise bicycle, though.

    Now we know there are team members on EVERY continent, right?

    Be safe and have fun!

  13. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.11.2012 | 11:51 am

    Arm Warmers? We don’t need no stinkin’ arm warmers!!!!

    Forget 100MoN. I suggest 100 times around the WORLD! Albeit at a very low latitude. We might also want to send Nate a little something….or a lot:

  14. Comment by Jeremiah | 01.11.2012 | 11:51 am

    Oh Pugsly. Looks like the same bike I ride every day here in Anchorage. Absoloutely fantastic. Do you have any Pogies for your handlebars? I got a pair for Christmas and they make life sooooo much better.

  15. Comment by JRay | 01.11.2012 | 11:53 am

    -14 no sleeves, no gloves,,,I can forgive the wheelie…You have achieved the level of awesome!!!
    I guess the balaclava doesn’t come out till -40?
    I feel like such a weenie now…

  16. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.11.2012 | 12:08 pm

    OK MattC the jersey is now in your court. We’re looking for a picture of the FC Jersey on a …..Rocket!

  17. Comment by bikemike | 01.11.2012 | 12:29 pm

    I enjoyed the post. my man parts, however, just packed up and moved to arizona.

  18. Comment by Jim | 01.11.2012 | 12:44 pm


    I hear that if you complain while riding at that temperature, the actually words freeze in midair, crack apart, and then drop like so many bowling balls onto your toes, crushing them.

  19. Comment by Jill Homer (@AlaskaJill) | 01.11.2012 | 12:50 pm

    Awesome photos! I’m dying to know how the Pugsley performs below -50. Does the headset freeze? How about the hubs? Do the tubes crack and break? I’m also curious whether he can ride it on unpacked crust, or if he just rides the packed trails near the Pole. I hope Nate checks back in from time to time!

  20. Comment by roan | 01.11.2012 | 1:00 pm

    An earlier question, from Liz…one huge white line.
    Questions Fatty probably wouldn’t ask…but would want to, Nate since you are spinning faster at the pole do you get dizzy ? AND…Do you worry about falling off the earth ? How close are the nearest mountains for a little mtn biking ? Definitely single track…your’s.

    An addition to my earlier comment about the 100 MoN…maybe you should start now while the weather is ‘warm’ and you don’t need lights.

  21. Comment by melicious | 01.11.2012 | 1:12 pm

    Kudos, Nate! You are one BAMF! And the wheelie looked just fine to me. Good luck to you!

  22. Comment by El_Animal | 01.11.2012 | 1:17 pm

    Yeah, 100 miles of Nowhere will be awesome. Do GPS work there. I can imagine the GPS plot. C’mon Nate do it.

  23. Comment by Nate C. | 01.11.2012 | 1:19 pm

    Hey guys, I’m glad you like the pictures. The other week we had a 1/2 marathon/marathon. I just ran the 1/2, it was almost an hour slower than my PR, but I managed to stay comfortable outside for almost 3 hours including mingling around at the start and finish, so there’s some promise for 100MoN, but it’s starting to get colder now.

    It’s hard to read in the sign but elevation is 9,300 feet or so and with a squishing effect of the atmosphere at the poles the average physiological altitude is somewhere around 10,300’, so it just makes things that much harder. I’ve done a year down here before and did participate in the “300 club” a couple times, which entails sitting in a 200F sauna to the point of getting heat sickness and then running outside naked at -100. The record here is -117F, the coldest I’ve felt was -107.

    The only issues with the bike appear to be a reluctance to shift to smaller gears on the cassette. The pugsley has fully encased cables and I think there’s just too much drag on them, and after about 10-15 minutes I usually count on not being able to shift. It’s almost completely flat here though, so it’s not a big deal. Most of my rides are on the “skiway”, which is just our nicely packed icy runway, and we have slightly packed ski loops that lead up to about 4 miles off station. The geography is just total flat icy desert in every direction or hundreds and hundreds of miles. Lately I’ve been commissioning a project at a telescope about a mile off station and I’ve been “commuting” there on my bike, instead of walking or taking a snowmobile.

    The bike works in the soft stuff, but it’s hard to ride. I’d ridden another bike last time I was here with more normal tires and if you hit the soft stuff you just would crash, the pugs at least gives you hope, and if you have the lungs and legs for it, you can sprint through/over the really soft stuff. We have limited satellite internet (only about 8 hours a day), so I’ll reply when I can. Thanks for the comments guys! I’m glad you like the pics!

  24. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.11.2012 | 1:34 pm

    We will ‘tip a toast’ to you in Davis(frozen margaritas seems appropriate) in June, Nate, keep up good work.

    To all Fatties who like to ‘vote’. Go to the New Yorker Caption Contest(it’s about bicycles):

    and cast a vote for Lycra. As Fatties, we can do this!!!

  25. Comment by Trailer Park Cyclist | 01.11.2012 | 1:39 pm

    So there are naked scientists running around down at the South Pole? Why do I find that a comforting thought?

    What a piece of work is man…

    Nate, as impressive as I find your chilly exploits, I gotta say that the fact that you somehow got a Pug down there is more impressive still. Do you have an LBS? Watch out for that squishing atmosphere and like the others, I look forward to hearing more.


  26. Comment by KM | 01.11.2012 | 2:52 pm

    Dang Nate, after reading your follow up post I feel even more wussified. I have a suggestion for your shifting problem, just go SS! That fixes any problem I have with shifting now.

  27. Comment by GJ Jackie | 01.11.2012 | 3:01 pm

    Wow. Nate, you’re tough! Me, I’m a weanie, inside on a sunny 41 degree afternoon. My toes freeze up at 30 degrees. How do you keep yours warm?

  28. Comment by Janie.k - London | 01.11.2012 | 4:00 pm

    I guess you don’t have to worry about locking your bike up between rides. Always a bonus. Happy riding. A quick question for you though. Tell me which way do you look for sunset when you are at the Pole? Is that always North too?

  29. Comment by Mike | 01.11.2012 | 5:01 pm

    Janie, every direction from the South Pole is “North,” and there’s only one sunset a year.

  30. Comment by Nate C. | 01.11.2012 | 5:02 pm

    Since we are creatures of habit, we still use cardinal directions. North refers to the prime meridian, and south heads off towards McMurdo and New Zealand. So planes that come in generally come from the “south”. For people who refuse to accept that idea we have a prevailing wind direction, so things are referred to as upwind/downwind, etc.

    The sunset occurs over several weeks, if you consider that we have one sunset and one sunrise a year each “hour” of a regular day represents about 2 weeks of time here. It’s hard to officially determine where or when the sun sets, and they generally just calculate or estimate the exact time. Most of the windows on the station point towards “grid north” and so we pretty much watch it from there, but it sort of sets everywhere. The station population is at a record over 250 right now, but for austral winter operations we drop down to around 50 with no flights in or out between mid February and late October.

    I’d talked about going SS, but just had no reference for what would be a good gear and didn’t want to bring down tools and such to dial it in, I was sort of short on time when I was leaving. Now that I’m here I could probably pick a good gear and go SS without too much sweat. The station here is sort of like a boat, we basically just have facilities set up to support the science and maintain some level of sanity. We have a nice gym and lots of movies and a store to buy booze, etc. There’s a machine shop if things break terribly, but I’m hoping that’s not the case.

    This bike was lovingly packaged and sent by an LBS in Denver called “salvagetti”. They hooked me up with a deal, and dealt with breaking it down into small enough boxes that the USPS APO system would take it. I owe them big time, it’s a great shop if anyone is ever in the Denver area.

  31. Comment by John H. | 01.11.2012 | 5:11 pm

    Now that is dedication! So much for me wining about it being too cold to ride. I am however drawing the line at rain;)….

  32. Comment by Onomastic | 01.11.2012 | 5:34 pm

    One could ask “why,” but anyone reading this blog probably already knows the answer. One thing for sure,though, common sense has little to do with it.

  33. Comment by fat dadoo | 01.11.2012 | 7:01 pm

    Way to go Nate, I’m too much a cold weather weenie. Googled “Salvagetti” and it appears your bike is pictured on their website!

  34. Comment by Bee | 01.11.2012 | 8:07 pm

    I was so proud of myself for commuting in 29 degree weather here in Oregon today, and for braving our fast-falling darkness. (Seriously, it gets dark so FAST. The sun must set in 5 minutes flat.)

    And now I have a new notch on the bar of Bad Ass, and it is Nate, and I shall never reach that high bar.

    I bow to you.

    Please, please do the 100 MON! Do you ride a trainer at all?

  35. Comment by Bee | 01.11.2012 | 8:11 pm

    By the way, because someone has to point it out for the ladies, Nate is one adorable cycling scientist. :-)

  36. Comment by Jenni | 01.11.2012 | 9:09 pm

    100 MoN around that flag so you can say you rode around the world in .25 mile increments.

    Fatties, I believe we can cajole him into it. Cancer-fighting donations cannot be resisted. Who’s in?!

  37. Comment by Tim | 01.11.2012 | 9:46 pm

    Fatty – your blog (the quote about riding with NY Bike Snob being dangerous) was quoted in Outside Magazine that I got today. You are such a multi-media star…..

  38. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.11.2012 | 10:37 pm

    Nate- So the American flag is over here….by you, but in the background of the wheelie pic you can see the flags of the other countries down south. Have we been kicked out of the club? Are we practicing a little display of isolationism? Or, did someone appropriate a flag for a photo op???? ( and did they put it back?)

  39. Comment by AK Chick | 01.11.2012 | 11:47 pm

    I KNOW I’m a wimp! I get cold when the temps fall under 50 AND I live in Alaska where we have more days under 50 than above it. So mad props to Nate. That is super duper awesome! I love hearing all the facts about the South Pole. It’s like our very own private Fatty lesson. I do ride my studded tire mountain bike in the winter though usually not when it falls below zero. With all the snow and crazy weather we’ve had lately, I’m counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until spring when I can break out the roadie. I’m not ashamed to be a wimp. :) Keep in touch Nate!

  40. Comment by Jenn | 01.12.2012 | 1:02 am

    No offense to Fatty, but this is one of the coolest posts ever on this site. Fascinating!

  41. Comment by Mayhemnsuz | 01.12.2012 | 9:01 am


    So glad you looked at that message!


    Thanks for sending the photos and answering the Fattyverse’s questions! This is all seriously fascinating.

  42. Comment by Evelin B - New Zealand | 01.12.2012 | 10:29 am

    Hey Nate,

    I’m here in Christchurch, NZ. When you leave and if you have time for a ride in Christchurch maybe we could do a ride up in the Port Hills here. Drop me a line. My email is emb92959@yahoo.com. Best wishes for the rest of your time there. Great post!!!!

  43. Comment by Jeff Bike | 01.12.2012 | 12:49 pm

    OMG! We in south Texas deal with +107 every summer but -107deg. Wow!

  44. Comment by Mark | 01.12.2012 | 1:20 pm

    I would think riding a bike in those low temps would be hard on the lungs. How do you protect your breathing?

    I don’t think Nate can do the 100MoN except on a trainer – he would have cycled around the world 400 times. How can that be nowhere?!

  45. Comment by the swede | 01.12.2012 | 1:30 pm

    booze… thank the baby Jesus

  46. Comment by Obstinate Roadie | 01.12.2012 | 1:48 pm

    Hey Nate, is there any wildlife there, or is the South Pole exclusively inhabited by mad scientists?

  47. Comment by Tom Stephens | 01.12.2012 | 2:10 pm

    I’m thinking that unless someone journeys to the center of the earth, if Nate does the 100 MON, he’d have the most extreme one ever.

  48. Comment by Nate C. | 01.12.2012 | 3:08 pm

    Yes, salvagetti really hooked it up and I sent them pics the day I got the bicycle. It took almost 2 months in the APO mail system to get to the South Pole, but it made it!

    We have an annual “race around the world” and in order to keep it from taking 5 seconds they drag it out to basically a 5k tour of the station. The loop for the race is also a great bike loop and it was part of the marathon followed by 5 mile laps up and down the skiway. You can really nuke your lungs if you push it too hard here, the result is a wheezy, dry, persistent cough. The easiest protection is pulling a neck gaiter up in front of your face and creating a sort of warm pocket of air. They tend to ice up and make breathing hard, I find it’s easier just to not push it too hard. If you have to, there are high tech workarounds, but I’ve never tried any of them.

    We have a ceremonial pole and the actual Geographic South Pole. The ceremonial is a candy cane deal with the flags of the 13 or so original signatories of the Antarctic treaty. The ceremonial pole doesn’t move relative to the station and it looks all fancy, the geographic pole moves relative to the ice sheet each year about 10 meters. We survey and mark the official location every January 1st with a little ceremony. There’s usually another flag pole up for visitors to fly their own flag. This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the discovery of the pole by Roald Amundsen and later Robert Falcon Scott, so there have been a lot of tourists down here so far.

    No natural wildlife this far south, we did see a stray Skua bird this summer and we all presumed they come out here to die. It’s pretty rare that we see them, maybe ever 2-3 years or so. I do engineering for science support facilities. Real live scientists make up about 1/3 of the population, the rest are trades folk, cooks, equipment operators, IT, etc.

    Evelin, we go through Christchurch on all our travels north and south, I’ve completely fallen in love with New Zealand and was actually in Dunedin last year when I heard about the Christchurch quakes. It was a completely different place when I came through in October, I’d love to ride around the area, since most of my time there is just being a transient.

  49. Comment by Dave T | 01.12.2012 | 5:28 pm

    Wow Nate thanks for the awesome post.

  50. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.12.2012 | 6:18 pm

    Hey Nate- Post that APO Address and Team Fatty can send some cookies (MattC are you listening) It will give you something to ride for.

  51. Comment by Kel | 01.12.2012 | 8:32 pm

    Nate – Your posting and responses were fascinating. Thanks for educating us about the South Pole! Please give us an update if you do the 100 miles to nowhere or any other crazy exercises. Take care and stay warm!

  52. Comment by roan | 01.12.2012 | 10:37 pm

    I just knew there was a reason why I never went to the South Pole…stray old Skuas go there to die…I’m just not ready for that last word yet.
    Nate, this has been a great Fatcyclist posting, thanks. AND if you do the 100 MoN, I can see the headline now “Cannon shot around the World 400 times”.
    I plan on toasting you in Davis even if you don’t…awesome.

  53. Comment by Candyce | 01.13.2012 | 5:34 pm


    Wow. Just wow. First off, I’m impressed your skin still looked pink, and not blue!

    Secondly, you make all of us look wimpy. I’ve had contract offers to do work in Antartica and Prudhoe Bay, and told them that I was too girly for such (insanely) cold weather.

    Rock on!

  54. Comment by McBain | 01.17.2012 | 10:18 am

    At -100°F doesn’t the rubber on the tyres (even ones as phat as those on your bike) get very inflexible? Mind you, at those temperatures I’d be more worried about extremity loss than a flat.

    How on earth do you keep your drink liquid in that environment? Do you wear a drink bladder underneath all of your layers or is that risking disaster in case it springs a leak?

    Why hasn’t a major clothing manufacturer signed you up as their ‘ultimate winter tester’ and shipped you loads of cold weather gear. “NateC-Approved” could be the new ‘must-have’ label for winter gear ;)

    Excellent post and it will elevate Fatty’s smugness to previously undreamed of altitudes as he can now claim a pole-to-pole audience (normally the only poles Fatty likes are the ones with nubile tanned ladies dancing around them!)

  55. Comment by Janie_K | 01.17.2012 | 4:22 pm

    Nate thanks for the reply. :-)

    Totally fascinating and quite surreal to live a year there I am sure. I referred my boss to your post today. He moaned the whole way to work this morning about the cold on an hours ride. It’s about zero degrees here in London today! What a Lightweight. I’ll not let him moan any more. I am off to do more reading on polar sunsets. You have got me thinking…

  56. Comment by Gordon Inkeles | 01.18.2012 | 5:38 pm


    We know the tee shirt was photoshopped. What about the background?

  57. Comment by Jamesryan | 02.4.2012 | 5:36 am

    Isaac, what a rrlaekabme piece!! Extremely well presented and thought out. You are spot on. And, if you dig one level deeper yopu will find another root cause;congressional entitlements and himan nature. No party/person ever wants to give up anything. So, expect the fight gainst gerrymandering to be as intense by both parties as a union fighting for maintaining benefits in a labor dispute. And, therein lies the irony. The political system you so eloquently describe in a mirror image of the problems, programs and crises its expected to fix. That’s why things like term limits never pass.Taking your position one step further, I am curious about your opinion as to whether if we were ever successful in enacting the gerrymandering change proposed whether the end result would be a more, centrist, homogenous, US as you suspect or, converesly, a more solidly sectarian regional political systems with the coasts going more left and the west/south going more right.Let’s ponder it when I see you next. Seriosly, a magnificent piece that you wrote, well beyond your years (and alan combes’ comprehension…:-) you should feel very proud. Bravissimo!

  58. Comment by hooubxkhboc | 02.5.2012 | 9:00 am

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