Q&A with Polar Adventurer Eric McNair-Landry

If anyone has earned the title ‘adventurer’ it’s Eric McNair-Landry. On top of holding the world record for longest kite-skiing distance in 24 hours (595 km), he’s one of the youngest people to have skied to the South Pole unsupported. SOI is thrilled to have him join this year’s Antarctic 2014 expedition, where he’ll be maintaining communication between the ship and the SOI headquarters, driving zodiac, and inspiring future adventurers.


How did you become interested in undertaking expeditions in such extreme climates?

I grew up in Iqaluit Nunavut, which is situated in a treeless arctic climate of rolling hills covered in mossy tundra. Walking to and from school was a miniature arctic expedition – at the time school was only cancelled if the wind chill dropped below -75C! Our family owned a several teams of Canadian Inuit dogs and by the age of 11 I was allowed to drive my own team unsupervised. Often my parents would send my sister and me outside to play where north pole explorers were training (generally we threw snowballs at them).


Photo contributed by Eric McNair-Landry

Given this upbringing it would be more apt to say that I enjoyed exploring my back yard, which happened to be an extreme climate. And yet while I find this climate familiar I also find it exceptionally beautiful and dynamic. The arctic presents a terrain that transforms dramatically with the seasons.


What’s it like doing these sorts of expeditions with family members?

On nearly half of my expeditions I have traveled with my younger sister Sarah, which can generate some interesting team dynamics. Ultimately though we have spent most of our lives together and have developed a method of decision making that suits us. We can predict each others moods and ultimately I know she has my back, and at least once we have saved each others lives by acting as a team. People change in dramatic ways when they are under stress, and the stress associated with an expedition can be beyond what is found in normal life. Different people break for different reasons, some from a singular event, and some from being worn down over continuous days. Its nearly impossible to predict, so going with people who you know well has serious advantages.


What are some of the modes of transport have you used for previous expeditions? And what makes them unique (do you have a favourite)?

Each mode of transport presents new challenges, and new opportunities to learn; I try to dabble in many methods of transport, but admirably I am only good at a few, and appalling at many! I have a deep love of kiting, which at times borders on obsession! There is a certain joy in feeling wind, an otherwise invisible force being transmitted to you through 4 thin vibrating threads.

Photo contributed by Eric McNair-Landry

Photo contributed by Eric McNair-Landry

Dog sledding is another passion; working with a team of animals that all have distinct personalities is amazingly fulfilling, and the dogs provide excellent company on any trip. They say that owning a dog can increase your life expectancy. This fact is especially true when traveling in polar bear country!


No doubt the expeditions you have embarked on involve severe challenges. What do you gain from such challenges, why do you keep going back for more?

The value of an expedition is hard to conceptualize, and impossible to quantify.

In your daily life your personality is buttressed by friends and families stereotypes of you, the activities you partake in and increasingly your permanent virtual shadow. While we may value this support, it also confines our ability to change, we risk becoming inclosed in an echo chamber.

On expedition you find yourself freed, with amazing space to discover, and change yourself. The challenges that expedition presents force you to examine different aspects of your personality, and crisis can force you to design new emotional tools.


Have you been on any other SOI expeditions (or encountered an SOI expedition by chance)?

In 2013 while on an expedition in Auyuittuq National Park, on Baffin Island, I ran into an SOI group who graciously let us hitch a ride to a nearby community in exchange for a brief presentation. It was a remarkable event, being let on to a luxurious ship in the middle of a 65 day expedition.


What are you looking forward to most about the expedition?

Learning from peers, and seeing the periphery of Antarctic as opposed to the interior.


What makes the Antarctic special to you?

Since its discovery Antarctica has been the most extreme continent and has supplied explorers with a fascinating subject. The greatest race played out on the continent between Amundsen and Scott, and to this date represents mount Everest for polar explorers. Recently the scientific work in Antarctica has taken garnered massive press when the ICEcube telescope detected high powered neutrinos, and more recently when the south poles 10m telescope found reminisce of gravitational waves in the cosmic background radiation.


Follow the 2014 Antarctic Expedition!


The Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition is taking place December 26th, 2014 to January 8th, 2015. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.



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