WHO: Richard Laronde, 54, of Walpole
WHERE: North Pole
WHEN: 10 days in April
WHY: ``I've wanted to go to the North Pole since before I knew you actually could. I love going out in a snowstorm and experiencing the wind and cold," Laronde said. He chose Australian adventurer Eric Philips of Icetrek as his guide.
GETTING IN SHAPE: Before bulking up his muscles, Laronde dropped 104 pounds. ``I'm fairly active, but I weighed quite a bit. I had to be in good physical condition because we'd be doing a lot of skiing and I'd need endurance." He worked out at the gym regularly, and to practice pulling up to 80 pounds of gear on skis, he dragged a sled filled with sand across frozen Lake Winnipesaukee .
GEARING UP: Laronde spent months collecting needed equipment, such as special boots and a GPS device. ``I would put things in the freezer, like all these different watches. My wife thought I was crazy."
ICY BEGINNINGS: Laronde met Philips in Norway and they flew to Spitzburgen , in the Arctic Ocean . (Two others had signed up for the trip, but dropped out beforehand.) From there they took a Russian cargo jet to Ice Station Borneo , which operates only in April as the base for polar expeditions. It's from the station that most people take helicopters either to or near the exact point of the North Pole. Most land travelers go by dog sled, but Laronde wanted more of a challenge. He was told he was the only person from Massachusetts among the 300 or so who have skied to the North Pole.
UNDER PRESSURE: The men faced many hazards, including temperatures more than 30 degrees below zero and navigating around open water created by ice separating . As menacing as it could be, ``it's the most beautiful place," Laronde said. ``The sun doesn't rise or fall, which kind of freaks you out. You go in April because there's light and it's still cold enough that the ice is hard." They stayed in tents pitched on ice that is always moving. ``We went to bed one night about 9 1/2 miles from the Pole and when we got up it was 11 miles away." To reach their destination, they skied about eight to 10 hours a day for four days.
AMONG THE FAMOUS: At the North Pole, Laronde flew an American flag for a photo opportunity and enjoyed his brushes with celebrity explorers. One was Polish billionaire Leszek Czarnecki , who had been flown in to scuba/cave dive, and the other was adventurer Cecile Skog , who, starting on Ellesmere Island, became the first woman to ski to the North Pole.
POLAR OPPOSITE : Laronde is eyeing the South Pole. ``It takes a lot longer and is much more difficult ," he said. ``But Eric says I can do it."
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