90 Miles From Tyranny : Badass of the Week.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Badass of the Week.

Fridtjof Nansen
If you can look at this picture and tell me that this isn't one of the sweetest photos of a dude with a 'stache that you've ever seen, then you obviously need to learn a little something about facial hair and being awesome.  This picture alone makes the guy badass, even if you didn't know the story behind it.  You will be pleased to learn, no doubt, that the man behind this vicious strip of solidified testosterone is sufficiently badass to pull off a soup strainer that epically righteous.  It can be no other way.
Fridtjof Nansen was a tough-as-nails Norwegian psychopath with an impossible-to-spell first name and an unstoppable desire to constantly freeze his balls off and risk his life in the name of science and kickassery.  Born in 1861 in a town near Oslo, as a teenager this super-brilliant, ultra-hardcore crazy person constantly went outside into the frostbite-inducing snow-covered wilderness Bear Grylls-style to test himself against the most volatile bullshit Mother Nature could furiously dump on him.  Spending days and weeks at a time alone in the wild with just his faithful dog, a sharp knife, and his badass 'stache to keep him company, this guy quickly forged himself into a high-endurance asskicker.  This dude was so ridiculously tough that that he could get out and cross-country ski fifty miles a day, every day, for pretty much as many days as he wanted.  For those of us who have no idea what skiing two marathons back-to-back actually means, the 50km cross-country ski race (30 miles for those of you who continue to resist the global tyranny of the metric system) is the longest ski race the Olympics has ever offered.  In the 1948 games, 20 world-class athletes busted ass and finished the race in times ranging from 4 to 5 hours, with seven more guys dropping out and not even being able to crawl their half-dead asses over the finish line.  They haven't offered the race since, presumably because that bullshit constitutes something akin to "cruel and unusual punishment." For this guy it was half a day's ski in the woods.

In 1882, the 21 year-old Nansen went on a naval expedition to Greenland and instantly fell in love with the harsh, unyielding hellhole he discovered there.  Greenland, contrary to what it's name might imply, is actually a freezing-ass wasteland of ice and pain and misery, but that's apparently the sort of thing that appeals to guys who enjoy spending their time fist-fighting wild animals in the uncharted mountainous regions of Norway.  Nansen, who loved learning about zoology, ecology, and oceanography, used his time on the ship wisely – while lesser men were below decks doing wussy crap like huddling for warmth or losing their fingers to frostbite, Nansen was getting up-close-and-personal with polar bears, making observations and writing a damn book about how balls-out he was.

Returning to Norway so pumped up he wanted to barf, Nansen got his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Oslo. When he wasn't working on a dissertation exploring the central nervous system of lower invertebrates, developing the groundwork for the field of science that would become neuron theory, or working at a research station with Armauer Hansen (the man who discovered the leprosy bacteria), Nansen took a study break to ski 300 miles over a usually-impenetrable mountain range so that he could participate in a ski jumping competition that was taking place on the other side of the country.  I wasn't able to find the results of the competition, but knowing what we know about this guy it's probably safe to assume that he flew off the ramp, did a double backflip and landed on top of a volcano in Iceland.

One day Nansen got bored of being a super-genius ski-jumping wilderness expert, so he got a couple friends together and decided to be the first person to cross Greenland on skis.  To this point, nobody had ever attempted an exploration of the interior of Greenland, and the closest anybody had come to reaching the North Pole was writing a letter to Santa Claus, but Nansen didn't give a crap about any of that shit.  Nothing would stand in the way of him kicking one of Saint Nick's reindeer in the antlers.  He landed a ship on the East coast of Greenland, unpacked his skis, and got ready to freeze his junk off. Figuring that retreat or surrender would be an indelible sign of weakness, Nansen took the head-searingly insane step of burning his boats after he landed, thereby removing the one possible avenue of escape from this uncharted wasteland nobody had ever successfully ventured across without dying.   Victory or death, as they say.  Nansen and five other men then spent the next two months cross-country skiing across the continent, battling through dangerous ice, exhaustion, elevations over 9,000 feet, and temperatures as low as fifty below.  Incredibly, they made their way all the way from east to west, landing in the warmer sunny climes of Siberia before heading home to a victory parade, an artillery salute, and the status of a national hero.  Fridtjof turned his experience into two best-selling books, both of which he also illustrated, because of course this guy was strong, smart, and also artistic. And women loved him, obviously.

For his next trick, Fridtjof Nansen decided he was going to become the first person to reach the North Pole.  He developed a pretty ingenious tactic for doing so – he built the famous, ultra-hard wooden ship Fram, lodged it into the ice pack off the coast of Siberia in 1893, and let it drift in the ice while the tides of ocean carried him across the pole.  This was a tactic that would be used by great explorers from Scott to Shackleton to traverse both Arctic and Antarctic climes, and this guy pioneered that shit.

Ah, good times.

Nansen and his crew drifted for 18 months, somehow surviving in the freezing-ass cold temperatures, but unfortunately the tides of the Arctic Sea decided not to cooperate with Nansen's plan, no matter how good it was or how intensely he tried to stare it down.  Realizing that he was drifting too far from the pole and wouldn't cross it, Nansen obviously did the badass thing – he and one other guy jumped out of the drifting boat, jumped on a dog sled, and rushed 140 miles across open ice to get there.

Nansen didn't reach the pole – he was forced to turn back just a couple hundred miles away – but he had achieved the highest latitude ever reached at this point in history, which was definitely something to be proud of.  Not convinced that he could find his still-drifting ship as it made its way through the polar ice, Nansen and his homedog instead headed south across Greenland.  They spent a winter living in the inhospitable climate of the extreme North, building a hut out of stone and eating walrus blubber and polar bears he personally clubbed to death with his boner, and finally reached Norway by kayak the next summer.  In addition to being awesome and also kicking ass, the six volumes of research material he published on his trip got him a post as a Professor of Oceanography at the University of Oslo and plenty of prestige in the legitimate scientific community.  His ship, Fram, would go on to carry Roald Amundsen to the South Pole.  To this day, it's still the wooden ship that has achieved the furthest North and furthest South latitudes, and this dude built it back in 1890 using ingenious mathematics-oriented ship-building techniques he devised himself.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Nansen had to halt his balls-out research/almost dying, which sucked.  He was so pissed about it that he went out and won the Nobel Peace Prize so that he could get back to doing dangerous things.  Seriously.  He was Norway's representative in the League of Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and he closely worked with governments and the Red Cross to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by the war.  He negotiated a relaxation of the Allied blockade of Europe, allowing much-needed food to get through to starving people, and negotiated the repatriation and ethical treatment of displaced persons and refugees, developing techniques still used by the UN today.  His most badass accomplishment to this end was the development of the "Nansen Passport", a document that allowed refugees to travel to countries that could help them.  My guess is that he just put his picture on there and people were so awe-struck by the glorious stache that they did whatever he wanted.


After the war, Nansen continued being awesome to the world.  He negotiated post-war prisoner-of-war exchanges and releases, and helped Turks, Greeks, and Armenians escape persecution from various sources after a bunch of terrible shit went on in their respective territories.  When the Russian people were starving to death after a decade of war and revolution, Nansen rallied international support and got food and medical supplies for them.  The Soviets distrusted the Western powers, and refused to deal with anyone except Nansen.  He's credited with saving the lives of something like ten million people with his food policy in Russia. Not bad for a guy who was head-butting polar bears and building shelters in the wilderness of Greenland a few years earlier.

The adventurer, explorer, scientist, and humanitarian badass Fridtjof Nansen died in 1930 – just a couple years before he would have found a way to single-handedly end World War II with his facial hair.


  1. Major, major badass. What a story. Thanks.

  2. WOW! What a Badass.We could use a few like him today.

  3. Damn! What a bad ass ! Did he drink Dos Equis ? Or maybe the Most Interesting Man was his pupil?


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