Perhaps nothing screams freedom more than the thought of riding a motorcycle, wind blowing in your face and hair, through vast landscapes of natural beauty. That was the sensation that first got Ken Friedman hooked on motorcycles as a teenager, as he accelerated his small Honda through the agricultural lands and hills of the San Fernando Valley. At 62, Ken hasn’t given up on his teenage passion, if anything he has been pursuing it more aggressively than ever.
Motorcycling and Overcoming Fear
From the picturesque Amalfi coast in Italy to the sublime high passes of the Himalayas, Ken has ridden in over 50 countries. The Honda obviously got replaced by better, faster and more serious bikes, but the feeling of freedom has remained just the same. Last year, Ken accomplished his most ambitious feat to date: riding his BMW 700 GS bike in the icy interior of Antarctica. What started out as a purely personal journey, a bucket-list desire to tick-off his seventh continent on wheels, ended up taking bigger and even more global proportions, inspiring him to create the non-profit foundation Dance Upon the Precipice.
“The foundation’s goal is to inspire individuals to go beyond their comfort levels and partake in their respective ‘dances upon the precipice’ be they physical, emotional, intellectual or entrepreneurial,” he explains. “It’s about overcoming fear and embracing the value of getting outside of your comfort zone.”
Mortality as Motivation
In Ken’s case, getting out of his comfort zone went well beyond enduring the freezing temperatures of Antarctica. The journey had really started years before the actual trip and it was as emotional as it was physical. Throughout the many chapters of our lives, the importance we give to different things oscillates; while some aspects we once held dear lose relevance, other things become a priority in a natural ebb and flow. After high school, Ken put his motorcycle days on hold as other things (education, career and family) took precedence. As we age, reminders of our own mortality also seem to crop up more frequently.
Those indications are surely daunting, but they can also be inspiring. They shake up an internal hierarchy of values which many times, unbeknown to us, had become fossilized. In Ken’s case, it was only after the age of 50, when confronted with the death of a close friend, that he would reassess how he was spending his own time: “That moment was a reminder that there was much more to life than consummating another venture capital investment,” he says. The allure of speeding on pavement, the delight of the wind, and the taste for freedom were all suddenly reignited within him. Ken bought a Harley-Davidson and started hitting the road again.
Vehicle to a “richly textured life”
Throughout the last seven years, Ken’s motorcycle has not only been a vehicle to different locations but also to a more “richly textured life,” as he likes to put it. It has enabled him to experience different cultures, cuisines, and ways of life. He’s opened up to spirituality while riding in Asia, bared witness to the realities of human despair in Africa, and felt humbled before some of the world’s most magnificent natural landscapes.
“It’s very intentional to go unprepared”
On another level, riding solo, many times with no GPS or a proper route defined, challenges Ken to have confidence in himself and to trust his path, whatever that may be. “It’s very intentional to go unprepared and to do it by myself because I want to be compelled to figure it out when I get into adverse situations,” he explains. “I don’t have a fear of death nor am I seeking to shorten my life — I absolutely love every moment of it — but I find life at its highest in those moments at which it’s at its riskiest as well.”
It was with that mindset that Ken first started thinking about Antarctica five years ago: “I had ridden through five continents at that point in time and I had the first glimmer of a thought to ride through all seven,” he says.
Ambition to Ride Through 7 Continents
To fully understand the scope of Ken’s ambition, it’s important to know one or two things about Antarctica beforehand. The environment in our southernmost continent is so hostile that there’s no permanent life there. There are no cities, towns or housing developments — it’s mainly a bunch of temporary research stations which host scientists in the summer months (very few people remain in Antarctica during winter).
Antarctica is also not a nation, so traveling there isn’t as easy as going on Google Flights and booking a ticket. The Antarctic treaty of 1961 determined that that gigantic piece of land, mostly ice and snow really, would predominantly be used for scientific research as well as being protected and governed by several nations in conjunction. It is possible to visit Antarctica as a tourist, but these trips are usually organized through big cruise companies and travel operators, are predominantly on the peninsula and require getting a permit from your country. So, as one can imagine, convincing the US government to allow Ken to go ride his motorbike on one of earth’s most protected, remote, and hostile areas wasn’t easy, to say the least.
It took Ken five years of hitting dead ends until he found a company whose adventurous portfolio of expeditions into the continent offered him hope. “They had been in business for thirty years providing logistical support to the interior of Antarctica to most of these research stations and catering to unique individuals who want to do certain physical expeditions,” he says. “They cater particularly to people who want to climb Mount Vincent or who want to ski the last degree.” Conveniently, this company also seasonally leases a Russian Ilyushin cargo aircraft, which could take both Ken and his motorcycle to his destination, “so they were the ideally situated company to accommodate my needs — and they agreed!”
Riding Upon the Interior of Antarctica
Lo and behold, on December 7, 2019, Ken Friedman and his crated BMW 700 GS landed on the blue ice runway of Antarctica. “I think that the word that would come to mind is ‘surreal.’ The environment there was so raw, so beautiful…” recounts Ken. Under the eternal sunlight of Antarctica’s summer, in wind chills -25 degrees Fahrenheit, over a moving glacier surrounded by mountains on three sides, Ken completed his ambition to ride upon seven continents, likely becoming the first person to accomplish such feat that included riding upon the interior of Antarctica (as opposed to its peninsula.)
Inspiration Through Connection
The achievement, however, acquired a new meaning for Ken when he returned to warmer lands; it became less about setting a record, and more about setting an example: “Let me not make it about me personally, but let me make it an inspirational storyline, if you will, to try to encourage other people to similarly get outside their comfort zones to achieve their own personal growth and a more richly textured existence.” Still in its early days, Ken’s foundation, Dance Upon the Precipice is envisioned as a social media hub aimed at connecting inspiring individuals, recounting their journeys with those seeking inspiration.
As he sees it, we are all at these different heights in different areas of our lives, which he likes to call verticals: “Whether you are an entrepreneur, a scientist, a musician, an artist, there is always a higher precipice within that vertical,” he explains. “There’s always a greater level of achievement that’s available to all of us.”