Todd Carmichael’s Excellent Adventures

He’s worked for a Saudi prince, adopted three girls from Africa, trekked across Antarctica—and this month he’ll attempt a solo journey across Death Valley. So is Todd Carmichael—the man behind Philly coffee juggernaut La Colombe—living life to the fullest? Or just out of his freakin’ mind?

Carmichael has been asked The Question – Why? – often enough that he has a handy selection of explanations, any of them plausible. There’s the Because it’s there: “If you suddenly got wings, wouldn’t you wonder how high you could fly? Well, you have legs.” There’s the response-to–modern-life: “Most people never have the opportunity to focus on just one thing for a month or two. Normally, your life is fragmented into a million pieces. And so you never get to know what your potential is.”

His wife, Lauren Hart (yes, in addition to owning a swank coffee company and conquering Earth’s frontiers, he’s married to the cute blond musician who sings the anthem at Flyers games), says, “His philosophy is he just wants to be the last guy standing, whether it’s in business, in coffee. He’ll outlast you.”

Anything else? “A lot of men fall asleep in their 40s,” he told me. “And that’s scary shit, man. I take out the recycling, I cook on the weekends, I pack lunches, teach my kids how to swim and ride bikes – it’s all important stuff. But some men just start dozing off, and you gotta put some fuel on the fire, dude, or it’s just checkout time. If you want to shake yourself awake, rip yourself out of everything that’s seemingly comfortable and drop yourself in the middle of somewhere where it’s just, like, Oh my God. And you wake up.”

Carmichael has willed himself across Antarctica and a dozen deserts. He’s traveled the globe working for a Saudi prince, spent months on a desolate South Sea island, tracked elephants in Namibia, worked to save orangutans in Borneo. He’s a gearhead who has designed a revolutionary tankless espresso machine, aimed at the world’s top kitchens, code-named La Bestia (The Beast). He supports coffee growers around the equator. He adopted three daughters from Ethiopia. It’s an epic storybook.

“When I look at him in social settings with men who are his age, I see the looks in their eyes,” says Hart.

It’s great to be restless. Right? To not be sleepy, to crave another adventure story before bedtime. But what if it’s a curse, too? To journey to the ends of the Earth, almost die, beat back everything the world throws at you … and then somehow not be done. To need to go back out for more.

If this is a movie, here’s where the screen goes white. Carmichael is in Antarctica. November and December, 2008. That’s summertime, 24/7 daylight.

“Most days it’s all white, even the sky,” he says, sitting at his desk in La Colombe’s factory in Port Richmond. “You’re in a bubble. There is no reference. … It’s blowing at 40, 50 nauts, and it’s 40, 50 below zero. You have these illusions of what it will be like, and then that first day you just get the shit kicked out of you. Ninety percent of guys call in: Come get me.” In 2007, he’d been one of those guys – about a month in, he’d called for help.