Boy, once the adventure bug bites, it really bites some people. Enter two Irishmen, David Burns and Maghnus Collins, mates from college who at age 23 decided to undertake a great adventure before settling into the workaday world.
The idea, hatched on a whim, was to bicycle home to Ireland from Cape Town, South Africa. It was a journey of eleven months and 17,500 km. That was in 2009 and – if you can believe it – wasn’t even their most ambitious project.
Map of the 14,000 km route taken by David Burns and Maghnus Collins
Shannon Galpin in Afghanistan. photo by Tony Di Zinno
Today is the last day to vote for your favorite “Adventurer of the Year.” And before we get into that, a BIG shout-out to National Geographic for putting together this list of ten truly awesome adventurers.
Half Dome by Renan Ozturk. See his art at http://renanozturk.sites.livebooks.com/
Just in time to beat the voting deadline… ultra long distance runner Lizzy Hawker makes up our 10th and final look at National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year, 2013. Don’t forget to vote by January 16!
* * *
You know that scene in the movie Forrest Gump where, after the girl leaves him, Forrest heads off for a run that takes him across the country about six times? Seemingly no limit to his endurance? That’s what I think of when I read about Lizzy Hawker. A petite British woman who didn’t run a professional race until she was 29 and entered NorthFace’s Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc on a whim – and won it!
Some fish are born to swim, right?
In his excellent post for Nat Geo, Fitz Cahall paints the picture in all its grueling colors. 103 miles (168 km) with a cumulative 31,168 feet of uphill climb. As anyone who has run a regular marathon can tell you – this is quite an achievement. Lizzy has won the women’s title 5 out of the 6 times she’s run it.
Lizzy Hawker wins first place for her 5th time, at Northface’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. photo: Franck Oddoux.
Since finishing her PhD in oceanography, and her work with the British Antarctic Survey, Lizzy has concentrated on endurance running. She credits her success to a natural level of endurance and a deep love of the mountains. In fact, it seems like just being in the mountains is her primary motivation.
Perhaps even more impressive than the large, well organized UTMB, was Lizzy’s try at the Great Himalayan Trail, across Nepal, solo.
You have to realize that a trail like that – criss-crossed for thousands of years – doesn’t exactly come with trail markers. “There are lots of old hunting trails. The animals have worn parts [of it] as well. It’s very easy to get off the main trail. I was in really steep old-growth forest. I managed to lose a small bag that had the satellite phone and permits for the entire journey.”
Losing that bag meant the end to Lizzy’s trek. Without being able to make her daily sat-phone check in, she knew her friends would be calling out a rescue party.
Of course she’s planning on trying again. When you’re Lizzy Hawker, you don’t need a prize at the end of the road. You just need the trail, your shoes and the mountains. How pure is that?
For me, moving fast in the mountains just comes natural.
Lizzy Hawker loves to run in the mountains. Whether there’s a race or not!
When you grow up in a fishing village with a break like this one, it’s easy to see why you’d grow up passionate about the ocean. What we love about Ramon Navarro isn’t just that he’s an amazing big wave surfer. It’s that the ocean is his life.
Near perfect surf where Ramon Navarro grew up. Punta de Lobos, Chile. Photo courtesy Surf Locker
The first thing I knew in life was the ocean and how to live with the ocean.
So it’s not surprising that when Ramon Navarro isn’t out wowing the surf world with massive barrel rides, he finds himself involved in local politics to protect the pristine coastline of Punta de Lobos against developers.
Ramon hopes to see this gem of coast added to Chile’s National Parks. But as many in Patagonia have learned, setting up a national park in Chile is not easy. [Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has used private funds to protect public land, read his story]. Of course, one visit to this corner of the planet would have you enrolled in these conservation projects too. Patagonia remains one of the last pristine wildernesses in the world.
But wait… we were talking surf. So here’s the “perfect barrel” that catapulted Ramon Navarro even higher into the ranks of surfing lore.
As I write this, we have only one week to vote for our favorite “Adventurer of the Year” at National Geographic. And the choices don’t get any easier with Jeremy Jones.
Jeremy Jones has done what few top athletes in their sport have ever done – walk away. After establishing himself as one of the pioneers of big mountain, big line snowboarding in the ‘90s and after making some 40 snowboarding films, and founding Jones Snowboards, Jeremy walked away from the world of fat sponsorships and heli-skiing to go off the grid. To take himself and his friends deep into the mountains for some of the purest boarding out there. Backcountry.
For those unfamiliar, backcountry snowboarding (or skiing) is really a combination of mountain climbing, winter camping, snowboarding and just plain survival. Grab your ropes, your ice axes and crampons, if you’re serious, you can have the most spectacular mountains in the world all to yourselves. But it’s work. And you better not screw up. Because there’s no ski patrol to haul your ass down to the hospital. There’s no cell phone reception or saint bernard dog with a cask of cognac. There’s just relentless cold and risk of avalanche that will bury your ass, making you one with the glacier.
Here’s the trailer for “FURTHER” Jones’ newest film about this brave new world.
Any guy who will reach the pinnacle of his sport and say, “what’s next?” Any guy who will climb 10 hours (and 9,000 ft) in the middle of the night to make a run at first light… any guy who is THIS determined to experience the mountains in their purest, most remote form – regardless of hardship – this is our kind of adventurer!
Jeremy Jones with his splitboard. photo by Seth Lightcap.
In fact, adventurer is too timid a word for Jones. He’s really an explorer. What else can you call a man whose sole focus is discovering new lines, opening new territories, innovating new skills and new technology, like the splitboard, which can be skinned and worn like skis for climbing, then clipped back together for the run?
What else can you call a guy who isn’t satisfied with his own enjoyment of the mountains, but uses his success to rally supporters to put environmental pressure on Washington (Protect Our Winters)?
Jones is a man walking his talk. No b.s. No half measures. He loves the mountains, he loves to shred. He inspires, he innovates, he lives to lead. What else can you want for Adventurer of the Year?
The first time I saw Josh Dueck, he rolled onto the stage at the Banff Film Festival and the crowd shot to its feet. They had come to see the “Radical Reels” films, but clearly were more stoked at seeing him as their MC for the night. I could see why. Not only had Josh brought Canada a silver medal in the Vancouver Paralympic Games, but he had just become the first skier to ever land a back flip in a sit ski. Talk about unstoppable.
Since his paralyzing injury in 2004, Josh has gone on to have a bigger career than most able-bodied skiers could hope for:
Josh Dueck wins paralympic silver in Vancouver. photo: Hannah Johnson
1st Place Mono Skier X (X-Games, Aspen 2010)
3rd Place Mono Skier X (X-Games, Aspen 2012)
1st Place Downhill, World Cup (Whistler 2009)
1st Place Downhill, World Championship (Korea, 2009)
1st Place Super G, World Cup (Panorama 2012)
The list goes on, but you get the idea. The guy is a powerhouse, he loves to shred. He lives to shred. He may have been dealt a really lousy card, but if anything, this has only powered him forward to become, not just a world champion, but a world class inspiration.
What’s so refreshing about Josh, when you read his blog or see him interviewed, is the clarity he shines on life and what really matters. This odyssey isn’t one he willingly undertook. To sever your spine at the beginning of your career would be enough to stop most guys cold. Period. Over. Retreat into self-pity, or worse. That’s not Josh. Not only did he become a better skier, he became a bigger person. Open, articulate, refreshingly honest. Take this excerpt from a recent trip to Colorado:
To summarize, I skied like crap. It was a rough stretch of getting my arse kicked by the mountain, myself and the other athletes. I could get into the details but it’s no more than a long list of complaints that equate to a poor outlook on the challenges presented. Leaving Colorado feeling quite discouraged I did my best to keep my head up and focus on the simple fact that I get to ski for a living and that’s pretty awesome. I trust that with some minor adjustments and a bit of hard work that the rest of the details will inevitably sort themselves. — from JoshDueck.com
The day Josh took his back flip onto an airbag on the slopes – his first real run on the ramp he would use – was the day he heard his close friend Sarah Burke had died of injuries sustained in Park City.
“We just got the phone call that Sarah had passed away. I just fell over. We were in a place that Sarah absolutely loved, and it was a good afternoon to be doing what we were doing. Instead of being afraid to hit the airbag, I said, I know exactly what Sarah would do. She loved to be afraid and overcome those challenges. There was no question. I said, “We’re doing this.” Her energy carried through what we were attempting to do that day.” – excerpt from Nat Geo interview.
To find gratitude where others find only adversity… might just be the rarest of qualities any of us can learn.
Personally, I’m not sure if Josh is a better skier or a better human. Whatever strength he’s tapped to lead himself through this new chapter in life is pretty damn amazing. He may not be superman, but he puts it out there. He lives life like a champion. Not because of his achievements, but because of his vulnerabilities. And his remarkable ability to look past them and say, “Yes, we’re doing this.”
Living impeccably isn’t always obvious. Or easy. But when someone is doing it, we feel it. It doesn’t matter whether we fully understand what they do. It doesn’t even matter that we have a basis for comparison. We just know. It can be in sports. It can be in art. It can be in the way someone leads their life. We know it by how they hold themselves. By the confidence they exude. By the pride they take in their actions. And the generosity with which they share it.
Josh Dueck has won more medals since his paralyzing ski injury than ever before. photo: Hannah Johnson
Can you imagine being on a climbing team, 20,000 feet into the Himalayas, and not doing your best to set the next pitch? Can you imagine packing a parachute with anything less than absolute focus? Or approaching a class IV river rapids without every cell in your body coming alive with the challenge before you? You cannot. These circumstances command you to be excellent. I think this is why adventurers share such a bond with each other. Sure, their personalities may clash, but there is a deeper bond of respect that forms when you are pursuing something brutally difficult, when you are all pushed to the limits of your capacity. And hold each others’ lives in your hands.
Pablo Picasso painted, sketched or sculpted nearly every day, from childhood until his death at 91.
Am I advocating that we all live, pushing the red line, 24/7? Of course not. Our bodies would never sustain it. But I am advocating a commitment to be excellent, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. Or to work tirelessly to change what we’re doing, until this is possible. Why? Because being less than excellent is a drain on our souls. It saps us. It steals our nourishment. We have bargained away our worth for pennies.
By contrast, we are nourished whenever we give our best. When we help someone. When we make a difference. When we meet the challenge before us, without complaint. Unconvinced? Think back over your life to your proudest moment. An achievement of some sort, a kindness rendered. You know it already. You felt tall. You felt strong. You needed nothing more in that moment. That’s the nourishment we’re talking about. It came from being excellent. It came from giving everything.
Lindsey Van won a long legal battle to bring women’s ski jumping into the Olympics, beginning in 2014. photo: AP
The excellence we’re talking about is not objective excellence. It is an inner excellence, born of giving your best. If you are giving your best, you fear no criticism. Does the Olympic gymnast scoff at the nine year old girl, who is just learning to pull her first handstand in the rings? Her body is wobbly, her form imperfect, she may never even compete professionally, but if that nine year old is committed? And determined? Giving 100%? No one can fail to see that. No one can withhold respect.
What no one respects is selfishness. And herein lies the two great poles of life. The great choice we face, in every moment. We can either be selfish, calibrating our every effort by its expected return to us. Or we can be self-less, giving freely, for the sheer joy of doing what we came here to do. Being excellent at something. Whatever that something is. We can be nourished by it, in ways more profound than we could ever know beforehand.
I have been a fan of big kayaking expeditions since I first saw Rush Sturges’ “Africa Revolutions Tour” on youtube years ago. Loading up your kayak and setting sites on some of the wildest, most remote rivers of the world? Using whitewater as your excuse to see some of the more pristine corners and cultures on the planet? Now THAT’s an expedition.
Not being a kayaker myself and having all the water skill of a cement brick, I have never partaken in anything like this. But the more I read about Steve Fisher and his buddies, the more I want to.
Fisher has been called the world’s best kayaker in various magazines and, leading the only team of paddlers to ever run the Inga Rapids, it would be hard to argue this title. For those who don’t know, Nat Geo’s interview with Fisher lays it out pretty clearly. The Inga Rapids are a 50 mile stretch of the Congo River, with some 16 cataracts and where 1.6 million cubic feet of water blasts through a channel less than a mile wide. The resulting chaos has never before been survived. Fisher led the expedition with world class kayakers Rush Sturges, Tyler Brandt, and Ben Marr. Here’s the Red Bull Media teaser. The entire film runs 77 min.
Fisher grew up in rural South Africa, paddling rivers from the age of 6. By 21 he had become a full time kayaker and guide on the Zambezi, then off on a world tour, taking top prizes in at least seven major kayaking competitions. You might think leading the Inga project would be a crowning achievement since there are no bigger runs on the planet, but as Steve himself points out: “I try not to hang onto one single accomplishment… if you hang onto one item, like a world record or a title, then when someone betters you on that, what do you have? Nothing. I try to hang onto a well rounded list and to be an all-rounder.”
To be honest, when I first saw video from the Inga Project, I watched with a pang of doubt. Red Bull got behind this project in a big way, which I have nothing against, because God bless those guys as sponsors. Still… one of the key reasons the team was able to navigate this wild ride was because they had a Red Bull helicopter overhead spotting for them. The major challenge of the Inga, Fisher points out, is that it’s too damn big to see what’s coming. You can get bounced out of jaw-breaking hole right into a massive whirlpool and… so long charlie. Having a helicopter overhead was the only way they got through it. Which begs the question – when you are claiming a “first descent” of an impossible rapids – what about the kayakers without a helicopter/spotter? Is it really a level playing field? Or should there be an asterisk on this one?
Steve Fisher. photo: Desre Pickers, Red Bull Content Pool.
Truthfully, I don’t know. You could just as well challenge the use of oxygen to climb Everest and no one takes that away from Hillary. Sports evolve. Techniques are pioneered. This is what great explorers and competitors do. They figure out HOW to achieve something that’s never been achieved. And Fisher’s been doing this for years, pioneering more tricks than Shaun White in the half pipe. To watch this guy on the rapids is like watching a martial artist dance and pirouette his way through a battle. It’s pretty damn spectacular. As so is the humility with which he wears it. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
If you’re 18 to 25 years old, and have adventure in your blood, one of the best things you can do for your career AND your personal evolution is to apply for one of National Geographic’s Young Explorer Grants. That’s right. Dream up something really cool, then go do it on their dime.
I’m not kidding. Last May in Telluride, I interviewed the newest crop of “Young Explorer” grant recipients and they all had a blast doing exactly that. Here’s what we found out:
By far the most wide ranging expedition was taken by polar explorers Eric & Sarah McNair-Landry (top photo) who kite skied some 3,300 km and 85 days across the fabled Northwest Passage (read kite skiing the arctic). Kite skis are relatively new in the world of polar exploration, and nobody seems to have more fun or cover more ground than this brother-sister team who grew up on Canada’s (very far north) Baffin Island.
anand varma, national geographic young explorer with his kite camera in Patagonia. photo courtesy Ananda Varma
Anand Varma got to document the wetlands of Patagonia, using his own extremely clever kite mounted camera system. I guess Nat Geo didn’t want to pay for a helicopter, so the biologist turned photographer got inventive. And learned a lot about the kindness of strangers in the process. (Anand’s photo site).
Becca Skinner, our favorite traveling photographer, got her first ticket out of the US for her project. After documenting the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, she got curious about what was happening with the tsunami survivors in Sumatra. So she went! Using her mentor (James Balog’s) images from right after the tsunami as her guide, Becca reshot the landscapes, seven year later. It’s amazing to see what seven years can change. “Thoughts about rocks” is Becca’s blog, a virtual traveling road show of her ongoing adventurers. It’s awesome.
O’Shannon Burns, Program Officer, Expeditions Council for National Geographic
Finally, shepherding these young explorers into their group photo show was National Geographic’s O’Shannon Burns. O’Shannon has worked at Nat Geo since interning there, so they really do like young people (hint, hint). Her job is to dig through the grant applications and champion the winners. She is super cool, smart, and enthusiastic about adventure and getting people out into the world. That’s also our core mission at Xpedition.TV so whether it’s with Nat Geo, or with our own “Gap Year Challenge” there are ways to get that expedition paid for. And to learn a whole lot about the world and yourself in the process.
NOTE: Environmentalist/Photographer Shannon Switzer was also a grant recipient, but was not interviewed due to time restraints in Telluride. But you can read about this “Freshwater Hero” on Nat Geo’s site.
Anyone with the stones to call themselves an adventurer, will eventually smack into this idea of “heroism.” Hero is a word we throw around way too easily in our culture. We use it for sports figures. We use it for celebrities. We use it for soldiers who just do their job. And there is heroism in serving your country. But for me, even this pales in comparison to serving an ideal nobody asked you to serve. At great cost and great personal risk, for no better reason than you saw it had to be done.
Enter Shannon Galpin, a 38 year old mom and mountain biker from Colorado who decided one day that signing petitions wasn’t enough to change the world.
Video courtesy of MoveShake.org
It is impossible to tell the story of what she’s done without acknowledging the events that brought her there. Because – to paraphrase Shannon – where we were broken, we can be stronger than before. We need not be victims. Through telling our story, we become the catalyst for change.
So these are the events: At eighteen, heading home from work, Shannon was brutally attacked, raped, and left for dead. She told herself she would not live as a victim, but as you can imagine, this was no easy task. It took energy. It took focus.
Thirteen years later, her little sister was also attacked. And enough was enough. The year was 2006 and the country was deeply mired in war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Shannon got the idea to take her fight into the very teeth of the monster.
Afghanistan. A country rated the worst place in the world to be a woman. A country where women had no right to work or be educated. Had no right to love or to marry outside the family’s will. Where Afghan soldiers would throw acid in the faces of young girls for daring to attend school.
Out of the middle of Colorado, selling her own house to finance it, Shannon Galpin traveled into a war zone to say “no.” These women would no longer be your victims. She would encourage them. She would teach them to speak out. She would empower them to tell the stories they kept hidden. To use the crimes against them as evidence of social injustice.
Wow. In a country like that? With no rule of law and where violence against women is as common as swatting a donkey? And where – need we point out – foreigners are not safe… THAT, my friends, is heroism.
Bibi Aisha had nose and ears cut away for fleeing her abusive husband.
“Through the heartbreak of one, we plug into the many,” she says. Meaning that the problem of social injustice is easy to ignore. The story of two ten year old girls, who have acid thrown in their faces for attending school – is impossible to ignore.
In August 2010, Time Magazine ran the story of one of Shannon’s girls, Bibi Aisha, on its cover. Apologies for the graphic image, but like we said, the story of one person, a person who could be our sister, or our daughter is a lot harder to ignore. The brutality visited upon Afghan women took center stage, if only for a moment. And the world recoiled.
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
~ Mohandas K. Ghandi
You could not find another adventurer living this truth more fully than Shannon Galpin. Please check out her organization, “Mountain2Mountain.org” or her presentation at TEDx. An amazing woman.