A few days ago Sir Ranulph Fiennes (former SAS Special forces captain, second cousin to actors Ralph and Joseph, author of The Feather Men - which was turned into a film starring Clive Owen and Robert De Niro) departed Cape Town on yet another expedition. Setting sail for Antarctica aboard the ice strengthened Agulhas, their mission: to traverse the frozen continent in the dead of winter (a feat previously regarded by all authorities who cared, as impossible - a veritable suicide mission as the human body was not made to withstand such conditions - the entire trek will be conducted in pitch darkness because by the time they get there, the south pole will be in the season of no sunlight). Apparently technology has advanced sufficiently to allow the six man team the "go-ahead" nod by the commonwealth. So it becomes a "slightly-less-than-suicide mission".
Among his many feats, summiting Everest on his 3rd attempt being one of them (at 65yrs of age), he and a small team completed the Transglobe some 30 yrs ago circumnavigating the globe by passing over the North & South poles - and remain the only ones to have done so (its in the Guinness book of world records). Although this is surely their most dangerous challenge. Team member Anton Bowring (63) stated this on his blog
"It will be extraordinary if something bad doesn't happen during the crawl across 2,400 miles of ice in temperatures of -70°C and perpetual darkness where crevasses can swallow up a 25-ton bulldozer in the blink of a frosted eye."
- Here's a link to the trailer for the film Killer Elite, which was inspired by The Feather Men.
Of course these men are at the extreme end of the spectrum. For most of us, the spirit of adventure entails a hike up a mountain or a week long camping/road trip, bundu-bashing and star gazing among other things. And you don't need to be the next Erden Eruç, Nellie Bly, Bear Grylls, Freya Stark, Amelia Erhart et al. to feel itchy feet every now and then.
The human body was made to move, and within most of us lies that will, that flame - a certain untamed vein in our hearts.
Who knows why we can go for a journey to a far off desert, experience hellish heat, car problems, customs problems and sand in our shoes... but still, once we're back home and after a short while, the desert calls to us. its your heart yearning for that vast openness.
C.S Lewis was known to write about how the world was meant to be - without sin. He mentions how the colors were brighter, the air is so much cleaner, sounds more audible, every sense heightened as you feel more alive... perhaps, just perhaps - whenever we experience the great outdoors, and I do mean great, whenever we traverse a land where our treads in the sand or undergrowth will quickly be reclaimed by nature, if they're visible at all - perhaps it is this that is a taste of the world as we're meant to experience it, a shade of how it is truely meant to be. Actually, scratch that; it is, plain and simple. the craving our body feels,its simply the un-quenched thirst for the unspoilt. Because we've drunk from the fresh running waters, seen the clear sky's to the horizon, clung by our fingertips on some craggy cliff, and sat in utter silence in the overwhelming knowledge of just how small and insignificant we really are (when was the last time you saw an unpolluted view of the Milky Way in a cloudless, moonless night sky?
For the adventurer, and every journeyman and woman inside us all (however big or small their voice of influence may be), the world is there to be seen and experienced. It is us, city folk, civilized people who complicate and over materialize our lives to no end.
Traveling may not be in everyone's blood, but just think of where we'd be, or wouldn't (as is most likely the case) be without people of such an uninhibited disposition. Yes of course there are drawbacks - for instance there are only so many places left in the world, untouched by human hands and feet; a large portion of untouched land in Gabon on the west coast of Africa has been cordoned off to protect it, at least retaining some patch of what is now sacred land. On the flip side, there are so many marvels that would've been forever forgotten had it not been for explorers, whether by intent or their own good fortune, to discover and rediscover forgotten cities like Troy, Hatra, Carthage, Sukhothai and Petra. Thankfully, brave men and women constantly set out to push their own limits and test the magnitude of their capabilities and in doing so, aid us in furthering the collective regard we have for what is possible - because the more they explore and discover, the more we find out about ourselves.
I could continue for a lot longer, but instead I'll leave you with some timeless imagery (going a bit left field here) delivered by a quote from a brilliant film and an equally brilliant, if haunting book penned by Cormac McCarthy: 'No Country for old Men'. This is from the final scene where Sheriff Ed Tom tells his wife about two dreams he had...
"... The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin' through the mountains of a night. Goin' through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin'. Never said nothin' goin' by. He just rode on past... and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. 'Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up..." -- No Country for old Men, 2007