|2011-10-17||Steve Gardiner||The Literature of Adventure|
Every reader has to discover the type of reading that is most significant, that catches the interest, and keeps the pages turning.
For me, that has been adventure non-fiction. In the pages of articles and books on adventure, I have been able to travel the world and inspire my imagination with new places and ideas.
Over the years, I have traveled to the Himalayas with Sir John Hunt and the British expedition that placed Hillary and Norgay on the summit of Mt. Everest. I revisited that rarified location with Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air and suffered through the storm that took eight lives in one weekend on the highest mountain in the world.
My back ached as I read A Fighting Chance about the 72 days it took John Ridgway and Chay Blythe to row across the Atlantic, the first people to attempt this and live to tell the tale. My back ached again when I read Blind Descent about Bill Stone's frightening explorations of the world's supercaves, journeys on which they camped out for many days on end thousands of feet deep in caves that require mountain climbing skills and scuba diving techniques to venture deeper and deeper into the earth
I was fascinated by Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki, his account of building a balsa log raft of the same name in Peru and floating it on the Humboldt current off the coast of South America to the Pacific islands of Polynesia in 1947. His crew of six spent 101 days on the raft out of normal shipping lanes and far beyond any hope of help of rescue.
A much longer journey by ship might be one of my favorite adventure tales. Fritjof Nansen designed his ship the Fram with strong sides and bottom so that he could intentionally freeze it in the sea ice north of Siberia and drift across the Arctic Ocean to Spitzbergen north of Norway. His goal along the way was to ride the sea ice across the North Pole, which in 1893, was a great prize in the world of exploration. His plan was pure genius, but his luck failed when the drifting ice took him too far from the pole. He attempted to ski farther north, knowing he would never be able to find his ship again. The ski trip took him closer to the pole but time and ice conditions required him to abandon the attempt and spend the winter in a rock shelter until he was picked up by a fishing boat the next spring. His men and ship continued the icy drift and arrived home to Oslo, Norway, one week after Nansen. Their adventure had taken three years and every man returned home safe and healthy. Nansen never reached the North Pole. The honor of being first to that point fell to Peary in 1909, but Nansen's ship The Fram was not finished. Roald Amundsen, on his successful expedition to the South Pole, used the same ship, making it one of the most amazing ships in exploration history.
I love a good novel just as much as any English teacher, but when I want a story to get my blood pumping, to make me dream of natural beauty, interesting cultures, and fascinating people, I grab an adventure book and get lost in an expedition. It is a glimpse into the human spirit, into the drive that has taken mankind around the world and to the moon. It is the soul of who we are and reading it expressed by those who have lived it is reading at its best.