I read. A lot. I have recently been reading about the search for the Northwest Passage, that illusive path through the frozen seas of the Arctic which links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. For centuries, this search became almost an obsession for sailors, explorers and governments alike. Despite the dangers of seeking the passage, which it was hoped would become an important trade route, men happily volunteered to sail on ships which were completely inadequate to cope with the rigours of Arctic exploration, not to mention lack of suitable clothing, and supplies which either went rancid or ran out before their journey ended. This obsession cost lives. The last expedition by Sir John Franklin alone, which set sail in 1845, cost the lives of 129 men.
It made me think. Are there any such mysteries left to solve? Everest has been climbed, the Northwest Passage sailed (Roald Amundsen 1903 – 1906, the globe has been circumnavigated, the Poles conquered, the Silk Routes travelled more than once, the source of the Nile discovered. What is left?
It also made me wonder about the people who took it upon themselves to risk their lives to explore the globe. What makes someone leave the safety of their home to travel into the unknown in search of something which may or may not exist? Ordinary men and women with an amazing spirit of adventure packed a bag or two and set off to experience hardships, dangers and deprivation, often for years at a time, not knowing if they would ever see home again.
So, why did they do it? Was it the spirit of adventure, money or the possibility of covering themselves in glory that persuaded these extraordinary people to go off exploring? Perhaps it was a mixture of all three.
What of now? If there were any such routes to find, who would go looking? I would love to think that I would have the courage required, but how easy would it be to leave everything I know and head off into the unknown?
I do, sometimes, think that I would like to have been born a century earlier (except that I would probably have been below stairs), and to have the opportunity to go off and find something new. Imagine how it would feel to have been the first explorer to see Niagara Falls or Grand Canyon, to have been Johann Ludwig Burckhardt re-discovering Petra, a city which had been lost to the west for centuries. How he must have been in awe walking past the huge jinn blocks and down the narrow Siq and suddenly coming face-to-face with The Treasury carved deep into the pink rock. How I would love to have made a discovery like that, if only I had the courage to do it.