There are many ways to explore this world, and one of the most important ones involves learning from and being inspired by the adventures, experiences, perspectives, ideas and thoughts of others. It is an essential part of the way we like to travel.
Recently we attended some book talk and movie sessions at the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival. An annual two-week long event here in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it is something I highly recommend attending.
There, you get to meet and be inspired by authors, adventurers and film makers from around the globe. Most importantly, you are introduced to new ideas, places and experiences, delivered by people who have a passion for what they do, how they do it and where they go.
Some of it is sheer greatness, and some absurd, half-baked insanity; nevertheless, being touched by their passion and enthusiasm for living is truly inspiring.
In our modern world, where information, ideas and opinions can be almost instantly known with a few clicks on a smart device, travelling and exploring is a relatively safe endeavour. You can surf the world from the comfort of an armchair, you can read about the experiences of others in travel blogs, you can go on pre-arranged trips, or you can backpack and see the world with no fixed itinerary (something that is surprisingly easy to do in today’s modern age).
BUT, there are few people left in this world who are true explorers. You know the type I mean… people who, like the explorers in the days of old, back when the world was thought to be flat, would risk everything, leaving their families and friends and their way of life at home, and hop on a ship and sail away, knowing that they’d likely fall off the edge of the earth, die of starvation and meet almost certain death.
There aren’t many opportunities to do that today, and there aren’t many people like this in our modern world.
Sarah loves to walk, and has been walking, as a National Geographic Explorer, for 20 years, crisscrossing the globe on foot on tremendously long expeditions. We attended her talk at the Banff Centre where she shared stories about her adventures, on foot & alone on unsupported expeditions, crossing the Australian outback over 17 months, and walking from Siberia through to the tip of Thailand over the course of 3 years.
Every once in a while, Nat Geo flies in a videographer to document her adventures and her survival skill techniques, and those are the images that filled the giant screen in the auditorium as she talked and talked without notes and with incredible passion about her adventures.
Do I want to undergo the extreme deprivation and the adventures that she experienced? Absolutely not! But I found her bravery and her passion, inspiring.
She is a woman who travels alone, often disguised as a man, in extremely dangerous conditions where her personal safety is most definitely at risk. (This is light-years away from my comfort zone!) How she had the strength of mind and character to continue her expedition through the Mongolian Steppes, being hunted down and taunted by men on horseback each night for weeks, I do not know. How she had the strength and of mind and body to haul a cart full of water across the Gobi Desert, lay flat on the ground to wait out wild desert sand and lightning storms, or go for days without being able to find or successfully catch food in some of the exceptionally remote, dry areas of the Australian Outback without calling for a rescue, I do not know.
There’s nothing like going and hearing someone talk about an experience that is so totally different from your own. While they may not inspire you to do what they have done or make you want to emulate or experience their unique blend of craziness, listening to them talk about it still makes you think outside of your own comfortable box. It lets you entertain a different world full of possibility.
And sometimes hearing a little jewel, a little tidbit at the right time in your life resonates deeply with you. Here are a few gems that she shared with us:
“We have to live this life. Eat it. Eat every second of it.”
As you can well imagine, much of Sarah’s time is spent trying to find food in extremely wild & uninhabitable places. So she is understandably obsessed with food. But I love her metaphor. It doesn’t just tell you to live life. Underneath her words she is demanding that you embrace it and experience it with a sense of urgency, eagerness and desire, implying quick, enthusiastic action, no matter what you do. I love it.
“If you do not see an option, you are not looking wide enough. Open your vision.”
Putting herself in extreme landscapes and having to survive has fine-tuned her outlook on life. Her experiences have taught her that there IS a way out of any situation, whether you have dengue fever and are surrounded by rebels and find yourself at gunpoint in the remote jungles of Laos, or you find that crocodiles in the outback wetlands have snatched all the fish that you catch, leaving you with nothing to eat.
“You need determination. You have to be okay with you. You have to have a mission.”
We all have internal, critical voices that we need to quiet. And we all need to have a purpose in life, something that fuels and inspires us to really live this life. Hers may seem crazy when seen through the images she puts up on the screen during her stories, but she sees her life mission as being the bridge between humans and nature. Helping us to see that we are all connected is key for her.
I like the notion that we have to have determination… and that we need to use that determination not just with our mission and with developing a sense of purpose in our lives, but with using it to come to a place where we are okay with who we are at our essential cores.
“It’s amazing to be outside your comfort zone. You learn, you grow. You become beautiful. Inside and out.”
This is something that she was insistent about. Deliberately making ourselves uncomfortable, or putting ourselves in what most would consider harms way, is essential for our own inner growth. It gives us confidence. It really does make us shine.
The funny thing is, that when I think back on all of our years of travelling, it is the uncomfortable moments… the times when we had to work the hardest to find food or shelter (backpacking in Egypt and living on $4/day for everything), or when we had to get from one place to another (as we did going from Budapest to Denmark without currency or a way to buy food for the journey, leaving on a Sunday as we did with nothing for sale anywhere in the early days of that amazing, post-cold-war city)…. these are the experiences that we remember the most vividly. And they’re what we remember the most fondly too… not that day cozy, relaxing, lying on the beach in Thailand, but the day spent running as leaches were dropping out of the trees and bushes, falling down the necks of our shirts and finding their way between our toes as we hiked along a picturesque river nearby. Do you know what I mean?
“Life. You’re in or your out. We are just a little bit in this universe. But how amazing is that?”
I love to hike in gigantic landscapes. Hiking in the mountains and taking all day to get to their peaks makes me feel alive. It also makes me feel very small, and reminds me of my insignificant place in this world. Sarah sees our “little bits” not as negatives, but as fantastic things. We need to embrace our small place in the world with enthusiasm and really live.
“Boredom. This is not such a thing. We are like an onion. Peel back the layers to the core of who you are. We are all born explorers. As we grow up we lose our connection together. And then we get bored.”
One of the people in the audience asked Sarah if, with no books to read, devices to use or people to talk to on her epic journeys if she ever got bored, and then what she did to overcome that boredom. Her reaction was instantaneous… and hilarious!
She shouted, “There is no such thing!”
[Then she paused, reconsidered, and went on to explain….]
Her solution is to look around you and see your connection to the natural elements of this world (the land, the creatures, the elements like sand and water) and to the people of each place that you find yourself in. Connection is the key. Stay connected and the questions will come, the learning will come, the comfort will come, your curiosity will develop… and you will never be bored.
“Find the best environment in which to grow. That’s my recommendation.”
It’s quite an environment Sarah has chosen for herself in which to grow, live and contribute to this world. One look at the photos in her book shows you the extreme discomfort in which she choses to live. And yet, it works for her. She knows that this life is not for everyone (and certainly not for more than a handful of people on this planet), but she is confident that everyone can find their best environment in which to grow.
Her parting words:
“Go out of this room. Live your wildest dream. Every second counts.”
So don’t just travel. Explore the world of ideas and experiences of others. By reading this blog and the blogs of others you’re already well on your way. If you’re into mountain culture, here is the Banff Centre’s List of books to inspire mountain exploration.
Next, try something that pushes the limits of your comfortable world.
Explore. Grow. And enjoy the journey.