As most of us crumpled used wrapping paper into the trash, found batteries for the gadgets Santa left under the tree, and swept up glitter and pine needles, Felicity Aston slogged her way across Antarctica, becoming the first woman to make the trek solo. Read about it here.
Let me start by admitting that I can’t even begin to comprehend what drives anyone to attempt this kind of feat. What is appealing about weeks of frigid cold, hard labor, and alone-ness? The motivation must be related to the urge that makes people tackle K2, swim from Florida to Cuba, and cross Canada on roller skates. (I made that last one up, but someone’s probably done it.) Leaving aside the personal courage and hardiness required to undertake these journeys, I’m always left wondering what was accomplished. Not a single life was saved, nor human burden lessened. Neither the environment nor the economy was improved. So why do it?
It’d be easy to dismiss such feats as pointless, but I hope they’re not. Since I haven’t interviewed anyone who’s undertaken such a project, I can only speculate, but I think there’s value in plumbing one’s depths, discovering that you can face down fears, keep going when the going gets tough, push through pain and frustration and physical/mental deprivation to achieve a goal. I have to hope that these adventurers take that self-knowledge and go on to make a difference in the world, make a contribution, accomplish something that’s not quite so … individualistic and self-focused.
Or, maybe their feats serve as inspiration for others, give them the confidence to challenge themselves, try new things, set stretch goals. Maybe the thinking goes, “If Aston can march across the Antarctic on her own, I can march across the street and confront the drug dealers wrecking my neighborhood/offer the homeless guy a meal/stop the teens from bullying the new kid.” It’s probably a less conscious process than that, but who knows?
Since I’ve undoubtedly exhausted your attention span by discussing whether or not extreme adventuring has value, come back next week to find out what I think is scariest about Aston’s quest.