explorer

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Aloha Wanderwell Liked Living Dangerously. Aloha stands on top of her famous car as it is lifted onto a ship during her tour of Africa in the 1920s. 

Aloha Wanderwell

The first Woman to Drive around the World

Adventure, exploration, danger, and murder: this was the life of Aloha Wanderwall. Inspired by the fantastic tales she read in her father’s beloved collection of boyhood books, she dreamed of travel, and intrigue in far-flung corners of the globe. In 1922, when she was 16, she embarked on an ambitious around-the–world expedition led by “Captain” Wanderwell…

Wanderwell was an explorer, a vaudevillian and filmmaker, a female Indiana Jones, a wife and mother. She visited places no western man or woman had seen before. She was a figure of controversy, self-invention and marketing. The romance that informs her legend is both real and contrived.

When she was still a teenager, she hopped into a Model T Ford and drove through 80 countries in the 1920’s. They called her “The World’s Most Travelled Girl.” An early filmmaker, Aloha captured her husband and two children as they explored the world.  Did she have adventures? Stranded in Brazil, she lived with and documented the Bororo people.

Trying to find fuel (never mind roads) in the 1920’s, she used crushed bananas and animal fat for fuel.   Her husband was mysteriously murdered.  Apparently, she cut her hair and fought for the French Foreign Legion. She flew a seaplane.  In Indochina, she had to shoot her way out of a gauntlet of angry elephants. In India on their round-the-world trip oxen were frequently required to tow the Ford Model-T across mud flats and rivers. In China in 1924, when civil warfare made it impossible to purchase fuel, labourers pulled the car for eighty miles…

She died in obscurity, and you’ve probably never heard of her. Even with a name like Aloha Wanderwell.

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Orlando Villas Boas with two Kalapalo Indians with the supposed bones of Colonel Fawcett. 1952 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Lost City of Z

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a famous British explorer who’s legendary adventures captivated the world

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett DSO (18 August 1867 – during or after 1925) was a British geographer, artillery officer, cartographer, archaeologist and explorer of South America. He charted the wilderness of South America but then disappeared without a trace while exploring the Brazilian jungle in search of “The Lost City of ‘Z,'” his name for an ancient lost city, which he and others believed to exist and to be the remains of El Dorado, in the jungles of Brazil.

Danger appealed to Fawcett, and over the course of many years, broken only by a return to the army at the outbreak of the First World War, he ventured out on a succession of missions to map the unknown jungle — sometimes alone — and follow up the tantalising clues that the undergrowth masked a hidden civilisation to rival those of Greece or Rome.

During an expedition to find “Z” a place Colonel and South American explorer Percy Fawcett became increasingly engrossed by over the years, Fawcett vanished in the wilderness on his expedition in 1925, along with his two partners, his son Jack, and another friend. The case is one of the wildest mysteries in missing person cases today, and some believe the trio could have been eaten alive by wild animals.

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A 1921 expedition left Ada Blackjack (center) stranded for two years in the Arctic.

Ada Blackjack

Ada Blackjack was an unlikely hero – an unskilled 23-year-old Inuit woman with no knowledge of the world outside Nome, Alaska. Divorced, impoverished, and despondent, she had one focus in her life – to care for her sickly young son. In September 1921, in search of money and a husband, she signed on as seamstress for a top-secret expedition into the unknown Arctic.

It was controversial explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson who sent four young men and Ada Blackjack into the far North to desolate, uninhabited Wrangel Island. Only two of the men had set foot in the Arctic before. They took with them six months’ worth of supplies on Stefansson’s theory that this would be enough to sustain them for a year while they lived off the land itself. But as winter set in, they were struck by hardship and tragedy. As months went by and they began to starve, they were forced to ration their few remaining provisions. When three of the men made a desperate attempt to seek help, Ada was left to care for the fourth, who was too sick to travel.

Ada Blackjack Johnson was born in Solomon, Alaska. Early in her life Blackjack relocated to Nome, Alaska. She married and gave birth to three children but only one survived past infancy. The death of her husband by drowning left her destitute, and she temporarily placed her son in an orphanage. Soon after, in 1921, she joined an expedition across the Chukchi Sea to Russia’s Wrangel Island led by Canadian Allan Crawford but financed, planned and encouraged by Vilhjalmur Stefansson.

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The Return of the Sun "Extremely heavy precipitation of rime crystals during the night, our rigging being heavily encrusted some of the ropes being over 3" in diameter, but the effect is beautiful" Hurley Diary. Shackleton aimed to make the first-ever land crossing of the Antarctic continent, but his ship became trapped, then crushed and sunk, by ice before the team could reach their starting point for the trek. Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-17, led by Ernest Shackleton. (Photo by Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images)

The Return of the Sun “Extremely heavy precipitation of rime crystals during the night, our rigging being heavily encrusted some of the ropes being over 3″ in diameter, but the effect is beautiful”.  Photo by Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images.

The Endurance

Survival Against the Greatest Odds

When Antarctica’s hulking glacial landmass—icy and inhospitable—was spotted by 18th century British Captain James Cook, he remarked:

“I make bold to declare that the world will derive no benefit from it.”

 That proclamation did not ward away future journeys, though.

One hundred years ago, one of the most astounding tales of survival began aboard a small wooden ship with 28 men trapped in Antarctic ice.

A year and a half later, in August 1916, the details of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ordeal emerged — a story of a spectacular, yet triumphant, failure.

For the second time, Shackleton had failed to achieve his goal of reaching the South Pole. Yet, with his ship crushed, his men camped on ice floes and then marooned on a barren island, he managed to sail 800 nautical miles (1,475 kilometres) in a small boat, in winter, to get help. Not a single life was lost, cementing his reputation as a man of boundless courage and one of the greatest leaders of all time.

Shackleton set sail on Aug. 1, 1914, the day England declared war on Germany. The British Admiralty let him go, expecting the war to be over by Christmas. When Shackleton returned, the world no longer cared about gentlemen adventurers and their polar dalliances. It seemed trivial when set against death on an unimaginable scale on the battlefields of Europe.

Shackleton was naturally gifted in the traits that make leaders. Much of it for him was instinct.

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In 1974, Knievel hoped to complete a jump across the Snake River Canyon, but he wasn't going to use a motorcycle to do it. Instead, he had a rocket-propelled vehicle called the Skycycle X-2  to make it over the gap, and only a parachute ensured a safe landing.

In 1974, Knievel hoped to complete a jump across the Snake River Canyon, but he wasn’t going to use a motorcycle to do it. Instead, he had a rocket-propelled vehicle called the Skycycle X-2 to make it over the gap, and only a parachute ensured a safe landing.

Pure Evel: An American Legend

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