5 Modern Day Adventurers

by Bryan Schatz on March 31, 2011 · 41 comments

in Blog

Every December, National Geographic Magazine announces their “Adventurers of the Year” awards to honor those who push the boundaries of exploration, conservation, and adventure sports. Other magazines have followed suit over the years, and it is a time that I always look forward to; the profiles serve as a reminder that we don’t always have to look to men and women from the past for inspiration, for there will always be those boundless souls who “dream big” and accomplish amazing feats of physical and mental endurance. Among the many who made recent adventure headlines (from jungle pioneers to Antarctic explorers), we have chosen five to highlight here. In no particular order, they are: Ed Stafford, Jessica Watson, Eric Larson, David de Rothschild, and Andrew Skurka.

Ed Stafford – Amazon Explorer

It took two years, four months, and one week. Bot flies burrowed into his scalp. Parasites attempted to use his body as a host. He encountered giant anacondas, slogged through mud, and hacked through dense jungle. These are the joys Ed Stafford battled on a daily basis as he walked the entire length of the Amazon River. This, the longest* river in the world, begins as a barely-trickling stream high up in the Peruvian Andes and slowly becomes the most voluminous river in the world as it winds its way to the Atlantic Ocean at the eastern coast of Brazil. Ed Stafford, a mere mortal, covered over 4,000 miles of some of the most treacherous terrain that exists on earth, by foot.

Stafford, like many modern-day explorers, has the unique ability to blend adventure with philanthropy, using his expedition as an avenue to raise awareness of the environmental issues that plague the Amazon region. While he was in the military, he received his training in Central America and the Far East. In those places he witnessed the mass destruction of tropical forests from the endless expansion of unchecked agriculture, the illegal logging of old-growth trees, and the slash and burn decimation of acres and acres of jungle. His desire to accomplish a “world-first” and his passion for the environment led him on one of the most impressive adventures to date.

Stafford now has plans for another “world-first,” and though he will not divulge the details for fear of someone else beating him to the punch, he made a guarantee to Outside Magazine that it will be “bloody difficult.” He’ll set off for this new expedition next January.

*The true source of the Amazon is widely debated, and depending on where that source is, some argue that the Nile River is in fact the longest river in the world.

Jessica Watson – Circumnavigator

Jessica Watson was eleven years old when she first heard the story of Jesse Martin, the 18-year old who, in 1999, became the youngest person to complete a non-stop, solo circumnavigation of the globe. The story stuck with her, and by the time she was thirteen she informed her parents that she intended to do the same thing.

Watson’s trip was controversial before it even began, with many critics fuming over the debate of “how young is too young?” She was too inexperienced, too immature, and far too young to endeavor into something so dangerous, they claimed. To add fuel to their fire, during a sea trial, her sailboat, Ella’s Pink Lady, collided with a 63-ton, 738-foot bulk carrier, which resulted in a broken mast that she had to tend to before her official launch. Having dealt with the problem successfully and with confidence, she later wrote that, “Any doubts about whether I could cope mentally…vanished.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing after that first collision either; she experienced a “ferocious” Atlantic storm “with 4 knockdowns in one night…winds over 75 knots and waves of 15 meters and higher.”

Nevertheless, On March 15, 2010, after sailing for 210 days straight, Jessica Watson became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world–solo, unassisted, and non-stop. She completed her circumnavigation when she landed in Sydney Harbor three days before her seventeenth birthday. Yeah, she did this at the age of sixteen.

Since returning, a documentary film has been made about her voyage, and she has written a book titled True Spirit.

Eric Larson – Polar Explorer

For fifteen years Eric Larson has been exploring the poles, adventure racing, and dog mushing. He is a man awed by the environments he encounters and drawn to frigid climates, with a personal motto of, “It’s cool to be cold.”

Throughout his years of adventuring, he has been witness to the rapid disappearance of the polar regions that he so loves. For this reason he began his Save the Poles project–a 365-day expedition to the “Polar Trifecta.” That is, the South Pole, the North Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. This was an unprecedented, single-year tour-de-force beginning in November of 2009 and concluding in October of 2010. Braving -50 degree temperatures, Larson snow-shoed, skied, and swam across the Arctic, all while gathering scientific data and filming a documentary as he went. He braved whiteouts in Antarctica and avoided avalanches on the formidable slopes of Everest. He traveled along thinning Arctic ice that would bend and fracture underneath his team’s skis and campsites, sometimes “opening [up] gaping holes of icy water near where they slept,” reported Outside Magazine.

“On an expedition, there is you and there is ice (or rocks or water) and doing a long carry, skiing into the wind, waiting for weather and more can all make time slow to a crawl. Minutes seem like hours. Days seem like weeks. It can be agonizing on a good day.”

David de Rothschild – Voyager

As the youngest heir to his family’s banking fortune, Rothschild is not a person who uses his wealth as an excuse to be stagnant. His adventure accomplishments are vast: In 2006, he was the youngest British citizen to ever reach both geographical poles after spending 100 days crossing the Arctic from Russia to Canada. Prior to that, he had been part of a team who claimed the record for the fastest crossing of the Greenland Ice cap, and he is one of only fourteen people to ever traverse Antarctica.

Like Stafford, Larson, and other current explorers, David de Rothschild’s focus is to raise awareness about various environmental issues that are threatening the world’s natural wonders. Named one of the “Adventurers of the Year” by National Geographic Magazine, his most recent trip was a Pacific Ocean crossing aboard “Plastiki,” a catamaran made almost entirely of recycled plastic material, including some 1,200 plastic bottles. Batteries powered by solar energy charged Plastiki’s electrical components, and fresh water was made possible by a small, onboard desalination device. The mission of the expedition was to reach and study “Plastic Island,” a floating swath of garbage that has accumulated in the mid-Pacific ocean, believed to be nearly twice the size of the state of Texas.

De Rothschild announced the idea four years prior to the actual launch of Plastiki.  In the spring of 2010, Plastiki and the crew sailed into the Pacific Ocean. They traveled 9,500 miles, visited various points of ecological interest, and then on July 26th, 2010, they completed their journey when they reached Sydney Harbor, greeted by cheering crowds.

Andrew Skurka – Alaska-Yukon Explorer

“My primary goal in attempting the AYE is unabashedly personal: I want an exceptionally unique, rewarding, and challenging experience…it makes me feel alive, like I am capitalizing on the 70-or 80-year-long opportunity I have to experience this world.”

The Alaska-Yukon Expedition (AYE) is Skurka’s most recent and perhaps boldest expedition yet. A circumnavigation of some of Alaska’s most rugged wilderness, the nearly 4,700-mile route included traverses of the Alaska and Brook’s Ranges, winded through six US national parks, two Canadian parks, and involved floats on “some of America’s wildest rivers, including the Copper, Yukon, Peel, and the Kobuk River.” Some 45% of the route was off-trail and still he managed to average 27 miles per day. Though most of the route had been previously explored, Skurka’s was the first attempt at doing it all in one big push.

By beginning in March of 2010, he was able to avoid some of the toughest of the Arctic’s winter; still, approximately 24% (over 1,000 miles) of the trip had to be covered on skis along the Iditarod Trail and in the Alaska Range until the spring snowmelt came. The remaining time was spent hiking and rafting (his raft was a 4.5-pound, blow-up “whitewater-worthy” packraft) in unruly country known for its bears, snow, raging rivers and a sheer immensity unlike anything in the lower 48.

Despite his significant previous experience (such as the 7,775-mile sea-to-sea epic he completed in 2005) Skurka told Adventure Running, that for this trip he was “more scared than [in] all of [his] previous trips combined.” At one point he had gone over 650 miles without seeing another human, and in the Yukon, he was “3-4 hours from the nearest settlement…by helicopter,” making for a nerve-wracking and stressful journey. Nevertheless, on September 5, 2010, he walked into the tiny town of Kotzebue 176 days after he had first left, as the first person to complete the route.


There are plenty of other modern-day adventurers out there doing unbelievable things. Who else would you include in a list like this?

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James March 31, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Some great insperation. Keep it up.

2 Tryclyde March 31, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I nominate myself for teaching in an urban school everyday…Just joking, these guys (and girl) are all inspirational.

3 Jody Clinger March 31, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I would nominate South African kayaker Steve Fisher. From his exploits on the Zambezi to his epic trip down the Tsang Po, if its crazy whitewater anywhere in the world, he’s probably run it. Check out http://www.stevefisher.com

4 Scott March 31, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I’d love to travel…if I had money. Hahaha. Very inspirational.

5 Alex Chaney March 31, 2011 at 9:54 pm

What about Bear Grylls or Les Stroud?

6 John marion Capunitan March 31, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Yep! Bear grylls that man is crazy…i mean he eats and drink everything including his pee in a scenic nowhere…man! that is awesome!

7 Andrew B March 31, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Where do these guys get the money to do this (besides the rich kid)? How does one become an adventurer by trade?

8 Me March 31, 2011 at 11:05 pm

That’s the life! I’ve always wonder how it’d feel to be on a tiny little boat, sailing the world – with a girl, an attractive one, that you love. That will be an experience that will make James Bond jealous. And I’m not picturing storms and treacherous seas, I’m talking about sunshine, tropical islands, limpid sea, coral reefs, and much love.

9 Sharvey March 31, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Why not much love on a stormy sea, shake things up a bit, make things and life fun?

10 RP April 1, 2011 at 2:00 am

@Andrew and Me: If you want to learn about true, down-to-earth, modern-day adventurers, I suggest reading a book by Lin and Larry Pardee. They’ve been sailing around the world in small wooden yachts for several decades, making money along the way by delivering other yachts, fixing boats, and selling articles to the sailing press. They live very modestly, but what a life!

11 Mark April 1, 2011 at 5:44 am

Great article but missing Mike Horn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Horn and Riaan Manser http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riaan_Manser?

12 Jonathan Manor April 1, 2011 at 7:09 am

Interesting article. I somewhat can’t understand how people choose to travel to exotic places. Do they just go, “there!” or do they spin a globe and stop whenever they put their finger down. I just went to Portland for the first time, on my own, and it was because I’ve always wanted to live there. I just can’t imagine the process some people take.

13 ben April 1, 2011 at 7:37 am

do you guys know how to do maths??? 17 in 2010 and 11 in 1999?
according to my watch a whopping 11 years passed rather than

in honour of jessica, the blog should be renamed ‘art of getting through life on daddy’s dollar’, the other kid jessie did it without a massive support team around the world to keep you company via sat phones, no skyping, no gps…that takes balls. what she did? yeah its certainly an acheivement but most could do it when placed in similar circumstances.

you might have noticed, many aussies arent quite as proud of dear little jessica as some would have you believe.

14 Marc April 1, 2011 at 8:31 am

Ben, it never says that she was 11 in 1999; that is how old she was when she first heard of the 18 year old circumnavigator. If she was nearly 17 in 2010, then she didn’t hear about Jesse Martin’s trip until 5 years after the feat was accomplished.

15 Luke April 1, 2011 at 8:50 am

Bear Grylls for sure. He holds numerous records for things such as flying over Mt. Everest and not in an air plane. The man is amazing and he is also a solid family. He’s a legend.

16 Steve April 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

Wow, thanks for an awesome article Brett.

17 Chris April 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

Adventurer I just found out about: Hendrik Coetzee.

Presumed dead after being taken by a crocodile in the Congo.



18 Sean Glass April 1, 2011 at 9:24 am

I would include Bear Grylls to some degree even though I really don’t care for his show at all.

Les Stroud for sure, and my favorite, Ray Mears. These dudes travel to wild and remote places and in varying degrees risk their health to learn and to teach about survival, buchcraft, and nature. I like Mears because of his polished style of programming that doesn’t emphasize him and shows respect and love for native cultures wherever he goes but they’re all adventurers in a manner of speaking.

19 Jeremy April 1, 2011 at 11:15 am

I like the idea behind the article and I like the idea of not always looking to the past for inspiration, but compared to the men of the past, the goals of these modern day explorers is just silly. Raising awareness for environmental issues? I’ve always found “awareness raising” the silliest of causes to embrace. It just makes people feel better about themselves without having to do anything, or in this case, getting to do something very cool under the guise of philanthropy. And how effective is it? I never heard of these folks until today. The adventurers of the past had a real purpose–to be the first to do something and in so doing discover an entirely new place. That’s manly.

20 Lou April 1, 2011 at 11:33 am

I fail to see how a spoiled rich guy with a trust fund and the ability to travel whereever and whenever he wants is inspirational. Perhaps he could turn his keen environmentalist eye on the problem of global consumption spawned by the envy of dynastic wealth.

21 Clockwork April 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

The man who goes to work day-in and day-out and provides for his family is more of a hero than rich young people going on adventures because they have the trust fund to not worry about going broke.

22 kpk April 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,


Ben Saunders


Alastair Humphrey has a great site as well with a great blog

23 Joseph Kraft April 2, 2011 at 5:41 am

I nominate J. Michael Fay

And congratulations to David de Rothschild for having the money and fortitude to do what most men only dream of.

24 Brian Hunt April 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm

A really good followup to this article wood be adventure for the average joe. I got two small boys and a full time job that dont pay millions. I love a adventure but whats out there you can do in a long weekend.

25 jameson April 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm

i wonder how bear grylls compares to these people!

26 Thomas April 3, 2011 at 3:59 am

Well Scott and Andrew B (and Brian Hunt) – you wash dishes in a fish and chip shop every evening and teach adult beginners dinghy sailing at your local sail school to pay for your sailing experience, fit in some home schooling somewhere in the mix, and hunt sponsors. There it helps to be 15 / 16, female and personable with an identifiable, marketable goal, and talented, very talented – it will be a whole lot harder being male, “more mature” and with no angle. However, I believe the difference is we forget what it is like to be 11 going on 25, 16 going on 40 like Jessica; no life experiences to hold us back, no mortgages, no kids – just a dream and driving ambition. And before you chip in with “daddy’s money” – dad was driving school buses and mum was a part time OT. No family money. Just determination, ambition and not knowing what it should be impossible to achieve – and it’s that last bit that is what stops you and I.

27 Don April 3, 2011 at 7:47 am

Jessica Watson is not suitable for this list at all. A rich kid whose parents funded her dreams is hardly the definition of adventure.

28 Travis Sevilla April 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm

All Teachers Rock and ARE HEROES!

But to add to the list, I might put Laird Hamilton on the list for his physical presence, and unending search for the largest waves in the world.

29 Andrew April 4, 2011 at 12:11 am

What about the numerous people whom have served in the military? I am pretty sure that every single day of their deployments, at least in an active war zone, is an adventure.

30 Adam Snider April 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Don’t forget about Martin Strel, the man who SWAM the entire length of the Amazon (and many other large rivers): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Strel

He’s a bit nuts, but definitely an adventurer. Oh, and he was drunk off his ass the entire time he was swimming the Amazon.

31 jweaks April 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

bump for Boy Scouts!

32 Dominick DalSanto April 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I cant wait to one day explore southern Patagonia with my beautiful lady. Perhaps at that point we can make it as a writer/photographer power couple. But as fulfilling and enjoyable as traveling the globe is, centering your life around these things is inherently selfish, and therefore not the way to a fulfilling life. Only by working to help others can you find a meaningful and joyful existence.

33 Matt April 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Aaron Ralston… the guy who cut his own arm off. His book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place is much better than the movie 127 Hours. It details many of his adventuring experiences

34 heresiarch April 8, 2011 at 5:01 pm

(info summarised/sourced from wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranulph_Fiennes, which details his life)

How about the guiness book of world records “greatest living explorer”? Ex SAS member Sir Ranulph Fiennes (also known by his awesome nickname “Ran”) completed 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents just four months after having a heart attack and then a pacemaker installed. He was the oldest person to scale everest at 65 in 2009, a year after failing to reach the summit by just 300m and yet still managing to raise 1.5 million pounds for a foundation which provides care to cancer patients in their homes. From 1979 to 1982 he journeyed around the globe “on the polar axis using only surface transport” (i.e. Boats, trucks, sleds, feet, etc.). And after an attempt to walk solo to the north pole failed because his sled fell through some ice and he sustained serious frostbite in his hand, he couldn’t be assed to suffer through the pain of the dead fingers so went into his garden shed and cut off the relevant portions of his fingers with a hacksaw. This dude is for real, and should be near the top of any list of great explorers. His books and appearance on Top Gear for a lap confirm that he is seriously old school awesome. And to the guy repping the Pardees i think it was, (RP?) I fully support that – theyre awesome too.

35 Sven April 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I would like to nominate the Norwegian “wilderness-king” Lars Monsen. Most noteworthy he crossed the Canadian wilderness from the west to east 2000-2002. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lars_Monsen

36 Tim Joyce April 15, 2011 at 9:12 am

I agree with the nominations for the average Joe. I would love to see an article like the one suggested above.

37 Jay Cook April 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Keep up it man! Amazing article.

38 Richard December 20, 2012 at 7:52 am


Really the youngest circumnavigator

39 hal wulff February 4, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I applaud this endeavor. However, what about the adventurers who have made it into a lifelong persuit? They deserve an “atta boy” too. Look up “Hal Wulff Ambergris Caye” or check my face book pics to view the tip of the iceburg.

40 nicholas mudge July 11, 2013 at 12:29 am

Ben Kozel has some great books.

41 hal wulff July 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Bear G. has no credibility here. He was always protected no matter how much the shows’ producers tried to hide it. Too edited. Too fake.

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