By Craig Davis, CraigslegzTravels.com
Fifty years after the first humans orbited the moon, a solitary American was completing a groundbreaking journey every bit as bold and remarkable.
On Dec. 26, 2018, Colin O’Brady became the first to cross Antarctica alone and without assistance.
The 33-year-old adventurer from Oregon made the 930-mile trek in 54 days across the polar continent, a realm as foreboding as the crew of Apollo 8 circled for 20 hours in December 1968 in the mission that prefaced the first landing the following July.
Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were saluted as Time magazine’s “Men of the Year” upon their return.
O’Brady has certainly earned status as Traveler of the Year and taken his place in the pantheon of pioneers who achieved what was previously regarded as beyond humanly possible.
While the Apollo flights were a testament to technology, ingenuity and courage, O’Brady’s accomplishment was all about fortitude and pushing the limits of body and mind.
80-mile marathon to finish
He did so in stunning fashion by covering the final 80 miles in a continuous 32-hour sleepless surge.
“While the last 32 hours were some of the most challenging hours of my life, they have quite honestly been some of the best moments I have ever experienced,” O’Brady wrote in his triumphant Instagram post that showed him by the wooden post marking the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where Antarctica’s land mass ends and the sea ice begins.
“I was locked in a deep flow state the entire time, equally focused on the end goal, while allowing my mind to recount the profound lessons of this journey.”
The adulation and attention that followed was unprecedented. For months, Lindbergh commanded headlines and drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands at appearances throughout the United States and abroad.
The Apollo 8 astronauts captivated a world-wide television audience in a Christmas Eve broadcast in which they read the first ten verses from the “Book of Genesis.” At that time, it was the most watched TV program to ever.
The same level of fame isn’t likely to be bestowed on O’Brady in today’s distracted, jaded world.
But there is still an appreciation for pacesetters and pioneers. And it is gratifying that such daunting frontiers remain to be conquered on this planet more than 90 years after Lindbergh’s flight and a half-century after Apollo connected with our closest celestial neighbor.
Social media tunes in to historic trek
O’Brady had 115,000 followers on Instagram tracking his progress as he made his way on skis over icy and uneven terrain dragging a sled bearing gear and supplies, which weighed 375 pounds at the start.
“Not only am I pulling my … sled all day, but I’m pulling it up and over thousands of these sastrugi speed bumps created by the violent wind,” he wrote early in the journey. “It’s a frustrating process at times to say the least.”
Lindbergh achieved his historic ocean crossing after several others died trying and before a few other rivals were able to launch their attempts.
Similarly, O’Brady found himself in a race with British army officer Lou Rudd, who set off on the same day, Nov. 3.
Rudd’s friend and countryman Henry Worsley died of organ failure in the home stretch of his 2016 attempt at the solo/unsupported Antarctic crossing. Rudd, 49, launched his expedition as tribute to Worsley.
O’Brady remained at the finish to greet Rudd, who arrived on Dec. 28, doubling a very exclusive club.
“There were several times I considered stopping, putting my tent back up and calling it a day,” O’Brady wrote at one point on the journey. “I wanted so badly to quit today as I was feeling exhausted and alone, but remembering all of the positivity that so many people have been sending, I took a deep breath and focused on maintaining forward progress one step at a time and managed to finish a full day.”
A professional endurance athlete but new to polar expeditions, O’Brady reportedly used Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album as inspiration to keep going.
More than halfway through the trek, he wrote: “I’m no longer the same person I was when I left on the journey, can you see it in my face? I’ve suffered, been deathly afraid, cold and alone. I’ve laughed and danced, cried tears of joy and been awestruck with love and inspiration.”
This is an extreme example of what travel does and why it holds broad appeal to varying tastes. Whether venturing into uncharted territory or to well-worn destinations, it changes the traveler either in subtle or profound ways.
We all have personal motivations for venturing out, and the meaning and rewards from the experience are individualized.
Frenchman bobbing to Caribbean
The same day O’Brady’s journey reached its joyful conclusion, a 71-year-old Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Savin, left the Canary Islands aboard a barrel-shaped vessel with the aim of floating across the Atlantic Ocean to what he hopes will be an island landing in the Caribbean.
Savin, a former military parachutist and pilot, described his objective as a “crossing during which man isn’t captain of his ship, but a passenger of the ocean.”
In essence, it’s a message in a bottle that he will deliver himself.
It’s another example that the reasons for travel are many and only have to make sense to each traveler.
Like with O’Brady, Savin’s progress can be followed via social media, his on Facebook page.
Savin’s barrel was custom-built to bob across the ocean, but it’s compact (10 feet long) and spare. True to his heritage, he took a couple bottles of wine aboard, which he planned to uncork for his birthday in January and for New Year’s Eve.
Travelers everywhere can join in a New Year’s toast to O’Brady’s historic trek and Savin’s bold voyage.
To happy trails and new horizons in 2019, cheers!