What, I wonder, makes a man want to become an adventurer? For example, why would someone like Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes want to give up a perfectly comfortable lifestyle in the English countryside and cross the Pyrenees on a mule or walk unassisted to the North Pole? Obviously it gives you a bit of an edge at dinner parties. When everyone else is talking about having just completed the Comrades or done the Argus you can casually let slip that you’ve been exploring the wilderness of British Columbia in an inflatable boat with only enough provisions for three days. Not that anyone will be terribly interested unless they too have done the whole British Columbia thing in an inflatable boat. Bragging rights are all very well but nobody likes a show off.
And walking to the North Pole and losing most of your fingers to frost-bite isn’t likely to elicit much sympathy from fellow diners, as the remaining stumps of your digits fumble awkwardly with the soup spoon. After all, why would anyone want to go through all the physical discomfort and exhaustion when you know already that there is nothing there except an icy wind? I can understand the first explorer’s desire to find out once and for all whether Father Christmas lived there but once it had been discovered he didn’t then repeat visits would seem superfluous. Besides, the name Robert Edwin Peary is not exactly on everyone’s lips. He is the loony who is credited with being the first to reach the North Pole in 1909 and nobody actually cares.
Fiennes is one of the most famous adventurers and explorers of our time though and one can only wonder what domestic life must be like at chez Fiennes. Imagine it. Ranulph comes back from six months of crossing the Himalayas clinging to the belly of a yak and clearly finds rural life in England a bit dull. He tunes into “Has Britain Got Talent or What?” on the telly and dejectedly mooches about the house making endless cups of instant coffee. But it’s no good. Domestic bliss, warm winter fires and eating regular meals no longer suit him. So he kisses the missus and says he’s just popping down the local pub for 20 Camel tipped and that’s the last she sees of him for a year. She gets a postcard telling her that it’s nothing personal but he has just popped off to crawl across the Sahara desert on his knees because nobody has ever done that before. Sure enough, in just over a year he’s back, wizened by the desert sun and missing both knees but obviously blissfully happy and already planning how to lose or damage other human organs in his next expedition. Crazy or what?
Not that I would suggest that men should never have been explorers. If we hadn’t had explorers we would never have discovered all those exotic places with rich mineral wealth and cheap labour. But once someone has discovered the source of the Nile or the Vic Falls it seems rather pointless going back to rediscover it, unless you happen to be on a luxury holiday. So it must be all about pushing the human body and the mind to their limits. Which is all very laudable I daresay but if the price you have to pay is missing fingers, a dodgy digestive system and a face that’s been eaten way by extreme heat and extreme cold then count me out. I’ll tune into National Geographic thanks.