April 3, 2008

Well I Guess That Makes Me an Explorer

It's no secret that Hollywood's adventurous character Indiana Jones was modeled after the real life explorer, paleontologist, naturalist, and taxidermist Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960). I must confess a strong affinity towards a guy who grows up in the Midwest, moves to the big city and in a few years goes from the janitor at the Natural History Museum to their prize collector. Andrews established the popular image of the rugged gentleman "explorer", complete with leather hat and whip, a hyper-masculine demeanor, and an honest to goodness fear of snakes. Nowadays, anyone who gets carried up Mt. Everest or "swims with sharks" at some Caribbean island resort gets tagged as an explorer. Worse yet are all the nonsense expeditions that serve no other purpose than to inflate the ego of the perpetrator (e.g. "Watch me kayak the length of the Mississippi backwards"). Once upon a time I was invited to help sail a boat across the North Atlantic from Scotland to Greenland. 'Twas the adventure that got away as I had to drop out at the last minute--but I had great respect for the salty captain and his rum-soaked world view. His opinion was that all the real explorers were dead and that anyone who called themselves an explorer--in the days of satellite phones, GPS, and travel insurance--was a ponce. Hmmm, a worthy thought.

Roy Chapman Andrews had his own set of standards which he laid out in his book This Business of Exploring (1935):

To meet the popular conception of an explorer a man must have suffered cold, heat, starvation, fever, attacks from wild animals and savage natives and must have been bitten by snakes.

Is that all? Well, let's see then:
  • COLD? Check. Fell through the ice in the Gulf of Finland, air temperature -40°
  • HEAT? Check. Phoenix, Arizona in July; 120° F. Suffered severe nausea from heat exhaustion
  • STARVATION? Check. Ukraine, 1995. Lost a pound per day for 3 weeks straight as there was no food.
  • FEVER? Check. Crimean Peninsula. 104° fever for 3 days.
  • ATTACK (from wild animal)? Check. Bit by wild mongoose in Hwange, Zimbabwe.
  • ATTACK (by savage natives)? Check. Beat up by street hooligans in England.
  • BITTEN by snakes: Check. Bit three times on the wrist by wild garter snakes held captive by my older brother.


Natasha said...

Good Grief! Aren't garter snakes poisonous! And were you held captive or were the snakes?

AE said...

Ha, ha. No. Not so poisonous. Rather friendly little creatures, but they were vicious that day and bit me. Little did I know they were turning me into an explorer.