3 June 2011 (Friday) - Exploration

I started reading a new book on my Kindle today – the memoirs of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton is a personal hero of mine. He was a major figure in Antarctic exploration; at one point holding the world record for the person who’d got closest to the South Pole. I won’t go into endless details of his life – there’s a good summary here. A brief synopsis would be that despite three failed Antarctic expeditions, he was embarking on his fourth one when he dropped dead. (That’s what being British is!)

What I find so amazing about the chap is that he was one of the last “proper” explorers. I’m currently reading about his expedition of 1914 in which he planned to cross the Antarctic from one side to the other, via the South Pole. He didn’t quite achieve it; in fact he never quite got started. But he got to the Antarctic, and made his way through hundreds of miles of uncharted oceans and ice floes and coastlines. He was going through utterly unexplored territory. He was drawing the maps as he went along, naming mountains, cliffs, beaches and other geographical features after the patrons who’d financed his expedition. And had he actually managed to start his intented traverse, he may well have been utterly scuppered by as-yet undiscovered mountain ranges. But the fear of the unknown didn’t bother him. Or any of the other explorers of his time (or earlier).
There will never be an age of exploration quite like Shackleton's. Even as mankind (slowly) reaches for the Moon, Mars, and beyond, everywhere we go will have been mapped out by satellite radar long before any explorers get going. And the same satellite technology will allow explorers on the ground to locate themselves on their maps to within a yard or so thanks to the wonders of GPS technology. Whilst our interplanetary explorers will be brave and bold, they will none of them face the unknown in quite the same way that Sir Ernest once did….

These profound thoughts came to me today, when ‘er indoors TM and I field tested her latest acquisition: a set of cards detailing short walks round Kent. Yesterday we decided to go to Aldington. We’d chosen Aldington because it was (for us) unexplored territory. And the instruction card was excellent. It spelled out our route, pointing out when to turn left, when to turn right, and brought up points of local interest along the way.
We had a wonderful walk: ‘er indoors TM missed seeing the fox, but we both saw the water vole – I’d never seen one before. I know it was a water vole because I took a photo and looked it up when we got home.
And we will do more of these walks. Yesterday I thought of them as walks into unexplored territory. Now I know that they are only unexplored by me. No one has been to "unexplored territory" since Sir Ernest died…

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