Modern Adventure: From Antarctica to Mars, and Everywhere in Between

Engaging in new places, people, perspectives and ideas requires the same positivity, openness and resourcefulness. And modern adventure is this realm of discovery, regardless of how massive or minute said discoveries may be.
01/06/2015 03:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Adventure is changing. We're far past the days of literally venturing off the map to uncharted territory or hopping on a raft and floating down the Mississippi. What is modern adventure? And not the profile-picture-of-person-on-mountain-with-the caption-"Wanderlust" modern adventure, but adventure that discovers similarly uncharted territory, be that physical spaces or more abstract concepts, ideas or people.

In the 1890's, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton famously declared that he craved the "opportunity of breaking away from the monotony of method and routine -- from an existence that might eventually strangle his individuality." And break from the monotony he did. Shackleton went on to participate in four British expeditions to the Antarctic, famously delivering his crew to safety after a disastrous ice-induced shipwreck miles from civilization during one expedition. With these accomplishments, Shackleton in many ways defined adventure and laid the foundation for future exploration as he charted the Antarctic.

With Shackleton's exploratory roots in mind, I talked to polar explorer John Huston. Huston has trekked to Greenland, Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island, and the North and South Poles, recreating historical expeditions and even becoming the first American to journey unsupported to the North Pole. Adventurous? Undoubtedly.

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So what goes into a full scale modern expedition? With the two to three years of preparation, physical training and worst-case scenario planning that go into each expedition, Huston emphasized, "Preparation is the expedition, and that is a huge part of the mental confidence that I try to bring into expeditions . . . on an expedition, you can plan all you want but nothing is going to go exactly according to plan. But to me, thats fun! When things don't go right, to me that gets interesting, like we have to solve the puzzle."

Seeing as Huston has made it across a literal iceberg of a country, there has to be some sort of mental preparation necessary to navigate months of ice, isolation and limited resources. He cites positivity as one of the most important mental capabilities needed to be a modern adventurer.

"Believing that [my partner and I] are going to be successful is the intangible thing that holds everything together. That's what makes problem solving possible in some ways, is that underlying optimism. As long as we keep moving forward and enable ourselves to stay safe, we know that we're going to figure it out," Huston says. "Looking back through historical explorers, its those who have been able to solve the puzzle and be resourceful and adapt and change based on what reality they're facing are the ones who are successful."

And modern adventure has moved beyond Earth. What seems like humans' insatiable desire to understand the unknown is not terrestrially bound, especially once the globe was fully charted. Understanding the nuances of an entire planet (though there are undeniably still many discoveries to behold) is not enough when there is an entire solar system, galaxy, universe to explore. We went to the moon and we continue to move past it.

This modern manifestation of exploration is taking hold of the masses. Movies like Interstellar and Gravity encapsulate adventure's boundless allure and realistically portray the possibilities that space exploration and extraterrestrial colonization hold.

There are also plans to explore and even populate Mars. The Inspiration Mars Foundation, an American nonprofit organization, hopes to send a two-person crew to fly to Mars and back. Their goal is to use "the exploration of space as a catalyst for growth, national prosperity, knowledge and global leadership . . . [and] to inspire Americans to take advantage of this unique window of opportunity to push the envelope of human experience." Even more extreme, Mars One, a Dutch organization, has formal plans to settle Mars via a competitive, lengthy application process to become the first space colonists.

Obviously, not all of us can be polar explorers or space travelers. But the great thing about adventure is that it doesn't have to be an expedition. "You can have adventure anywhere you want...so its all about the fun mindset," Huston says. "You just do something a different way, go someplace you haven't before, look from a different perspective . . . sure, the whole world has been explored, but its from new eyes."

And that's where you and I come in: we're the new eyes. As a person who reveres adventure of all sorts, I am inspired by both expeditionists and everyday explorers -- that is, people who are able to discover aspects of the world (be that physical, spiritual, theoretical -- you get the point) that I have not noticed or encountered in body or mind. Maybe this puts us in between the Shackletons of yesterday, the Hustons of today and the Mars citizens of tomorrow.

Perhaps these discoveries aren't so far off from Huston's polar expeditions. Engaging in new places, people, perspectives and ideas requires the same positivity, openness and resourcefulness. And modern adventure is this realm of discovery, regardless of how massive or minute said discoveries may be.