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  • I essentially drag sledges for a living,

  • so it doesn't take an awful lot to flummox me intellectually,

  • but I'm going to read this question

  • from an interview earlier this year:

  • "Philosophically, does the constant supply of information

  • steal our ability to imagine

  • or replace our dreams of achieving?

  • After all, if it is being done somewhere by someone,

  • and we can participate virtually,

  • then why bother leaving the house?"

  • I'm usually introduced as a polar explorer.

  • I'm not sure that's the most progressive or 21st-century

  • of job titles, but I've spent more than two percent now

  • of my entire life living in a tent inside the Arctic Circle,

  • so I get out of the house a fair bit.

  • And in my nature, I guess, I am a doer of things

  • more than I am a spectator or a contemplator of things,

  • and it's that dichotomy, the gulf between ideas and action

  • that I'm going to try and explore briefly.

  • The pithiest answer to the question "why?"

  • that's been dogging me for the last 12 years

  • was credited certainly to this chap, the rakish-looking gentleman

  • standing at the back, second from the left,

  • George Lee Mallory. Many of you will know his name.

  • In 1924 he was last seen disappearing into the clouds

  • near the summit of Mt. Everest.

  • He may or may not have been the first person to climb Everest,

  • more than 30 years before Edmund Hillary.

  • No one knows if he got to the top. It's still a mystery.

  • But he was credited with coining the phrase, "Because it's there."

  • Now I'm not actually sure that he did say that.

  • There's very little evidence to suggest it, but what he did say

  • is actually far nicer,

  • and again, I've printed this. I'm going to read it out.

  • "The first question which you will ask

  • and which I must try to answer is this:

  • What is the use of climbing Mt. Everest?

  • And my answer must at once be, it is no use.

  • There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever.

  • Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior

  • of the human body at high altitudes,

  • and possibly medical men may turn our observation

  • to some account for the purposes of aviation,

  • but otherwise nothing will come of it.

  • We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver,

  • and not a gem, nor any coal or iron.

  • We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted

  • with crops to raise food. So it is no use.

  • If you cannot understand that there is something in man

  • which responds to the challenge of this mountain

  • and goes out to meet it, that the struggle

  • is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward,

  • then you won't see why we go.

  • What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy,

  • and joy, after all, is the end of life.

  • We don't live to eat and make money.

  • We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life.

  • That is what life means, and that is what life is for."

  • Mallory's argument that leaving the house,

  • embarking on these grand adventures is joyful and fun,

  • however, doesn't tally that neatly with my own experience.

  • The furthest I've ever got away from my front door

  • was in the spring of 2004. I still don't know exactly

  • what came over me, but my plan was to make

  • a solo and unsupported crossing of the Arctic Ocean.

  • I planned essentially to walk from the north coast of Russia

  • to the North Pole, and then to carry on to the north coast of Canada.

  • No one had ever done this. I was 26 at the time.

  • A lot of experts were saying it was impossible,

  • and my mum certainly wasn't very keen on the idea.

  • (Laughter)

  • The journey from a small weather station on the north coast

  • of Siberia up to my final starting point,

  • the edge of the pack ice, the coast of the Arctic Ocean,

  • took about five hours, and if anyone watched fearless

  • Felix Baumgartner going up, rather than just coming down,

  • you'll appreciate the sense of apprehension,

  • as I sat in a helicopter thundering north,

  • and the sense, I think if anything, of impending doom.

  • I sat there wondering what on Earth I had gotten myself into.

  • There was a bit of fun, a bit of joy.

  • I was 26. I remember sitting there

  • looking down at my sledge. I had my skis ready to go,

  • I had a satellite phone, a pump-action shotgun

  • in case I was attacked by a polar bear.

  • I remember looking out of the window and seeing the second helicopter.

  • We were both thundering through this incredible Siberian dawn,

  • and part of me felt a bit like a cross between Jason Bourne

  • and Wilfred Thesiger. Part of me

  • felt quite proud of myself, but mostly I was just utterly terrified.

  • And that journey lasted 10 weeks, 72 days.

  • I didn't see anyone else. We took this photo next to the helicopter.

  • Beyond that, I didn't see anyone for 10 weeks.

  • The North Pole is slap bang in the middle of the sea,

  • so I'm traveling over the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean.

  • NASA described conditions that year as the worst since records began.

  • I was dragging 180 kilos of food and fuel and supplies,

  • about 400 pounds. The average temperature for the 10 weeks

  • was minus 35. Minus 50 was the coldest.

  • So again, there wasn't an awful lot of joy or fun to be had.

  • One of the magical things about this journey, however,

  • is that because I'm walking over the sea,

  • over this floating, drifting, shifting crust of ice

  • that's floating on top of the Arctic Ocean is

  • it's an environment that's in a constant state of flux.

  • The ice is always moving, breaking up, drifting around,

  • refreezing, so the scenery that I saw for nearly 3 months

  • was unique to me. No one else will ever, could ever,

  • possibly see the views, the vistas, that I saw for 10 weeks.

  • And that, I guess, is probably the finest argument for leaving the house.

  • I can try to tell you what it was like,

  • but you'll never know what it was like,

  • and the more I try to explain that I felt lonely,

  • I was the only human being in 5.4 million square-miles,

  • it was cold, nearly minus 75 with windchill on a bad day,

  • the more words fall short, and I'm unable to do it justice.

  • And it seems to me, therefore, that the doing,

  • you know, to try to experience, to engage, to endeavor,

  • rather than to watch and to wonder, that's where

  • the real meat of life is to be found,

  • the juice that we can suck out of our hours and days.

  • And I would add a cautionary note here, however.

  • In my experience, there is something addictive

  • about tasting life at the very edge of what's humanly possible.

  • Now I don't just mean in the field of

  • daft macho Edwardian style derring-do,

  • but also in the fields of pancreatic cancer,

  • there is something addictive about this, and in my case,

  • I think polar expeditions are perhaps not that far removed

  • from having a crack habit.

  • I can't explain quite how good it is until you've tried it,

  • but it has the capacity to burn up all the money I can get my hands on,

  • to ruin every relationship I've ever had,

  • so be careful what you wish for.

  • Mallory postulated that there is something in man

  • that responds to the challenge of the mountain,

  • and I wonder if that's the case whether there's something

  • in the challenge itself, in the endeavor, and particularly

  • in the big, unfinished, chunky challenges that face humanity

  • that call out to us, and in my experience that's certainly the case.

  • There is one unfinished challenge

  • that's been calling out to me for most of my adult life.

  • Many of you will know the story.

  • This is a photo of Captain Scott and his team.

  • Scott set out just over a hundred years ago to try

  • to become the first person to reach the South Pole.

  • No one knew what was there. It was utterly unmapped

  • at the time. We knew more about the surface of the moon

  • than we did about the heart of Antarctica.

  • Scott, as many of you will know, was beaten to it

  • by Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team,

  • who used dogs and dogsleds. Scott's team were on foot,

  • all five of them wearing harnesses and dragging around sledges,

  • and they arrived at the pole to find the Norwegian flag already there,

  • I'd imagine pretty bitter and demoralized.

  • All five of them turned and started walking back to the coast

  • and all five died on that return journey.

  • There is a sort of misconception nowadays that

  • it's all been done in the fields of exploration and adventure.

  • When I talk about Antarctica, people often say,

  • "Hasn't, you know, that's interesting,

  • hasn't that Blue Peter presenter just done it on a bike?"

  • Or, "That's nice. You know, my grandmother's going

  • on a cruise to Antarctica next year. You know.

  • Is there a chance you'll see her there?"

  • (Laughter)

  • But Scott's journey remains unfinished.

  • No one has ever walked from the very coast of Antarctica

  • to the South Pole and back again.

  • It is, arguably, the most audacious endeavor

  • of that Edwardian golden age of exploration,

  • and it seemed to me high time, given everything

  • we have figured out in the century since

  • from scurvy to solar panels, that it was high time

  • someone had a go at finishing the job.

  • So that's precisely what I'm setting out to do.

  • This time next year, in October, I'm leading a team of three.

  • It will take us about four months to make this return journey.

  • That's the scale. The red line is obviously halfway to the pole.

  • We have to turn around and come back again.

  • I'm well aware of the irony of telling you that we will be

  • blogging and tweeting. You'll be able to live

  • vicariously and virtually through this journey

  • in a way that no one has ever before.

  • And it'll also be a four-month chance for me to finally

  • come up with a pithy answer to the question, "Why?"

  • And our lives today are safer and more comfortable

  • than they have ever been. There certainly isn't much call

  • for explorers nowadays. My career advisor at school

  • never mentioned it as an option.

  • If I wanted to know, for example,

  • how many stars were in the Milky Way,

  • how old those giant heads on Easter Island were,

  • most of you could find that out right now

  • without even standing up.

  • And yet, if I've learned anything in nearly 12 years now

  • of dragging heavy things around cold places,

  • it is that true, real inspiration and growth

  • only comes from adversity and from challenge,

  • from stepping away from what's comfortable and familiar

  • and stepping out into the unknown.

  • In life, we all have tempests to ride and poles to walk to,

  • and I think metaphorically speaking, at least,

  • we could all benefit from getting outside the house

  • a little more often, if only we could sum up the courage.

  • I certainly would implore you to open the door just a little bit

  • and take a look at what's outside.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

I essentially drag sledges for a living,

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【TED】Ben Saunders: Why bother leaving the house? (Why bother leaving the house? | Ben Saunders)

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/03/05
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