To Infinity and Beyond! The Top 5 Epic Expeditions of All Time

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Over the millennia, groups of human beings have from time to time set out on epic expeditions. Casting caution and the comforts of hearth and home to the winds, they turn instead to face fate and journey off into history. To put it in less epic phrasing, some people have done some awesome things.

We thought that today you might want to hear about some of the greatest voyages of daring exploration ever undertaken, thus to put your day (or year or decade) in perspective. Don’t worry, we too avoid mirrors for several hours after thinking about what these brave souls have done, where they have gone, and under what circumstances. Of course, on the other hand, we also like it when our coffee is hot, our laundry washed and folded, and Thai food delivered hot and spicy a mere 30 minutes after we grab the phone. Hmm…heroic voyage, or pan fried noodles—this one is a toss-up.

5 “Corps of Discovery Expedition”

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And last but certainly still awesome, let’s talk about some American heroes, a couple of guys that went by the names Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. To hear those names, one thinks of schoolbook history lessons, all nicely cut and dried and not too interesting. Their 1804 to 1806 “Corps of Discovery Expedition” was the ultimate journey into the unknown. At least, for men from the young eastern nation that was America—obviously natives had lived everywhere the journey went for countless generations. And it is this fact that renders the expedition 5th on our list: Lewis & Clark achieved an amazing feat of exploration and discovery, but they had help and were in lands only uncharted to their culture. Still an impressive expedition, though, and worthy of closer study than most elementary school treatments give it!

4 Climbing Mt. Everest

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We have to give a shout out to the first fellas who reached the summit of Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. These indisputably manly men reached the summit, a breathtaking (quite literally, of course) 29,000 feet high, on October 29th, 1953. Many had tried before, and many had failed (and often died). And while today Mt. Everest is a frequently climbed peak, at the time this accomplishment was of Moon Landing proportions. And given the gear they had then, the fact that the summit was unknown territory, the danger involved, and the sheer audacity of the climb, the first successful climb of the world’s tallest mountain will forever remain one of the most vaunted expeditions of all time.

3 From Peru to the Tuamoto Islands

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In 1947, Norwegian bad-ass Thor Heyerdahl set out aboard a raft named Kon-Tiki to sail from Peru to the Tuamoto islands in the South Pacific. The journey spanned more than 4,300 miles, and lasted just more than 100 days. Oh, and by the way, by raft, we mean a raft. Kon-Tiki was made up of tree trunks and limbs tied together with hemp rope, and a sail made from woven bamboo stalks and fibers. Heyerdahl and his crew of five additional Norsemen were set on proving ancient mariners could have crossed the open oceans on simple crafts and populated the islands of the Pacific (which they went ahead and proved handily even though it now seems many of the Polynesian peoples may have travelled from the opposite direction).

2 The South Pole Journey

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Our second epic journey for the day was not supposed as epic as it ended up being. When Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out to reach the South Pole in their ship Endurance, they probably didn’t realize how prescient the ship’s name would prove to be. The South Pole had been reached in 1912, thus dashing Shackleton’s hopes of being the first to reach it. Not being the sort of guy who doesn’t go for an even harder to achieve goal just because he could, Ernest decided instead that he would make the first attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica via the pole. This was to be an 1,800 mile crossing—quite epic in its own right! But when Endurance became trapped in pack ice and subsequently crushed, the mission turned to one of survival…one which lasted more than two years. Just read the book, The Endurance, to learn more, but suffice it to say these guys were tough as nails.

1 To the Moon and Back

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If you didn’t think the journey to the moon would top the list, then you thought wrong. In all of human history, there has been no voyage more epic than those that took our AstroMen (that should be the term, so we’re going with it) to another world. While there were six manned moon missions in all, let’s go with the herd and give a shout out to the first. The mission was named Apollo 11, it took place in 1969, and during it Neil Armstong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps any human ever took on unearthly soil. Michael Collins’s steady hand kept the command craft orbiting the moon above their heads, and all three men completed the first of six goddamn epic expeditions.

There, now you can sit back and watch the clock tick feeling that much less epic yourself. As for us, we’re going to Google Image scenes from the summit of Everest and from the South Pole for a while, and then we’re thinking about heaving one long, drawn-out sigh.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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