#2. Ernest Giles vs. Australia
When the British first discovered and colonized Australia, naturally they spent most of their time trying not to be murdered by it. Ernest Giles, desert explorer extraordinaire, had no such fear of the great red continent, even though its deserts are hot enough to kill camels. Giles didn't just make it his life's quest to cross the great expanse; he was downright impatient about it, leading four expeditions in four years, even though each one nearly killed him.
The top of his head must have been around four shades darker than the rest of him.
His first, in 1872, saw him wandering for five months around the landscape with two other men, discovering various rocks and lakes and other rocks. Although this was considered one of the more successful expeditions through spiderworld, Giles considered it a failure, possibly because everyone made it back without so much as a trace of Gulf War syndrome. When he returned in early 1873, he waited less than a year before heading out again.
This time he was accompanied by Alfred Gibson, a man who by all accounts shouldn't have been there, considering he had no experience with desert exploration. But Giles liked to live life on the edge, so they set out to cross the vast nothing between Adelaide and Perth.
"We must map this emptiness so modern man may continue to avoid it."
Things went about as smoothly as could be hoped until eight months into the journey, when Gibson's horse died of thirst. With only one horse between them, it was decided that Gibson should ride on ahead while Giles traveled alone and on foot. Gibson was no doubt extremely happy with this arrangement, and so he rode off into the sunset, presumably with a final shout of "So long, sucker!" That was the last time anyone saw him alive.
In the meantime, Giles was forced to walk for eight days through the scorching desert without any food, and carrying a massive keg of water on his back. According to his own journals, toward the end of his journey, he came across a baby wallaby, and "pounced upon it and ate it, living, raw, dying -- fur, skin, bones, skull and all."
It came with a built-in salad.
Giles survived just fine, and named the area the Gibson Desert after his less badass comrade. Then, over the next couple of years, he did it all again twice more. How many wallabies he ate alive during that time remains undocumented.
#1. Ernest Shackleton's South Pole Expedition (Doesn't Make It to Antarctica)
In 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton decided to conquer Antarctica, the last unexplored continent on Earth, because fuck there being an unexplored continent. The idea was to take a ship to Antarctica, land on the north side and then simply stroll across to the other north side (every side of Antarctica is the north side. Think about it).
Unfortunately, the plan went awry before they even reached the continent, which wasn't supposed to be the hard part. As they drew close to Antarctica, the Endurance and its crew got stuck in the solidifying ocean, preventing its progress. Realizing that they wouldn't be able to free the ship until the ice melted of its own accord, Shackleton and his crew sat and waited for warmer weather to come in. They waited for 10 freaking months.
That's Shackleton after the 10-month wait, looking frighteningly sane.
If you think we're going to tell you that the ice finally broke up and released them, then you don't know us very well. Ten months was just the point at which the ship sank, stranding them all on the ice. That was the beginning of their trouble. Once the men were forced to fend for themselves on top of the frozen ocean, that is of course the point at which the ice decided finally to start breaking up. If it could speak, it would have asked "What? Isn't this what you wanted? Make up your minds!"
As cracks started to appear in the ice around them, the explorers did the only thing they could do -- grab their lifeboat and drag it to the nearest land mass, which was the barren Elephant Island. Now safe from immediate death, they faced the very real threat of starvation unless they could get the hell back to the sane part of the world. The only option was for Shackleton and a few other crew members to make it back to the nearest outpost of civilization to get help. To do that, they would have to sail 800 miles. Over some of the most dangerous ocean in the world. In a lifeboat.
"Now, just to make this more interesting, I'm going to strap a live time bomb to each of you."
Oh, by the way, while they were messing around in Antarctica for all those months, World War I started. That meant that the ocean wasn't full of just sharks and icebergs, but also German raiders and lots of people trying very hard to kill everyone. Through sheer luck and determination, the crew eventually made it to the inhabited South Georgia Island. The only problem was that all the people were on the other side of it. To get there, they would have to cross a huge mountain range. And they did. At this point it wouldn't have been surprising if they then had to fight a Cyclops. They would have grit their teeth and done that, too.
Even after they made it to the whaling stations on the far side of the island, it would be months before conditions were right to send a rescue mission for the men they left behind. Perhaps most amazingly, almost everyone survived. Of the 28 men who left for Antarctica, 25 returned ... three years later.
"Finally! Our lives are sure to be exactly the same as when we left three years ago!"
Dustin Koski demonstrates monthly at Toptenz his ability to write list articles even longer than this one. Eric Yosomono writes for GaijinAss.com and you should like them on the GaijinAss Facebook page. All the cool kids are doing it!
For more old-timey badassery, check out The 11 Most Badass Last Words Ever Uttered and 7 Songs From Your Grandpa's Day That Would Make Eminem Blush.