The 5 Most Badass Things Ever Done in the Name of Research

For most of us, research is something you "Google," or, if you've really got the eye of the tiger, research might be something you "library." Either way, for 99.9 percent of us, research is something we do from a desk or couch and not, say, by crossing the polar ice caps on foot.

Time to meet the 0.1 percent.

#5. Thor Heyerdahl Crosses the Pacific Ocean on a Raft

Keystone / Getty

"Anthropologist" sounds like a boring job, but then again so did "archeologist" before Indiana Jones came along. But where real archeologists don't actually bullwhip their way to scientific discovery, some anthropologists do think that science is best accomplished through manly adventure. For instance, adventurer and winner of Manliest Baby Name of the Year 1914 Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove a point about the migration patterns of ancient tribes, and in 1947 he decided that the best way would be to build a crude raft and sail for several thousand miles on the open ocean to see if he would die.


Why? Well, his theory was that the Polynesian Islands were settled by people who sailed there from Peru on flimsy rafts made of balsa wood. And how else could you find out if such a thing was possible? Now, you'd think that assembling a crew to sail 4,300 miles on a raft made of model airplane material would be tough, but Thor was so ballsy that he advertised with this simple message:

"Am going to cross the Pacific on a simple raft to support a theory ... Will you come? Reply at once."

"Must enjoy long walks on beach, spitting in God's eye."

For all anyone knew, the theory could have been "People are stupid" or "Humans resort to cannibalism faster than you'd think," but five brave people joined up anyway. Heyerdahl named his danger-raft the Kon-Tiki, which is either the name of the Inca sun god or Norwegian for "suicidal," depending on who you ask. The raft itself was nothing more than "nine balsa wood tree trunks lashed together with hemp rope."

MoviePix / Getty
"Look at this boat. The ocean wouldn't dare fuck with us."

And all the fluttering flags and badass ethnic-looking sails in the world could not change the fact that six guys stranded themselves on a barge in the Pacific Ocean for 100 days. Sure, they had water and provisions, but look at the thing. Some of us can barely stand hanging out in a four-bedroom house with our family during the holidays -- can you imagine spending three months at sea in a space that amounts to an open mobile home? With five other men?

On the 101st day, they made it. The "boat" hit a reef in French Polynesia and beached on an uninhabited island. But it didn't prove his point; even though Heyerdahl had proved that the journey was possible, no one believed that this was actually how Polynesia was populated. Science basically patted him on the head for trying his best and told him to run along. Only recently has DNA testing revealed that there was definitely some DNA swapping between Polynesians and South Americans before Europeans made it to the islands in 1722, so everyone would decide that he was at least partially right, decades later. Totally worth it.

"In the meantime ... WHEEEEE!"

So how could anybody top that? Well ...

#4. Alain Bombard Shipwrecks Himself on Purpose

Charles Hewitt / Getty

Where Heyerdahl had to risk a potentially deadly shipwreck in his pursuit of the truth, in 1952 a French doctor named Alain Bombard just skipped right to that part. He wanted to see what it would be like to survive a shipwreck if the worst case scenario happened: just you, alone, on a raft, with no food or water. Basically like a tigerless and much more boring Life of Pi. According to Bombard, all a stranded sailor needed to survive an ocean voyage was ingenuity, and damn it, he was out to prove that shit the hard way.

Charles Hewitt / Getty
That raft is actual size.

Starting in Monaco, Bombard drifted the Atlantic Ocean in his 15-foot inflatable raft, eating nothing but raw fish and plankton and drinking captured rainwater and half a pint of seawater a day (note that it's generally believed that seawater will eventually kill you if you consume enough).

But for weeks he survived this way. On Day 53, Alain met up with a tanker whose crew politely informed him that he was 600 miles off course from his destination. Twelve days later, Bombard landed in Barbados and was immediately hospitalized for his efforts. But he did it! After 65 days and 2,700 fucking miles, a severely malnourished and desperately thirsty Alain Bombard proved that a stranded sailor could cross the Atlantic. All he had to do was spend every minute of his journey fishing and pressing and drinking fluids out of the fish he caught.

AFP / Getty

And as a result of Bombard's journey, lifeboat makers began to take notice when he told them to put fishing gear in every boat. He also proved that you don't even have to be a sailor to survive this situation -- Bombard could hardly navigate. He just drifted his way across the ocean, proving that anybody could do it. Thanks, we'll take your word for it, buddy.

#3. Graham Hoyland Climbs Mount Everest With No Modern Gear

NY Times

One of the great mysteries of the 20th century was "What was up with Beanie Babies?" Another was "Did George Mallory make it to the top of Mount Everest in 1924?" If so, he and his climbing partner would have beaten the supposed record holders Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay by 29 years. But we'll never know, because Mallory disappeared on the mountain, and the camera that was supposed to document his triumph went missing.

Which is a shame, because the guy could take a picture.

But the best argument against Hillary having completed the climb is the total lack of equipment that would have made it possible. Even today, climbers wearing the best, most technologically advanced North Faced mountain climbing gear in the world fail against the elements on Mount Everest. So how could George Mallory, with his 1924 knickerbockers and newsie cap, have possibly reached the summit without freezing to death? Well, that's what Graham Hoyland wanted to find out.

In 2006, Hoyland commissioned an exact replica of Mallory's expedition gear to see how it would hold up on Everest. And we're talking everything -- from the wooly underwear on his privates to the Indiana Jonesish fedora on his head. And then he climbed Mount Everest. And while he often found himself talking in old-timey movie slang and inexplicably doing the Charleston, the clothes themselves held up. He actually had more freedom of movement and warmth than other climbers in their modern climbing gear. And he looked infinitely more dashing.

Jen Peedom via BBC
Behold, the elusive mountain hipster.

Except for that screeching sound that the DJ makes when a bear walks into a house party. Four years later, Hoyland discovered some meteorological data that changed all of his previous conclusions about the 1924 journey. Base camp records suggested that a sudden drop in barometric pressure meant that Mallory and his partner must have encountered a sudden blizzard while en route to the summit, the same kind of storm that killed eight Everest climbers in 1996. So while George Mallory's retroville clothes probably would have done just fine in regular Everest weather, there's no way he could have withstood the intensity and killing power of an Everest blizzard.

"My pee actually froze inside my wang."

In other words, Graham Hoyland climbed Mount Everest while looking like Judge Doom in vain.

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