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Legendary explorer and Stalinesque mustache wearer Robert Peary spent his life boasting that he had led the first expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Nobody knew if he was telling the truth -- he didn't Instagram the journey, so for all they knew, Peary could have been the equivalent of the drunk guy at the bar boasting that he once had sex on a motorcycle. It didn't help that no one on the expedition was a navigational expert -- so they could have just stopped at a particularly isolated spot in Siberia and said, "Looks like we're here! Let's find Santa!"
We choose to believe that he's just wearing one enormous mustache, rather than a shitload of animal pelts.
So from 1909 on, the whole world just kind of smiled and nodded at Robert Peary's "first to reach the North Pole" claim while other explorers went through the trouble of getting independent verification and proper documentation of their expeditions. After almost a century of this, British explorer Tom Avery decided he'd find out the truth. And as you probably guessed, he decided that the only way to do that was to replicate the damn journey himself.
"Honestly, we did it for the style alone."
He tracked down the exact breed and number of dogs that Peary used to pull his 1909ish sleds. He even trained to handle the dogs per Inuit tradition, just like Peary. He and his team left from the exact location of Peary's 1909 camp in Canada. Avery and his team even maintained Peary's disgusting diet, eating raw butter and olive oil to consume enough calories to stay warm in the Arctic (about 10,000 daily).
Result: Despite several falls (one into freezing ocean water) and frostbite (each morning, 40 minutes were spent chipping ice out of boots), Avery and his team made it to the North Pole in just under 37 days, and he found artifacts from the 1909 expedition all along the way, which he promptly shoved into the face of every Peary doubter who ever lived, which also required a time machine. Hell, they even beat Peary's time by five hours.
So the guy wasn't a liar, he just sucked at keeping records.
We're not taking anything away from the badass and/or crazy people on this list when we say that Tim Severin takes the explorer cake. It's not that he's been the first or the fastest or the cutest (helloooo, Tom Avery), it's that he's gone on every fucking historical voyage you can imagine. He doesn't say no. If someone in the past went somewhere, Tim Severin wants to go there, too.
Aaron R. Linderman
"It's the poor, crazy man's answer to time travel."
Severin's obsession started while attending Oxford in the 1960s. He was asked to choose a major. He wrote down "history of everything," then hopped onto a motorcycle and rode it to China, retracing the route of Marco Polo. Sure, he got turned away at the Chinese border, but that's what happens when you're an ill-prepared college kid who drives from Venice to Red China on a whim. And that was just the beginning.
A few years later, Severin built himself a dugout canoe and proceed to navigate the 2,400 miles of the Mississippi. Then he wrote the book. We procrastinate by playing spider solitaire; Severin procrastinates by canoeing an entire river. In 1976, to prove the Irish legend that St. Brendan beat Columbus to America by 1,000 years, Severin built a replica fifth-century leather boat and sailed it across the Atlantic. At one point he struck an iceberg and simply sewed a patch over the hole and finished the journey.
"Just jam your wallet in there, it'll be fine."
And then Severin really got busy, answering the kinds of questions that no sane person asks:
Could Sinbad have sailed a ship made with no nails across oceans? Severin said fuck yes, then sailed a ship held together with coconut twine from India to Sri Lanka, and then to Sumatra, for over seven months.
How seaworthy were ancient Greek galleys? Pretty damn seaworthy, if you place stock in Severin's re-creation of the journey of Jason and the Argonauts. Because it's hard as shit to row a huge boat across the Mediterranean, Severin's 1,500-mile journey will likely be the only modern long distance cruise done by galley.
Imagine being forced to do push-ups, forever, or you drown.
What was it like to go on a crusade? Severin found out when he rode 2,500 miles from Belgium to Jerusalem. He also found out that apparently today's horses aren't up to the task of carrying the weight equivalent of a fully armored knight across a few thousand miles -- just like the crusaders of yore, Severin and horse fell ill. Only Severin recovered.
And our favorite, what would life with Genghis Khan have been like? Awesome, actually. In 1989, Severin rode with the Great Khan's descendants across the Gobi Desert and filmed archery contests and traditional Mongol horse races.
At that point in his career, he considered riding with the Mongols to be a vacation.
Feeling lazy yet? Yeah, us, too.
When not busy with his relatively sane and significantly less than "badass" research for Cracked, J. can be found here reflecting.