Some people are natural leaders and bravely explore uncharted territory, fully prepared to take on any challenge in the pursuit of knowledge. Other people are lucky to get their pants on in the morning without serious injury, but dammit, they want to go exploring, too. Here are some explorers so flashily incompetent, it's a wonder they ever made it out their front door.
5The Pimp Who Crossed Alaska
Parisian Charles Bedaux led probably one of the most bizarre career trajectories in history. After dropping out of school at age 16, he became a pimp in Paris for a while until he picked up his comically oversized feather hat and made his way to America in search of greater aspirations. There he made his fortune as an efficiency consultant, after which he apparently got bored again and decided to explore a path for a proposed Alaskan-Canadian highway, a pursuit for which he had nothing remotely resembling credentials.
Well ... almost nothing.
In 1934, Bedaux fitted out his expedition exactly how you would imagine a former pimp would -- by gathering two limousines, five newly invented Citroen half-tracks, 130 horses loaded with essentials like caviar and champagne, a film crew, eminent scientific surveyors, his wife, a butler, a valet, a maid-in-waiting, and, of course, his mistress. Because you really want to spend months in the wilderness with your wife and your something-on-the-side both cramped in the same tight quarters.
Apparently, blazing a trail through the unexplored Alaskan wilderness was a little more difficult than the caviar-fueled cakewalk he'd imagined in his head. Things went to hell almost immediately on the "Champagne Safari" when the horses kept getting bogged down in the mud and the half-tracks continually malfunctioned. He soon dumped the surveying equipment (along with the "scientific" part of the scientific exploration) so there would be more room for caviar and formal ballroom attire. Rather than leave the half-tracks in the mud like any old boring explorer, he filmed his crew dumping a few over a cliff and attempting to blow one up, because that's how you abandon vehicles when you're a pimp.
The expedition was stopped by heavy snow about 15 days out from their destination, but that was close enough for Bedaux to call it a win and head home. There is some speculation that the whole exploration was actually part of a Nazi plan to build a highway to allow easy access through North America, a claim that is lent some weight by the fact that Bedaux tried to cozy up to both the Axis and the Allies during World War II, until he was imprisoned in the U.S. for espionage. It seems outlandish, but then so does a safari-going millionaire pimp, so who can say?
4The Cop Who Underestimated Australia
In the 1860s, the colonists of Victoria, Australia, were flush with money from a recent gold rush and decided to send someone to find a land route to the northern coast for no real reason other than to show how rich and generally awesome they were. Being that white people had only been in Australia for a few years at this point, we can maybe partially forgive the fact that they chose a policeman named Robert Burke to lead the expedition -- a man with no scientific or exploring experience who was well known for getting lost in his own town.
When the expedition set off from Melbourne on August 19, 1860, Burke made sure to load his wagons with everything he figured they would need for a few months in the desert, including a Chinese gong, a heavy wooden table and chair set, 1,500 pounds of sugar, and a stationery cabinet (where else was he going to store his stationery? In his backpack like an asshole?). Equipped more like a traveling circus than an exploring party, the group covered a whopping 4 miles on the first day of their journey, making camp basically within sight of their houses.
"This looks good for the night. Why don't we make camp and order a pizza?"
In fact, it was two months before they actually reached uncharted territory, which is amusing when you consider that the mailman routinely took the same trip in two weeks, but he didn't have a sweet Chinese gong. The long start meant that they arrived in the desert just as summer was beginning, but Burke didn't let a little thing like daily temperatures of over 100 degrees slow him down, possibly because to travel any slower, he'd have to be going in reverse.
Eventually, Burke got annoyed with the slow pace and left the bulk of the party at a base camp to wait while he set off with three men to continue to the coast. They almost made it, but were stopped by a dense mangrove forest, so the mission was technically a failure. On the way back to base camp, Burke accidentally set fire to the tent, destroying nearly all of their possessions, shot at the Aborigines who were trying to help them, and (we assume, based on prior idiocy) probably pissed in the water bottle.
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
And that's how American beer was born.
They returned to base camp only to find it deserted, so Burke buried a note for his men and set off for home. Unfortunately, he was a much better digger than an explorer, because nobody could find the note, which was pretty much his final blunder, since Burke was never seen again.