The New Explorers

The year is 1856. There are no cars. No internet. No phones. In the name of England you’ve been sent to a giant land mass which your map simply labels “unknown”.  Your mission? To locate the source of the world’s longest river. 

After a four-week ship ride you arrive and your journey begins. You are greeted with mosquitoes that sow the seed of malaria into your bloodstream. You encounter a king who force feeds his daughters beef drippings and cream to make them obese as a symbol of his wealth, control, and power. You tarry on. Weeks turn into months. The sun beats ruthlessly upon you day after wicked day. Dysentery rakes your intestines.  Botflies crawl under your epidermis, laying their eggs there to stay warm and be hatched just below the surface of your physical boundary. Your porters constantly steal your supplies and abandon you. Yet each day you wake up and put one dusty boot in front of the other. 

At times the weather is so uncooperative you must stay put for months at a time, fighting unknowable loneliness and boredom. You write letters to your family to be received one year hence. You keep a journal of your travels, but the humidity rots the pages, reminding you of your own impermanence. These are just a few of the typical scenarios explorers faced as they traversed undocumented areas of this large rock we call Earth.

Gone are the days of real explorers. 

With the exception of the deep ocean, everything on Earth has been discovered. There is no New Frontier on Earth anymore. You could argue that space is the new frontier, but it’s not the same. Not any ol’ Joe Schmoe can cruise up to space. Only a select few can. Back in the day, anyone could pack up their family, toss their possessions into a covered wagon, and journey west in search of adventure, and a better life. Nowadays it’s difficult to get past airport security to visit a nearby city. 

I’ve always been obsessed with historical explorers. Who were these crazy people? Why did they do it? Now that every inch of Earth has been seen, where is the explorer spirit? Have we turned to inventing things? Curing diseases? Still, this isn’t the same as traveling inhospitable landscapes, facing extreme hardship, and never knowing what danger lies beyond the next bush. 

Now, I’ll let you in on my little secret… I want to be an explorer! (Okay, I’ll opt out on the botflies.) But I want to discover new terrains. I want to look challenge in the face and step closer. I want to see what’s on the other side of discovery. Vasco de Gama, teach me your ways! 

The New Face of Exploration

The age of classic exploration is over. In a culture that grinds routine and busyness into every moment of our day, and obligation into every thought, how can we be modern day explorers?

There is one uncharted territory left, one you have easy access to. You don’t need a ship to get there. You don’t need Queen Isabella to fund your journey. You don’t need to stake your claim in the name of any country. Best of all, you needn’t worry about a hostile tribe licking their chops with hunger when they see you approaching.

The New Final Frontier

My friends, the final frontier is our own human potential. The modern age of exploration demands that we journey internally rather than to foreign lands. Inside each of us is a vast and largely uncharted landscape. There are lakes of memories, mountain ranges of hope, and caves of fear. There is that large massive island labeled “unknown.” 

Famous explorers’ names splash across the pages of history books everywhere. To us, their achievements are incredible. However, they hardly found themselves remarkable. They were just doing what needed to be done, day after day. They walked and stumbled through hardship and challenges. Sure, we may never experience the same kind of trauma these men and women faced. But don’t we also stumble through hardship, face challenges, and put one dusty boot in front of the other each day? 

We all have an inner “explorer.” When a friend mentions something new she wants to try, I see the twinkle of the explorer in her eye. Our daily lives can be viewed as a quest through the inner wilderness. Some of us are daredevils, jumping out of airplanes for fun. Some of us are entrepreneurs, building businesses from nothing. Some of us are philanthropists, serving others in amazing ways. Some of us are teachers or philosophers. Some of us are raising the next generation of little explorers. We all face adversity in life: the diagnosis of a devastating illness, being up all night with a sick child, reaching out to a friend in need. 

Each day we chart new paths, make decisions that affect our route, and each day we distance ourselves a bit more from past tragedies. Our lives may appear small on the surface, but inside each of us is a vast frontier that unfolds without a map to guide us. Each day we take another step and see what lies beyond. At times, like the great explorers, we are hopelessly lost. Sometimes the inner storms are so huge that we must stop and be still for several months. Like the great explorers of history, it is only by getting lost, trudging forward, and doing what must be done each day that we come to know ourselves and the mysterious place within us called “unknown.”

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