“A hundred years ago, when Robert Falcon Scott set out for Antarctica on his Terra Nova expedition, his two primary goals were scientific discovery and reaching the geographic South Pole. Arguably, though, Scott was really chasing what contemporary observers call a sufferfest. He set himself up for trouble: Scott brought Manchurian and Siberian ponies that quickly fell through the snow and ice; he planned, in part, for his crew to “man-haul,” meaning that the men would pull sleds full of gear, instead of relying on dogs. Even when Scott’s men faltered, they continued collecting specimens, including rocks. The expedition ended terribly; everybody who made the push to the pole died. Miserable, starving and frostbitten, one of Scott’s last four men killed himself by walking into a blizzard without even bothering to put on his boots.”
“But then there’s Sarah Marquis, who perhaps should be seen as an explorer like Scott, born in the wrong age. She is 42 and Swiss, and has spent three of the past four years walking about 10,000 miles by herself, from Siberia through the Gobi Desert, China, Laos and Thailand, then taking a cargo boat to Brisbane, Australia, and walking across that continent. Along the way, like Scott, she has starved, she has frozen, she has (wo)man-hauled. She has pushed herself at great physical cost to places she wanted to love but ended up feeling, as Scott wrote of the South Pole in his journal: “Great God! This is an awful place.” Despite planning a ludicrous trip, and dying on it, Scott became beloved and, somewhat improbably, hugely respected. Marquis, meanwhile, can be confounding. “You tell people what you’re doing, and they say, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” Marquis told me. “It’s never: ‘Cool project, Sarah! Go for it.’ ” Perhaps this is because the territory Marquis explores is really internal — the nature of fear, the limits of stamina and self-reliance and the meaning of traveling in nature as a female human animal, alone.”
Read on .