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CNN Insight

Re-Airing of Great Adventures

Aired January 25, 2000 - 0:00 a.m. ET


JONATHAN MANN, INSIGHT (voice-over): Beyond our reach, beyond our understanding. There are few people who go places the rest of us cannot, who do things the rest of us cannot. Who are they? And why do they bother?

(on camera): Hello, and welcome.

At this time of year, many of us are thinking about the future. We all have our hopes and expectations, of course. But some people have dreams, and a handful actually make their dreams happen. In that spirit, we thought we'd spend a program talking about people whose dreams were different -- the really exceptional people who define our sense of what humans can aspire to and achieve.

On our program today -- a man in a balloon, a woman in a boat and a climber on a mountain. Conversations about a few who dreamed they'd be the first.


(voice-over): If it's too high to climb, too far to fly or too treacherous to cross, therein lies a challenge. Mankind has explored and experimented since it first walked the planet and took to the seas. But the pursuit of the next great adventure and the fame that goes with it literally took off in the 20th century. There seemed to be no limit to what man, partnered with machine, could achieve.

Women got in on the act as well, becoming standard bearers for their gender and icons to a generation. War also played a part in the desire and the need to be bigger, faster and better. And the Cold War raised the bar even further.

Humanity began to reach for the stars, and the race was on to achieve a series of firsts in a new category. The Soviet Union put the first man in orbit.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth.

MANN: The United States took it one step further.

NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

MANN: Whether a great adventure is the result of a government project, costing millions of dollars, or a tenacious individual's labor of love on a shoestring, the drive to achieve and break barriers is ingrained in the human spirit.

George Mallory, who lost his life trying to be the first to top Mount Everest, put it best in a now famous phrase. When asked why he wanted to conquer the world's highest peak, he replied, "Because it is there."


(on camera): One of the great adventures of recent years was the race to be the first to fly around the world nonstop in a balloon.

(voice-over): We watched as balloonists, rich and poor, set off with high hopes only to come crashing down to earth prematurely.

Finally, after 20 days in their enormous Breitling Orbiter 3, Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard and his British co-pilot Brian Jones did circle the globe.

(on camera): If ever there was a man destined to succeed, it was Piccard -- a third generation adventurer. His grandfather was the first person to reach the stratosphere in a balloon. Bertrand Piccard's father took a submersible to the deepest point on earth -- the bottom of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

We spoke to the son, the grandson about his great adventure.


BERTRAND PICCARD, ADVENTURER: It was really a fascination. At every moment, we had the feeling that we were doing something tremendously big and with the risk of failing completely. And we were all the time between the big hope of succeeding and all the anxiety of failing for a third time. So it was a lot of mixed emotions.

And we had to concentrate really on what we were doing, day by day, and especially not (ph) between patience to reach the finish line. Because when we were saying everything was OK, we said, well, we might succeed, and we knew it was 10 more days to fly. And in 10 more days, you can have so many problems also.

MANN: Was it primarily a personal challenge? Was it a technical one? Was it a diplomatic one, for that matter?

PICCARD: I think if this flight had so much success in the media and the public, it's because it was all of this. There was not just one reason. It was a big challenge to build a balloon that would be able to fly for three weeks, when the previous longest flight was only six days.

And it was also a big challenge to build a team, on the human point of view, just to face the unknown and to accept to face the unknown, being pushed by the wind. And also to have all this technology just to play with nature -- not to control nature, but to play with nature.

And I think there is something mythical also in the mind of the people about going around the world. A lot of people have never gone around the world, even by foot, boat or plane. So to do it with balloon, it's a big dream because you are pushed by the wind.

MANN: To the people down here, you seemed like adventurers, explorers, heroes, even. What did it seem like up there?

PICCARD: Hmm. It -- let's say it was like being an explorer or an adventurer, but maybe in another meaning what the people usually say. The adventure for me is to accept to face the unknown. And when you accept to face the unknown, you are obliged to dig inside of yourself to get all the resources and all the capabilities to adapt to the unpredictability of what happens.

So it's more something that happens inside of us. Of course, we need some spectacle and some thrill. Otherwise, there is no sponsor because there is no media. But the goal was not this. The goal was really this deep adventure.

MANN: Was there a moment when you came face to face with the unknown, with the unexpected?

PICCARD: Yes, mainly when we got over the Pacific. The goal of our weatherman was to send us north of the Pacific, which is much shorter. And after one or two days of the crossing, they said it's a wrong strategy. You have to change your altitude and go south, and you have to go almost to the Equator before you find jet stream that will probably exist in four or five days.

And we had to be pushed very, very slowly on this gigantic ocean, and it was not 4,000 or 5,000 miles, it was 8,000 miles to cross. And we really were afraid. And we were obliged to accept it.

In normal life, very often we can refuse to be afraid. We cut the fear because we change the activity. But in the balloon, we could not change it. We had to go on. We could not ditch. We could not stop. There was no way to go back.

And if you accept your fear and you accept to go through it, it's a marvelous experience because you realize that you're able and capable to do much more like what we felt. And drifting across the Pacific like this was maybe the most -- one of the most fabulous experience of my life.

MANN: Was there a spiritual element to this?

PICCARD: It was very strange to discover that it was, actually. We started with a very sophisticated balloon. We wanted to write a page of history. We wanted to make a human adventure. And suddenly, we discovered that it was much more than that.

It was also creating a special relation with the planet. And I think that going around the world in a balloon is exactly like taking the world in our arms. You know, it's emotional relation. It's not anymore a geographical lesson when you see a globe or a map of the world now. It's special thing that happened between the world and us.

And maybe that's why when we came back, we decided to create our charitable foundation in order to help people who suffer in silence in the world because we felt we had so much luck, we wanted to pay back a little bit of this luck.

MANN: You come from an illustrious family. How did the impact of your grandfather and your father affect your own choices and this kind of adventure?

PICCARD: There are people who say that I had to go around the world to do something better than my father and grandfather. I think it's not true. I think what was the real influence of my family was many of the people I could know through my father. When my father built his submarine in Florida for the Grumman Aerospace Company, the Grumman Aerospace was making also the lunar module for the Apollo program.

So I was all the time in the -- in Cape Kennedy. I met the people who were head of NASA, the astronauts. I met a lot of explorers that were just coming at home for dinner or lunch. And all of these people gave me the taste of what life can be if you explore the world instead of just sitting in your room without moving.

And it's really the kind of life that I admired and that I wanted to do for myself. So when I could fly myself, of course, I did it. I started doing hang-gliding, microlight and para gliding and things like this. And when I could go to ballooning, I went to ballooning.

And when I had this opportunity to organize the Breitling around the world flight, it was absolutely natural and spontaneously that I did it because it was the kind of life I wanted to have. So I would say that the influence of my family is really very big, but maybe not the way that people think.


MANN: An amazing man. From the skies to the sea -- in a moment, we'll hear from the first woman to row the Atlantic. Stay with us.


MANN (voice-over): It took Tori Murden 81 days to row across the Atlantic Ocean, a period four times longer than the odyssey of Piccard and Jones. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic alone, no support craft, no fellow rowers. Not a soul in sight for 4,800 very slow kilometers - from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to Guadaloupe.

(on camera): Welcome back. Like many great feats, others have tried and failed. Murden herself tried it once before and almost lost her life. She told us about her motivation and the best and worst moments of her successful trip.


TORI MURDEN, ATLANTIC ROWER: Well, certainly the most frightening moment was hearing that there was a hurricane in the Caribbean and watching those forecast models predict that the hurricane was going to turn, and it never did. And ultimately, what had been Hurricane Lenny, the eye of the storm passed directly over my boat.

Fortunately, the storm had pretty much blown itself out. Gave me a little bit of a scare in the middle of the night with some gusts of wind about 80 miles an hour, and I did capsize once. But in comparison to a storm I was in last summer, Hurricane Danielle, it was a very gentle capsize and not that rough a night.

MANN: Not that rough a night. What do you do in a row boat when you're in a hurricane? And what do you do when it capsizes?

MURDEN: Well, last summer, I was in the remnants of Hurricane Danielle. The storm had only been downgraded about two hours before it hit me. So from my perspective, it was still a full-fledged hurricane, and I capsized 11 times in a single day.

After the fifth capsize, I climbed out on deck, fully intended to set off my distress beacon to ask for help. But I saw the fury of the storm, and I said, "Tori, you chose to be out here. You can't ask another human being to come and get you."

So I went through six more capsizes that day with my distress beacon in my left hand, not pushing the button with my right hand. And ultimately, I waited 36 hours after the passage of the hurricane before I signaled for help.

And I think if anyone's going to go out and try to do this sort of thing, they have to be prepared to take that sort of responsibility.

MANN: But you spent this time in the cabin, tossing around.

MURDEN: In the cabin.

MANN: I would imagine that would be little bit like being in a coffin in the middle of the storm.

MURDEN: Well, certainly, it's like being in a car wreck because 10 of my capsizes were side-to-side capsizes, and then I did an end-over- end pitch pull, when the boat rolls over bow over stern. And that's really violent. I ripped out a supporting rib from the ceiling of the cabin by slamming into it with my back. And I still have visible scars from my encounter with Hurricane Danielle.

MANN: What made you want to do this so badly?

MURDEN: Well, with my experiences last summer, I certainly knew I had it in me to do it. I had rode 3,000 miles, come within 950 miles of France. I was much closer to England. And I knew that I could do it. And particularly, rowing the southern route, which is much, much safer, I just went and finished it off.

MANN: But why bother? Why even try the first time?

MURDEN: Well, I think we all face oceans and we all face waves. And I don't think it really matters ultimately if a woman is rowed across an ocean. But as an example, there were so many young people who followed the journey and followed my trip and have followed me over the last few years, that it seemed incredulous for me to tell them, "Oh, yes. Try, try again. if at first you don't succeed," and all those adages if I wasn't willing to go out and finish something I'd started.

MANN: Did you talk to yourself while you were out there? Did you talk to anyone else?

MURDEN: I certainly talked to myself a lot. On this trip -- on my last trip, I lost communications eight days out. So I went for 78 days without any communications from home, no e-mail, no phone, no nothing. That's real solitude. If I had been on the Moon, I would have had better communications.

This trip, I had all sorts of extra stuff that my friends insisted I have onboard. I had an Iridium telephone, which worked fantastic. Out on the ocean, where there's no buildings to block the signal, the phone worked great. I had several other systems that were also very helpful and was able to communicate with school children via e-mail.

MANN: Do you, in that kind of setting, really communicate with some part of yourself? Did you learn something important and meaningful about yourself, or did you just do something very hard for a long time and get it done?

MURDEN: Well, I think I've changed a great deal over the process of building the boat, figuring out how to row across an ocean and then ultimately rowing across an ocean. And I think I've come to realize over the course of the last several years how much one must depend on the kindness of strangers and the kindness of volunteers and friends who surround you and take care of all those little things that you can't possibly do when you're in the middle of the Atlantic.

That's important. But also I realize that the world doesn't need heroes. The world doesn't need puffed up folks who want to beat their chest and say, "I did this." It really needs folks who are willing to stand on the ground and say, "I'm really not all that different from you," and that we're all capable of getting up off the couch and achieving something special.

And most of the achievements I hope that may come out of this will happen in civilization, in the small, subtle kindnesses that go on between friends.

MANN: What's the next achievement for you?

MURDEN: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I work for the Muhammad Ali Center, at least I did, and hope to soon. It's a center that doesn't yet exist. We're still in the fund-raising process to create an educational institution that honors the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali.

And I think he's a great example for young people. He's done so much since he left boxing as a humanitarian, teaching tolerance and healing around the world. So that his achievements as an athlete are impressive, but his achievements as a human being are far more meaningful.

MANN: With that, Tori Murden, we thank you and congratulate you.

MURDEN: Thanks very much.


MANN: Next, conquering the world with a veteran climber. Stay with us for that.


MANN: Welcome back. Early in the 20th century, climbing Mount Everest was considered to be one of mankind's greatest challenges. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay finally did conquer the world's highest peak in 1953, but the mountain holds a secret.

Did George Mallory and Andrew Irvine make it to the top 29 years earlier? Their attempt ended in tragedy near the summit. No one knows if they died going up or coming down. Mallory's body was found in May of 1999 by an American team.

David Breashears has climbed Everest four times. He also made the acclaimed IMAX film, "Everest," and wrote a book about Mallory's doomed effort called "Last Climb." We spoke to Breashears about Mallory and the lure of the world's highest peak.


DAVID BREASHEARS, EVEREST CLIMBER: Well, of course, it's the tallest place on our planet -- 29,028 feet high. It sticks up into the jet stream winds, and it's really the edge, you know, the upper edge of our planet. And there's only one tallest mountain on earth. And in our imagination, it's many things. It's a great icon. It represents a human striving. It represents, in a way, the edges of the human spirit as far as we can go, you know, bodily on this planet.

There's a great deal of romance associated with climbing Mount Everest, the romance of adventure, especially of Mallory and Irvine when they set off in the in the 1920s. And I think that people associate many special qualities with Everest climbers, whether they deserve them or not -- bravery, courage, perseverance, enduring hardship.

So Everest is -- is really many things in our imagination.

MANN: You've climbed Everest. What was it like?

BREASHEARS: I've climbed Everest four times. It's been different every time, and that's why I've been going back. You know, I climbed it first when I was 27. I had seen a picture of Tenzing Norgay on top of Everest when I was 12. He was first with Sir Edmund Hillary, and I wanted to become a climber, and I became a climber.

And so, that was the end of one journey for me, an important journey of a climber, and the beginning of a life in the Himalayas and on the slopes of Everest. I can tell when I climbed it when I was 40, working on the IMAX film and the days following the tragedy, I was nothing like that 27 year old. I was feeling very mortal and very vulnerable and not invincible.

MANN: Everyone we talk to who engages in these kinds of extraordinary, extraordinary exploits talks about seeing a different part of themselves, seeing the world differently. Did those things happen to you?

BREASHEARS: Well, of course, they did. And that's been a really important part of the journey for me. When I was a young man in my 20s and I first went to the Himalayas and looked up at Everest, I was -- I felt in awe and I felt intimidated -- excuse me. But I felt I was well- trained and kind of immortal and invincible.

And the big difference between that and my fourth time up the mountain with entirely different companions was that I was in awe, but I was also -- I felt very humble in nature, and I began to understand that the human spirit is unbounded, but there are limits to which we can drive our flesh and our bodies. And so - and I saw that right before my eyes in 1996.

And I've learned that even more so in working on my book, the book I've written with Audrey Salkeld, the "Last Climb," about Mallory and Irvine. You know, I'm deeply reverent and I feel humble when I look at photos of them on the mountain in the 1920s and just try and imagine what they were up against.

MANN: Mallory's son said in his foreword to your book that he would have rather had his father home safe than the memory of his extraordinary effort. Is climbing Everest -- is trying to climb Mount Everest worth the lives of the men and women who have lost their lives on it?

BREASHEARS: I can't say it's worth all those lives. But I can say this -- and you're right. I mean, we do have John Mallory at the beginning of "Last Climb" in the foreword talking about "he's a hero to all of you, but he's the father I never knew. Give me a father, not a hero."

So what that means to me is exploring our planet and learning about our planet in a way about ourselves comes with a terrible price sometimes. But without the Mallorys, without the Columbuses or the Marco Polos or the Amundsens, or the Shackletons or the journeyers, the explorers of the intellect -- you know, the Einsteins or the Darwins or the Newtons -- where would we be on this planet, if people sat home comfortably ensconced all the time, saying I'm not going to take any risks?

Well, I think we'd be in a pretty boring environment, and so I think, you know, my fellow adventurers out there -- the Neil Armstrongs, you know, and the John Glenns, and the Lindberghs out there.

MANN: David Breashears, author and film maker, thanks so much for being with us.


One final word about the climb of Mallory and Irvine. The American team found Mallory's body, but not the piece of evidence that could solve the mystery -- a camera carried by the climbers in 1924 that may or may not contain a snapshot from Everest's peak. The mountain would not give up its greatest secret that easily.

That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. Thanks for joining us. There is more news just ahead.



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