It’s never too late.
At the age of 50, New Zealand explorer Helen Thayer became the first woman to complete a “solo” expedition to the magnetic North Pole with her beloved dog Charlie.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
Helen’s track record is beyond impressive. She’s taken exploration to a whole new level, including becoming the first:
- woman to walk the Sahara Desert,
- non-indigenous woman to kayak 2,200 miles of the Amazon River, and
- woman to walk 1,600 miles across the Mongolian Gobi Desert.
But that’s not all…
Helen lived among a wolf den just inside the Arctic Circle, studying the often misunderstood creatures for over six months with her husband (Bill) and dog (Charlie).
She’s the best selling author of three books:
- Polar Dream: The First Solo Expedition by a Woman and Her Dog to the Magnetic North Pole
- Three Among the Wolves: A Couple and their Dog Live a Year with Wolves in the Wild
- Walking the Gobi: A 1,600 -mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair
And her accomplishments have earned her the title of “One of the Great Explorers of the 20th Century” by the National Geographic Society.
So without further ado, let’s hear from Helen Thayer in this exclusive interview…
Interview with Helen Thayer
What sparked your interest in exploration and travel?
At nine years of age, I climbed my first mountain (Mt. Taranaki, New Zealand) with my parents and Ed Hillary a family friend.
Note: Sir Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand mountaineer and the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Why did you (and continue to) take extreme adventures?
I enjoy a head-on challenge.
What was your most rewarding adventure? Why?
Skiing to the magnetic Pole alone to become the first woman to solo any of the world’s poles.
In 1988 women were not doing solo Pole journeys so I had to begin from scratch and call on all of my previous experience to put a workable plan together.
Polar bears were a real challenge especially to meet them alone with no means of escape. A dog team, snowmobile or even another person would have been a tremendous advantage.
Where do you find the courage to take amazing (and sometimes dangerous) adventures?
Perhaps it is genetic.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from all of your adventures?
That we humans have more inner strength than we realize.
Would you say taking your adventures have been your fountain of youth? If so, why?
We are what we think we are.
I am still living the same energetic lifestyle of my twenties. My goal of producing more educational programs for Adventure Classroom and sharing my experiences with students combined with my energetic approach to life and challenge gives me continued motivation.
What challenges have you faced being a woman explorer?
In the early years I was told that I was too old and a woman cannot meet these extreme challenges and if I went to the Pole alone I would get lost because “you are a woman.”
Now it is different.
I have a lot of support. And I did not get lost on my way to the Pole in spite of not being able to use a magnetic compass.
What are the three things you always pack no matter where you travel?
- A New Testament
- Camera gear
- A fourth would be optimism!!!
What one piece of advice would you give for women travelers?
Believe in yourself and plan well before leaving.
How has your explorations changed you?
I have come to understand the meaning of fear and how to remain optimistic even in the face of polar bears, polar storms, sand storms, starvation and the extreme lack of water.
How does it feel being named “One of the Great Explorers of the 20th Century” by the National Geographic Society?
It’s a huge, but very humbling honor.
Can you tell us a little about Adventure Classroom?
Our mission is to help students reach their full potential by inspiring students of all ages to set goals, create a winning plan, always be persistent, and live life without limits. Looking beyond the norm encourages extraordinary achievement. Students are motivated to take responsibility for their lives and actions, to learn to appreciate the diversity of life and human cultures, and to understand the importance of protecting the environment for ourselves and future generations.
Essential to Adventure Classroom is the inter-cultural awareness and respect program. Through lectures, images and discussions students are urged to increase their knowledge of remote cultures, cross the barriers of language and lifestyle, and promote intercultural respect no matter how remote or how different the lifestyles and beliefs of others.
Adventure Classroom projects motivate students to respect the environment and set personal and group goals for action—to make a difference with responsible and positive change.
Do you have any upcoming adventures? If so, where to?
Along with my husband we have many: Walk across India, Tibet and China to learn more about the various cultures. Return to the Amazon to live with indigenous people and many more.
Any other thoughts or advice for our women readers?
My solo journey to the Pole was like life itself.
We all have our metaphorical North Poles and we can reach them just as I did, one step at a time, never giving up on ourselves.
Take a visionary look beyond the norm, set your goals with a positive commitment to win.
Be passionate about your goal, plan well and be persistent even when problems seem impossible. There is usually a way around the problem. You just have to find it.