Theodore Roosevelt settles into a canoe for a day of exploration and potential death in the rainforest.
Sometimes, life in the city can be difficult, particularly when it comes to travel. The subways will slow down to a crawl or idle between stops for no apparent reason when you're most in a hurry. On summer days, the steam rises from the paveway and the sun beats down on the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds as you trudge seemingly forever to your destination. In the winter there is ice to slip on, snow that drifts into your boots, wind that turns your umbrella inside out and leaves you exposed to the freezing rain, and bone chilling temperatures as you walk from place to place. At times like these, I could remind myself how hard it used to be to get anywhere, especially for those intrepid explorers of the 19th and early 20th century--who braved the unknown wilds of Africa and South America in order to fill in the blank spaces on the world map or answer questions about the nature. They endured blistering heat in the jungle, freezing winds in the mountains, or constant rain. They came close to starvation, fought illness and injury with few medical supplies. They wore bad shoes and clothes that were either stifling or inadequately thin. They dealt with a variety of insects that would make an entymologist consider another profession. They never knew what might lie ahead--predators, unfriendly natives, unpassable mountains, or steep rapids.
Yet...I also wouldn't plan my expedition into the unknown with a low amount of provisions because I expected to be able to hunt, fish, or trade for food. I wouldn't insist on traveling like a pasha, building a slow fury with my porters. I'd find out more about the men I brought to work with me. I wouldn't take foolish risks, such as ignoring my guide's instructions or trying to do things that I knew would get me injured. I'd leave the fine olive oil and mustard at home in favor of more practical food. The truth is, if you read enough stories about those brave explorers and the trials they endured, you'll inevitably find that some of those trials were brought on themselves through arrogance or sheer stupidity.
That is certainly the case in Candice Millard's River of Doubt, the story of Theodore Roosevelt's 1914 descent of the Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt) in the Amazonian jungle. As you read about the preparations for the journey, the mistakes pile up so thickly that even the participants seemed to be aware of them. But trapped in their own pride, determined to follow through on their announcement, and risk their lives for a piece of geographical immortality, they proceeded.