8. March 2016.   •     Guest Writer

It is about women adventurers, everyday, real-life heroes – our moms, grandmas, aunts, sisters, and friends. I am sure you can spot them everywhere you look. We all struggle and doubt ourselves, I guess all people do.

It is not about one day in a year.

We admire adventurers and wish we were as brave and daring. But, although I bring you completely random stories about women adventurers. Who became famous because of their courage or were pioneers in their endeavors. I bet they didn’t consider themselves as such. If you lack inspiration and abound in excuses, maybe here you can find something that will spread your wings. Here’s to you, ladies! Dream big!

Georgie White
“202 Georgie White at Ticaboo” by Angeles Chapter History Committee 

Georgie White.

There is a whole veil of mystery around Georgie’s life. Some intriguing details appeared even after her death. But no matter what the truth was and whether we’ll ever find out, Georgie led an unprecedented life, as a women adventurer. So let’s go back to the beginning. She was born Bessie DeRoss in 1911 in Oklahoma, USA, and raised in Denver. Married while still in high school and had her daughter at the age of 17.

The first half of the 20th century.

She first moved to Chicago and then to New York with her family. She divorced her first husband, Harold Clark, in 1936 (age 25) and was briefly married to James White. Georgie and her daughter were very close and loved spending time outdoors: the activity didn’t matter – cycling, skiing, skating, rock, and mountain climbing. But in 1944 her daughter was killed in a hit-and-run accident while cycling. Overwhelmed with grief, Georgie took to roaming the outdoors, first hiking the deserts and eventually deciding to swim the Colorado River with her friend and companion, Harry Aleson.

They wanted to prove that, in the event of a boating accident, it was safer to float downstream than try to hike out of the canyon. In June 1945, they jumped into the Colorado wearing life jackets but also backpacks filled with first-aid supplies, food, camera, and film. Three days later, they emerged at Lake Mead after “swimming” in the raging torrent for 97 kilometers. Next year (June 1946) they returned with a one-man US Army Air Corp rescue raft they carried on their backs while hiking to their starting point (they almost died of thirst on their way to the river) and managed to pull off an epic journey to Lake Mead, a venture considered impossible up to that point. “I fell in love with the river, married it, and I don’t plan no divorce,” were Georgie’s exact words and she spent the rest of her life proving them.

She was the first woman to row the full length of Marble and Grand Canyons in 1952.

Let’s just point out that in the 1940s commercial rafting was at its beginnings, but as soon as the 1950s, Georgie started guiding trips by herself. And by 1961 she had taken more passengers down the river than any other guide. She founded her own company called Georgie’s Royal River Rats, guided trips on other rivers as well, but always held Colorado to a higher standard. As she said: “You could be a river rat on other rivers, but you could only be a royal river rat on the Grand Canyon.” Her last trip on the river was in 1991, just before her 80th birthday. She died a year later, after running North America’s biggest white water for 45 years. In 2001, Twenty-Four Mile Rapid on Colorado was named Georgie’s Rapid by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in her honor.

After her death, her friends found a pistol and a marriage license in the name of George and Bessie Hyde. Which led to a great deal of controversy regarding her identity. Some still remain convinced that she, in fact, was Bessie Hyde, a young woman that was thought to have disappeared in the Grand Canyon with her husband while on their honeymoon. That George was abusive and that she shot him, climbed her way out of the canyon, and started a new life under a new name.

Adventures Women
Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird.

Isabella was born in the 19th century, in 1831 to be more precise. She suffered from different health issues from early childhood which compelled her to spend certain periods of the year in areas with more beneficial climates. Being the daughter of a Church of England Minister, she was educated and had significant funds to spend on her travels which started as a result of her illness but later on became her lifestyle. Her first travels outside Britain took her to Australia, then to Hawaii where she climbed Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. After that, she went to the US, to a new state at the time – Colorado, because she heard the air there was beneficial for the sick. In 1873, she passed more than 800 miles of the Rocky Mountains on a horse riding frontwards like a man (which was unprecedented for women at the time).

After a short time back in Britain, she continued her travels, but this time in Asia – she visited Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia. Even when getting older, her zeal for traveling hadn’t diminished. In her 60ies, she set off for India where she visited missions and set up a hospital. Later on, she visited Ladakh on the borders with Tibet, Persia, Kurdistan, and Turkey. Her final great journey led her to the Yangtze and Han rivers in China and Korea in 1897. Just a couple of months before her death, she visited Morocco where she traveled among the Berbers. During her life, she published several books about her travels, was featured in different journals and magazines and became somewhat of a household name at the time. She was the first woman included in the Royal Geographical Society. Most of the time, she traveled alone and unarmed.

Adventures Women
Sandy Robson

Sandy Robson.

In this modern time, a women adventurer, a hero set off in 2011 for a 5-year-long sea kayaking expedition from Germany to Australia. She packed around 100 kilograms of equipment which consists of food, water, camping equipment, a first aid kit, and clothing, and off she went. She paddles for 8 hours a day and usually sleeps in a tent on a beach. But sometimes she is welcomed by local families with a warm meal and shelter. So far on her trip, she has dealt with menacing storms, an unexpected attack from Indian fishermen, and paddled for a hundred kilometers with no place to rest. She claims that the hardest part of her journey is the bureaucracy and paperwork she has to deal with while crossing international borders.

In the meantime, Sandy became a world record holder for being the first person ever to circumnavigate Sri Lanka by kayak and for being the first woman to kayak the coast of India and Bangladesh. She is expected to reach the tip of Australia in late 2016 and it is presumed that she will have paddled 22, 000 kilometers by the time she reaches the Australian soil. It is worth mentioning that she got the idea for this journey while in rehabilitation after a hip replacement following an injury. “If I have a dream I think I should do it now. I don’t see the point in working till I am 60 and then retiring. I potentially can’t do this at 60 so I am taking some of my retirement now.” She is 47 at the moment.

Annie Londonderry; Studio Tourne
Annie Londonderry; Studio Tourne

Annie Londonderry.

She was born in Riga, Latvia in 1870, emigrated to the US as a child, married at the age of 18, and had three children in the next 4 years. And then she went on a journey around the world on a bike. She set off from Boston after wagering that she will be back in 15 months. She left the United States in New York and arrived by boat in La Havre, France. It took her 2 weeks to cycle from Paris to Marseille, moved on along the Mediterranean to Egypt, continued to Jerusalem and modern-day Yemen, and then sailed to Colombo and Singapore.

When she reached the US soil again in San Francisco, cycled to Los Angeles, El Paso, and Denver and reached Boston in September 1895, exactly 15 months after her departure. On this epic journey, she turned her bicycle and body into a billboard earning money along the way. But I would say that the most impressive detail about this story is that Londonderry didn’t know how to ride a bike when she set off from Boston. When it comes to excuses, what’s yours?

Adventures Women
Photo of Audrey Sutherland

Audrey Sutherland.

She spent most of her life raising her four children as a single parent after her husband had left her shortly after they were born. Then, while traveling on business in 1980, she set her eyes on Southeast Alaska for the first time from the plane. When she got back home from the trip she gave herself a good, long look in the mirror. Her children were all grown up and she had a little bit of money saved. ‘Getting older aren’t you, lady? Better do the physical things now. You can work at a desk later.’ She handed in her resignation the next day. She was 58 at the time.

True women adventurers

One of her first trips was along the Molokai’s north shore, Hawaii – she put all her things in a meteorological weather balloon, wrapped it in a shower curtain, and stuffed it in an army bag which she towed on her back while she swam along the coast. Later on, she became accustomed to an inflatable kayak which she could carry to the beach on her own or, later, roll up, put in a bag, and get on a plane to anywhere. She didn’t mind that they were slower or that they could easily be blown away by the wind. So she spent 23 consecutive summers, from 1980 to 2003, exploring the fjords, islands, and glaciers of Southeast Alaska in them. At the age of 59, she established a routine of spending winter in Hawaii and summer in Alaska. And she held to that schedule for 25 years.

Her kayaking career lasted for five decades during which she paddled an estimated 12,000 nautical miles. Ken Leghorn, a sea kayaking guide, was leading an expedition along the Gulf of Alaska back in the 80s when he spotted a lone kayaker in an inflatable kayak. Then Ken noticed that the paddler’s hair was white, that it was a woman, and that she was singing. His first reaction was – this is a crazy person. Later on, he found out it was Audrey – “…somebody who has more long-distance sea kayaking experience than I’ll ever have.”

Women adventurers

Audrey died last year at the age of 94, but not before sharing some of her wisdom with the rest of the world: “What we most regret are not the errors we make, but the things we didn’t do.” 

Now I should write some big ending that should reveal some life-changing wisdom. I don’t have it. Maybe these women will inspire you, maybe they won’t. But you must admit, you wouldn’t expect that their lives would turn out as they did. So relax. Go out for a drink. Call your mom. Be a lady. You’ll mess up again tomorrow.

Written by Sanja D.