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Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

At the moment, the idea of travelling to somewhere other than your country of residence may seem as inconceivable as you actually one day scaling Everest.

But there is a way to transport yourself to the scenes of some of the world’s greatest adventures right now. This list features an array of record-breaking and, in some cases, world-first achievements in exploration and adrenaline-fuelled adventure, packed with life-changing moments of self-discovery and revelations that will serve to inspire you to consider tackling your own Everest once lockdown is over… or at least walking the long way to the supermarket for an ice cream.

South by Ernest Shackleton (1909)

Shackleton’s account of his 1914 expedition to cross uncharted Antarctica is as gripping as the latest must-see box sets. Once the explorer and his crew set off on “the last great adventure in the history of South Polar investigation”, the journey was rapidly beset with problems, each seemingly more insurmountable. Their ship, The Endurance, was destroyed by ice floes, stranding them on a glacier in the Weddell Sea. Shackleton then made the agonising decision to take five crewmembers and row for 15 days across deadly seas, where they then trekked across South Georgia island to locate help. The resulting account, packed with surprising moments of warmth and humour, makes for an engrossing tale of heroism, leadership and escapism.

Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen

In 1999, Nielsen ditched her comfortable life in the US to take a job as doctor for the 41 scientists living at Antarctica’s research station. To her surprise, she quickly fell in love with the extreme weather and endless whiteouts. All was going well until she discovered a lump on her breast and, with the help of a welder who practised on vegetables beforehand, performed a biopsy on herself. Her inspirational story will make you consider the pros of moving to the most remote place you can find.

The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti

This collection of mountain-climbing essays by Italian climber Bonatti is hailed as one of the greatest books on the subject, covering all the major climbs the Italian mountaineer completed in his groundbreaking career. Edited by adventure writer Jon Krakauer, the lyrical essays follow Bonatti’s initial forays into climbing in the 1940s, when he would use his mother’s washing line to belay, leading up to his controversial ascent of K2 in 1954, when he was accused of abandoning his fellow climbers to be the first to reach the summit, a charge he disputes here.

Race Against Time by Ellen MacArthur

Dame Ellen has broken numerous sailing records, culminating in her smashing Francis Joyon’s world record for a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of Earth in 2005. This book charts that achievement in the form of a diary, with MacArthur’s candid notes from the 71-day journey revealing her lack of self-confidence, the problems caused by severe sleep deprivation and her fears she would die on the ocean. Her comments are surrounded by her own arresting imagery of endless seas, huge skies and ferocious storms, inspiring even the most ardent of landlubbers to hoist the sails.   

A Boy in the Water by Tom Gregory

In 1988, 11-year-old Tom Gregory achieved a feat most adults would struggle to complete – swimming the English Channel non-stop. This book examines how someone that age can achieve the impossible, and how his coach, John Bullet, was the driving force behind Gregory’s success thanks to his unorthodox training methods. Gregory describes the swim as “utterly unpleasant” as he suffered hallucinations, back and shoulder pain and nausea, showing how extraordinary resilience is key to completing a life-changing challenge such as this.

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott & Jenny Jurek

Ultrarunning is the sport of running distances farther than a marathon, and Scott Jurek is a master at it. Despite a high-achieving career, one challenge eluded him – holding the fastest known time for running North America’s Appalachian Trail. In 2015, he set out to run the 2,200 miles in less than 47 days. North charts his myriad physical and mental struggles, such as his body giving off a “vinegar scent – a by-product of metabolising amino acids and the protein in my muscles; I was literally cannibalising myself”. His wife Jenny – who crewed him for the run – writes chapters too, adding valuable insight into what it takes to push your body to its limit.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Credit: Alfred A. Knopf

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Following the death of her mother and the breakdown of her marriage, Strayed, then aged 26, impulsively decided to walk the Pacific Crest Trail after reading about it on a book cover. She was famously ill-prepared for the 1,100-mile trek – her “Monster” backpack was so heavy it etched deep wounds into her hips and her boots rapidly fell apart. But the 93-day journey through the wilderness transformed Strayed’s confidence and decisiveness, and she details it all with eloquent and endearing frankness.  

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