Helen’s childhood in New Zealand prepared her for a lifetime of adventure. She started climbing mountains at the age of nine, attended various mountain schools and by her teenage years was a full fledged high altitude climber. She was also an accomplished athlete representing three countries in track & field and was a US luge champion. And that is just the beginning. With so many accomplishments already to her name, she wanted to try something different. She wanted to explore the unknown parts of the earth and share her findings with the world and especially with kids.
In 1988, Thayer became the first woman to ski unsupported to the North Pole. She completed the 27-day journey with her dog and pulled her own sled. Her best-selling book Polar Dream is her account of the journey. This book had a big impact on me. Helen was not afraid to share the fear she had on the trip and how she struggled along the way. She encountered polar bears, hurricane force winds and navigation challenges. I deeply admire her perseverance during this journey and often think of the courage she had to complete her mission. She collected scientific data as she went to share with kids in a program she founded called Adventure Classroom.
Helen was 50 years old when she trekked alone to the North Pole, but this was just the beginning of many years of adventure to come for her and her husband Bill. Four years after her solo trip to the North Pole, she returned with Bill on foot to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Later they spent a year in the Yukon studying three families of wolves (recounted in the book, 3 Among the Wolves), walked 1500 miles through Death Valley and the Southwestern desert and a year later completed another trek in the Sahara Desert. They followed a herd of caribou from Alberta to Alaska and kayaked 1200 miles on the Amazon river. Amazingly they walked 1600 miles across the length of the Gobi desert in Mongolia (Helen writes about this journey in Walking the Gobi). All throughout their journeys they collected data and material to share with the Adventure Classroom.
“My journeys are like life itself. We all have our North Poles and our Gobi deserts, but we can all reach our goals just as I did, one step at a time, never giving up on ourselves. If we reach for the top and believe we can do it, we can make our dreams come true.” – Helen Thayer
Helen and Bill prove that getting older does not mean slowing down. They’ve accomplished more over the age of 50 than most people accomplish in a lifetime. They are still continuing their adventures, in 2012 they walked another 900 miles through the Sahara desert. Helen is currently working on a book about their adventure dog, Charlie.
Read more about Helen and her work here:
Polar Dream, 3 Among the Wolves and Walking the Gobi by Helen Thayer
Helen recounts three of her many journeys in these books. She does not romanticize their experiences, rather she recounts all the challenges along with the rewarding times, all the while conveying her adventurous spirit and unwillingness to give up in difficult situations.