I recently re-read one of my favorite books by British explorer and scientist , R.A. Bagnold, Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World. Published in 1935, the memoir recounts in wonderful detail how he and his companions mounted several of the first successful automobile explorations of the Western Desert of North Africa and the Great Sand Sea. On their leave time, and using their own resources and vehicles, Bagnold’s expeditions into the unknown were prodigious, requiring extraordinary forethought, preparation, hard work and ingenuity. Consider the logistics of driving open-topped Ford Model A’s into the deep desert for weeks at a time without the benefit of electronic devices, back-up or rescue support, or even maps to guide you. Imagine the motivation to use your own money and vacation time to embark on such an adventure. To cross, by primitive automobile, ancient and long desiccated expanses of sand that even the Bedouin did not enter as it was too dry, too dangerous.
Obviously, Bagnold and crew took care to be well provisioned with food, fuel, spare parts, and other gear. The book often makes reference to the men having to replace broken axles in boulder fields, rebuild gearboxes among sand dunes, repair broken frames, engineer custom engine cooling systems from scratch, develop new land navigation techniques across a barren and featureless landscape, and so on. It was an amazing feat, and ten years after his adventures, the reward Bagnold received, knowing of his self-taught expertise in the field and having already served in the British Army, was being tapped by the English government to wage a guerilla war (the famous Long Range Desert Group) against Gen. Rommel in North Africa during the second World War.
With this read fresh on my mind, I also just picked up the autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes, largely considered to be the world’s greatest living explorer. In his book, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, he is currently regaling the reader with stories of his 1979-1982 Transglobe Expedition in which he and his fellow teammates, starting in Greenwich England, made the world’s first “vertical,” or latitudinal, circumnavigation of the world through both poles. One of the basic requirements was that the team was not allowed to fly for any section of the journey: they had to travel by ship, car, snowmobile, cross-country skis, or simply on foot. This expedition took years of dedicated preparation, the endorsement and resources from the British government, as well as corporate and private support. Again, imagine the planning for such an enterprise: the food, the fuel, communications, medical, mechanical, navigation, weather, finances … the list of things appears nearly endless.
In both cases, Bagnold and Fiennes and their teams planned fastidiously and expertly for every foreseeable contingency. But, despite being well prepared, things still went disastrously wrong at times and threatened seemingly inescapable failure, if not outright death. In reading about these gentlemen, what universally saved them from failure and death (apart from the occasional blind luck), what ultimately produced success and brought them home, was perseverance. They had the courage, discipline, and moral fortitude to push through whatever challenge or menace was before them; and they had the wisdom to work the immediate problem, yes, but also keep their eye on the ultimate objective. They didn’t allow themselves to become bogged down or overly discouraged on the loss of a tire here, the loss of a finger there, or the inconvenient fact that although they usually knew the direction they were heading, they sometimes they couldn’t see six inches in front of their faces due to driving sand or snow.
What’s the point of all this? Well, as with all analogies, it isn’t a perfect one, but the same truth applies to financial planning and investments. Our financial resources, built, driven and maintained by us, are designed to carry us through life; and life can be a long, very difficult and sometimes painful journey. There are profound frustrations and losses along the way, and sometimes a volatile stock market can hit us like a wave crashing over a ship. However, we always have the choice of working through the challenges and keeping our eye on the ultimate goal and, if proper planning was done, the ship should be well built and able to handle almost any storm and get us to where we want to go.
– Chad Campbell
PS – Two interesting footnotes:
After his North African adventures and back home in England, Mr. Bagnold conducted laboratory research on the dynamics between winds and sand and published a scientific work on the subject which, amazingly, is still in use as reference material by NASA in their studies of sand dunes on Mars.
There is a curious connection between these two books and the stories behind them: Ranulph Fiennes has a younger cousin named Ralph Fiennes, the well known English film actor. In 1996, Ralph starred as a fictionalized Laszlo Almsay in the Oscar winning film The English Patient., one of Bagnold’s fellow explorers in the desert.