In 2020 I wrote a post on this website entitled “Get Inspired: 10 Modern Day Female Explorers to Watch Across Air, Space, Land & Sea” which talked about some of the modern day women who are out there exploring the Earth, living non-traditional lives, facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, and accomplishing REALLY BIG things. In each and every case I was blown away to learn that there are people like this out there in the world who exist, namely:
Heather Anderson – In 2018, Heather became the first female to complete a Calendar Year Triple Crown hike (completing the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails) in one March-November season. She has also completed each of those trails three times, setting records for fastest known times along the way.
Jessica Nabongo – In October 2019, Jessica became the first documented Black woman to visit every country in the world.
Kate Harris – In 2011, Kate Harris and her friend Mel set off for a 10-month, nearly 10,000 km adventure as they cycled the fabled silk road trading route across 10 different countries. Starting in Istanbul, Turkey, they cycled across mountains, through foreign lands and into the elements, ending in the city of Leh in the Indian Himalayas.
Vanessa O’Brien – Vanessa is the first woman to reach earth’s highest (Mt. Everest 8,848m) and lowest points (Challenger Deep 10,925m). She is the fastest woman to climb the seven summits in 295 days. She is also the oldest woman to summit K2, the second tallest peak at 8,611m at 52 years old, among other accolades.
From left to right (alphabetically): Heather Anderson,Jessica Nabongo, Kate Harris, and Vanessa O’Brien
“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”
– Amelia Earhart
It’s been a couple years and I realized I have now read books written by several of these women mentioned in my original post. I find these reads to be incredibly inspiring and humbling. In the name fearless female adventurers, below are my four latest book recommendations!
I had never heard of the Triple Crown of hiking until I came across Heather Anderson’s story. I was simply amazed to learn that a woman like this existed who had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) solo in the fastest known time (40 miles a day for over 50 days). I was further shocked to learn that she also became the first woman to hike the Appalachian, Continental Divide, and PCT (aka “Triple Crown”) in under year, which is over 8,000 miles in eight months. This is the incredible story of how Heather went from a self-conscious, sedentary, overweight teenager to become an ultra marathoner and thru-hiker of the highest regard. This book brings you along for her incredible journey. As a bonus: I learned about many places along the PCT that I’ve been to, never realizing that they were a part of the PCT. Next time I’ll be on the lookout for thru-hikers.
The Catch Me if You Can: One Woman’s Journey to Every Country in the World by Jessica Nabongo Published: June 2022 Publisher: National Geographic (Amazon book link) Follow on Instagram: @jessicanabongo
I first learned of Jessica Nabongo through a podcast I listened to after she finished her trip traveling around the world to visit all 195 countries. I was excited to hear that she came out with a book; needless to say, I devoured it. I enjoyed every single page and I didn’t want it to end. I learned so much about the world through her experiences. As a bonus: Joan Merriam Smith traveled through many of these cities on her 1964 world flight. Through Jessica’s book, I was able to learn a lot more about some of the obscure regions that Joan traveled through. This book is beautifully laid out, easily digestible, and written in a conversational, informative style. Would make a great gift for a friend who enjoys travel; it’s also a perfect coffee table book.
Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road by Kate Harris Published: 2019 Publisher: Vintage Books Canada (Amazon book link) Follow on Instagram: @kateoffmars
I greatly admire the unimaginable challenges Kate and Mel took on in the name of exploration as they biked nearly 10,000km across 10 different countries on a self-supported adventure. I appreciated the philosophical reflections, the references to various historical, fellow explorers along the way, and the vividly written descriptions of their travels. I also enjoyed the musings on the observed and relative fluidity of boundaries and borders: “Political frontiers, while sometimes as solid as brick, are only as strong as shared belief.” Or, “When there are no fences, no signs, it’s hard to tell when you’ve arrived.” I thought this was an excellent book, nice job, and kudos to the author for sharing her unique and admirable personal experience.
To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth by Vanessa O’Brien Published: 2021 Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Amazon book link) Follow on Instagram: @vobonline
Vanessa is the fastest woman to climb the Seven Summits in 295 days: the Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven traditional continents. I enjoyed Vanessa’s story, how she progressively intertwined her personal life experiences with the daunting challenges she met in the face of mountaineering. More than anything, it was inspiring to hear such an incredible adventure tale from a female’s perspective. Introduced me to a completely different existence and made we want to get outdoors and do more. This book was obviously written from such a place of depth, passion, and reflection that it forced you to slow down and absorb the words on each page—or more accurately the experiences shared—and I do believe that was the point.
Summary: When I first became familiar with Joan Merriam Smith’s story, I was blown away by the boundaries she pushed in her day, shocked at her ability to pull together a solo flight around the globe in honor of Amelia Earhart, and inspired by her passion, self-reliance, and her general ability to keep pushing despite the odds and the elements. The stories of Heather, Jessica, Kate, and Vanessa are no different. What new goals will you set today?!
In 2018, Aimee Bissonette wrote a children’s book about Joan and Jerrie’s simultaneous solo flights around the world entitled Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest. Aimee is the author of 10 picture books, fiction and nonfiction: she has also worked as an occupational therapist, teacher, writer, lawyer, and small business owner. Based in Minnesota, she has lived in many different places and one of her favorite things to do is travel and experience new cultures.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Doris Ettinger, a watercolor artist who has illustrated over 40 children’s books. According to her website, Doris lives with her artist husband Michael McFadden in an old gristmill near Hampton, New Jersey where they raised their two children. On the first floor of the mill, the artists have their studios. On the third floor Doris teaches members of the Musconetcong Watercolor Group, now in its 12th year. She also teaches workshops at The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster NJ.
In 1963, Trixie Schubert published a book entitled A Bell in the Heart: The Autobiography of Patty Gardenseed, America’s Ambassador of Good Will. This book was gifted to me by my grandfather at Christmas-time when I was just 14 years old. Featuring a split-pea green cover, with its dust jacket either missing or removed, to me it looked like the most boring book I’d ever seen. Promptly shelved, it wouldn’t be until dozens of years later that I actually decided to read it …
I’ll admit: I mostly wanted to read this book because it was published the year before Joan Merriam Smith’s world flight took place, and theoretically it would have laid the groundwork for Trixie’s interest in wanting to write Joan’s story. My best guess was that it had something to do with spreading seeds around the world. I also assumed Patty Gardenseed was woman. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you search for the terms “A Bell in the Heart” or “Patty Gardenseed” on Google, you’re not likely to find much. Mostly, I came across a few eBay pages and historical book sellers carrying old copies of this book. As for Patty Gardenseed, I was only able to find a couple of articles referencing his work as a goodwill ambassador—including this 1952 New Yorker article entitled “Global Johnny Appleseed“—as well a summary of boxing records, and an overview of felonies. But if you were to stop here, that would certainly be a pity.
Patrick Mozier: The U.S. Navy’s Original Bad Boy
As it turns out, A Bell in the Heart is the story of Aloysius Eugene Francis Patrick Mozier, or Pat Mozier, a.k.a. Patty Gardenseed, who is coined in the book as “the U.S. Navy’s Original Bad Boy.” Rather than a cheerful story about gardening, Pat Mozier’s story reads more like a James Bond meets Indiana Jones adventure. The experience of reading the book, in fact, also feels a bit reminiscent of the movie A Night at the Museum, for key characters in history continually pop up throughout and are subsequently brought to life. Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kai Shek (leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975), Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin, Henry T. Ford (Pat was sworn into the Navy on Ford’s recommendation), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini, Jim Thorpe (an American athlete and Olympic gold medalist), and others are just a few of the well-known names who make an appearance. Also worth noting, the foreword to this book is written by Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.
With regard to Hitler, for example, Pat recalled:
“I had reached Berlin, heading for a German port, and deviating by train to Berlin so I could meet a friend of mine in that city. I was sitting in the lobby of the Kaiserhof Hotel when Hitler walked through with an entourage of Secret Service men. Ribbentrop, following closely behind him, bellowed in German, ‘The Fuehrer.’ Resentment of Hitler overwhelmed me. Being full of the sailor sap that runs in the spring of the year, I stood up and bellowed back, ‘Ah, the Fewer the better,’ after all, what could happen to an American? I wasn’t long in finding out. American citizenship was no immunity when it came to punishment for insulting the Fuehrer. Promptly I was strongarmed and escorted to jail.”
(Page 253, Schubert)
Pat’s story begins at his childhood home at 27th and Lexington in Newport News, Virginia. He was born on April 20, 1903, the second of 13 children born to Teresa and Alonzo Mozier. Having served as one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war, Pat’s father spent most of his time out at the local docks, gathering stories from the seamen and traders coming into the port, often inviting them to his home to tell their tales of adventure late into the night. As such, Alonzo inspired eight of his own sons to become seamen and no doubt secured Pat’s deep love for adventure.
By the age of 13, Pat was starting to cause trouble in school and continually running away from home. His parents decided to send him to Grand Prairie, Texas to live with Grandpa Ennis at his cattle ranch (an excursion that included transportation by train, horse, buggy and wagon). From there, the two set sail for Alaska where they lived for four months in search of gold. Eventually it was decided that Pat’s wanderlust could not be contained, so his parents next sent Pat to live with his godparents in France. This time, he sailed across the ocean to England with a family friend, a legend known as Trader Horn. Upon arrival to France, instead of going to live with his godparents, Pat decided to run in the other direction and kick off a life-long adventure of his own.
As luck would have it, at the moment Pat arrived to France, WWI was just beginning. As such, Pat decided to join up with the French Foreign Legion as a way of securing food and shelter. But at age 13, he did not quite meet the minimum requirement of being at least 17 years old, so he lied about his age to get in.
In no time at all, Pat became a messenger boy for the French. Everything was going well until he accidentally left behind a notebook of decoded messages. Publicly charged as a spy and sentenced to prison for 20 years, to his surprise, he was next made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the French: go directly to Strasbourg, Germany to find out what happened to five missing French operatives. In this way, because his reputation among the French had already been tarnished, he would not be suspected as a French spy among the Germans.
As soon as Pat got to work, he learned more about what happened to at least one of the missing French spies: he had defected to Germany. Pat soon became friendly with the Germans. He was next offered a job to become a spy for the Germans. From the book:
“It was like the bizarre plot of an unbelievable novel. But the strange coincidence of it all was too real ever to make acceptable fiction. I stood speechless. Able to make myself understood adequately in several languages, I suddenly had nothing to say in any of them. Not by the most exaggerated twist of fate could I have anticipated being in the spy messenger business for two countries at war with one another. Each country expected me to give it an outline of the other’s movements. If either country had reason to doubt my integrity the result would have been the same.”
(Page 71, Schubert)
What ensued was a literal game of cat and mouse while engaged in dual espionage. There were death threats, killings, arrests made in both Russia and France, a prison escape, harrowing travels back and forth across the front lines of war, submarine rides, parachute jumps into enemy territory, and most notably perhaps, time spent with Mata Hari, among the most famous of spies for her time.
Pat Mozier would go on to befriend Mata Hari. Perhaps in part because of his age (she was in her late 30s at the time of his boyhood), and perhaps because Pat never drank, smoke, or gave into tattoos, she was able to trust him, and provide him with valuable info that would ultimately help the French. Though charged as a German spy, it is widely believed that she was setup as a scapegoat. Hari was executed by a firing squad of French soldiers just before dawn on October 15, 1917. Pat Mozier tried in vain to reverse her fate. He was on hand to witness her execution. The night before her death, she told him that she believed that her execution would be faked. From the book, Pat stated the following:
“I witnessed the execution of Mata Hari, the woman who saved my life in Germany a few months back, and I was unable to help her in the least. I wonder if she ever knew what hit her, it happened so quickly. They tricked her into her death. They say it is the best way out. But it is the way of cowards. As the rifles rang out she smiled at me where I stood and her mouth formed the word ‘Adieu.’ Eleven bullets easily found their mark. One of the soldiers near me fainted. Mata Hari was 39 years old. To me she looked 18. A beautiful morning today but I am a little sick. I wonder if the real story about her will ever be told.”
(Page 122, Schubert)
Following the closure of this particular chapter in his life, unbelievably Pat’s adventures were only still JUST beginning. In-between stints working for the Navy, other branches of the military, and taking on odd jobs while stowing away on ships, Pat also gained acclaim for becoming an undefeated boxing champion in the Navy, winning over 220 matches. He was awarded the prestigious Diamond Belt.
Aside from traveling to and through some 36 countries by either ship, plane, train, or automobile, there were also times that Pat traveled by submarine, camel, horse, or parachute. While there are simply too many stories to recount here, some of the episodes from the book that stood out to me include:
Deciding to take the matter into his own hands of being the first person to land a plane on the U.S.S. Saratoga, the Navy’s first aircraft carrier. Upon completion of the feat, Pat soon learned that the stunt had been reserved as a honor for ace pilot officer Dave Rittenhouse. Subsequently, at the age of 29, Pat was transferred to the U.S.S. Texas.
Following a stint in Hawaii, Pat boarded a Dollar liner bound for the Phillipines. He bribed the gang to bring him on board as an oiler. Once the ship arrived to the port in Manila, he was anxious to find a new adventure. A local suggested visiting the town of Navjan in the northeastern part of Mindoro. A group of three Filopinos agreed to bring him there via boat. Along the way, the Chief attempted to kill him with a knife to avenge his two sisters’ deaths by a white man. Pat sent the chief into the ocean.
Stowing away on a ship in December of 1932 en route to China that was believed to be transporting opium, and resisting arrest upon arrival to the British port in Hong Kong, Pat evaded authorities and was chased on Christmas Eve throughout town by the British police. He ultimately hid out in a church during Christmas Eve mass.
Fleeing Shanghai to join up with a caravan as a camel driver, crossing the Gobi Desert to arrive in Lhasa, Tibet where he lived for a time among the Buddhists after passing a test of walking across an alligator-filled pond blindfolded to prove his worthiness to the locals.
Getting arrested in Germany for disrespecting Hitler as he passed through a hotel lobby with his entourage, and then talking his way out of arrest since he not only spoke German, but explained that he and Hitler shared the same birthday (April 20th).
Surviving a raid of rebel forces while aboard a cross-country train in Mexico, having his life spared only because the rebels happened to reach within a pocket to find he was carrying the proper papers.
Being arrested in Mexico, feigning injury while imprisoned, knocking out the prison guard, setting fire to the prison and then hijacking a government plane in order to make it back to the U.S., only to run out of gas and land in a peasant’s field where he received guidance and a boat to ultimately make it safely across the border.
In short, there is so much about Pat’s story that I can barely scratch the surface.
Ultimately, a turning point for Pat came a little later in life. While serving in Korea, he witnessed a young girl collapse, whose death was ultimately caused by starvation. From that point forward, he decided to dedicate his life to spreading seeds around the globe in order to teach communities how to grow their own fruits, vegetables, and yes, even flowers. This change of heart is best captured in his own words:
“After half a century of fighting with my fists as a welterweight champion, and fighting with guns and sabres in the French Foreign Legion, fighting with Chinese bandits in the Orient, and in innumerable wars and scraps from Turkey to Tibet, it came somewhat as a shock to find that there were other ways of fighting, equally stimulating and much more rewarding.”
(Page 270-271, Schubert)
He also offered these valuable words of advice:
“I’ve not been able to accomplish alone what needs to be done in each of the underprivileged countries. But my procedure is always the same. I go to the top man in the country. I always go to the top man; it is only through the pinnacle that individuals, or governments for that matter, can escape needless red tape. In this manner of always going to the top I’ve met every president of the United States from Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman to Eisenhower, and most of the heads of other world governments.”
(Page 278-279, Schubert)
In summary, for anyone interested in history, WWI history in particular, and adventure in general, this is a book that would be well worth anyone’s time to read.
Before Joan Merriam Smith’s first solo flight around the world at the equator in 1964, before Betty Miller’s first solo crossing of the Pacific Ocean in 1963, and before Amelia Earhart’s first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, there was Mary Petre Bruce. While Bruce had to ship her plane across the oceans to turn her idea of completing a world flight into a reality—hence making it an “unofficial” flight—did you know that she was technically the first woman to complete a solo trek around the globe utilizing a plane?
Imagine the surprise of coming across an airplane for sale while window shopping in downtown London, deciding to buy it on a whim without ever having taken a flying lesson, and then using that plane to become the first woman to complete an around-the-world flight solo. This is precisely what happened in the late 1920s when the Honourable Mrs. Victor Bruce, otherwise known as Mildred Mary Petre Bruce, decided that she was going to buy a Blackburn Bluebird IV and set out to become first woman to fly solo around the world.
I first came across the existence of Mrs. Bruce while conducting research to learn more about all of the women who have set out to complete around-the-world solo flights. After checking with my local library and various aviation-based organizations, it wasn’t until I found the Earthrounders website and its list of historical solo flights that I first spotted the name “Mrs. Victor Bruce.” From there I discovered the 2012 book written about her life entitled Queen of Speed: The Racy Life of Mary Petre Bruce. The book’s author, Nancy R. Wilson, first learned of Mrs. Bruce upon reading her obituary from half way around the world in 1990. This finding would ultimately launch Ms. Wilson on a 20-year research journey, complete with multiple trips to Europe, to learn all that she could about her.
From the book, Mrs. Bruce is described as “a teenage law-breaker, an unwed mother, a record-setting speedboat and racing car driver; a pioneer round-the-world flier, an author, an innovative airline executive; a fearless adventurer, a free-spending luxury-loving millionaire and an eccentric curmudgeon.” All of this is true. And according to some sources, Mrs. Bruce was the first woman to be prosecuted for speeding in 1911! As unbelievable as it was to learn that such a woman lived during this era, what was even more impressive was actually reading her story, and specifically the undertaking of her world fight.
Bruce’s 1930-31 World Flight Attempt
After recognizing the buzz and fanfare surrounding English aviator Amy Johnson’s attempt to set a speed record on a solo flight to Australia, Mrs. Bruce decided that embarking on world flight for herself would be the next most logical thing to do. As of 1930, she had already set multiple records in automobile racing, in addition to a speed record for crossing the English Channel in a motorboat.
Departing from London in 1930, Mrs. Bruce traveled through eastern Europe, Syria, the Middle East, Thailand, China and Japan before folding up her plane’s wings and shipping her plane on a Japanese liner to cross the Pacific. Arriving in Vancouver, she would next fly down the West Coast of the United States to Los Angeles, across the country through her mother’s hometown in Indiana, then finally to New York before boarding yet another shipping vessel to complete her journey back to London. (You can view a full overview of her world flight itinerary here.)
Her trip was not without incidents that would provide plenty of storytelling for future generations to come. Key among them: an arrest in New York for flying circles around the Empire State Building, a forced landing in the jungle, an unexpected landing in the Gulf of Oman where she was met by tribesmen, the experience of an earthquake while on the ground in Japan … to name just a few. There were narrowly dodged potential crises, near-death moments, unpleasant accidents, and unexpected expeditions, but most of all one thing was certain: this was the true adventure of a lifetime.
Without giving too much more away, I highly recommend the book Queen of Speed: The Racy Life of Mary Petre Bruce. It’s an account you won’t want to put down. There is also a memoir by the title of Nine Lives Plus, originally published by Mrs. Victor Bruce herself back in 1977. While these titles are a bit difficult to locate, they are certainly worth the adventure of finding, and will certainly inspire you to never take no for an answer, to be more—and to do more—in your own life.