New Book Recommendations Featuring 4 Fearless Female Adventurers

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!

Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather Anderson
Published: 2019
Mountaineers Books (Amazon book link)
Follow on Instagram: @_wordsfromthewild_

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
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
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
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?!

Get Inspired: 10 Modern Day Female Explorers to Watch Across Air, Space, Land & Sea

Recently I listened to an episode of the Women Who Travel podcast featuring Jessica Nabongo, who in October of 2019 became the first documented black woman to travel to every country in the world. How cool is that? I enjoyed listening to this podcast, hearing all about Jessica’s travels, and how she used social media to report on her adventures along the way. While I did not follow her story in real-time as she traveled around the globe, I was able to learn more about her journey through social media. 

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As I listened to Jessica’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder about how Joan Merriam Smith’s experience of being the first person to complete a solo flight around the world at the equator in 1964 would have, or could have been documented, if only social media, the internet, personal computers, or smart phones had existed back then. 

For example, it was only recently that I came across a video of Joan speaking for the very first time! What an experience it was to hear her voice after having wondered for so long what she would sound like. (Click below image to watch this video.)

Press conference with audio following the completion of Joan Merriam Smith’s 1964 around-the-world flight, courtesy of the Center for Sacramento History

Whenever I hear stories like Jessica’s or Joan’s, however, more than anything I am reminded of all the wonderful people out there who are busy living their lives and working hard to accomplish big goals, despite the obstacles. Because I came across so many inspiring stories while writing this book, I wanted to take a moment to recognize a few of the females I discovered along the way so that you might feel inspired too!

These women are listed in order of the domains they’ve dominated (air, space, and land, followed by sea) and is by no means meant to be comprehensive. It’s simply intended to be starting point for further exploration. Enjoy!

Modern Day Female Trailblazers Across Air, Space, Land & Sea

1) Jessica Nabongo – According to a June 2020 Travel & Leisure article entitled “Get to Know Jessica Nabongo, the First Documented Black Woman to Travel to Every Country in the World,” Jessica is a self-proclaimed geography nerd who has lived in five countries on four continents. By the time her epic expedition around the world commenced, she already had 60 countries under her belt. To keep up with Jessica, bookmark her website and/or follow her on Instagram.

2) Anneliese Satz – In 2019, Annelise became the first female Marine to complete the F-35B Basic Course, becoming the Marine Corps’ first-ever female F-35B pilot. During her four years of training, she accumulated over 300 flight hours. Before joining the Marines, Satz was a commercial pilot flying helicopters. Learn more about Annelise.

3) Alyssa Carson – At 19 years old, Alyssa is one of seven ambassadors representing Mars One, a mission to establish a human colony on Mars in 2030. At age 15, she became the youngest person accepted onto the Advanced PoSSUM Space Academy, making her one of the world’s youngest astronauts-in-training. You can learn all about her at her website. You can also follow her on Instagram.

4) Christina Koch – In February of 2020, astronaut Christina Koch returned to Earth after spending 328 days in space. On December 28, 2019, she broke the record for longest continuous time in space by a woman. Christina also participated in the first all-female spacewalk late last year. She graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Physics and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. (Below video begins at about 6 minutes.)

5) Kristina Schou Madsen – Did you know that there’s an actual, annual World Marathon Challenge, whereby people train and compete to run 7 marathons, on 7 different continents, in just 7 days? In 2020, Kristina became the first woman to win the World Marathon Challenge outright with an average time of 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 57 seconds per marathon. You can read all about her accomplishment here. You can also follow her on Instagram. Here is a short video clip of Kristina talking about running.

6) Gloria Lau – In 2012, Gloria became the first Singapore woman to complete the 7 continents in 7 days challenge. In 2019, she became the oldest woman, at 67 years, to complete the challenge. Gloria only began running at the age of 57. Read more about her motivations, training schedule, and overall accomplishments here.

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7) Kate Harris – In 2011, Kate Harris took 10 months to bike the Silk Road, crossing through 10 countries, and cycling over 10,000 kilometers. She wrote a book about her experience entitled Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road. Below is a short video reel about her experience of biking the Silk Road.

8) Vanessa O’Brien – Just this month, British-American explorer Vanessa O’Brien officially became the first woman to reach Earth’s highest and lowest points. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Vanessa has also skied to both the North and South Pole. In addition, she has climbed five peaks over 8,000 metres. You can read more about her accomplishment here. Her website is filled with great information for those interested in keeping up with her. She also has forthcoming book entitled, To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth, which will be released in 2021.

9) Liz Clark – As a solo sailor, Liz recently shared all about her experience of solo sailing the Atlantic Ocean with Conde Nast. In total she has solo sailed some 20,000 miles over the past 10 years. She also wrote a 2018 book about her experiences entitled Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening.

10) Diana Nyad – In 2013, Diana Nyad became the first person to complete a 111-mile solo swim without a shark cage from Cuba to the Florida Keys at the age of 64. The swim took approximately 53 hours. Diana is the author of several books, including her latest Find a Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream. You can also keep up with her at her personal website.

Chances are, like me, you’ve only heard about a couple of these women. Aren’t they amazing? Sometimes they get publicity, sometimes they do not. Sometimes they are successful in their efforts, sometimes they are not. But the one thing that unites every single one of them is a drive to explore, push boundaries, seek adventure, and learn. There’s so much we can learn from this collective group … if only you can pin them down.

What other names would you add to this list?

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