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Most children grow up listening to their parents tell them fairy stories. For Bertrand, the stories were all about exploration - the conquest of the Poles, of Everest, of space, and the ocean depths. His childhood heroes were all people he had met in person : Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong, Charles Lindbergh, Wernher Von Braun, Alan Sheppard, John Glenn, Thor Heyerdahl, Jacques Mayol, Alain Bombard,.. And finding himself present at Cape Kennedy for six of the Apollo launches molded his aspirations decisively. Bertrand had caught the exploration virus, and would never again be content with certitude, ingrained habits or dogmas. Nothing seemed impossible any longer. All that would count for him was curiosity, the unknown, surpassing limits. Doubts and question marks would be the stimuli that allowed him to progress, by calling common assumptions into question. Now that we have conquered our planet and reached the Moon, new challenges await humanity. These will open up new horizons. The goals will be not so much to conquer unknown territory as to preserve our planet from the threats it faces, and so improve our quality of life. These are the challenges that interest Bertrand.

For me, exploration had to be the only valid way of life, and I was convinced that everybody else must surely share my state of mind. Cast off dogmas, get out of the groove and embrace the unpredictable, the world of doubts and uncertainties. Use question marks to stimulate creativity and invent new solutions. Transform the “impossible” into the possible! Could there conceivably be any other way of leading your life ? I thought not, until it dawned on me that the explorer’s state of mind was in fact not commonly encountered on our planet. Exploration frightens those who prefer to take refuge in dogmas, paradigms and assumptions. People often ask me how you become an explorer. In reality, you don’t necessarily decide what you are going to explore.

© Archives Piccard
© Archives Piccard

« My grandfather held an Explorers Club card, and so did my father, so why shouldn’t I too? I decided to become an explorer in July 1969. I can remember the moment exactly. I was 12 years old. My father had just gone on board the Mesoscaph Ben Franklin, which he had built to study the Gulf Stream. He was about to drift for a month along the East Coast of the USA, a voyage of 3,000 km. A few days later, awestruck, I was present at the launch of Apollo 11 - destination the Moon. The most spectacular event in the history of humanity ! »

Bertrand Piccard

Adventure in the 21st Century consists of applying human creativity and the pioneering spirit to developing a quality of life which present and future generations have a right to expect.

Bertrand Piccard

© Archives Piccard

Exploration is a state of mind in the face of the unknown. It’s a way of conceiving our life as an experimental field in which we have to develop our inner resources, advance along the road of personal development, and assimilate the ethical and moral values we need as travelling companions.

Bertrand Piccard

© Solar Impulse

© Archives Piccard

« An adventure is not necessarily a spectacular feat but rather something « extra-ordinary » that forces us out of our ordinary ways of thinking and behaving. Something that drives us outside our protective shell of certitude, in which we act and react automatically. »

Bertrand Piccard

L’AVENTURE EST EXTRA-ORDINAIRE

« When we talk about adventure and extreme sports, we often tend to confuse two aspects - the spectacular and the extraordinary. Let’s leave the spectacular side to sponsors and media and concentrate instead on the extra-ordinary. Whether or not we are conscious of it, our entire education and the way our society functions encourage us to be frightened of the unknown, of doubt and mystery. We sometimes hear people say « nature abhors a vacuum », but it’s really human beings who fear the void, to the point that they seek to fill any gap in knowledge with various theories, and any lack of certainty with statistics, so as then to fabricate explanations devoid of doubt. Armored in prejudice, we no doubt have more knowledge, and sometimes we know a lot of answers. But all too often we forget what the questions were! So it’s only natural that our society should witness the emergence of a large number of so-called “extreme” sports, as a reaction against reassuring routines, which tend rather to send us to sleep. These activities, whether in the air, on the ground or on water, have several shared features. Above all, they are cenesthetic, procuring physical sensations of the body passing through space. They imply movement (sliding or flying) in an unaccustomed environment (discovery of another element). They compel the «adventurer» to leave the familiar surroundings of his accustomed life with all its certainties far behind in order to confront the unknown, often in new situations where improvisation and intuition play a vital role. So the adventure becomes characterized by total receptiveness to the present moment. It is a question of remaining concentrated and vigilant to all possible unforeseen events.

Since anything can happen, it is vital to remain open and receptive to whatever may occur, by raising one’s level of vigilance and degree of self-awareness at any given moment.

So most « extreme sports» offer special moments of self-discovery. Not in the sense of a theoretical search for identity, but rather by giving rise to a tangible sensation of being alive, and blessed with an abundance of inner resources. Of course, there’s a danger of going too far with such thrill-seeking. Sportsmen can end up behaving like drug addicts, taking refuge in extreme sensations to escape from dull daily existence, which they no longer find tolerable. There is also the unhealthy phenomenon of deliberately flirting with death, which the anthropologist david le breton has analyzed under the name of “ordeal-seeking behavior”.

But these excesses should not mask the fact that adventures - when people are far away from familiar landmarks and face-to-face with the unknown, which acts here as a stimulant, in a kind of psychological laboratory - allow people to discover themselves.

The spectacular aspects of most of these activities, extensively highlighted in the media, tend to make us forget that extreme sports don’t hold a monopoly on adventure. An artist who turns his back on all landmarks, and turns towards the unknown – a blank sheet of manuscript paper or a blank canvas - is experiencing an authentic process of adventure and is more likely to create a masterpiece than one who tries to create a work by rehashing what others have taught him before. After all, life gives us an incalculable number of opportunities to get out of our familiar rut, to really feel that we are alive, by virtue of encountering unpredictable situations, confronting the unknown and wrestling with doubt.

But most often, all we ever remember about these opportunities are catastrophes, crises, accidents and illnesses, and too often we allow these to cause us to forget everything that we could have learned from them. We cannot avoid life’s difficulties, nor, despite all our efforts, can we avoid being confronted by the unpredictable. But we can live our whole life as a great adventure, by seeking to acquire consciousness of what is guiding our steps. And through this simple question which has no answer it becomes possible to feel that were really exist, and therefore, in some sense, to discern who we are. »

Bertrand Piccard

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