Culture TED Talks

7 talks about incredible walks

Ben Saunders spent 10 weeks walking from the north coast of Russia to the North Pole, and around to the north coast of Canada. For a full 72 days in 2004, Saunders was the only human being within a span of 5.4 million square miles, surviving an average temperature of -35C in conditions described by NASA as “the worst since records began.”

So Saunders, a polar explorer, was a little taken aback when a reporter asked him earlier this year: “If it is being done somewhere by someone — and we can participate virtually — why leave the house?”

His answer is simple: “The scenery that I saw for nearly three months was completely unique to me. No else will ever, could ever, possibly see the views and vistas I saw. That to me is the finest argument for leaving the house.”

In today’s talk, given at the TEDSalon London, Saunders looks at the space between ideas and action — from the perspective of someone who has spent 2% of his life in a tent in the Arctic Circle.

“To try, to experience, to engage, to endeavor rather than to watch and to wonder, that’s where the real meat of life is to be found. It’s the juice that we can suck out of our hours and days,” says Saunders. “If I’ve learned anything from 12 years now of dragging heavy things around cold places, it’s that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge, from stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown.”

Saunders admits that polar exploring has, for him, been addictive. So naturally he has another trip on the books. This spring, he will embark on a four-month walk to the South Pole and back, completing the expedition that beat explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his team 100 years ago.

To hear more about what Saunders’ next expedition will entail, watch his talk. Below, six more talks about amazing walks

John Francis: I walk the earth
John Francis witnessed two oil tankers collide under the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971. The image was so shocking that he decided to give up motor vehicles altogether and to use the transportation mode he was born with — his feet. For three decades, Francis walked the globe, spreading a message of environmental respect. In this talk from TED2008, he shares what he learned from his walks and from staying completely silent for 17 years.

Ray Zahab treks to the South Pole
In 2009, extreme runner Ray Zahab broke the world record for the fastest trek to the South Pole, shaving five days off the previous record. In this talk from TED 2009, Zahab describes how he approached this trek, which was uphill the entire way.

William Ury: The walk from “no” to “yes”
William Ury studies conflict negotiation. In this talk from TEDxMidwest, he shares a technique he thinks could solve a wide slew of disagreements — taking a walk together. “Walking is what made us humans,” says Ury. “When you walk, you walk side-by-side in the same common direction.” Walking together could not only make strides in family disagreements — it could work for conflicts as deep-seeded as that between nations in the Middle East. By walking the path of Abraham’s life together, Ury believes that common ground could be found in this fractured region.

Eythor Bender demos human exoskeletons
Is there a way for wheelchair users to walk again? At TED2011, Eythor Bender demonstrates two exoskeletons — HULC and eLEGS — robotic add-ons that could one day allow those without use of their legs to stand up and walk.

Lee Swan: What I lost on the way to the North Pole
Lee Swan was not the most likely candidate to participate in the Polar Race, a 650 kilometer footrace over the frozen Arctic Ocean. A chocoholic who loves high heels, Swan shares why she was compelled to enter this race. At TED@Johannesburg she explains how she navigated her way through it … and won, becoming the first South African woman to make it to the magnetic North Pole. 

Philippe Petit: The journey across the high wire
Philippe Petit is a legendary tightrope walker, who put one foot in front of the other on a wire more than 1300 feet in the air, strung between the Twin Towers. In this talk from TED2012, he recounts how his love for magic led to his first step on a tight rope.