Reigning MVP, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Hart Trophy Winner, and J-Lo's current boy toy: These are a few of the more coveted titles in the world of pop-culture today. None of them, regardless of the spoils that come with such a victory, sound anywhere near as cool as Adventurer of the Year, though.
The U.K.'s Roz Savage held that very title, given to her by the folks at National Geographic, in 2010 after a two-year journey where she became the first woman to row the Pacific Ocean. Just so we're clear, though: she's also the first woman to row the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well (take that, Charles Lindbergh!). Savage isn't only a woman of the high seas. She's also an author, motivational speaker, marathon runner, lecturer and most importantly to her, an environmental advocate.
Savage is swinging through town to speak at the Winspear Opera House for a NatGeo Live! engagement tonight. Given the occasion, we grabbed a few minutes over the phone with the charming ocean rower to discuss pirates, epiphanies and the future of mankind.
Mixmaster: In 2010, you were named Adventurer of The Year. That might be the grandest title I've ever heard of.
Savage: Yes, it's nice to get the accolade, of course, that's not why I do what I do. But it does help with the environmental component of the things I do.
You left a corporate job to become the adventurer/activist that you are now. That must've been quite the logistical task to pull-off in terms of the sheer everyday logistics of life.
It was a gradual process. I knew that I was quietly dying on the inside, working a corporate job that didn't mean anything to me. The money was good, but it wasn't enough to make me feel like it was the way I wanted to spend my life. It took me a long time to admit that to myself. It took four or five years to extricate myself from that corporate life in order to decide what to do next. It was a process of elimination to sever all of my ties with my old life and see what fit for my new life. When I had my environmental epiphany, I found something that I wanted to spend a lot of my time and energy on.
An environmental epiphany? What did that entail for you?
I was planning on doing a trip around the four corners region of the states and I read about the Native American people in that area, the Hopi tribe in particular. They have these philosophies and prophecies about how, if we don't take care of the earth, things aren't going to go so well for us. I'm not talking about the whole "let's just love and hug each other and everything's going to be OK" type of thinking. I'm talking about practical ideas about the earth being our home. The earth is a finite area and what goes around comes around.
Given that you care so deeply about the planet, do you notice a great deal of people who want to do more, but may not, due to things like money troubles, family issues or anything else that needs to be dealt with immediately and not down the road?
Absolutely, I see that. The message that's been given isn't quite right, though. We do talk about saving the planet and the environment, but that's not at all what's at stake here. The issue at hand is saving mankind. The planet's going to be here; it's been here for millions of years and it's going to be here for millions more. It's shown a great ability to heal itself when it's left alone. The issue is that in the couple of thousand years since humans became recognizable as humans, and in particular, the last 150 years since we discovered oil, we've really changed the face of the planet quite profoundly. You only have to take a plane across the U.S. to see the massive impact we've had on the land.
The side effect of all of that is we are changing the earth in ways that now, our countries actually depend on our destroying our existence. I think the challenge is that it's human nature to focus on the immediate problems that are visible, and not the long-term or less visible. It's just the way we are. It's difficult to get excited about the issue on a visceral level, because many things take precedent over the environment in terms of everyday life. I'm looking to motivate change in the way that people think in their everyday life. The stakes really are high, and we can't leave it all to the politicians and large companies to take action on this. Until we use our citizen power to convince them that it will be beneficial to help this cause, it won't be a priority.
Switching gears a bit, I can't help but be amazed at the massive scale of your oceanic trips. I read where you lost 30 pounds on your trip between Hawaii and Kiribati, but when you left Kiribati to land in Papa New Guinea, you didn't lose a pound. Sorry for being so nosy, but is that only due to the smaller length of the row, or are there other factors involved?
Well, I did lose some weight, just not as much as I usually do on longer trips. I also lost 25 or 30 pounds on my Atlantic row. The main factor was that it was just a shorter leg of the trip. That leg was about 46 days instead of 100.
My mother would seriously hurt me if I were asking you how much you weigh, so for the record, I wasn't asking that, just so we're clear.
[Laughing] Oh, of course. My weight still fluctuates; my poor old body probably doesn't know quite what to think of me. When you're out on the ocean for as long as you have been, you have to get some sleep. Have you ever woken up to realize that you're way off course?
My boat is pretty low-tech, so I plan my routes to go with the currents and the wind. So, 80 to 90 percent of the time the wind and currents are pushing me in the right direction. If they turn against me, it's unlikely that it will be done as I'm catching a cat-nap. It's more than likely that it will be a few days that I'm getting pushed into the wrong direction. Occasionally, there will be an unpleasant surprise when I wake up, but I can actually make some useful miles overnight when I'm sleeping. I think the best was 22 miles into the right direction, which was an excellent way to start the day. It's usually between five to 10 miles on an overnight drift.
You rowed the Indian Ocean last year. With all of the pirate activity there over the last few years, did you have any close calls or times where you thought danger might be near?
Luckily, I didn't. I did most of my worrying about pirates before I left, when I was deciding what route I would take. Originally, I wanted to go to Mumbai on the west coast of India, but in order to do that, the wind and the currents at the time would've taken me very close to Somalia, which wouldn't have been such a good idea. After talking to various experts in the field, I decided to go to Mauritius instead. The upside of not going to India was that I knew I would be well outside of the pirate area. In fact, I saw very few vessels of any kind until I got very close to dry land.
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Seeing few boats is certainly preferable to the alternative.
Oh, yes. I'd rather take my chances with Mother Nature that with pirates shooting AK-47s.
You're running out of Oceans to row. What's your next big trip? I'm pretty much hanging up my oars for now. I am doing a project this summer based around the U.K. by kayak and bicycle, where I'm launching an initiative called Trash Mobs. We're generating so much rubbish and it's blowing into our oceans. We'll be coordinating some beach and riverside clean-ups in Great Britain. It'll be nice to be a bit closer to home.
Tickets are still available for tonight's Brinker International Forum speaking engagement with Roz Savage. To purchase a seat, go