Back in the 60s, when I was growing up, a type of newspaper for kids would arrive at my home each week. When school began, kids were offered, for a small fee, a subscription to this published paper. It was called Weekly Reader. It was meant to be both informative and helpful in our school work.
Each of the paper’s additions brought, into my life, news of the world beyond the valley. Some weeks, it contained stories of the race for space. It told of the day when man would go to the moon. I am not talking about science-fiction movies.
I enjoyed reading the weekly paper and gaining insights into world history as it was being made. Sometimes it told of how our government worked for the people of our country. You know that was a long time ago, when I remember government working for the people instead of itself.
There was one particular story I still remember, even today. As a young boy, I wondered at the adventure and the sense of discovery as the Weekly Reader re-told the story. In fact, the story was so good, it appeared in several additions of the paper, if I remember correctly.
It was the story of the Kon-Tiki. If you are of a certain age, you too may remember a Norwegian explorer named, Thor Heyerdahl. Thinking back, I wondered if his having a name like the ancient Norse mythology legend, God of Thunder, Thor, had anything to do with my curiosity about the story.
Heyerdahl believed people from South America sailed across the Pacific to the Polynesian Island in pre-Columbia times. In other words, before Columbus discovered the Americas.
To prove the theory, he and others built a raft modeled from illustrated records left by Spanish conquistadors. Thor was careful to use the same materials he believed they would have used 800 years ago. He named the raft, Kon-Tiki, after the Inca sun god. The primitive craft was constructed by lashing nine balsa logs together to fashion the main raft. The work was done in a Peruvian ship yard. The funding came from mostly private donors. You may be surprised to know the U.S. Army provided some equipment for the voyage.
On April 28, 1947, 70 years ago this Friday, Thor Heyerdahl, along with five others, set sail into the Pacific Ocean, hoping to prove they could make it to the distant south sea Islands.
The crew carried only a few modern items with them on their epic voyage – a radio, time pieces, knives and a sextant. The crew felt the few modern items made little or no difference in the success of the voyage. It took 101 days to cross the Pacific. Their log raft smashed into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands. With only their wits and skills, the adventurers traveled 4300 miles on the open ocean.
The adventure of Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki in 1947 were long over before I read about it in the Weekly Reader in the 1960s. But still, the paper made the adventure come to life for a boy living in the Ohio Valley. I have always marveled at great sea adventures, Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea. But the story of the Kon-Tiki was a real adventure that a young boy could dream about. There is something about men challenging the vast oceans of the world and hoping against great odds, to win.
I remember growing up on Fishing Creek one summer when the neighborhood kids built a raft. We floated down the creek from the second Twin Bridge to Coffield’s Riffle. I’ll bet we felt just a bit of the same sense of adventure that Heyerdahl may have felt. But, after our sailing adventure we were home for supper.
After the Kon-Tiki’s voyage, it was returned to a museum in Oslo Norway. Heyerdahl went on to write a book of his adventures and speak around the world. In 2012 a documentary film was made about his south Pacific adventures.
Heyerdahl lived to be 87-years-old. He died in 2002. Although he accomplished many adventures in his life, he will always be most remembered for the Kon-Tiki expedition. Seventy years ago this Friday, a young man and five others set out on an adventure many believed would end in tragedy.
Long ago when I was still in high school I wrote a report on the Kon-Tiki expedition for one of my classes. I gathered much of the information for the report from encyclopedias in the school’s library. For those of you who may not know what an encyclopedia is, think of it as a non-digital manual internet. I believe the book told of the perils of the long adventures, and there were days when the crew believed they were not going to make it. One of the main concerns was that the balsam logs would absorb too much water. In the end, they completed the trip as predicted by Heyerdahl, and secured their place in history. In 2006, Thor’s grandson, Olav Heyerdahl, along with six others, retraced his grandfather’s epic voyage.
A short time ago, I asked my grandson if he had ever heard of the Kon-Tiki. He responded he had not. I wrote this story to tell him of a great adventure when men challenged the vast oceans to prove a theory.
This story also reminds me of a time when I too wondered about adventures beyond the Ohio Valley, as I looked Through the Lens.