The Earhart legacy

IT has been 50 years since a young Amelia Earhart set off on her last flight from Lae, New Guinea, in the first attempt to fly a plane around the globe. She had already chalked up three ``firsts'': She had become the first woman to fly the Atlantic as a passenger, to fly solo across the Atlantic, and to pilot a plane alone from Hawaii across the Pacific. She told her friends she did it all strictly for the fun of it. Such zest for a new challenge and the mystery surrounding her disappearance have contributed to the Earhart legend, which has grown rather than receded over the years. Five new Earhart biographies will be published this year, and symposiums will be held over the next few months from Earhart's hometown, Atchison, Kan., to Washington, D.C.

Something in everyone loves an adventure - the challenge to self and the freedom in overcoming barriers. It explains in part why so many thousands run in city marathons. ``Participatory adventure'' - from horseback treks to white-water canoeing - is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry.

It is that same ingredient that makes explorers keep on trekking and setting new records, letting all those who follow their adventures vicariously share the thrill. Who can forget that moment of elation last December when the graceful Voyager aircraft touched down after its nonstop around-the-world flight!

The reach for more new frontiers goes on. In many cases it is women, daring to do what women before had never tried, who are breaking old records and scoring new firsts.

Californian Arlene Blum, for instance, who, like Earhart and many other women explorers, is a member of the Society of Women Geographers, led a pioneering expedition to the top of Annapurna I in Nepal in 1978. The group of 10 became the first Americans and the first women to succeed in the climb. Dr. Blum was also among the first Americans and the first women to walk across the Himalayas. Her 2,000-mile trip in 1981 from Bhutan to India took one year. This summer she and her husband will hike a 600-mile stretch of the Alps, carrying along their three-month-old daughter in a backpack. They will stay in hiker huts from Yugoslavia to France along the way.

Women are also aiming at and setting new records in the North and South Pole. In April, Pam Flowers and Kate Persons became the first women, traveling by dogsled, to reach the magnetic North Pole. Ms. Flowers wants to break another record by making a similar trip to the geographical North Pole if she can raise the funds.

As yet, no woman has reached the South Pole on her own. Norwegian Monica Kristensen led a three-person team by dogsled earlier this year along Roald Amundsen's Antarctic route of 75 years ago, but the group was forced to abandon the expedition before its completion. Nadia Billia Le Bon, who will train in the Canadian Arctic this winter, hopes to take up the route by skis next year.

Fortunately, adventures generate their own energy. And the Earhart legacy shows no sign of decline.

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