September 9, 2012: Tracing Human Ancestry, Circumnavigating the Globe Solo, and More

Adventurer Ben Brown whitewater kayaks river across New Zealand. His biggest rush is going over waterfalls on the river. He and the team of Red Bull Flow Hunters completed a 35 day kayak adventure.  Ben reminisces his trip and the time he fractured his spine. (Photo by David Boyer / National Geographic)
Adventurer Ben Brown whitewater kayaks river across New Zealand. His biggest rush is going over waterfalls on the river. He and the team of Red Bull Flow Hunters completed a 35 day kayak adventure. Ben reminisces his trip and the time he fractured his spine. (Photo by David Boyer / National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!


In the course of riding 5,000 miles through New Zealand‘s waterways, Ben Brown and his team rode 17 rivers, including numerous waterfalls. In their search for thrills, Brown “didn’t paddle anything really, really high — just around the 50 foot mark.” He acknowledges that despite scouting all landings, it’s still possible to “boof” a landing or “go over the handle bars” and suffer serious injuries. Brown recently cracked a vertebrae in his back, but says that he can’t imagine not kayaking whitewater rivers. Listen here.

It has been widely accepted that our human ancestors originated in Africa before spreading across the globe over thousands of years, making homes in every different type of environment. What archaeologists cannot agree on is the exact path that humans took out of humanity’s cradle. National Geographic Emerging Explorer Jeffrey Rose adds a new kink in our colonization along the Arabian Peninsula. He says that the curiosity of being able to see land across the Red Sea drove our savannah-living ancestors across a 5-to-10 mile stretch of water, rather than taking the simpler, and safer, northern lande route from Africa. Listen here.

Boyd counts the Marathon Des Sables as one of his toughest experiences, running the equivalent of six marathons in a seven day stretch across the Sahara Desert. This experience was harrowing enough that he is sufficiently deterred from doing it again. But James and Tara Gaston have run two desert races this year, and have two more on the docket, including one in Antarctica. The biggest question on Boyd’s mind is, “Why?” Listen here.

National Geographic’s Crittercam team is devoted to going to great lengths to discovering new bits of information about the animals we admire through observation. In the past, Crittercam’s creator Greg Marshall has helped adapt cameras for humpback whales, cheetahs, and seals. But one of his most popular Crittercam projects involved attaching a tiny camera to one of our favorite animals — the common house cat. Greg tells Boyd that there is much more going on in the lives of our furry friends than he ever would have imagined. Listen here.

David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, joins Boyd to point out that as the oceans are becoming more caffienated, and sea levels continue to rise, the Maldives have a Plan B, just in case their land occasionally goes underwater: floating hotelsListen here.


It took Odysseus ten years to get home after the Trojan War, as the Greek gods toyed with his life. Much like in Homer’s epic poem, it must have felt to Erden Eruc that the god of the sea was conspiring against him. After he left California to begin his self-propelled circumnavigation, the adventurer spent 312 days at sea in a row boat attempting to cross the Pacific, unable to even cross the equator, which “added, perhaps a year and a half or two to” his five year journey. Eruc finally reached Bodega Bay in July, successfully becoming the first person to solo circumnavigate the globe under human power. Listen here.

During the waning days of the Cold War, Rob Smurr was stationed inside the Soviet Union gathering radio intelligence for the United States. He heard many things over the radio, but said that he knew things were going poorly for the Russians when he heard a rock song by Lou Reed playing in Czech over a military radio channel. Today, Smurr conducts tours throughout former Soviet Central Asia with Mountain Travel SobekListen here.

The Nazis’ Enigma coding machine gave them a big advantage in World War II; that is, until the British code-breakers at Bletchley Park figured out the mathematical source of the code and were able to consistently intercept Nazi messages. In his new book, The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley ParkSinclair McKay explains that the code breakers came from all walks of British life; some were even recruited by their ability to quickly decipher The Daily Telegraph‘s crossword puzzles. Listen here.

On his summer trip to Norway, Boyd met ornithologist Brent Stephenson to learn to appreciate arctic seabirds. Boyd encountered a guillemot, which is essentially a flying penguin. Stephenson explained that when the birds are young, they throw themselves off a cliff, and float on the water where their parents feed them until they’re old enough to fly. He also survived an attack from the very aggressive arctic ternsListen here.

In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares his fears of his upcoming 28-day hiking trip through the Peruvian Andes. But through some very painful experiences in the past, he has no doubt he will survive. But will his feet? Listen here.


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Meet the Author
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.