"A true explorer keeps an open and curious mind and is always seeking to learn."
My Perfect Adventure
According to Erik Lindbergh, Charles wasn’t his most adventurous grandfather. His mother’s father, Jim Robbins, was also a pilot, and so gung-ho that he crashed his bush plane and died before his grandsons could meet him.
Though Erik is a Lindbergh, it didn’t occur to him to become an aviator until he was in his mid-twenties, and then only because a friend insisted. His father, Jon, having been advised by his father—Charles—not to pursue aviation, became one of the world’s first aquanauts.
Erik, however, sets his sights beyond earth’s seas and skies: He’s on the board of the X Prize Foundation to promote space tourism. The X Prizes are inspired by the Orteig Prize, which spurred Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight in 1927.
In 2002, on its 75th anniversary, Erik thumbed his nose at his decades-long struggle with rheumatoid arthritis to recreate his grandfather’s pioneering feat. It took him 17 hours (it took Grandpa more than 33) to solo-pilot a single-engine aircraft, the New Spirit of St. Louis, non-stop from New York to Paris, a stunt Erik used to raise more than $1 million for charity.
His deep passions for aviation and space exploration notwithstanding, he has some decidedly down-to-earth hobbies as well: woodworking, mushroom hunting, and hacky-sacking all make him happy. During this interview, he discusses how your inner ear can lead you astray, the scourge of noise pollution, the promise of electric aircrafts, and why, above anyone else living or dead, he’d choose to meet the author of The Little Prince. He also very much wants to meet a few people who haven’t yet been born: his future grandchildren. So he works to balance his urge to be as adventurous as his grandfathers were with the forbearance it’ll take to live a good deal longer.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
I’m a die-hard backcountry skier, so a perfect day begins with coffee and a nice breakfast, then a couple-hour climb with a small horde of my ski pals. I’ve learned to love the climb almost as much as the descent, but a perfect day would be bluebird sunny with deep, cold smoke-powder turns—the kind of run that gives you a perma-grin for days. Then I’d motor out to the nearest airport and go soaring in a glider, like a hawk scouting for rodents. Only I’d be scouting for the optimum foraging spot. After landing and the obligatory hangar flying session with the local pilots, I’d dive off into the forest with my girlfriend to hunt for wild chanterelles, morels, or cauliflower mushrooms—it’s such a treasure hunt. Sometimes you hit the bonanza and other times you come up empty. But at the very least you have a romp through the forest. I’d fill my basket, then have a romantic gourmet feast. Afterward, I’d walk on the beach and collect pieces of interesting driftwood while watching the sun set. The perfect ending would be a creative session in my wood shop puzzling together a sculpture or a piece of furniture.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go?
Indonesia, for the scuba diving. I understand that the diversity of species is unparalleled there. To explore something so wild and colorful would be mind-blowing. Since diving is perhaps the closest we can get to weightlessness here on earth, I could imagine it would be like exploring an alien world.
What’s the best place you've ever visited?
Perhaps Cataract Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park. Hiking down to Mooney Falls through the lava tube was epic, in the words of my 12-year-old. Swimming and exploring the travertine waters and lush river bottom in such an arid landscape was simply amazing. My best memories seem to come from rustic natural settings well off of the beaten path.