Kira Salak (1971-) is a contemporary American explorer best known for her daring adventures, of which, she said, “In the beginning, my journeys feel at best ludicrous, at worst insane.” When she was only 24, she became the first woman to cross Papua New Guinea and after writing a book about her experience, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea, she was asked to write for the National Geographic Adventure magazine. With the launch of her career as a freelance writer, Kira quickly gained a reputation as a tough adventurer. She survived coup attempts, war zones, and dangerous bouts with illnesses like cholera and malaria. In an article in the New York Times, they described Kira as a, “tough, real life Lara Croft,” while Book Magazine said that she was, “the gutsiest—and some say, craziest—woman adventurer of our day.”

Kira Salak, selected by the Library of Congress for its “Women Who Dare” publication, is the first document person to tackle and successfully kayak—alone—the 600 miles of the Niger River, from Mali’s Old Ségou to Timbuktu. Considering she was kayaking solo in a river where hippopotamus and three different types of crocodiles live and camping alongside the river at night (to avoid said river creatures)—having to put her faith in the local villagers as she did so—her journey is incredibly impressive on many levels. In 2004 she wrote, The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred miles to Timbuktu, detailing her journey up the Niger where she followed the route taken by the explorer Mungo Park (who didn’t make it to his destination) in the early 19th century. I will definitely be adding her book to my travel reading book list!

Story by Alyce Howard