A Native Is Restless

Weary Denver computer programmer Thom Lancy dreams of retracing the Kon-tiki expedition to the South Seas.

Thom Lancy joined the Air Force straight out of Denver's George Washington High School because he wanted to see the world. "I like adventure," he says. "I'd rather be launching F-14s off of aircraft carriers than working at McDonald's."

As it turns out, he didn't launch any Tomcats. He guarded warplanes instead. He worked in communications. He worked in administration. He never saw any combat. The closest he came was during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Lancy was in Thailand then, close enough to feel "a sense of history."

He also traveled the globe. He drank wine on top of the Eiffel Tower. He hitchhiked from Germany into Italy. He traveled throughout Europe and was assigned to a military base in Turkey that was 200 miles from the Russian border. He met Syrian monks.

Now, at age 47, Lancy programs computers for a living, working from 9 to 5 in a windowless office at the Denver Tech Center. "By two o'clock," he says, "my eyes go in the back of my head." And he has a crazy dream. It's not even his dream. It's a dream borrowed from another man, from another time when the world was a little more uncharted, before there were jumbo passenger jets and the Internet and you could see the whole globe from your living room.

There's a good chance it will never happen. But don't tell that to Lancy. He is already busy plotting an escape from the kind of world where, he says, people "panic if their ATM card doesn't work."

The dream started when Lancy was in junior high. He read a book by adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, who in 1947 sailed more than 4,000 miles on a raft named Kon-Tiki from the coast of South America to the Marquesas Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The trip took Heyerdahl 101 days and made him a national hero in his native Norway. He wrote a best-selling book and helped spark the Polynesian craze that swept across the U.S., leading to the establishment of "Kon Tiki" hotels and restaurants coast to coast and briefly turning the mai-tai into America's cocktail of choice.

Now Lancy wants to replicate Heyerdahl's journey. Not for the anthropological reasons Heyerdahl had, not for science, not even for profit. Just for the hell of it. He has had the trip in mind for decades, but he's getting serious about it as he sails into midlife. His marriage has run aground, and his job--as he readily admits--doesn't exactly move him. He stares at computers all day. He'd much rather he staring at the ocean.

"Thom looks at the average yuppie and says, 'You're not doing anything with your life,'" says friend Dane Romberger, a buddy from the age of twelve. "Tom wants to pursue dreams. After he does this, he'll have another dream."

Recently separated from his wife of 26 years, Lancy comes home each night to a small apartment in Englewood that is jammed with globes, maps, charts and books about history and war. A dozen green footlockers hold the remnants of his twenty-year career in the Air Force. There's no couch--he says it would tie him down to the television, and he'd rather be leafing through his numerous hardbound historical tomes about World War II. He'd rather be looking through his apartment's open door, where the mid-evening breeze brings to mind another world.

"I've thought about it all my life," Lancy says calmly. "I finally decided to try to put this thing together. To satisfy the adventure lust in me."

This "thing" is nothing less than to find a crew of five people and one parrot, journey to Ecuador, cut down a few dozen balsa and bamboo trees, make a raft out of them with rope (no nails, bolts or screws) and shove off for the high seas. Then arrive in the islands, kiss the sand, perhaps, take a plane home and tell everyone about it.

"My interest is just the adventure," Lancy says earnestly, finding in the oft-repeated word an encouraging mantra. "To say, 'I did it. Here's my story.'"

Lancy got serious about following in Heyerdahl's wake five years ago. He got "really serious" last year.

"The first step is to see what interest there is out there," Lancy explains. "Getting people to go will be no problem. It's getting the money together and doing the marketing, because it does cost a lot of money."

So he's preparing a proposal to present to potential sponsors such as oceanographic institutes and environmental and political organizations. He's been on the Internet, throwing out feelers for a possible crew. He's bought detailed charts on South Pacific weather patterns and ocean currents. He hopes by early next year to have financial backers and to head to South America no later than the year 2000.

Lancy has also contacted the still-very-much-alive Heyerdahl, who went on to launch several more oceanic expeditions and now splits his time between Norway and a home in the Canary Islands. The elderly explorer, Lancy says, was "a little skeptical. He wasn't sure why I wanted to do this. He thought it was interesting, he thought it would take a lot of money, he thought it was dangerous. He said the BBC and French news had expressed interest in stories about [the fiftieth anniversary of Heyerdahl's trek]."

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