(News-Press.com) - Last week, Mike Knight and Ralph Arwood proudly held Explorers Club Flag 174 as they posed for photographs next to a 700-year-old bald cypress tree in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
If not for a lucky eBay encounter, Flag 174 would not have been in the photo, which was taken during an ongoing Explorers Club expedition (Knight is regional director of the Explorers Club's Florida Chapter; Arwood is a volunteer); in fact, the flag might have been lost forever.
Explorers Club flags are an important part of the organization's history, and being allowed to carry one on an official club expedition is considered a great honor and responsibility.
These flags have been on hundreds of expeditions since 1918; they've been to both poles, the highest point on Earth (Mount Everest), the lowest point (the bottom of theMariana Trench) and the moon.
Some of the 202 flags have been retired, others lost.
Flag 174 had been lost since Navy pilot Cmdr. Henry Jorda carried it on the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1956, during which he flew over the South Pole and discovered two mountain ranges.
"After an expedition, flags are supposed to be returned to Explorers Club headquarters in New York," Knight said.
During the summer of 2008, Knight found Flag 174.
"I was browsing eBay and typed in Explorers Club," Knight said.
Knight notified club officials, and club general manager Rita Evans started bidding on the flag. During the final minute of the auction, Knight realized she'd been out-bid.
With 8 seconds left, he made the winning bid.
Use of a flag is governed by strict standards; among other things, an expedition leader must convince the club that the expedition is a true exploration and that it will produce scientific results.
When Knight's expedition to document and study the giant bald cypress trees of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was approved by The Explorers Club, Knight was given a choice of flags to carry — he chose No. 174.
"That flag is part of the club's heritage and history," Knight said. "This is only the second time it's been on an expedition."
Knight has led three expeditions to the mountain jungles of Trinidad, where he documented the legendary luminous lizard and critically endangered golden tree frog, and numerous expeditions into the Everglades; he has also conducted undersea biodiversity surveys the Caribbean and Sea of Cortez.
For Explorers Club members, it's all about the exploration.
"I like going places with nothing more than a machete and a compass," Knight said. "People ask me why I do this. It's part childlike curiosity. It's also, as George Mallorysaid, 'above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.'"