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Published: Thursday, 7/4/2002

Addicted to adventure

When it comes to exotic transportation exploits, Steve Fossett doesn't just do balloons. The American millionaire, who this week became the first person to pilot a balloon around the world alone, also is a sailor, jet pilot, sports car driver, and dog sled musher. And he swam the English Channel, too.

Mr. Fossett, who is 58 and has enough money from his former investment career to do pretty much whatever he wants, is addicted to adventure in a world in which the number of records for getting from here to there is rapidly shrinking.

His next personal mission: piloting a glider to 62,000 feet or above.

Unlike some daredevils - motorcycle stuntman Evel Knievel comes to mind - Mr. Fossett does not seem to engage in these feats for the thrill of thwarting injury or death. In fact, he says, “I don't enjoy danger or getting scared. It's one of the unattractive things about the sports I'm involved in that do have significant danger.”

In an interview this spring with YachtRacing.com, Mr. Fossett explained that his achievements are “all about taking the latest technology and making the most of it. Building and sailing the fastest sailboat, maximizing the potential of the fastest airplane, developing and testing the technology to fly a balloon around the world, and, of course, meeting the challenge of harnessing weather systems to make these records possible.”

In short, Mr. Fossett confronts the age-old challenge of every adventurer: man against the elements.

Ingenuity and personal courage are qualities that cannot be purchased, and Steve Fossett has them in abundance. Undoubtedly, there are people who would look at his 19,428.6-mile flight in 131/2 days and wonder “why.” Fortunately, there remain adventurers like Mr. Fossett who envision the next great challenge and say, “Why not?”

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