All my life, I've been enthralled by the world's great adventures: bicycling around the world, riding a motorcycle from the arctic to the antarctic; walking across the U.S.; climbing one of the great mountains. And then there were the great adventurers like: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; Joshua Slocum; James Cook; Nelly Bly (the 26 year old American journalist who set the record for the fastest trip around the world of 72 days in 1890); and Ranulph Fiennes ( who, among many other amazing adventures, was the first to reach both poles, cross Antarctica unassisted, circumnavigate the globe via the poles and run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents – then on Tuesday...).
From an early age I was inspired by these great people, and I kept a list of the great adventures I aspired to. Some of them were ruled out rather quickly. For example, since I couldn't even make the starting roster of my 6th grade baseball team, I decided that becoming a professional ball player probably wasn't in the cards. In that same vein, being your basic klutz, it didn't take long to cross off most of the other items that required any degree of athleticism or coordination – gymnastics, football, basketball, and high wire walking come to mind. In fact, just this week I just decided a very long canoe trip wasn't likely to happen. (Watch next week's blogs for Marcie's description of our harrowing, northern Minnesota canoe adventure).
While any number of items were added and removed from the list over the decades, three epic adventures were always there: sailing around the world on a sailboat; climbing one of the world's great mountains; and completing one of the great hikes.
Sailing around the world. This was always first on my list, and it was something my klutzy self could do – not just buy a sailboat and sail around the world, but round Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, visit a hundred tropical islands, taste the croissants and coffee in Tahiti, see a Tasmanian devil, meet people from dozens of different cultures, and best of all, experience a thousand sunsets, starry nights, and sunrises at sea. I read every book I could find on sailing adventures: Dana, Melville, Stevenson, C.S. Forester, Slocum, Moitessier, Hiscock, Robin Knox-Johnson; as well as biographies of the great sailors and admirals: Cook, Magellan, Tasman, Nelson, Dias, Shackleton. Most importantly, while this was something that had never even occurred to Marcie, she was willing to give it a try - I didn't even have to work that hard to convince her. Now, after eighteen years of sailing to all those exotic ports, I think we can check this one off the list.
Climb a Great Mountain. The second item on my great adventure list was to climb one of the grand mountains – if not Everest or K2, at least Denali or Aconcagua. Growing up in Colorado, there were no shortage of 14,000 foot mountains to climb, but it had always been my dream to climb one of the big ones. About 30 years ago, I did attempt to solo climb Mt. Kenya at 17,057 feet, but when I was doing the last section of the technical climb near the top, I fell and broke my ankle. I had quite the adventure getting myself off the mountain and back to civilization when my only means of locomotion was crawling or hopping on my one good foot. Now that I've just celebrated my 70th birthday, and am no less clumsy than I've always been, perhaps climbing one of the big ones is just a little unrealistic. BTW, the oldest person to climb Everest was Yuichiro Miura, a Japanese man who managed it at age 80, and the oldest American to summit was Bill Burke who was 72. Perhaps I still have time to change my mind, but I'm thinking this adventure is about as likely to get checked off as playing left field for the Rockies.
Complete a Great Hike. There are so many great hikes in the U.S. and the rest of the world that it would take a lifetime to complete even a portion of them. In the U.S. alone, if I tally up the mileage of just the better known hikes, I come up with more than 25,000 miles of trails, about the distance around the world. I'm sure that if someone spent the time researching every trail in all our national forests as well as our national and state parks, the total mileage would be many times this. I'm thinking that even at my advanced age, with all these trails to choose from, not to mention the thousands of trails in other countries, I should be able to find one that not only qualifies as a 'Great Hike', but also one that I stand a chance of actually completing. Marcie has even agreed to give it a shot with me – and I'm positive that the three glasses of wine I plied her with before she agreed had nothing to do with it.
We're thinking that the Thames Path that we will be doing next month will be sort of a qualifying event. It's about 184 miles long – much shorter than any of the great hikes, and we'll be staying in pubs and hotels each night rather than camping out. We will, however, be carrying full packs, and although we won't need to carry sleeping bags, a tent, stove or several days of provisions, we will need rain gear, computers, and everything else required for a month's stay in England. If the Thames Path works out, we'll next try a 50-100 mile backpacking trip to see whether we're still capable of sleeping on the ground and carrying several day's worth of supplies.
We used to backpack in Colorado a few decades ago, and while we were a lot younger, the gear was also a lot heavier. Our backpacks typically weighed 40-50 pounds for a week long trip. Now, it's possible to buy ultra-light gear that weighs a fraction of what it used to, and I'm hoping to keep our packs to about 20 pounds - maybe offsetting some of those years. If we can still walk after the backpacking trip, I'll be feeling rather optimistic about tackling one of the great ones. We'll see.
Meanwhile, next week I'll share my list of the top ten Great Hikes of the world that we're considering.