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screams at a six-year-old to “get down from that
tree, now!” or “get away from that dog!” or “get
out of that puddle!”.
Imagine instead the fear and the myths about
risk that are dispelled when a parent teaches
a child to light a campfire, explore the bush by
torchlight, to hike with a backpack, snorkel above
a reef, bait a hook or climb a tree.
Adventure travel crosses all age boundaries.
When I tell people what I do for a living they
often assume I get to travel with lots of young
people. And there are a few of those. But the
Baby Boomers are an adventurous lot. Remember,
Boomers are the ones who were travelling through
Afghanistan in a second-hand bus they bought off
a man in Clapham in the 70s – when they still had
hair. And they haven’t changed. Now they have
money, they want to travel in the Antarctic and the
Arctic, and do walking or cycling food-and-wine
tours in Europe.
So, what of the future of adventure travel?
The Polar regions are taking off, there are many
companies running ships down to Antarctica and
up to the Arctic, and some are better than others.
A limited number of ships can handle that sort
of environment so if you are going to go, choose
wisely. I am in awe of Antarctica. Nowhere else is
there such an extent of wilderness, a place where
the human species has not damaged or altered the
landscape. Every other place on earth has been
extensively impacted by humans, if not the Romans,
then the British Empire. But not Antarctica.
Of course, not everyone is up for a challenge.
I always remember a conversation I had at Everest
Base Camp in 1993 with a new commercial
mountaineering operator. An American, he had
nearly 20 clients from around the world and
had charged US$42, 000 each to take them up
Mt Everest – hopefully to the top. He was
lamenting the poor quality of climbers on the
mountain at the time. It was the start of the rush
to add Everest to the resume, ‘true’ mountaineers
were now starting to avoid the circus, or maybe
getting paid to climb Everest by working as
a guide. He’d left an older client at Base Camp
for a week previously – a man who was obviously
unhealthy, not fit enough, and who had never been
on a mountain in his life. When the tour operator
said, “You know, some people have no business
being here”, I was flabbergasted. I replied,
“Yeah, mate, and you brought most of them
and charged them top dollar!” Now we weren’t
just talking about a trek where people got
tired because they weren’t fit enough. Now we
were talking about the pinnacle of adventurous
endeavour where the ultimate price you pay for
unpreparedness is your life.
I deliberately take myself into places where
there is a potential to be challenged, but
I prepare adequately so that I can cope with
the extremes that might be thrown at me.
I train, get good gear, research, speak to others
who have been there and make sure that those
coming with me are prepared too. We are not
super athletes, just people who enjoy being in
nature and who enjoy being active.
In the end, I guess it does come down to
personal preference. But certainly there are
a couple of things you can do to make an
adventure experience a success. Firstly, don’t
bite off too much too soon; serve an appropriate
apprenticeship. Don’t race off and throw down
tens of thousands of dollars to climb Everest
on your first trip. Start at the start, with an easy
one. Everest Base Camp or the Kokoda Track are
within grasp of most people as long as they are
reasonably fit, not overweight and have allowed
lead-time to train and prepare.
Go with a company that has a track record,
that will support you from the start and during
the trek. If something happens and you get ill
or injured, you want to know that you are
surrounded by people who will look after you and
make your evacuation a priority. Get good travel
insurance (we hear horror stories all the time about
people who didn’t get insurance). Buy good gear
because the old saying is true: there’s no such
thing as bad weather, just bad equipment. Finally,
listen to the experts, not the friend who did it in
the 70s and tells you it was easy. Take it from me –
it probably wasn’t. S
“Now we were talking about the pinnacle of
adventurous endeavour where the ultimate
price you pay for unpreparedness is your life.”
Leading trekkers in the Himalayas.
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