To be bewildered, amazed and humbled by nature is a phenomenon that most of us are familiar with. Nature in its purest form is a compelling force that provides profound lessons about our place on this planet. It pushes our boundaries. It challenges our definition of comfort. But most importantly, nature can help us realize what we’re capable of. The concept of personal growth through outdoor activity and the chance to share that experience with others is what allures many of us to become Backroads leaders. It’s also what inspires many leaders to volunteer to help make these experiences accessible to underserved populations.
These books, along with an insatiable desire to explore, led me down an unconventional path to world travel, exciting (and sometimes insane) adventures and an active lifestyle that I parlayed into a career as a Backroads Trip Leader. So which stories have inspired me to explore, seek adventure, change the world for the better and do so confidently? Here are my top five.
In the weeks before the race, I spent a lot of time basking in the glory of telling my friends that I’d be riding a 12-speed steel-frame bicycle on gravel roads in Tuscany. I did not, however, spend a lot of time actually visualizing myself riding a 12-speed steel-frame bicycle on gravel roads in Tuscany. Ten minutes into the race, I found myself flying down a loose-gravel hill in predawn darkness with only dim candles lining the curving road, and it became apparent why this famous bicycle race is called L’Eroica, or “The Heroic” in English.
Have you ever wondered who answers the phone when you call with questions about a trip? Mark Vashro is one of our newest members in the Guest Services department at Backroads. He’s been a Trip Leader in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Maine but has recently accepted this new position in our Berkeley office in order to have a more geographically stable life. Why? Mark’s in the process of finishing and releasing his documentary, Bike Against the Wind.
Where in the World Is Kenny Brushett? Well the thing is, you never quite know. But you can be sure of one thing: if he isn’t hosting guests on the trip of a lifetime in some exotic locale, he’s bringing the world home in flavorful ways. An exceptional mentor, leader, photographer and culinary wizard, Kenny is unlike anyone I’ve ever met.
The other day a guest asked me how we’re able to hire such amazing leaders with such consistently exemplary values. He then asked whether we specifically recruited for values. Which prompted me to review the criteria we use to screen leaders. Guess what–no “values” were listed. Plenty of leadership, guest service, judgment, motivation, teamwork, ability to connect with guests and all of the obvious language, active lifestyle and mechanical inclination type criteria. And about 40 sub-criteria. But no values.
It was pure serendipity that allowed Collier Lumpkin and me to be here together, enjoying an enormous fish stew at Ristorante Belforte overlooking the tiny harbor of Vernazza in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Our lives had been running parallel paths for some time, but it wasn’t until a year before that our worlds finally collided on a Backroads trip in Puglia.
Trying to stay upright, I slowly place one foot in front of the other, and I focus on the encouraging face of my Malagasy guide. One false step and I’ll be in the drink with all my gear. I’m crossing a stream on a slippery log in southern Madagascar on my way to learn how to develop sanitation projects in remote communities. This is pretty incredible, considering that just 48 hours earlier I was staring at two male lions in the comfort of a Land Rover while leading one of Backroads’s most impressive trips: South Africa & Botswana Multisport. Now, here I am trudging through the lush green countryside of one of the poorest countries on earth: Madagascar.
Cycling in the ridiculously hot region of South East Asia for months on end with no support, camp assistant Brant Haflich and I figured we’d be spending a good amount of time in search of clean drinking water. We had just finished cycling across our own country and we wanted to continue our bicycle adventures while learning something along the way. We wanted a purpose for our pedal strokes and we had questions about global water issues.
It was springtime in northern New Mexico. The snow was melting off the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the wildflowers were blooming and the bold colors of chiles rojos y verdes adorned my plate night after night. Our first Backroads Santa Fe & Taos walking tour of the season was infused with that ethereal ebullient light that has attracted many to reflect and interpret its artistic form.
“Tourism: Your everyday life is somebody else’s adventure.” Staša Kraljiĉ uses this quote from international free speech organization Loesje to rationalize her love for working in tourism, which she has done–to some extent–since she was in college. You could easily replace ‘tourism’ with ‘Staša’ in this quote, as this Backroads Leader is a fun-loving, globe-trotting polyglot who tirelessly lives life to the fullest.
Why is it that when some people are brought together, they end up falling in love? Is it similar personalities or shared interests that connect them? Perhaps it’s purely chemical. Or maybe it’s something more dramatic, like conquering a feat together…
The sun’s shining, there’s a white carpet of snow covering the ground, and the trees are heavy from the latest snowfall. Working up a sweat, I ascend a small hill and drink in the view. As far as I can see, forest covers the landscape…
Your own hometown has secrets to share. Your daily routine can be delightful. It all depends upon you opening your eyes wide to novelty, surprises and adventure. What if you approached your daily commute from a totally different direction? Infused your evening walk with a sense of wonder? Try it, and you might just find there really is no place like home. Be Curious. Chances are, when you travel somewhere new you enter your experience with excitement and curiosity. Imagine if you approached your own backyard with that same attitude.