Making Every Summer Count

September 15, 2023

I have a love hate relationship with summer. By July, most of us are ready for a break, though traveling through the heat of summer amid crowds and inflated pricing has never been high on my list.  What’s important to me is adventure and how to keep the adrenaline pumping. Many years ago, I hiked through Kenya’s Rift Valley, visited the Masai Mara, and sailed 17th century dhows up the Lamu Archipelago with the National Outdoor Leadership School. It was far from luxury as NOLS has a long history of training it’s students to be self-sufficient and “leave no trace” in the wilderness. In between lessons on flora, fauna, habitat, and first aid, participants carry their own gear, pitch tents, cook meals, and clean up after themselves.

Now, as I grow older and worry about knees among other aches and pains, the days of carrying my own gear, setting up camp, and preparing meals have long since passed. Quite frankly, I don’t want to. I want to carry a day pack and have my bags and other provisions waiting for me where and when I arrive at the end of the day. I want a shower, good wine, and dinner prepared and served by someone else.  After all, it is vacation. I have also found that the real trick to downtime is getting off the grid—no cell or Wi-Fi service—to thwart the temptation to see what’s happening back at the office. This summer vacation also presented a particular challenge. It would be tough to top last year’s epic trek across Peru’s Salkantay mountain pass in the Andes to Machu Picchu followed in August by the ascent to Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit with Farient CEO Robin Ferracone. So here goes.

I wanted another bold unexpected adventure—not the Masi Mara, not the Amboseli, and not your typical safari. It was instead the “Great Walk of Africa.” Ten people trekking single file 10-plus miles a day across southeast Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, one of the most remote and wild places in East Africa. One cultural footnote: Tsavo is where much of Out of Africa was filmed.

As a true animal lover, the opportunity to see wildlife on its own terms in a region where they are unused to humans is an incredible opportunity. Our small group was led by a fifth-generation Kenyan guide, Ian Allen, and four bushmen—two with spears, two with rifles (that are rarely if ever used). Ian’s understanding of animal behavior enabled us to get up close to the animals we encountered: lumbering elephants, prides of lions, baboons, crocodiles, zebras, water buffalo, and the list goes on. Each day of our trek, nutritious full-course meals were served, the camp was set up and taken down by staff, and our group was moved when needed in Toyota Land Cruisers and Range Rover vehicles.

Unlike other parks in Africa, our outfitter (the incongruously named Tropical Ice) has the only permits to trek and set up camps throughout the park providing participants with the longest hike in Africa. More incredible, in the middle of July we saw no other groups of people. Although we hiked for a good part of each day, there was downtime in the afternoon followed by early evening drives to see more of the wildlife.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the guides told us, poachers decimated the elephant population spurring a full-on war. Park rangers flew over Tsavo’s vast terrain firebombing armed poachers with hand grenades thrown from small prop planes and automatic rifles. Today, Tsavo has more elephants in its reserve than perhaps any place in the world. This is one of the great tragedies and success stories of Africa. How fortunate was I to witness these majestic creatures firsthand.

Life is busy. It’s hard to get off the grid. As so many beautiful and special places around the world become overwhelmed by tourism, I hope to keep experiencing these amazing pockets of adventure. As my favorite tagline from North Face proclaims: “Never Stop Exploring.”

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of Ngong hills. The equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the daytime, you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”—opening scene, Out of Africa, Columbia Pictures, 1985

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