I do, however, have a list of 7 AdventureWomen trips that stood out for one reason or another over the course of our 30+ year history. Each one of these trips changed my life in some way. Below, you’ll find my attempt at putting into words what made each of these adventures so distinctive and extraordinary.
#1: Canoeing Minnesota's Boundary Waters
AdventureWomen began with adventures in the north woods of Minnesota. During these trips, we camped out, carried our own canoes from portage to portage, set up our tents and camped on a different island each night. We heard the haunting cry of the loon, were wowed by the northern lights, and hung our food from tall trees so bears couldn't get at it. I cooked fresh food over a camp stove or open fires, boiled up cowboy coffee each morning, and gathered wild blueberries at sunrise to add to the breakfast pancakes. Although we don't do trips like this anymore (would anyone actually register???), I remember how cathartic it was to experience the solitude and peaceful silence of this breathtaking water wilderness. These days, I dream of going back there, this time with my canoe and my little retro RV… .
Why did I want to go to Antarctica? Because Antarctica exemplifies nature bold and barefaced—power and beauty that humble, confront, and exhilarate. It’s a place of total intoxication. During our journey, my group of 12 adventurous women sailed on a Russian icebreaker with 40 Aussies. We were mesmerized by the sheer vastness and splendor of this great white continent where only 100,000 people have ever set foot. In 2002, we were also 12 of only 20,000 people who have ever crossed the Antarctic Circle. To celebrate this, we drank champagne on the boat’s front deck, and danced with the Aussies that night in the boat's bar! Although I’m still not naming one trip as special, this truly was the experience of a lifetime.
Over eighteen years ago, I discovered Iceland and the Icelandic horse after I met a man with a horseback riding business at the Adventure Travel Show in Chicago. He invited me to Iceland to ride what he described as the "legendary and gaited" Icelandic horse. So I went. And I fell in love. And my life changed. Owning horses was never in my life plan. But after that trip to Iceland, I knew I had to have THESE horses! They have long flowing manes and tails, and their gait (called a tölt) is silky smooth. I've had two Icelandic horses at my home in Montana for more than a dozen years now and recommend an Icelandic horseback riding adventure to any woman who’s a good rider. Even after 18 years, I still love this adventure. And if you join us in 2016, I'll see you there!
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa for 3 years and have always thought of that continent as my “spiritual” home. Then, a few years after I returned to the U.S. and started AdventureWomen, I saw the movie “Out of Africa” and knew I had to go back. So, I organized my first African adventure. And what an epic adventure it was! Unbeknownst to me, the owner of the safari company (who was born in Kenya and had lived there his whole life as a big game hunter), was the brother of the producer of the movie “Out of Africa”! When big game hunting was banned in Kenya, he started a camel safari business, hiring Maasai people as guides. I brought cassette tape players (doesn't this date us!), and as we were riding camels and looking out at the splendid landscapes that were in the movie, we listened to the film’s soundtrack while riding our camels. To this day, that soundtrack transports me back to that awesome adventure in Kenya.
In 2003 I traveled to Bhutan to hike and meet with outfitters, hoping to set-up our first trip to that country. Tucked into the eastern Himalayas between China and India, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan is a modern-day Shangri-La of awesome beauty and friendly people. Culturally and spiritually, it is a profoundly rich country where human relations and Buddhist beliefs outweigh economic indicators—where “gross national happiness” is promoted by the King of Bhutan as a measure of his enchanting country’s progress. Buddhists believe in preserving nature and giving more back to the earth and the culture than one has taken.
After 34 years in the travel business, it takes a LOT to impress me! But our Uganda and Rwanda Gorilla Safari is definitely in the Top 5 trips I have ever experienced. To be in the presence of these gentle giants, after trekking through the bamboo forests to get there, is beyond words. The opportunity to watch interactions between family members—babies with their mothers, brothers, and sisters—while the male silverback keeps a watchful eye on his brood, is a privilege very few people will ever experience. I consider myself extremely lucky to have spent precious time with these endangered animals in both Uganda and Rwanda.
The first time I traveled to New Guinea, in the early 1990s, I was blown away. It was so primitive, so raw, so very exciting. There were hardly any tourists in Irian Jaya, the Indonesian western half of the island. I spent time with villagers in their longhouses, at pig roasts, at markets, and in the highlands. The women in the first group I took there still talk about this unbelievably remarkable adventure. More than 16 years later, after completing 6 months of chemotherapy and 33 days of radiation for my second breast cancer, I celebrated the end of this "primitive" ordeal by going on our second trip to New Guinea. This time we went to Papua New Guinea, on the eastern (Australian) half of the island. I love places that are living anthropology museums, so it felt wonderful to be on the island where young Huli Wigman grow their own human hair wigs as a rite of passage—especially since my hair was just beginning to grow back after chemotherapy. I designated this trip as my rite of passage, a reward for making it through the last few years of my life.