Monday, October 14, 2019



            Most of us when we travel look for adventure, but not too much.  We want excitement, but not to the point of terror. We are often willing to go some distance and pay well to find such a moment.

            There are moments in adventure travel your fear is under control and your adrenaline is high and the moment fixes itself in your memory as a peak experience.  I would like to share four memories of such moments and add  to each what some people see as a peak moment but which would have been too much for me.

            Over the years I have skied half a dozen different resorts in Colorado, most them with my daughters.  The special moment came at Copper Mountain early in the morning when I reached the top spot before anyone else and got to ski a long intermediate sloop with inches of fresh snow. I was in control, gliding smoothly over the snow with no one else around.  I had the greatest feeling of control and sense of soaring through space.  The moment is locked in my mind.

            What  would be too much for me?  When we were in New Zealand we watched visitors Bungee jump.  My level of fear in the nine second drop would have been too high for me to have appreciated the sense of exhilaration.

            While at a two week writers conference in Aspen, Colorado, I took the opportunity to go white water rafting.  Eight of us, with oars, in a large rubber boat with a guide in the back to keep us from disaster.  The dangers were many, being swept out of boat, getting caught in an eddy, or boat being flipped when hitting a rock.  People had died, but while my adrenaline was high it only added to the thrill.  If we paddled hard when told to we would avoid major hazards.

            What would have been too much for me?  A seven day Grand Canyon rafting cruise.  Friends have taken it and found that given the hardships and dangers the participants formed a tight bound and met for reunions for some time after the adventure.  Frankly seven days of river hazards would have been too much for me.

            Again I was at a writers workshop at Aspen and a friend talked me into taking a hot air balloon ride over the mountains.  On a beautiful morning as the sun was rising we rose into the air and soared silently over the picturesque landscape.  It was an awesome experience. Later I was to take a balloon ride over Boone County that was different, but I was captivated by the feeling that I was seeing my surroundings in whole new way.

            What would have been too much for me?  Hang gliding or paragliding goes beyond my fear tolerance.  Even in my teens, if such an opportunity had existed I probably would have passed.

            An adventure that included both exhilaration and a too heavy loading of fear happened when I was older and my sense of balance was deteriorating.  It was a ropes course at a program for grandparents and grandchildren in upper Minnesota.  Working the high wire portion resulted in my grandson saying, "Grandpa, I'm never seen you look so scared."  He went on to do the ropes portion walking backwards and later blindfolded.  The thrilling part for me was the final portion that was a zip line that took us over a forest area.  Here with the harness on I felt secure.

            Strangely a seven and half kilometer sky ride on wires over the rain forest in northern Australia was not as clear in my memory.  There were two stops on the ride to walk around what we were viewing from above.  I suspect it's not as fixed in my memory because it was in the midst of so many other exciting wonderful things like the great barrier reef. 

            Danger, by the way, is not always needed for an experience to be a peak experience.  A medieval feast in a old castle in Ireland with strong sense of having dropped back in time is an event that also makes my list. 



            Some travel attractions can be shocking or unpleasant, but still worth seeing.  Three that I have seen that come to mind are: Body World, Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, and Mummies of the World Exhibition.

      With all of his muscles and body parts in vivid natural color, a man stands carrying his folded skin draped across his arm. With both figures similarly stripped of skin and organs exposed, another man on a rearing horse holds the horse’s brain in one hand and his own brain, proportionately larger, in another. Body Worlds is a  traveling exhibition of 25 plastinated real human bodies in active poses along with 200 healthy and diseased organs in cases, all displayed with detailed descriptions.

       I found myself uncomfortable with what I was seeing, feeling on the edge of horrified. My wife Carla, on the other hand, is impressed by how beautiful but fragile some of the figures are in their artistic poses as they teach us about ourselves.  The exhibition raised some controversy. For example, one of the figures causing consternation for some visitors shows a terminally ill woman, who was eight months pregnant, her unborn fetus visible.

      When I first saw the exhibition I decided not to write about it, but we kept seeing announcements of where it has been, where it is and where it will be next. The exhibition, first shown in 1995 in Tokyo, became so popular that Body Worlds 2 and 3 began in 2005 and 2006 with similar exhibits so that there can be showings in three places at once. Now a number of countries have permanent exhibits.  More than 47 million viewers have seen these exhibits, making them the most popular special exhibitions in the world.

      By and large, I usually have some idea of what it is I am about to see when I visit an attraction. I was totally unprepared for The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo. The upright, fully dressed bodies came as a shock to me. Earlier I had visited the catacombs of Rome and found them just a series of tunnels underground; the bodies were long gone. But in Palermo the bodies are there in all their decaying glory: 8000 of them.

      We walked down the long staircase of the old church into a musty smelling basement hallway and what to our wondering eyes should appear but hundreds of mummified bodies dressed in clothes from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a grotesque and outrageous scene, but nevertheless there was something fascinating about seeing bodies dressed in their personal best, standing in niches. They appeared to be staring back at us from sunken eyes embedded in parchment skin. The drying process has left the skin on the faces but has pulled them into horrifying expressions of terror and pain. Many seemed to be screaming—a massive silent scream.

      As I moved deeper into the catacombs the corridors become darker and cooler and the mummies and their clothes were in even poorer condition. The clothes are definitely dilapidated and the bodies are showing greater signs of decomposition. I notice here some fingers missing, and there a hand.

             A third shocker was at the Mummies of the World exhibition, when it was at the Union Station in Kansas City,  I had seen mummies in five countries: Egypt, Italy, Peru, Mexico and Ireland but this was  memorable because I was seeing many mummies from around the world all in one place.    Thirteen museums from five countries had collaborated to make this exhibition possible. It is the largest collection of real mummies and related artifacts ever assembled.

            What does a mummy’s skin feel like? Visitors were able to touch a mummy skin and objects to compare: naturally preserved skin, bog bones, bog body skin, embalmed skin, linen, and preserved fur.

             In contrast to the natural ways mummies have been created was the display of shrunken heads with a description of how headhunters turned their opponents’ heads into trophies. I was appropriately jarred by the experience.

            In Peru, children were sacrificed in special ceremonies, and their bodies left in the high Andes that had ideal conditions for mummification. The exhibition has two sacrificial bodies contained in small baskets, but with the use of the CT scan we were able to get a full picture of the bodies inside.

A plastinated human body at Body World

Palermo, Italy, the Sicily, Catacombs

In y World exhibits tAfter seeing the exhibition some people volunteer bodies to be used after death.

Ghost Tours


            I like ghost tours and have taken many of them.  Since most are at night it is a special way to see a city or district, something about shadows lends a magic to area and makes the possibility of spirits lurking there more likely. While I don't believe in ghosts, if the guide knows his history and adds the right details, I find myself looking into those shadows expecting to see at least a vague outline of a moving figure or a touch on my shoulder.  Often I do get the cold chill down my spine, but I don't attribute that to the presence of a spirit.

The three most ghost ridden cities are New Orleans, Savannah, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fl. Why so many ghosts in those cities?  Probably  because there had been so many violent deaths as well as the deaths of young people from diseases like yellow fever.

            One of the best tours I had was not in one of the top three, but in Williamsburg, Va.    Our  guide was a professor, a good storyteller but he was adamant that he didn’t believe in ghosts. Still his details about the ghosts and how they appeared were so dramatic that at least for the duration of the tour I accepted that these ghosts appeared on a regular basis. 

            At the College of William and Mary we stood at the statue of  Lord Botetourt in front of the two oldest buildings on campus, one being the oldest existing academic building in the US that was no longer used as residence because of the number of ghosts in it made getting a good night's sleep impossible.

            One of the ghosts was a Native American boy who was one of children taken in to be trained to be white. They had to wear woolen clothes, eat white man's food and behave themselves.  This boy would escape at night and run naked through Williamsburg.  After he died from a disease his ghost continues to run through the streets at night.  The part of the story that made me feel it must be true was that in the streets that were built up over time the people who see him see only the top half of his body since the ghost doesn't recognize what has been happened to the area since his death.

In St. Augustine, Fl. we were told of the 11-year-old girl who  stands at the gate to the entrance of the old city waving at the cars driving by. It’s two o’clock in the morning and when a concerned driver from out of town phones the police to report a child unattended on the street, he/she is told there is no such child and that it was one of the many ghosts of the city. Some say the young girl was assigned to welcome visitors to the city. Others say she was warning people away because of the yellow fever epidemic that killed her.  Now if tourists are reporting the girl on a regular basis how can  there not be ghosts?

Guides add details that give ghosts a more scientific explanation.  For Example in St. Augustine our guide emphasized that the energy the dead leave behind them builds up in particular places. She took us to an outside wall of the Castillo de San Marcos where the firing squad executions had taken place.  Even relatively minor offenses could result in being shot and we could see hundreds of musket ball holes in the wall. The energy at the execution wall was mostly gathered in one corner, and this had been established, she said, by several university professors with special infrared gear and other sensitive equipment. So what's not to believe?

      Although I have been to New Orleans almost a dozen times, I have little memory of the newer parts of town. It’s the French Quarter, the old plantations and the cemeteries I remember. More than in any other U.S. city, the locals are into walking tours, and these excursions are unlike those you find in other cities. Here you will find more registered ghosts than in any other city. New Orleans claims among its residents practitioners of voodoo, both dead and alive. Even before the imagination of Anne Rice produced novels about vampires, the city had more than its share of people who believed in them.

Because of the relative youth of the people killed violently, the streets of the French Quarter are said to be filled with more spirits of the dead than of the living.

Ghostbusters, parapsychologists and those attracted to mystery come here to make contact with spooks who are caught in perpetual re-enactments of their last moments on earth. According to local theories, those killed violently enter a zone much like that in the movie "Groundhog Day" — constantly reliving the day of their death.

Probably the most famous haunted house on the ghost tour is the LaLaurie House on Royal Street. Madame LaLaurie built the house in 1832, and the ghosts are said to be mostly slaves she killed in her attic torture chamber. Occupants report apparitions such as a large black man in chains who confronts people on the stairs.

Screams seem to be all that remains of some who died there, and people walking by report hearing them.

      Even non-believers will find that ghost tours give you a different way of seeing the city and you will hear stories that present aspects of history you are unlikely to get in any other way.

Taking a Gap Year


      Malia Obama who had been accepted at Harvard took a Gap Year to gain further life experiences before she started her classes. Her 12 months, featured an extended trip to Bolivia and Peru, a journey organized by a company called Where There Be Dragons. Their aim is to provide a cross-cultural, experiential education, with no five-star hotels or fancy buses, but rather home stays with local families, volunteer work, trips on public buses and often, language immersion. The aim to broaden students' perspectives about the world and themselves through these really intimate experiences.
       Because she was president's daughter this brought a fair amount of attention to idea that taking a year off to explore the world, volunteer, or just do something different could add much to a student's motivation and enlarge the possible of success.

       Gap Years have been regular part of education in a number of European countries, with 11 percent of British students taking one in the old tradition of the upper class of traveling the continent as part of gaining life experience.  Now programs have been developed so that all classes can make arrangements for these experiences. 

      I became aware of the European/Australian gap years on several occasions. In the 1980's while exploring India on trains two of the young men with our group were Norwegians and one of the young ladies was from Australia, one from Switzerland. They were on a gap year.  The two Norwegians were the only members of a group of 26 on our basic level tour that were willing to go with me to see the burning Ghats of Benares. 

       Later when I was teaching a semester in the Missouri-London Program my apartment was close to a Hostel that provided low priced, sociable accommodations where guests could rent a bed, share a bathroom, a lounge and a kitchen to keep the costs of travel down. Two of my nephews at different times took Gap years in Europe and found hostels throughout Europe which made the trip affordable. 

       I had not thought of it as gap year at the time but our daughter Stephanie didn’t like the University of Missouri, or the kind of education she was getting. After the freshman year she loaded her car up and took off for California where she established residency and entered the University of California at Santa Cruz. During the gap year she worked with a caterer. This markedly increased her motivation to get a college education. She loved the education at Santa Cruz, the classes were small, writing intensive and really engaged the students in the way the large freshman classes at MU had not. She married and moved to Atlanta, Georgia where she entered Georgia State and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

       She took another gap year off after college to work in a medical research lab before entering  Emory Medical School. She feels this really added to her background as a physician.

       Students whose gap years involve travel—whether to a foreign country or to a different part of the U.S.—not only end up with higher grades in college, but they also graduate at the same rate as those who don’t delay at all. Research has found that when gap-year students arrive on campus, they take their studies more seriously and don’t engage in risky behavior, such as alcohol abuse.

       Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way — provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college.  Deferrals for two-year obligatory military service are also granted. Each year, between 80 and 110 students defer their matriculation to the College. Other colleges have similar programs.

       Parents sometime fear that taking a year off will result in the student not going on to college.  A book "Gap to Great" is a  guide for parents about the gap year. In each chapter, author Andrea Wien unpacks a different concern typically expressed by parents of high school and college-aged students. 

       Checking Google on Gap Year I found many sources that at varying costs that will make arrangements for a variety of experiences that will increase an individual's self confidence, knowledge about the world and orientation toward a life's work.  Here are some examples.

        1. AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in public service work with a goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community.“

        2. AmeriCorps also sponsors the  National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC) is a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults, age 18-24. Members develop leadership skills and strengthen communities by completing service projects and gaining life experience.

        3. Another popular source of information and aid is Outward Bound that founded in 1962,  has helped over 1 million students achieve their goals.

         Gap Years are on the way to becoming very popular.

            My own Gap Year experiences were a bit different.  I had not planned on going to college and after graduating from high school became a laborer.  I found I really hated hard labor and signed up at a local college.  As a professor at the University of Missouri I took what I now consider four years (at different times) off.  One to wander the world and two and a half off to work for the air force as an instructor in five European countries and half a year to teach in London. Vow!  What great experiences.

I'm the guy with the white beard sailing on a windjammer off the coast of Maine

Two of my daughters feed birds in Venice, Italy on one of my years as an instructor for the air force.



            A list of activities someone wants to do before he or she dies is often called a bucket list, because it is a list of things a person wants to do before they "kick the bucket.” The term was coined by American and British screenwriter Justin Zackham in his screenplay for the 2007 film The Bucket List. 

            While many kinds of things can be on a bucket list many of them have to do with travel.   It took me years to learn what kind of travel experiences were possible for me so that I could make a realistic list.  We can hardly take advantage of what is out there to experience and enjoy if we don't realize that it is available to us or we have the means to accomplish it.

             Although a bucket list is intended to get you outside your comfort zone age plays a role.  A backpacking trip around Europe would be realistic for someone in their early 20s, but certainly off limits for most people in their 60s. 

             In my own life opportunities for a new experience or a special travel came up as unexpected opportunities so they were not on any kind of a list.  This included my two and a half years as a civilian teaching with the air force in Europe.   That was an opportunity that took me to live in five countries and see most of the major sights of Europe.   That means I've seen many of things that are on other people's bucket lists, but I saw them before I could put them on a list.

              But I did build a bucket list with my wife Carla and while it took years to fulfill the list it added excitement to our lives and gave us a sense accomplishment that we had been to some of the most interesting places on earth.  We  have reached the age where we no longer have a bucket list.  Some of the things we actually planned to do before we die and did: African Safari,  Nile Cruse and Valley of the Dead, Machu Picchu, Galapagos  Islands and China and the Great Wall.  While our expectations were high, all of these places exceeded our expectations. 

            Some of the places build ones ego and as we travel with groups we often find our fellow travelers comparing notes in a way that sounds like "I'm one up on you", or, "My life has been more interesting, dangerous, fulfilling than yours."

             It might be having visited the most of the hundred world wonders. (I've seen 60 of them, see I do it too.)   I've met people whose bucket list is to visit every country in the world.   There are 195 listed and I met a woman who had visited 168.  That was a bit mind blowing for me since with all the traveling I've done it still only 60 countries. 

            When I was traveling in India with a group of English travelers points were scored by the danger or difficulty of getting to a place.  In that group the man who had been to Timbuktu in Mali had the most prestige among this well traveled group.  Men seem to brag about difficult places to get to, women about the number of places they've been.

            Learning new skills are on many people's lists: and I have met travelers who have done all of the following: learn to ski, surf, fly a plane, scuba dive, and learn a new language.  The two people who had learn to fly a plane on their list, each ended up buying a plane.


            If you don’t have a bucket list, why don't you create one? It should not take you very long, and the list costs you nothing.    What do you stand to gain? Significant clarity and focus on what you want from your life. It’s an invaluable exchange. You don't want to reach old age and regret that you never did fulfill a dream.

            If you're not into world wonders or country counting some other items that turn up on bucket lists are: gamble in Las Vegas, swim with the dolphins, camp in the wilderness, trace your family tree, fly in a hot air balloon,  and write a book.  If you still want more danger paraglide, parachute jump or climb Ayers Rock in Australia. 

Machu Picchu was on my bucket list.

The fjords of Norway from which my ancestors came was on my bucket list.