North America’s Most Beautiful River?

Some would argue that the Tashenshini-Alsek is North America’s most spectacular river.  I never hesitate to say it’s the World’s most scenic river trip.  The scenery at the put-in at Kluane National Park is stunning and the views improve exponentially every day.  Literally, every day, culminating at Alsek Lake where Mt Fairweather looms and two toes of the Alsek glacier and one toe of the Grand Plateau glacier stretches down to the water and calves icebergs before our very eyes.

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There are many beautiful rivers.  And I would hazard to say that all rivers are beautiful.  However, the Tatshenshini-Alsek is truly in a league of its own.

Check out this latest scenic (albeit a little boring) OUTSIDE ONLINE video on the Tatshenshini.  It’s truly impossible to capture the majesty and grandeur of the world’s largest protected wilderness area, but it will give you a hint of the flavour to whet your appetite for ROAM’s full course serving Aug 14th or 29th  …

 

Nelson in the Limelight Again

Nelson has been the home base for ROAM Adventures since 1995 and for a small town gets a lot of ink.  GQ, Men’s Journal and OUTSIDE magazines have written about our small mountain town on countless occasions.  This month the San Francisco Chronicle has a story about the quality of powder and lack of lift lines in the Kootenays.  Locals get antsy if its more than a 2-minute wait!122703321_slocan-lake-backdrop-monashees

Nelson’s popularity has been growing so fast that 2018 will see the re-introduction of our Kootenay Multisport Adventure complete with a wine tour of the Okanagan and outrageous mountain bike add-ons.  Stay tuned to iroamtheworld.com for details…

Read the article by clicking HERE
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Roger’s Waters

In June we had the pleasure of hosting Roger Waters and his production manager, Trip (aptly named), for 3 glorious days of trout fishing on the Chilko River. A legendary rock celebrity from the band, Pink Floyd, Roger arrived by A-Star helicopter after his concert in Vancouver. I am not the type to be star-struck but was the first to admit it was all quite surreal – as my favourite song as a youth was “Wish You Were Here”.  For the record, and contrary to rumour, I did not try and force Roger to listen to my acoustic version! I felt his three refusals and threats of a restraining order were a good indication that he was reluctant to hear it.
If you have ever seen Pink Floyd or Mr. Waters in concert, you will know that they are polished and well prepared. This fishing trip was no exception. They sent up a float plane in advance for us to hop from lake to lake to cast lines and check productivity.  We had a crew of experienced guides at their disposal: Avid fisherman and Blackcomb Helicopter founder, Steve Flynn, was the lead reconnaissance and pilot/guide, Peter Nori, was the helicopter pilot extraordinaire. Local knowledge and boat handling was provided by myself and Clint Goyette of Valley Fishing Guides.
Our guests had requested peace and quiet and reserved the entire lodge accordingly. Chef Rebecca, who has cooked in Europe for many dignitaries was up to the task of orchestrating fine dining and we had our sommelier, Andy Butler, sourcing out the finest wines he could muster out of Vancouver.

Roger Waters is an accomplished fly caster and has fished throughout the world. At this time in June, most of the province was washed out (flooding) but the Chilko has the unique distinction of being B.C.’s clearest drainage and the cerulean blue waters did not disappoint. The fishing was not outstanding but good, and our guests were pleased.

The real highlight for me was listening to Roger tell stories about his 40 years in the music industry. He was charming to our staff and thanked each and everyone personally on his departure. To be candid, I hadn’t heard much about Mr. Waters over the years but perhaps him being so friendly and gracious doesn’t make for much in the way of People Magazine fodder?

I also realized that celebrities must love traveling to places like Chilko Lake so they can just be themselves. They can spend time with their colleagues and friends and not have a camera stuck in their face.

 

In a way, we are as remote as “The Dark Side of the Moon”. But our service is better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildwater, desert dreams and the Canadian inferiority complex

The Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser river corridor is one of North America’s best-kept secrets – and not for good reason.

The Chilko River features the longest stretch of commercially operated whitewater in the North America. In fact, only the Futaleufu in South America and the Klinaklini (the Chilko’s nearby cousin) in British Columbia can rival it for continuous excitement.

The Chilcotin offers a relaxed pace while it wends its way through the Chilcotin grasslands before squeezing back into some dramatic granite canyons above Big Creek. The largest rapids on the chain are on the Chilcotin as you challenge Farwell and Big John canyons before oozing out onto the massive volumes of the Fraser.

Although a handful of whitewater enthusiasts and “B Grade” movie buffs may recognize the White Mile as home to a tragic series of deaths in 1986, the Chilko has never really achieved the notoriety.

ROAM outfitted more trips in 2006 than all the other Chilko outfitters combined. This made up a massive total of approximately 300 paddlers. Yes, I said 300. Despite being a perfectly circuitous waterway – the Chilko flowing into the Chilcotin, which flows into the Fraser – the Chilko River system is still in relative obscurity.

It’s all a bit perplexing.

People wait in line for years and often decades to run a trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. A little closer to the home, and often compared to the Chilko by people “in the know”, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho sees more than 10,000 visitors annually.

The Chilko has impressive water from May through September, while the Middle Fork volumes peak for a few weeks in June. Part of the Frank Church Wilderness of No Return, touted as one of the USA’s best protected wilderness areas, the Middle Fork has lodges, airstrips and no shortage of demand.

Now that’s not to say the Middle Fork is not an amazing river trip – because it is. It offers visitors, 100 miles and 100 rapids – nothing to sneer at – not to mention hot springs, nice walks and cool native art. And the Main Salmon features warm late season waters and big volume rapids with sandy beaches. Its just that the Chilko, which is a puddle-jumper flight from Vancouver and has high water all season, has been lying quietly for three decades of commercial rafting history, waiting its proverbial turn.

Perhaps it is just part of the Canadian culture to simply ignore the fact we have one of the best river trips in the world. Or maybe we are too polite or even afraid to speak up. Not even Tourism British Columbia – who many years ago chastised me for sending them photos (from the Chilcotin) that they thought were from Arizona – has failed to recognize the significance of Chilko River or Chilko Lake for that matter. I guess they were still trying to shake the nasty Mounted Police stereotype that plagued us for years. As it turns out – the headwaters of the Chilko River has an old Mounties outpost!

So…maybe we’ll never reach our “true potential”, but I am one Canadian who is willing to speak up but just as happy to enjoy it the way it is.

The World’s Best River trip remains in the shadows…

This is a great title for this entry since the Klinaklini River cuts through the heart of the Coast Mountain ranges and wraps itself around BC’s highest mountain – Mt. Waddington. Measured at more than 13,000 feet, the vertical relief from sea level to peak is extremely dramatic. Since ROAM completed a first descent of the river in 1997 and a year later pioneering commercial expeditions, the Klinaklini River remains very much in the shadows.

It could be argued that the price tag of such an adventure, $6495 US per person, makes it cost prohibitive for most but when you factor in the outlay of time and money to get to trips like the Firth, Alsek or Tatshenshini, the Klinaklini is right on par and offers incredible value. The river has better whitewater than the rivers mentioned above, equally spectacular scenery and even includes a day of heli-hiking in a location second to none. The weather is definitely more hospitable than Alaska and it is easily accessible out of Vancouver, British Columbia saving at least 2 travel days.

In nutshell, the Klinaklini has it all – big rapids (that can be walked if need be), high grizzly bear populations, moose that watch you (unaffected by our presence) from the shoreline, packs of wolves, glaciers that come straight down to the river’s edge, exciting float plane rides in and out of the river valley, a night at a remote wilderness lodge (Chilko Lake), heli-hiking on a wildflower covered plateau, campsites surrounded by waterfalls and glaciers, and last but most perplexing… no crowds. Less than 200 people have traveled down the river and we still cannot explain why?

New Costa Rica Adventures!

Mention Costa Rica and people think paradise. The rivers and waves are prime, the beauty is staggering and the relaxed pace seductive.  This peaceful bird and wildlife oasis allows active travellers to raft, kayak, hike, snorkel and horseback ride.  Adrenaline junkies can zip line jungle canopies, rapel waterfalls and SUP or surf the Pacific.

Costa Rica can be split into 5 geographical zones of travel. We spent hours agonizing on what types of experiences to offer on our multisport adventures.  The choices are endless, so we are delighted that we managed to condense it to just two itineraries!

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 Premium Adventure

Our new premium surf & multisport itinerary utilizes the Best of the Best.  The luxurious Florblanca Lodge on the west coast and the outrageous Pacuare Lodge in the interior are undoubtedly Costa Ricas’ most unique and special locations. Forblanca is rated #1 in Central America while The Pacuare Lodge is ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 25 ecolodges on the planet.

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Friend & Family Fun

If you are looking for an outstanding adventure trip at a price you can bring the whole gang, then our Costa Rica Multisport based out of Quepos, is ideal for you and your friends.  Participants will be indulged with a plethora of daily adventures designed for all ages and abilities. Raft, hike, surf, snorkel, zip line, rapel down waterfalls – we’ve got it all.

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Why ROAM with us?

Jorge Esquivel was born and raised in Costa Rica. A former national whitewater champ, there are few rivers and valleys he has not explored in his homeland.  ROAM has been visiting Costa Rica since the late 80’s and knows how to craft outrageous adventure experiences that offer extraordinary value for money.

 

 

Zimbabwe delivers again and again

It’s all about perspective…

We just returned from our Zambezi Explorer trip and cannot say enough great things about the country and its amazing people.

africa-2016-024The trip started off in classic ROAM style as we were treated to giraffe, elephant and lion sightings on our very first safari.  Our dip into Botswana for the day to explore Chobe National Park was extraordinary too.   The inflatable kayaking (Africans call it canoeing, but it’s not) on the Upper Zambezi was not without drama as we had very, very close encounters with a few hippos and an elephant herd but everyone returned to our deluxe riverside expedition camp unscathed and excited.  Talk at the table over sundowners, was elevated by our day’s experience.  Rafting the Batoka Gorge of the Zambezi is beyond words…

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One of the greatest aspects of the trip was missing the endless US political election banter.  Without Hillary or Donald talk, we were able to truly soak up the sounds, sights and smells of Africa.  Zimbabwe’s natural wonders can only be out done by its wonderful inhabitants.   I am the first to admit, at times, I feel pangs of guilt or “elitism”.  The juxtaposition of being in a 5 star facility in the Sub-Saharan desert while being attended to tirelessly by our support staff, makes me a little embarrassed about our fretting the political situation at home in North America, be it Trump or Clinton as President.

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Our good friend and lead river guide Mandrise (a.k.a. “Hippo”), who has guided more than 2,200 trips down the Zambezi, lost his life savings when the Zimbabwe dollar tanked in the late 90’s.  The country has a 60 percent unemployment rate, is ranked 155th out of 177 countries for worst corruption and now Hippo’s precious river and resource is going to be dammed to power air conditioners in Johannesburg.  Hippo knows a few things about losses and yet, he continues to be our amazing host always proud to show off his country to foreigners like us.

In Cape Town, we heard that Trump was victorious.  As an outsider looking in, it surprised me a little but not that much.  I was more concerned about the message it sends our children, essentially that lying and bullying gets you ahead, but then I reflected back to thoughts of Zimbabwe and it all seems so trivial.  No matter what your political stripes,  you should visit Africa and see how poverty, corruption, decades of poor leadership and rampant unemployment can only bring you down if you allow it.  America – we’ll be just fine.

 

We have much to learn from our friends in Zimbabwe.  Once you visit and see the people’s unbridled, wholehearted happiness, you may think twice about naive references like “third world”… as the people here are all first-class.

 

ROAM is proud to be working with our friends here and has two scheduled departures to the Zambezi Basin in 2017.  There are also safari extensions visiting Hwange National Park and a Cape Town multi-sport that dovetails perfectly.

 

 

 

 

“Guy Getaways”

There is a very interesting article I received about “Guy Getaways” in the Wall Street Journal.  It talks about extreme adventure escapes and mentions our good friends at Nimmo Bay.  However, I think the writer missed the mark on the difference between decadent luxurious wilderness getaways and extreme adventure.

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Nimmo Bay is one of my favourite places on the planet but cannot seriously be considered cutting edge when the “hostesses tuck you in with blankets around the floating fire pit while serving you fine wines and single malt”.

Maybe just sitting at a fire pit is adventurous when compared to day-to-day existence in mid-town Manhattan, but for me, Manhattan seems far more scary!

 

Very nearby Nimmo, lies the Klinaklini River who’s expeditions are the very epitome of extreme.  Float planes, class V rapids, helicopters, hiking mountain tops, grizzlies and camping at the toe of glaciers… yes, that’s an extreme adventure.  However, I must confess that even on these trips you will eat rack of lamb and wash it down with a great Malbec – so perhaps I should not be so judgemental.  Ironically, we discovered the Klinaklini River in conjunction with Nimmo Bay.  (I think I should have some more humble pie after the lamb).

 

This September up at Bear Camp we are hosting a company called ReBoot.  They have developed a program that helps CEO’s cope with day-to-day challenges and transitioning.  They are combining the decadence of “glamping” at Bear Camp with an “Outward Bound-like” solo experience in the remote wilds of the Coast Mountains.   Neither is “extreme” but will be a lot of fun and the gorgeous topography helps people to be more present and insightful.

Nimmo, Bear Camp, the Klinaklini and all of the cool things listed in the article sound amazing whether you want to call it a “bro cation” or “guys getaway”.   However, I think the most interesting fact at the end of the day is that ROAM’s extreme adventurers are 56% female!

 

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Time to address the elephant in the room

Elephant Camp, which is a key component of ROAM’s Zambezi Explorer trip, has been ranked the 4th best luxury hotel in Africa.

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Making the top 25 list since its inception five years ago, this fantastic private game lodge deserves all the accolades it is getting.  Situated on a private game reserve outside of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the camp features 12 deluxe safari tents and some of the region’s finest cuisine.  Home to both natural and rescued big game, guests can spend sunrises walking with Sylvester, a fully-grown Cheetah that still hunts but was never taught how to kill before being abandoned by its mother as a result of a lion attack.

More important than the decadent surroundings, the recent rise to top 4 must be because of the excellent management and wonderful staff that call Elephant Camp home.  The service here is personalized without feeling colonnial and forced as some other 5 Star camps can be.  As  regular visitors here, we will not be surprised when they are justifiably ranked number 1.

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The best way to experience Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana is on a circuitous journey.  Our trips are designed so you will experience the best of the natural world while staying in exquisite accommodations perfectly suited to their respective environments.

 

Location, Location, Location

These were the wise words of a retail guru I knew as a young lad growing up in Toronto, Canada.  Apparently these words are also echoed for real estate transactions but the premise clearly did not sink in.  Or did it?

Hosting a Grand Canyon trip for my friend and long-time client, billionaire David Bonderman, he introduced me to his old Harvard Law School grads as a “Canadian with remote and obscure real estate tastes”.  Truly this description fits me well as we most recently purchased a waterfront acreage at the head of Chilko Lake and the Chilko River.  It’s a world-class destination but a 12-hour drive from Vancouver through two mountain passes and does not exactly fit the “convenient location” mantra (but our clients arrive by plane anyways!)

I believe, however, David was referencing (okay, we can say mocking) my affinity for remote beachfront in rural Ecuador.  Three years ago while surfing the Ecuadorian coast with my youngest daughter, Grace,  Ecuadorian surf legend, Leo Govea, took me to the quaintest little beach town called Mompiche.  The minute I set foot in Mompiche, I knew it was my paradise.  Long flat beaches, warm waters and tropic breezes, palm-fringed bays and most importantly an idealistic left-hand point break with multiple sessions and a kid-friendly beach break.

I had surfed with Leo in Montanita, Olon, Canoa and a host of other wonderful places in Ecuador but I had never seen anything so user-friendly with the exception of Hanalei Bay in northern Kauai.

Here’s the difference.  Mompiche has no crowds, very few tourists and the friendliest most accommodating surfers one will ever have the privilege of sharing the waters with.  No aggravating wave crashers.  To the contrary, it was obvious I was an out-of-towner (no one else in Mompiche looks like Chuck Norris) and I was given helpful advice, encouragement and in a few instances better surfers peeled off nice waves and encouraged me to jump on.  But if that’s not enough, the clincher for me was affordable beachfront real estate.  


I don’t think you could buy a parking space in Hanalei for what we paid for a small beach lot and building a 3-bedroom house steps from the water.

In fact, I am certain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Kauai and the great state of Hawaii.   I would give my left leg to own a beachfront house in Kauai but its not financially plausible and surfing with one leg is too challenging.

Property ownership in Ecuador is not difficult.  Since acquiring our waterfront, we have helped other friends buy on the beach and get them started with construction of their dream beach homes.  Here’s the cool part – my friend Leo, now a proud father – has been able to give up running a dilapidated hostel and is our main-man on our house development (but is still there to teach surfing).  We are employing a number of people in the community and using local bamboo and wood products in a sustainable fashion.

A developer I am not.  

Instead we are just trying to secure all the property in our stretch of the beach to keep out any prospective resorts or towers from going up and, in my opinion, ruining the character of the beach and fishing village.

Location, Location, Location is true… but it is all a matter of perspective. 

Wine and the River, 2014

I am not drinking it as I write (I swear) but rather musing over ROAM’s evolution as an adventure company with respect to the grape.  I do not know what exactly it is about wine and wineries but ROAM has a long history of being associated with some of the world’s best varietals.  Perhaps chance or simply an issue of demographics?  Or maybe wine drinkers enjoy the wilderness for similar and often the more subtle reasons why they enjoy wine.  I am not sure what it is but there must be some correlation? 

A wonderful guest and avid fly fisherman, Dan Duckhorn, once said to me “if you want to make millions in the wine industry start with a billion.”  He speaks from experience as Dan and Margaret Duckhorn co-founded  Duckhorn Vineyards  who are major producers of wine in California.  A year later, Tom Baldacci came to Chilko on a father-son trip shortly after establishing Baldacci Family Vineyards in the Stag Leap District of Northern California.  Originally a real estate investment, something about the land unlocked Tom’s imagination. 

Working for George and Martha Butterfield in 2000, I learned more about wine in one year than I had learned in my cumulative lifetime.  They are partners in not one, but two different Premiere Cru vineyards in France.  Unknowingly, I once betrayed the Butterfield’s during lunch at a famous New York eatery.  Dining with Tom Matthews of Wine Spectator, I inadvertently agreed with his assertion of a certain bordeaux being tastier than a burgundy we were trying, not realizing it was one of George’s.  Martha quickly defended her husband’s honour by saying “Brian’s palate prefers bulls blood” which was, to be fair, an accurate description.  At that juncture of my life, I was more akin to purchasing wine based on price thus making “on sale” my favourite grape.

As my palate has matured (yes, only my palate has matured), I was lucky to make the acquaintance of Robert Wolfe.  A former wine critic and writer, Bob started a cool organization called the Oregon Pinot Noir Club.  I worked a river trip with Bob when he was sommelier on a fancy-pants Y.P.O. trip down the Colorado.  For those unfamiliar with Y.P.O., its an acronym for Young President’s Organization and is where super successful rich people hangout and travel together.  To join you need a minimum net worth that slightly exceeds my guiding salary. 

After some successful wine trips in California, Oregon and even Idaho, the program moved north and had a variety of interesting guest hosts.  For a number of years we focused on BC wines with local expert, Jon Langilles, from BC Wine Guys who has an extensive knowledge of the great local BC vintners and a cellar to match.  Other trips had vintners, Deb and Dana, from Cantinian Wines in Mendoza covering a variety of Argentine wines and last year the theme was Chilean to be reflective of the great Futaleufu River trips in Patagonia.

For 2014, we have Matt Brewster featuring Spanish and Portuguese wines.  Matt spent many years in the wine importing and sales industry and has personally tasted more than 30,000 wines (a lofty achievement I hope to match one day).  The event will be on the Chilko River June 21st and features two nights at Bear Camp followed by a 6-day river adventure and the longest day of the year for drinking vino around the campfire!

 The Wine on The River Trip is always a joyous event and Mr. Brewster’s notoriously heavy pours will certainly keep things flowing.  If that is not enough evidence that wine and adventure are a perfect pairing, believe Homer as he wrote:
 
“It is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.”

Killing Bears and Tourism with One Shot

The world is going crazy for bears these days.  And for good reason as these kings of the forest are fascinating and magnificent beasts.  The government of Alaska recently announced they are accepting applications for the lottery to visit Katmai National Park or McNeill River State Game Sanctuary.  mcneilriver.adfg.alaska.gov  These are two renowned sites for excellent viewing of brown bears in the wild.  If you have never been there, it is an amazing place and you should add it to your bucket list.

Alaska has brilliantly fostered the bear viewing opportunities they have and now the demand to see these animals in the wild is so high they have to run a lottery almost 6 months in advance.  A total of 185 guided viewing access permits are available for the prime viewing spot at McNeill River and another 55 standby viewing permits are given out allowing participants to stay in a nearby campground where the bears also assemble.

This news was covered in the front page of local and US newspapers and is something wildlife enthusiasts in the USA get excited about.  Applicants pay a $25 per person non-refundable application fee to enter the lottery.  If selected, non-residents pay $350 just for a permit to watch the bears.  Wow!  Alaska really has their act together and have cultivated a fair and thorough process for bear viewing.
Recently ROAM Adventures invested more than $700,000 to open our own deluxe bear viewing camp at the juncture of Chilko Lake and Chilko River.  This area has about the same number of bears (70-100) as McNeill River and we take 12 guests per trip to watch the bears feed on 2 million sockeye salmon spawning right in front of the property.

(Bear Camp – ROAM Adventures – safari style camp with a Canadian twist)

There are other lodges, like Tweedsmuir in Bella Coola and the Huston family who have invested millions in private guest ranches and rely on large quantities of bears to draw tourists.  So recently, to encourage and foster such investment, our forward-thinking British Columbia government has decided to completely eliminate the BC Ferry service to get to Bella Coola (all but giving a tourism death sentence to that area) and wants to re-open grizzly hunting in our valley.

Thanks a lot you wizards of foresight! 
The rest of the world is conserving and worshiping their bears and our province 
wants to shoot them. 

I have no quarrel against subsistence hunting by first nations or locals but I am morally opposed to trophy hunting of keynote species like grizzly, cougars and wolves.  I understand the hunter-gatherer ethos but it is not the 1800’s anymore and I truly cannot wrap my mind around the joy of whacking a bear with a gun from 300 feet, especially when accompanied by a guide like me who finds them.

Its an interesting paradox as I do not recall the BC government filling the airwaves during the Winter Olympics with images of hunters holding up wolf heads of their recent kills.

Sure some folks at Whistler did destroy more than 100 unwanted Huskies once the games were over but I did not think this behaviour was being adopted as new ground breaking economic policy?

Moral issues aside, and looking strictly from a practical and business perspective, it does not take a deep-thinker to realize the sustainable ripple effect of tourists on an economy compared to the economics of hunters.  Simply put, a few RV’s and hunters on quads ripping around the backwoods in “camo” does not create the same employment and tax base for the province as sustainable high-yield tourists who arrive by plane, consume local goods and fill the coffers of more than just a few lodges.

  C’mon British Columbia, we can do better than this. 
Lets follow Alaska’s lead and develop this segment of tourism.

The bear viewing season has extended the traditional tourism operating season and the Chilcotin is world class in this category.  Our bear viewing opportunities rival all of the national parks in Alaska and are much easier to get to and have better weather.  The reality is that the bears coming to the Chilko River travel from the surrounding area, which includes the Klinaklini, and even as far as Bute Inlet.  In my opinion, it would be bordering on insanity to re-open grizzly hunting in this area as it would be sending the wrong message to investors and tourists alike.

Hunting, in my opinion and especially given all the negative press about guns in the US and Europe, is not an area of growth.  It is at only an area of controversy.

As I stated earlier, I have no issue with subsistence hunting for traditional purposes or feeding your family but trophy hunting is not a winning formula for a region that is finally getting some positive momentum in this bleak but slowly improving economy.

Bear Camp was designed and built by BC residents and local artisans.  It draws guests from around the globe as well as locally and utilizes airlines, suppliers, restaurants, hotels, wranglers, other lodges and local employment.  We also operate river rafting, multisport and lodge-based programs through out the province.  There are great rivers and beautiful mountains throughout BC but the opportunity to see grizzlies in the wild sets the Chilcotin apart.

If you agree with my sentiment that grizzly bear viewing is a better strategy than re-opening the grizzly hunt then please take a moment and write our government, get outraged, send this to your friends and please support any efforts to stop the BC government from re-opening the bear hunt.

 Many of us rely on the bears for more than just a rug.

 

“Damming a River” is the Appropriate Word

The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko’s incredible book that we highlighted in our last blog entry, chronicles the effects that Glen Canyon Dam had on the Colorado River and the profound water shortage issues in the Colorado Plateau.  This refresher in History 101 is just the tip of the iceberg and we seem to be forgetting our lessons that 90 percent of the ice is still below the surface.  Like the Colorado, other great rivers around the planet such as the Indus and the Yellow, no longer reach the ocean, turning once-productive deltas into biological deserts.

More than tropical rainforests, marine environments, or coastal wetlands, our freshwater ecosystems are experiencing the greatest loss of biodiversity in history and it is in large measure due to the construction of dams.  

 

Presently, the great river basins of the world are experiencing a new wave of damming.  The Amazon, Congo and the Mekong rivers, each superlative in their contributions to planetary cycles, biodiversity and human livelihood dependence, are in the cross hairs of civil engineers.  Each of these basins are threatened with narrow-sighted schemes that will irreversibly disconnect rivers and cost the planet billions in lost ecosystem services.  The globe’s bursting population and it’s thirst for hydropower  – much akin to crack addicts looking for their next fix – paints an ugly picture on the horizon as burgeoning economies crave electricity to try and industrialize while we, North Americans, have a relentless appetite to fuel our laptops, smart phones and Ipads.

 Africa is considered a land of plenty for the large-dam industry – lots of massive rivers and growing need for electricity.  Hundreds of new large dams are planned for major African rivers. Yet the continent’s existing dams have done little to reduce the continent’s high rates of poverty.  However, four of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams—Kariba, Itezhi-Tezhi, Kafue and Cahora Bassa—have stopped most of the Zambezi’s annual floods with their huge reservoirs.
 

These reservoirs create unsuitable habitat for most river species and the changes to the river have brought great hardships to the people and wildlife of the Zambezi basin.  Erratic and mistimed flooding below Cahora Bassa Dam has adversely affected the living standards of hundreds of thousands of downstream households and will eventually decimate one of the most productive and diverse wetland ecosystems in Africa, the Zambezi Delta.

Some of the most important wetland areas in Africa, such as the Okavango Delta and Kafue Flats, are linked to the Zambezi River system.  Although few places evoke a sense of untamable African wilderness like the Zambezi, efforts to control the river and its tributaries behind large hydroelectric dams have greatly diminished its productivity and diversity.  Nowhere have the consequences been more dire than in the great Zambezi Delta.

The  Zambezi River is already one the most dammed rivers in the world and this autumn, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique reached an agreement to build two more dams on the Zambezi.  The newest dam project in the Batoka Gorge is going to radically alter communities below the falls and completely wipe out the white rafting industry.  Ironically, tourism in Victoria Falls was the only industry that has been stable in Zimbabwe since political and economic unrest nearly annihilated the economy. 

The world will certainly continue to spin without this stretch of whitewater but is certainly a lesser place and I cannot help but feel that nothing in the adventure world is held sacred or has perceived value.  On so many levels it feels blasphemous to be damming a river below one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the Word”.  So, if you ever wanted to experience the world’s greatest stretch of user-friendly whitewater, the time is now.  The plans to build these dams have been on the table for a long time and unfortunately it’s finally happening.

The Batoka Gorge section of the Zambezi is a whitewater mecca.  The volume of water coming over Victoria Falls combined with a seemingly endless, 300-foot deep vertical gorge makes for the most incredible whitewater experience on the planet.  The fact there are virtually no rocks and deep pool-drop rapids, allows paddlers to challenge rapids that were once unimaginable.   Sadly in less than two years, they will only be  “imaginable” as the Batoka Gorge will be flooded right up to the base of the falls.

Thanksgiving and Iconic America

There is nothing more American than Thanksgiving weekend.  In Canada, it happens on the second week of October while the USA is much later.  In either case, and after three decades in the travel industry, it has become apparent to me that this holiday weekend is a focal point for trip planning with friends and family.  And for good reason – the weather has started to turn, days are shorter and it’s a rare opportunity to have a quorum of family members available in person to cast a vote for the next exotic destination.  With more than 45 million Americans flying this weekend, it’s also a time when families are truly connected face-to-face (rather than the a Verizon telecommunications alternative that suggests a family connects through phone and text packages).

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday because there are no religious overtones or gifts involved so one can simply enjoy a long weekend to chill out with family and friends.  And my American neighbours have much to be thankful for in November.  An extra down to get 10 yards in football (we Canadians only need three),  Black Friday for discount electronics (everyday in November day is dark in Canada at these latitudes) and most importantly, the launch of Christmas season shopping and carol soundtracks (two out of three ain’t bad).

OK, all kidding aside if you want to talk “Americana” beyond apple pie and football, what could be more American than a compelling, dramatic and gripping story about the Grand Canyon?  This natural wonder of the world is certainly one of most amazing spectacles on earth and when combined with the dam that blockades it, truly represents the complex psyche of “America” like no other.

With this in mind, I suggest you take some time among the Thanksgiving family mayhem to find a comfortable chair and curl up with the newest adventure book called “The Emerald Mile“.

Written by Kevin Fedarko, a former senior editor at Outside Magazine, it is already being heralded as the greatest adventure story ever written and I couldn’t agree more – even surpassing my former favourite, “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson.   Kevin’s book is also a true story but blends a brilliant mix of history, introspect and drama into a tapestry of adventure that will not allow you to put it down (except maybe for pumpkin pie).  The main story is about the fastest ride in history through the heart of the Grand Canyon during an El Nino flood period at the brink of a near collapse of the Glen Canyon dam in Arizona.

What’s even more exciting is that Kevin is going to be hosting our “Reading the River” series this coming July 19th on the Chilko River.  An eight-day adventure of its own grandeur, the Chilko will make for wonderful campfire readings of the Emerald Mile by the author himself.  How cool is that?   


 The Chilko River could not be more different than the Grand Canyon on so many levels but does boast the longest stretch of commercially navigable whitewater in North America.  It’s free flowing, non-stop Lava Canyon stretch is more akin to what these three crazy river guides pulled off in 1983 during the Colorado’s flooding outlined in The Emerald Mile.

Like the book, every aspect of a Chilko River expedition builds in excitement.  The flight to Chilko is spectacular and makes one realize that we are miniscule in the grand scale of things.  The river is still pristine and you can drink from it without filtration or need to purify.  The “yin” and “yang” of the expedition will overwhelm your senses as we go from relative tranquility to absolute madness in the raging whitewater and back again.

The Chilko River’s energy has yet to be harnessed or impeded by man-made structures like Glen Canyon dam.  The vastness of the British Columbia wilderness is one of the few things that can dwarf the Colorado Plateau and at the end of the trip we drift silently on the mighty Fraser River which is on average 10 times the volume of the modern day Colorado River.

Here’s to hoping that turquoise river, superfluous whitewater, northern lights and surreal sunsets in Chilcotin country will inspire Mr. Fedarko to write another book…   Even if his next book is half as good as The Emerald Mile, we will be waiting anxiously.

ROAM Down Home

With all the discounting going on in the travel business, I was starting to wonder if I was missing something?  My adventure travel colleagues have been laughing at me because I am concerned our industry is becoming commoditized by the Internet.  They suggest I just need to drop prices on our trips in order to combat the slow economy and weather the storm.  Certainly our volume of travelers are down but its our most elaborate and subsequently expensive trips that are still selling best.  Others suggest I “trim some fat” cutting back on services that we provide to shave some costs.  

What to do?

   After much consideration and number crunching – and no matter how clever I try to be – I cannot justify what I would chop out of our existing Chilko River trips, for example, in order to make it cheaper and hopefully a more attractive “price point”. 

 Do I fly guests to Williams Lake and bus them 4 hours to save 200 bucks each on charter airplanes?  Will that make our trips more appealing?  Or how about driving 11 hours from Vancouver instead of flying at all?  Then I had an epiphany…

I cannot make the trip less expensive because all the existing components are crucial.

What about trimming our profit?  Our margins, which my accountants will back me up on this, are so atrocious that I am already in the “labour of love” or even worse “lifestyle job” category.  So shaving profits is clearly not an option unless I want to live in one of our tents.

So the dilemma continues…

My theory is that if your trip is of great quality then people will travel to great ends to participate.  This is true in places like Patagonia or the Himalayas so to appease both trains of thought, we are launching a new series of trips.  

 ROAM Down Home

These are not discounted versions of our existing adventures but rather less expensive trip alternatives in similar or new locales.  Our newest surf trip in Ecuador is one of them.  It is a great program and utilizes wonderful accommodations like the Canoa Beach House as well as excellent guides. 

However the nature of these trip plays to more self-directed opportunities for travelers (that is marketing speak for less included).  People can even choose to rent our properties and do everything else themselves (that’s financial speak for making something but doing less).  The options for additional upgraded services, if required, are plentiful but not included. 

In Peru, 90 percent of our existing clients are opting for the most expensive hotel components on our 2 week lodge-to-lodge trek.  Its an outstanding program worth every penny.  We would never compromise what we believe it the best way to visit Machu Picchu.  But what about all the others who do not travel with us because of costs?  
Presto, ROAM Down Home offers a classic Inca trail camping trip with an active tour of the Sacred Valley or river rafting option.  No five star hotels or lodge-to-lodge trekking on this trip but an excellent valued experience and the ROAM attention to quality and amazing guides. 

Closer to home, we are developing a circuitous 14-day BC Whitewater Explorer trip.  World-class whitewater on a number of BC’s best waterways combined with fun party nights in Whistler.  Sure there’s a bigger time commitment for traversing across southern BC (instead of charter flights) but we hope to attract a younger demographic or those with more time.  

 Our new camping-based Chilko Multisport offers 7 days of activities for less than $2000.  We still have the elegant Lodge at Chilko as our mainstay but many folks love to camp and soak up the great outdoors. 

In the Kootenays, we have the new Nelson Waterfront for vacation rentals or fully-guided multisports offering tremendous value in the marketplace.  Our new Lodge at Mabel Lake sleeps 28 people and is about as cozy and down home as a lodge can get at a price most people can afford.   

Lets be clear, our deluxe departures and custom trips are continuing to grow and are the heart and soul of ROAM.  But at the same time we have recognized that our guests are coming to travel with us in multi-year cycles. 

We believe it is a good idea to have other options to satiate their travel needs whether they are going to college or putting kids through college, starting a family or looking for a family reunion spot, starting their first job or planning their retirement. 

We think their is a place to ROAM for everyone.  ROAM Down Home is a new direction for us and we hope to broaden our appeal.  Two years ago I traveled with a pediatrician who owned the largest cigarette chain store in Wyoming .  He wanted to open up funeral homes so he would be “truly vertically integrated”.  Really.   I don’t think we want to take it to that extreme but do believe we can be more responsive to our guests’ needs at any point in their lives.  My marketing friends call it a “price point strategy” and my dad always reminds me that you get what you pay for.

That being said, we are excited to offer some great trips at great prices, without compromising ourselves or our exisiting product.  Happy Travels from the Crew at ROAM

   

  

 

ROAM is no ugly duckling….or are we?

Recently we became part of a really cool travel network called My Little Swans.  Started by Katrina Garnett as an outflow from requests for information on her personal travel experiences, this is an eclectic collection of top quality, albeit small, travel outfitters who provide personalized travel experiences.  

As part of this process, I was asked to summarize what ROAM was all about and why we were different than the other gazillion internet-based companies out on the world-wide web.  It’s funny to imagine me at a loss for words but I had to pause and ponder.  Below is an excerpt of what I said…

ROAM is a small boutique adventure company that I started back in the late 80’s.  Everyone else was going clubbing to cheesy 80’s music and I was planning remote expeditions to all corners of the earth to get my kicks.  Some things will never change but our trips have become significantly more service-oriented since I started.  We have however maintained our small group size and personalized attention.  I also think we bring sensibility and accountability to the equation without stifling the adventure.

Sadly (because I am a better guide than marketer) we are not a household name for adventure but we have operated trips for Butterfield & Robinson, Mountain Travel Sobek, Off the Beaten Path Adventures, OARS, Natural Habitat, Nimmo Bay Resort and a number of other large companies over the years.  Now that we are long-established, more than 70% of our clients have traveled 3 times or more while another 20% have traveled with us more than 10 times!  Half of our business comes from custom trips and organizing family vacations that no one will forget. (see, happy family to the right)

Although we started out offering outrageous expeditions we have always prided ourselves on amazing culinary experiences, eclectic wine selections and great service-oriented guide staff.  I always tell people that I was never famous, good looking or rich so I had to rely on amazing food, great gear and friendly demeanor.  Some might argue that over the years, friendly demeanor has morphed into blatant sarcasm, but we still have amazing food and gear! 

Oddly, the fastest growing segment of our trips are lodge-based adventures or what we often refer to as “multisports”.  I suppose a multisport can be camping-based (and lord knows we have tried to sell them) but most people prefer “adventure by day and luxury by night”.  The luxurious components of our trips does not take away or diminish the quality of the daily adventures.  These are authentic experiences ranging from swimming with sea lions, to watching grizzlies teach their young, to rappelling down waterfalls to access exciting stretches of whitewater.  We just have remote adventure lodges exclusively for our guests’ use 🙂

The Lodge at Chilko for example, is a 10-million dollar private guest ranch built completely off-the-grid at the north end of Tyslos Park.  A little known gem, just an hour flight from Vancouver BC, the park includes the 55-mile long Chilko Lake which is surrounded by 10,000 foot peaks and no roads or infrastructure.  Our main lodge is where we dine and most of the socializing occurs but guests are outfitted in decadent 1 or 2 bedroom chalets with vaulted ceilings, stunning views and most importantly, privacy.  From here we raft, kayak, wildlife view, bike, hike, heli hike, fish (both spin and world-class fly fishing) as well as horseback ride, ATV and boat on the main lake.  The Lodge can sleep a group of 28 but we only take 12 guests at a time so you can pick and choose your own itinerary.   I think you can get the picture…

Anyways, we have a nice website (albeit a bit utilitarian) www.iroamtheworld.com and I always speak to people directly about any of our trips.  People often ask me what my favourite trip is and I have a stock answer stating whatever one I am on.  However, for My Little Swans they were not taking “no” or any diversion for an answer.  Subsequently, my top three suggestions are as follows:

The Lodge at Chilko Multisport as it appeals to all ages and abilities.  Our Patagonia Multisport for similar reasons then add Argentine wines and beef, and if they want a mind-blowing Alaska trip (Alaska is a crowd favorite for Americans) try the Tatshenshini River Expedition through the world’s largest protected wilderness.  It’s camping-based and rugged but we have done multi-generational trips-of-a-lifetime there.  Dining while glaciers calve into the river and enjoying scotch with 10,000 year old ice is pretty decadent no matter where you have traveled.

Our Own African Crisis

African Safaris (cheap and cheesy or well-planned and extravagant)

As the US struggles with its own budget shortfalls and the “Obama buck” plummets further against international currency, many people are being faced with the same choices the government is needing to make.  Unfortunately for us, the travel industry, is often an indicator species for the global economy.

Our industry has been in flux since the early problems evolved in the stock market.  Like the Bear Stearns collapse, the travel sector led the way for North America as travel, surprisingly to me, is one of the first things people cut back on.  At the same time and for different reasons, the Internet has commoditized the travel market to a certain degree.  Itineraries, at a glance, look similar and it becomes challenging to differentiate one’s offering.

African Crisis

Never has this been more apparent to me as I received a barrage of email offers last week from a reputable travel outfitter offering a Zambezi trip for almost half the price of ROAM’s adventure.  Imagine my surprise when I see a company touting a trip to Africa on the same river for $2555 just weeks after I paired down our Zambezi trip from $5995 to $4700!  Wow what a deal… at first…

Lets look at the facts:

Trip length
Upon closer examination I see they are doing an 8 day trip, not 11 days.  Always read the itineraries carefully to see what IS and IS NOT included.

Who are these people?

There are many different rafting companies operating on the Zambezi.  When I first scouted the Zambezi, I went with a price-point outfitter and found out later (the hard way, sort of) they were re-filling water bottles from the river because they ran out of bottled water and did not carry an “expensive” filter.  It was a great weight loss experience for me and I learned firsthand what they mean when from the old quote “there’s sick, then there’s Africa sick”.  An experience yes, but not something I recommend.

Hotels. 
ROAM uses classic colonial places like the Victoria Falls Hotel and Stanley Livingstone.  You can also go even further upscale to places like the Royal Livingstone.  Consolidators or wholesalers offering lower priced trips (or promoting those who pay the highest commission), will often cut corners by using mediocre and less expensive properties (well away from the falls).  These packages are geared for partiers and backpackers looking for the down and dirty experience.  Been there, done that, decades ago.

Now, it is my philosophy that you traveled half way across the world to experience Africa so you should visit properties which represent the best value for money, not necessarily the cheapest.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with lesser-quality hotels when crashing near an airport but when you have traveled all that way, it seems sensible to get a nicer experience.   
 
Experience
Make sure your trip will have a tour host who has been there before.  If they have not, this is what we call “a familiarization trip”  – something we do at ROAM before taking clients.  At ROAM we do offer a few first descents (and we let people know this upfront) but we never send a client on a trip we have not scouted ourselves.  In fact, that is my favorite part of owning the company 🙂

Safari Lodges
Lastly, not all “safari experiences” are the same.  The ROAM Zambezi trip flies into remote safari camps like Makalolo or Somalisa, complete with luxurious tents, gourmet food, world-class guides for a totally intimate experience.  Others travel by vehicle to Botswana to stay in cheap public campsites and label it as “being on safari”.  These are significantly different experiences.  

Yes, we at ROAM understand the world economy is in the tank but we hope that we can continue to offer unique and well-planned experiences that won’t break your bank account but never will get commoditized.  As some one recently told me, “the foundation of a democracy is that the electorate get what they deserve”.

I will let you be the judge for your travel experiences but at ROAM, we think you deserve the best.

Family Travel is Not a Dirty Word

No rant needed from me this week as I think this letter from one of our guests speaks volumes about why families should travel and in particular with us 🙂

Dear Brian

We have been back for a few weeks and we’ve been re-living all the great moments.  Unfortunately, we only have 2000 photos so we have to go by memory for some things!  Now that life is finally settling back down, I’ve had a chance to get the photos organized and pull this package together for you.  Where to start…

First – Thanks for organizing the trip, arranging Ashley to be our guide (and allowing us to become like a volunteer marketing team for ROAM)

Second- Prior to this trip, if we asked our kids for their idea of a perfect vacation the answer would always involve some combination of Mickey Mouse and a Mexican beach (with a swim up bar).  Now they want adventures!  This is excellent.

Third – You have created a great family-friendly program for us.  If you are not marketing this aggressively, I’d say you should be.  For sure, you are more than welcome to use any or all of our pictures on your website, in brochures…whatever you like.  We had a series of experiences that kept surprising us.  The trip truly exceeded all expectations.  At the start of each day, we’d say that we didn’t know how we’d be able to top the amazing things we saw and did the day before.  Then over dinner each night, we were honestly able to say we had indeed raised the bar again.

Fourth – How are we supposed to improve on swimming with sea lions, hiking in Vulcan Chico, soaking in hotsprings in the Andes, rafting the headwaters of the Amazon, snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles, watching dolphins dancing on our bow wake in the moonlight, looking for bugs on night hikes, seeing marine iguanas on the beach where we were building sand castles, riding horses amongst volcanoes and glaciers, seeing giant tortoises, watching boobies dive all around the boat, standing on the equator, seeing a baby hammerhead swim circles around the boat, staying in haciendas and jungle lodges, and sleeping on deck so sea lions could wake us up.  We’ve been ruined!

Fifth – What a treat to meet your crew, Ashley, Juan Fernando and Arturo as they are all EXCELLENT – great people and great fun.  You were right that we would love Ashley.  She was perfect in everyway and went way beyond the call of duty to be sure the kids and adults were having a wonderful time.

Sixth – Visiting the Ecuadorian mainland is totally under-rated experience.  It should be on the world’s top ten list.  The people are spectacular, the scenery is unbelieveable, the food was great, the price was right and its not touristy.  We were so focused on the Galapagos that we had not spent much time anticipating the second part of our amazing trip.  It was fantastic.

Seventh – It woudln’t have been an adventure if Harry hadn’t fallen off a horse, Catharine hadn’t fallen off a bike, Elizabeth Anne hadn’t been bitten by a dog and I had not broken a toe (I think) as it is not as straight as it used to be.  Those were some of the memorable moments.  Very cool to say ” I fell off a horse in Ecuador”

Eighth – It was fun to see places that we remembered from the website and your daughter’s photo album.  It was not hard to imagine you and the girls chilling out on the beach at Isabela.  In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to relocate to Isabela!  But Beto’s margaritas (especially the second one) should come with a warning label.

Ninth – we appreciated all your help and intimate knowledge about the areas.  It was great to get advice from a parent’s perspective as well as your naturally adventurous side

Tenth – We are looking forward to planning our next ROAM Vacation

Thanks
The Armstrong Clan
Bob, Elizabeth-Anne, Harry, Alison and Cookie

Being Chuck

Over the last 2 years a very strange phenomenon has been occurring.  It’s not something totally foreign to me as it was pointed by my grandmother 20 years ago, however, it has resurfaced with a vengeance.  It’s not something I embraced initially but I have begun to understand it better over time.

Apparently I look like Chuck Norris…

I couldn’t be lucky enough to look like Brad Pitt or George Clooney.  No, instead it’s the martial arts movie man also known as Walker, Texas Ranger.  I would have been OK with it if it stopped at a cameo fight appearance in “Return of the Dragon” or B-grade cult classic “Delta Force” but really…Texas Ranger? 

Don’t even get me started about “Lone Wolf McQuade”

As stated earlier, almost 2 decades ago I was visiting my grandmother donning a beard (me, not my grandmother) when she told me to shave as I looked like that “hoodlum” Chuck Norris.  The reference didn’t sink in nor did I really see the resemblance at that time but I was impressed grandma even knew who Chuck was.  I once was accused of looking like the Honeycomb Kid (on the cereal box) but Chuck is a lot shorter and a frankly older than yours truly.

In 2009, it reared its ugly head again – in a diner in Kamloops, British Columbia.  Predominantly a mill town, the diner was a place where it was plausible the patrons owned Chuck Norris VHS box sets.  Our waitress told me her co-workers thought I looked like Chuck Norris.  Without hesitation, and for those who know me you will not be surprised, I told her I was Chuck Norris.  She fist pumped and enthusiastically shouted “I knew it”.  After signing a menu for the diner wall, we enjoyed our complimentary meal and left the restaurant with a good chuckle. 

Perhaps knowing that you look like Chuck Norris leads one to carry his subconscious persona?  Nah just kidding… but the recognition did start to escalate soon after as Ashley and I made our way to Africa to run the Zambezi and climb Kilimanjaro.  In our first airport, a few security people joked that I looked like Chuck and we moved through unencumbered.  It wasn’t until  Victoria Falls trying to catch a charter flight to Hwange National Park that dividends stared to flow.  We had recovered the lost bags of another guest and were trying to get the overweight load through a backlog at the check-in desk. 

I was told that one bag was allowed and there were no exceptions.  I tried to explain the additional bags belonged to a 70-year old woman but was not making headway.  This is when “Being Chuck” became very helpful.  One of the intervening supervisors was convinced I had traveled with them before.  I assured him that I had not but was scouting the region for future business.  He was persistent and asked me why I looked so familiar?  Seizing the opportunity, I told him I was Chuck Norris, Texas Ranger and reached across the counter with a firm handshake.

He was so pleased to have a Chuck flying with his airline that we were escorted past security and straight out on to the tarmac.  The excess bag issues were as far behind us as the rest of the tourists waiting in the massive line up.  Being Chuck certainly had some advantages (although I’d still rather look like George Clooney). 

 Two weeks later on Kilimanjaro, the porters would fight each morning over who would carry my bags.  We also noticed our tent was pitched in prime locations at every camp.  I realized that this could present a problem for our paying guests and tried to get our lead trekking guide, Festo, to break it to them gently that I was not Chuck Norris.  The porters refused to believe him as they had been bragging to other groups of porters and would not retreat.  The word is that Chuck Norris films and shows are the rage these days on buses in Zimbabwe.  Who knew?

Later in early 2010, I was also identified as Chuck when traveling through Argentina.  We became further beneficiaries by not being hassled in markets or late-night on the streets Buenos Aires as well as special treatment in hotels, restaurants and shops.  New arrivals to our Futaleufu trip were skeptical of our claims until they all received 25% off their purchases at a local leather shop. 
  
In Mendoza, I made a comment to Ashley about a group of men who were ogling her in high heels and shorts as we were headed out for dinner.  Much to both of our surprise, they yelled “Hey Chuck” and were all very pleased when I waved in acknowledgment (Ashley also wishes I looked like George Clooney or Brad Pitt!).  That aside,  the ultimate success in this phenomenon was when I missed a connection in Buenos Aires recently.  The nice folks at American Airlines rescheduled me on a Miami flight a few hours later but warned me it was oversold and unlikely I would get on.  When asked if I get told I look like Chuck Norris, I said I was Chuck.  Despite having a Canadian passport with my name on it, I was immediately confirmed and upgraded. 

The benefits of Being Chuck are growing everyday.  So much… I feel obligated to purchase a Total Gym in Chuck’s honour.   With no assembly required, easy storage, convenient payment plans and a money back guarantee how could I go wrong?

Cheers,
Canuck Norris

Follow the Leaders

Its mid-October and the North American adventure season wrapped up since the first of the month. Our final trip of the season could not have been better. We were treated to the largest salmon run on the Chilko River in 98 years, fantastic weather and exceptional bear viewings at Chilko Lake. We watched sows and cubs at close range while our Bears & Whales trip the week prior witnessed a super-pod of more than 60 Orcas.

During the trips the guides are often asked what we do in the off season. Simply put, I would say “more of the same”

Ashley is updating photos on our Facebook site but hiking with Eddy and riding daily. Amy and Niels are surfing in Tofino (Amy cracked her head and got six stitches last week) while Niels was editing his Cotahuasi video. I prefer warmer water so I am working out details for an upcoming Ecuador surfing safari and a new Mexico mainland surf trip.

Mark and Penny are walking the dogs and tuning skis for this winter. Jorge is off climbing Kilimanjaro then paddling in Bhutan before heading to Futaleufu. Chef Cristian is eating at Burger King before heading to gym while Liam is driving a fleet of kayaks to the Baja before joining Brian and Ashley in Ecuador. Josslyn is in New York trying to be discovered by music agents while Chef Nicole is busy catching up with her crazy Frenchman, Jonathon, and shredding the valley’s single track on mountain bike.

The other reality is paperwork… lots and lots of paperwork. ( I do not know how you guys do it all year!). British Columbia was blessed with a new tax for adventure travel. Its called the HST which has thrown another wrench into doing business in BC. That’s another post altogether so don’t let me get me started…