Inspirational Travellers – Part 2

Mountain_Latin America

Sometimes, someone in life lands right in your path and completely blows your mind. Harold is one of these people and he did this with all he’s achieved, the lessons he’s learned and his outlook and demeanour. A world explorer, in the true sense of the phrase, he’s been pretty much everywhere. Anywhere he hasn’t been is on his list. He’s not only an inspirational traveller, but an inspirational person too.

I want to introduce Harold to you as I met him and then let you into a window of his world. I was lucky enough to get an insight into his life over the three weeks we travelled through Peru. Tall, strong and proud in stature but gentle by nature, Harold is one of those people who is genuinely interested in all you have to say and all you have done.

It worries me now that if I’d only met Harold briefly, I would never have had the opportunity to learn about his life and his travels. He’s too nice and too unassuming to push any information on you. He prefers to listen and ask questions, learning all he can about others and their travels. I’m pretty sure he let me ramble on for ages before I slowly began to learn about his life.

So why is Harold so special? An Exploration Geologist by trade, Harold has lived and worked on every single continent, yes all seven. Not just lived in, as in sat in a box of a home and walked to work every day. He’s truly lived. Many of his years were spent living in tents out in the wilds of both extreme heat and extreme cold, exploring for gold and base metals. Some of his commutes have included canoeing to work in North Canada and taking a daily helicopter in Alaska.

One of Harold’s experiences, that I can’t even begin to get my head around, was during an Antarctic Expedition in 1961-1962.

“After my professor, Ed Thiel, was killed in a plane crash, five of us lived in small tents for more than four months and travelled over 500 miles by ski. We were weather-bound by white-out conditions in a small two-man tent only a few hundred miles from the South Pole. The danger of crossing unknown crevasse fields was outweighed by the deep satisfaction of seeing sights never before seen by man.”

“I chose to live and work in wild and remote places… simply because I loved the challenge and adventure of unknown wild places. In my daily working life I had the priceless personal satisfaction of solving geological mysteries and understanding, however imperfectly, events that happened millions or even billions of years ago. My reward was the freedom of wilderness, the excitement of the hunt for mineral deposits and, rarely, the euphoria of economic discovery.”

A career like Harold’s and experiences so extreme may seem unobtainable to you and I. But are they? Why can’t you push the conventional boundaries too. How do you make a life like this happen?

“I grew up (1936-1954) in modest and near ideal conditions in a small town in rural northeastern Missouri and decided I wanted to be a scientist. During my first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) I gained a sudden insight that changed my whole life. One afternoon, during a long and boring four-hour chemistry laboratory, I was doing an experiment to determine the identity of an unknown substance. From time to time I stole a glance out the window at the sunny, tree-shaded green grass of MIT’s Great Courtyard. Suddenly, I realized with crystal clarity that I didn’t want to spend my life indoors in a laboratory or sitting at a desk.

“I still wanted to be a scientist so what could I do? I had never heard the word ‘geology’ before MIT but I declared a geology major in my sophomore year because it seemed a way to combine science with outdoor adventure and travel. The required MIT summer field geology camp in Nova Scotia—an idyllic summer of living in a tent and mapping rocks–convinced me that geology was a good choice.”

So obviously we’re not all gifted with a scientific mind… I for sure am not. But, I think the big lesson here is to follow your passions. You don’t have to conform to what the dusty old career’s advisor tells you from his long list of bog-standard jobs. If you love the outdoors get out there and find a way of earning your cash surrounded by nature. Don’t live life boxed in and retire with a whole load of ‘what ifs’ and a face like a smacked ass.

I trekked The Inca Trail with Harold, a man who’s got a passion for mountains and trekked so many, what an absolute honour. Harold did this trek in memory of his grandson Kevin who lost a battle to a rare childhood cancer. He taught me a valuable lesson on The Inca Trail: go at your own pace and follow your own path. Everyone’s quick to compete in life and in every day tasks, but it’s not a competition. The journeys, whether physical or metaphorically speaking are there to be enjoyed. Don’t rush, keep your eyes and ears open and take it all in.

I’m still in touch with Harold now and he’s just updated me on his latest adventures. I don’t like to dwell on Harold’s age as it’s pretty irrelevant – he has the energy of a 25 year old explorer, my god I can’t even begin to imagine what he was like at 25. But he is 78 and has just returned from a Canadian Arctic boat trip and then driven 3,000 miles in 3 weeks across mid-west America, exploring and visiting his family. A true inspiration, I’m sure you’ll agree.

“The arctic was great, although there was so much ice we had to make major changes in our itinerary through part of the Northwest Passage. We flew from Edmonton, Alberta to Resolute, an Eskimo settlement of about 1,500, at about 75 N, or about 900 miles south of the North Pole. We then cruised through the various islands and inlets and around the top of Baffin Island to Pond Inlet, another Eskimo settlement and on to Iqaluit, a town of 7,000 Eskimos at the south end of Baffin Island. The ship, the Akademik Ioffe, carries about 100 passengers and we made numerous zodiac landings. We saw 20 polar bears on the ice, probably 100 whales of various kinds and numerous varieties of birds. Also many very large icebergs that had drifted over from Greenland. I find the intense colors, bizarre shapes and essential purity of icebergs fascinating.”

Harold writes diary entries for every single adventure and has published three books with another on his way. He also maps out his journeys as they happen with a paper map in hand, marking in pencil every town and village passed. He often shared it around our group so we could see exactly where we’d been and where we were heading. It’s all too easy to forget the actual path you are taking and marvel in your journey. I’m hoping Harold’s latest book (all about his adventures) will be available online, so I’ll be sharing details when it’s published.

I’ve learnt so much from Harold and I’d urge you all to scratch below the surface of everyone you meet. Don’t interrogate but ask questions and listen to the answers. Listen carefully and allow other’s knowledge to broaden your horizons. I can’t guarantee you’ll meet someone like Harold but you don’t want to let an inspiring person slip through your fingers without learning a little more about them and their fascinating life.

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