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Global Adventure: Sixteen Rapid-Fire Questions with Ben Stookesberry
Posted on August 27, 2015

Ben takes a much needed drink en route to the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda.

A global expedition kayaker who needs no introduction, Ben Stookesberry has been the expedition instigator for more than 120 first descents on sections of Class V or Class VI rivers in 36 countries. He’s also been named one of the “50 Most Adventurous Men” by Men’s Journal and created award-winning adventure films that have thrilled at the Banff Film Festival. It goes without saying that he knows a thing or two about global travel, which is why we tapped him as the eighth and final member of our guide and athlete team to provide some travel tips and stories for Adventure Travel Month on the Live Your Adventure blog.. —LYA Editor

The expedition-loaded truck waits for tire repair in Brazil. P: Korbulic

What is the most off-the-beaten-path destination you’ve ever visited?

Africa is a place that resists the notion of a “beaten path.” Sure, a place like Zambia has one in Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya) and surroundings. But on the second-largest continent on earth, even a relatively small country like Zambia is big. We spent at least 24 hours of overland trucking and endured seven flat tires before arriving in northern Zambia, close to the headwaters of the Congo River in the Kalungwishi.

What is the oddest way you’ve gotten from point A to point B?

The “road” to the Kalungwishi dead-ended in a village where we landed like space invaders, the first westerners to arrive in at least a generation.  Still more than 20 miles from Kalungwishi headwaters, the locals assembled the town bicycle fleet to take us and our gear way up into the bush. The bikes were something out of a post-apocalyptic movie, where the only remaining rusted, beat-up parts somehow still functioned—or barely functioned—at the same time. Five hours later, we were slogging waist-deep through a 2-mile-wide bog that surrounded our destination river on all sides.  This was a place we had no earthly reason to go other than to kayak, and people who had no real reason to help us other than curiosity and hearts of gold.

What is the most spontaneous trip or stopover you’ve ever taken?

I had only a vague idea of how we were going to get into and out of Colombia on my first trip there in 2003. At that time, the war between military, paramilitary, and guerrilla sides was festering. The decade after the assassination of Pablo Escobar had created a vacuum in the narco power structure of the planet. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and that was probably a good thing.

So I followed someone who did—or at least confidently pretended to—my friend/tour leader Shannon Linnannes. We “worked” for a ride on a sailboat from Panama to Cartagena, then hitched a ride to a friend’s house in Medellin in a cross-country truck, tried to make a first descent in the Colombia Andes, narrowly avoided a dangerous confrontation with a paramilitary force, and then caught a multi-day bus out of the country, 5,000 miles south through Chile. That was the first trip of several to Colombia, and I am happy to report that today, Colombia is a magical tourist destination. But in that first trip what became clear to me is that in travel, like life, nothing truly great happens without taking a risk.

What is your best source for beta on a new destination?

There is no substitute for making a good local contact, and understanding the place with their help.

Describe your best layover in 50 words or less.

My favorite layover is in São Paulo, Brazil. To some it sounds like a big, nasty city… and it is. But I have friends there, which is really what can turn a layover into a home away from home. Plus the airport is less than two hours away from great beaches and great interior destinations, like mountains and rivers.

 

What was your best-ever, pre-planned, 72-hour adventure?

Mountainfilm in Telluride, Colorado, over Memorial Day is one of my favorite long weekend adventures. Lots to do from afternoon into the evening in terms of the film festival. In the morning, you are surrounded by adventure in one of the most beautiful valleys in the Rocky Mountains.

What is the most remote place you’ve escaped to in a short time window?

From Chico, California, we can be in the heart of a place called Bald Rock Canyon and back home in less than eight hours. It’s a magical place that marks the northern boundary of the legendary Sierra Nevada.

What is your best tip for finding great local food in a strange place?

I say resist using the Internet as a resource.  Find someone local who has no reason to send you anywhere other than their favorite eatery, and then try it out. Of course, the best food is always a home- cooked meal.  It’s something that money can’t buy, so you’ll have to figure out what will.

What is your best packing tip for short trips?

Don’t check a bag. Make sure your carry-ons will fit in the smallest overhead compartment and under your seat. Better yet, just go car camping and/or backpacking to enjoy your own “backyard.”

Three key pieces of clothing you pack for short trips?

BC Ultralight rain shell, Eddie Bauer Flash Amphib shoes, and First Ascent Guide Pro Pants.

 

What is one item that you always pack on your journey?

A pen and something to write on.

Duffel, rolling bag, or backpack? Why?

I always like the ability to carry a backpack because I always want to find myself in a place where a rolling bag won’t cut it, and the distance may be too far for carrying a duffel.

What is your perspective on travel in 50 words or less?

Travel is different from holiday, because it implies work. So the more you love or are in love with what you are about to do, the less it will seem like work. And on that same note, the more that you understand the fact that it is work and that there will be challenges along the way, the more you will embrace those challenges as part of the adventure.

What is your favorite place in the world to visit? One reason why?

Arunachal Pradesh, India, is my favorite place in the world to visit because it has a population density much closer to Alaska’s than the rest of the country, and there are still many free-flowing rivers, in an area just a third the size of Colorado, that are bigger than the Colorado River.

What is your number one rule as a traveler?

Patience takes precedence over everything else.

If you could go anywhere for a 3-day adventure, where would it be?

As a kayaker living in Chico, California, I would be remiss not to mention Fantasy Falls.  It’s a three-hour drive to where we drop off the back side of Bear Valley ski area with our kayaks to spend two to three days in the 3,000-foot-deep canyon of the Upper Mokelumne, which can only be described as Fantasy Falls!

Ben, checking his email remotely in the heart of Africa.

 

Check out the Travex series of adventure travel gear Ben packs on his journeys at eddiebauer.com.

Author: - Thursday, August 27th, 2015
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