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This New Mexico adventure

August 03, 2011|By Joe Puglia

In 1860 Sir Richard Burton, the famed British explorer, departed for Africa to discover the fabled source of the Nile. As a child, I was fascinated by Burton. I read his biography, “The Collector of Worlds.”

Edward the VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, was once asked, “If you can be anything, what would you be?” Edward immediately responded, “I would be Richard Burton.”

Sir Richard spoke to our very core, our need for adventure, with all its requisite danger and wildness. This is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of humanity.

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Hannibal crossed the Alps. Marco Polo left for China. Magellan sailed west. Amundsen raced for the South Pole while Perry went north. Charles Lindbergh soared across the Atlantic. And, just the other day, my girls left the house for the first time on their own, bicycling to Georgee’s for a slice of pizza. They didn’t understand the root of their excitement. Adventure begins with running away from home.

There are foundational questions that cannot be answered by sitting in front of the television. Who am I? What am I made of? What am I destined for? Adventure defines us. We learn who we are and who we are not.

I write these thoughts traveling in an old Ford van with 11 college kids, heading for the Valley of the Gods in southeastern Utah. The white lines of the road disappear beneath us as we cut through the Colorado Plateau. The driver in our support truck, which is laden with equipment, waves out the window, trying to make sure we notice the massive mesas that surround us.

This adventure marks the 30th year that I’ve been taking students on Rocky Mountain adventures, teaching wilderness philosophy, Native American mythology and how to survive on the land. It’s a two-week rugged backpack trip with perilous river crossings, torrential rains, incessant heat and exhausting hikes.

My objectives are few. I goal is to leave my students with a sense of place and adventure. I also hope to bring everyone back intact.

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