A Modern Day Marco Polo?
Some of Dave’s long-time friends have been bugging him to do a book about his extraordinary travels and far-flung adventures. One of them, a travel buddy and author of several books on adventure travel, and who dubs Dave a “modern day Marco Polo,” is particularly incessant on the subject. Dave argues that he doesn’t have time for such and cites the fact that his “bucket list” is far from being checked off – with still more places to go and things to do. His author pal has, however, convinced him that he should at least make a list to inventory the many places he’s visited and the incredible adventures that have unfolded during his travels.
Dave decided to do the list and after probing his memories from more than three decades of travel and delving into boxes full of old notes, itineraries, maps and some of the more than 1,000 articles he’s written, he’s retraced the most noteworthy of his peregrinations in the paragraphs to follow. He describes the exercise as wonderfully cathartic and the results astonishing – even to him. So is he a modern day Marco Polo? Read on and decide for yourself.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Wyoming born and bred, Dave grew up in a motor-minded family (his dad was in the car business) and he learned to drive – or to steer at least – when he was but four years old, sitting on his dad’s lap at the wheel of the family Buick. He traveled with dad on business trips throughout the West and family vacations coursed the region, taking in such wonders as Yellowstone and the Tetons, the Dakota Badlands, Yosemite, Route 66, Santa Fe, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Another memorable journey – to New Orleans for Mardi Gras – came when he was 10 and dad let him drive the entire trip. So you can begin to get the picture of how Dave became infected by the travel bug, and how he acquired his intense and lasting affinity for drive trips.
Dave just plain loves to drive and he’s taken to the wheel on highways and byways around the world – and to many places where there are no roads. His first press trip, in 1980, was to Iceland, an amazing land of ice and lava so enamoring to Dave that he returned the following year with an assignment from Travel Holiday to drive the 832 mile Ring Route around the island’s perimeter. Although cautioned not to try it alone during the summer glacial runoff, Dave took it on anyway, in a Russian-made jeep, fording turbulent rivers and dodging volcanic steam vents and fumaroles. He made it, and it was pure fun for him – plus making a great cover story for TH. But it was a mere hint of the adventure and intrigue in store for him on an epic trek the following year.
A TRANS-AFRICA ADVENTURE
In November, 1981, Dave was invited to join a group of international journalists on a 17-day trans-African trek from Tunis, Tunisia to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with Dave at the wheel (where else?) of a durable Defender 109 diesel Land Rover, following a circuitous route across vast stretches of the Sahara Desert and passing through parts of Algeria, Morocco, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana. Aside from being stopped by an Algerian Army unit and briefly jailed for possessing demon alcohol, the trip’s most interesting and exciting moments occurred in Ghana where the group was received by the Ashanti “Gold King,” Opuku Ware II, adorned in stylish robes and pure gold sandals, seated on a massive throne of Gold. Only days later, the group had to make a run for the border in the face of a military coup, fleeing an onrush of tanks, artillery and machine gun toting troops.
During the early to mid-1980s Dave was specializing almost entirely on adventure travel. His magazine and newspaper articles caught the eye of a New York advertising agency that represented RJ Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes. The agency was busy at the time developing a series of adventure trips under the banner Camel Expeditions – preparing to launch a major print ad campaign in a variety of men’s and sports magazines -- the obvious purpose of which was to gain brand exposure following the ban on tobacco advertising on television.
The agency hired Dave to help promote the trips by arranging a well-financed two-week, 15-city media tour, utilizing Dave as an “adventure travel expert” spokesman. But first they sent Dave on several Camel Expeditions, figuring he’d speak of them (by name, of course) during the 22 TV, radio and newspaper interviews arranged for him. Dave recalls one of them in particular – a 92-mile guided canoe trip along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, during which a massive bull moose – panicking when surprised by the silent approach of his canoe – charged and upset the craft, spilling he and his paddling companion -- but fortunately sparing them any injury.
Heralded as a success, the media campaign propelled Dave into involvement in an even bigger RJR promotion, an international off-road rally series, the Camel Trophy, staged in remote jungle regions around the world. These events pitted two-man teams from a dozen countries in staged rally competitions covering a minimum of 1,000 miles. Dave was tapped to serve as press liaison and photographer for two of those events – in Papua New Guinea and Zaire. First, however, RJR sent Dave to Land Rover’s factory off-road driving school for three-days of intensive instruction, including the all-important practice of winching.
He would need it, navigating his muscular V-8 Rover press car across PNG, from Port Moresby to Madang on a course that traced the historic WWII Bulldog Trail. It was a tough and treacherous trek for Allied forces attempting to drive the Japanese out of the South Pacific -- as it was for Trophy contestants – slogging through swampy, leech and mosquito infested jungles and then climbing up and over the fog-shrouded, bitterly cold central mountain range, and down again into the jungles of the island’s northern coast. Dave recalls it as not being much fun for most of the way and downright frightening at others, especially when the event was held up for two days near the highlands community of Wabag due to tribal warfare.
IN THE CONGO
The following year, 1983, the event shifted to Zaire, where drivers – Dave again manning the press car -- faced an even more miserable jungle trek following the Congo River from Kinshasa to Kisangani. Winching vehicles from potholes along the muddy track was a daily, sometimes hourly, routine and heavy rain sometimes stopped the event entirely. Temperatures hovered in the 110-115 degree range most of the way, mosquitoes swarmed the convoy, but Dave remembers it was the two-inch long wasps, capable of rendering a deadly sting – that kept him on edge. Meals were limited to military rations and most of the 16 nights were spent sleeping in the Rover as there was no place suitable to set up a tent. It was definitely tough going, but the camaraderie among contestants and support personnel and the opportunity to explore a region of the world few will ever see left Dave with fond memories of Camel Trophy ’83 and the Congo.
Although it might not seem so, Dave wasn’t always a glutton for punishment behind the wheel, enjoying innumerable road trips under less extreme conditions – although he did once make the dusty and demanding drive across Australia’s “Red Center” from Ayers Rock to Brisbane and traversed Baja’s Trans-peninsular Highway a couple of times. But he’s also taken a spin along some of the world’s most notable and scenic paved routes, such as the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, New Zealand’s Milford Road, Canada’s Cabot Trail, Ruta 40 in Argentina, Norway’s Atlantic Road, the Dades Valley/Gorge highway in Morocco, and Route SS163 along the Amalfi Coast of Italy.
Dave also has driven the highways and byways of all 50 states. His favorites are those making up the network of 150 National Scenic Byways. He’s wheeled along many of them, particularly those designated All-American Roads, the best of the best, and he’s done 22 of the 31, from Maine’s Acadian Byway to the Florida Keys Scenic Highway – to Montana’s Beartooth Highway and California’s Pacific Coast Highway. He rates the Big Sur section of the latter as tops among them all and says he’s driven it at least several dozen times.
In fact, back in the early 1960s when he was working as an engineering writer at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Maria, CA, he “practiced” on that Big Sur route at the wheel of his race-prepared Jaguar XK120 preparatory to engaging in his hobby at the time, sports car racing. Dave had a real need for speed back then and raced his Jag and other cars in Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) amateur or club racing program over a period of 11years. He had aspirations of going pro and did drive several times in professional endurance events in the early 70s – twice in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. In retrospect, he says he made the much wiser choice of returning to school – at the University of Florida -- where he earned a degree in journalism. It was a life-changing move that launched him on a course to become a writer/photographer, which eventually led to his long and laudable career as a freelance travel journalist.
ON THE TRAIL
Always fit and vigorous – and still so in his 70s – Dave has taken to plenty of the world’s hiking trails, sidewalks and cobblestones in search of stories and photos. He’s hiked portions at least of the Appalachian Trail, California’s Coastal Trail, Florida National Scenic Trail, Crest Trail in New Mexico, Grand Canyon Rim and Bright Angel Trails in Arizona and many others. He’s hiked the Atacama Desert in Chile, the steppes of Mongolia, the track to Machu Pichu, and the Valley of Petra in Jordan.
Dave has worn his Nikes to a nub along the streets and passageways of the some of the world’s most ancient cities, among them: Ephesus, Olympia, Sparta, Amman, Jerash, Istanbul, Luxor, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Jericho, Lisbon, Athens, Rome, Messina, Cadiz, Lisbon, Dubrovnik, Fez, Agra, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Borobudur, Angkor, Xi’an, Cartagena, Cuenca, Chichen Itza, Tulum and Monte Alban.
True to his Piscean nature, Dave is at home on the water as he is on land, and so he’s done a fair bit of cruising. He’s boarded more than 50 cruises, covering most of the world’s oceans, seas, rivers and other waterways. His most interesting and offbeat voyages have taken him to Antarctica (three times), the Greenland Sea and Svalbard Archipelago, the Aleutian Chain from Alaska to Russia, the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, most of Oceania, including Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, West Africa on a Lindblad voyage from the Cape Verde Islands to Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea Bissau (first cruise ever to sail the navigable length of the Gambia River), a Middle East voyage with a Suez Canal transit and calls in Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Bahrain and Saudi Arabia -- and his favorites among them all – five pleasure-packed sailing charters in the Greek Isles.
Continental Waterways opened Dave’s eye to the pleasure of canal barging when they hired him in the mid-80s to do brochure photography. Spending nearly a month in France, he drifted along the Upper and Lower Burgundy Canal, Canal Du Midi, and the Canal Lateral a la Loire/Briare Canals. He also experienced another unusual canal encounter, joining a diminutive vessel named Juno for a cruise along Sweden’s Gota Canal, his cabin so tiny that he had to assume a tight fetal posture to fit in his bunk.
Later, Dave was hired, once again for brochure work, by Viking River Cruises and over a couple of years’ time sailed most the company’s itineraries, including the Saone, Rhone, Main, Seine, Moselle, Danube and Douro Rivers in Europe, the Volga in Russia and the Yangtze and Irrawaddy in Asia. Dave also has made the delightful voyage along the St. Lawrence Seaway and Ontario’s 1000 Islands onboard the Canadian Empress; the Columbia and Snake Rivers with American Cruise Lines’ paddle wheeler Queen of the West, and has paddled the Mississippi onboard the old Delta Queen. Among his other notable river voyages: The Nile, Amazon and the Sepik River in New Guinea.
How about trains? -- someone is sure to ask. Dave says he enjoys train travel (great for falling asleep to the clickety-clack of wheels on rail) but hasn’t done much of it because it’s a mode that makes photography difficult. He has made some classic trips, however, traveling the Simplon Orient Express from Venice to London; the Orient Express “Road to Mandalay” run in Myanmar; the Royal Scotsman rail journey through the Scottish Highlands, and a wonderful steam-powered train trip with Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Durban, South Africa.
There have been so many other memorable and exciting moments that Dave simply can’t recall them all but some that do pop to mind rather readily include: walking the Great Wall of China; spending a week living with the monks of Mount Athos in Greece; photographing the Great Migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara; climbing to the “Eagle’s Nest” Monastery in Bhutan; flying over Venezuela’s Angel Falls in a vintage DC-3; witnessing Carnival in Brazil; photographing the treasures of the Louvre; shooting a genuine voodoo ceremony in Haiti; being hired as a photographer by the Olympic committee for the Lake Placid Winter Games, and even better, being assigned to cover the Torch Run from Yorktown, VA to Lake Placid – with an opportunity of a lifetime to take a brief run with the actual Olympic Torch! – a very special moment indeed.
RICH IN EXPERIENCE
So there you have it…and getting back to the question about Dave’s being a modern day Marco Polo – his journeys obviously will never make the history that Polo’s remarkable passage through Persia, much of Central Asia and to China and its riches did back in the 13th century. With thanks, however, to jet aircraft and other modern day modes of transportation, Dave actually has traveled much more of the world than did Marco Polo. There's been no great fame or fortune for Dave, but he's okay with that...being more than happy to settle for the memories, the knowledge and understanding he’s gained and the joy of sharing his travels with others through his words and photos.