Cabo San Lucas
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Airports suck…unless you’ve got a backpack and a ticket to Machu Picchu

Airports suck. There really isn’t a more eloquent way to say it. In the last month I have flown to Indianapolis once and Los Angeles twice. I may have to make another trip next week. The cities are different, but the destination is always the same—a hotel conference room with no windows.

As a South Dakotan, I am most comfortable when I can see the horizon in every direction. Standing under a wide-open prairie sky I can see further, breath deeper and think more clearly.

When I am standing in line with 100 strangers trying to board the same plane, I can’t help but imagine we are cattle being herded through a chute to receive our vaccinations.

During these anxious moments in the chute I always seem to spot someone wearing a Filson hat or a Trout Unlimited T-shirt. Invariably, he has a four-piece fly-fishing rod attached to his carry-on backpack and a Nalgene bottle dangling off the side.

I see this guy every time I am stuck in an airport, standing out in a sea of sport-coated business travelers and vacation-bound families. It is not always the same person, of course, but an aggregate of every hunter or fisherman I see while traveling.

Sometimes he is a young man on his first outdoor adventure. Most of the time he is my age or older, thankful to be taking one more trip. There isn’t a secret handshake that says we are part of the same outdoor fraternity, but there should be. Instead, I give him a knowing nod, and he nods back.

A few years ago, a typical Rocky Mountain spring storm left me and a co-worker stranded at the Denver airport. Fights were backed up for hours. Delays eventually turned into cancellations. With time to kill, we claimed the last open table at the New Belgium Hub & Brewery located at the end of Concourse B.

Before we could order our first round of beers, I noticed a young man with a backpack trying to find an empty seat at the bar. It was standing room only. If he was carrying a briefcase, I don’t think we would have invited him over to our table like we did. Sliding our luggage to the side, we offered him a seat.

I noticed that he was wearing a Patagonia jacket and a hand-knitted wool cap. (Something about his appearance told me that he might have actually been to Patagonia.)

“Where are you headed to,” I asked.

“Back to Machu Picchu,” he replied.

(I was close.)

I paused for a moment before asking my next question with just a hint of skepticism, “Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas located in the Andes Mountains of Peru?”

“Yeah, that one,” he said with a slight grin.

As it turned out, the man was a professional guide for a company called Backwood’s Adventures, which specializes in creating high-ticket vacations for clients who are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

His job description included scouting ahead to find unique places to stay, unmarked tails to hike and off-the-map destinations to explore. Once the logistics were worked out, he would be responsible for guiding a small group of clients on the adventure. This explained why he was “going back to” Machu Picchu, and not merely “going to” Machu Picchu.

When he asked me what I did for a living, I was almost too embarrassed to say marketing.

We spent the next couple of hours talking about his work with Backwood’s Adventures. If you have the money, this company has the adventure. Fly-fishing in Argentina. Trekking in Nepal. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Backpacking through Yellowstone. Rafting in Costa Rica.

Ironically, he said his favorite trip was a four-day Colorado fly-fishing adventure, because it was so close to home.

As we talked, I was half hoping to discover that he desperately wanted to leave the daily grind of outdoor adventure travel and pursue his dream of working in an office. I could not imagine this guy ever turning in a TPS report. Not surprisingly, he seemed content with what he did for a living.

The hours passed and eventually our plane was cleared to take us back home to Sioux Falls.

We wished the young man good luck on his travels, and he thanked us for sharing our table. Before we parted ways, he gave me his business card. It read, “Something life-changing is just one adventure away.”

I gave him my business card, and he took it out of politeness. I don’t know why an adventure guide would ever need marketing services, but I do know why a marketing guy would need adventure travel.

A voice came over the speaker system, “Now boarding Flight 4138 to Sioux Falls.”

It was time to make my way through the cattle chute once again.

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