Anyone can decide to become an explorer – it is a choice. But it definitely helps, both for generating the interest and for acquiring the adventure skill-set, if you start at a young age. In the case of kids, there is a bit of an element of luck there: whether you have mentors who are willing to take you out there and teach you.
Jill and me on an adventure last fall – heading out to photograph grizzly bears!
My childhood best friend was Jill Heinerth. We have been friends since we were three years old – and Jill is still one of my best friends today! (If you want to do the calculations to figure out how long that is and how old we are… well, then you are going to have to listen to the podcast of us chatting about exploring and childhood mentors, linked to below).
Jill is one of the world’s top cave divers (this is a very risky and adventurous sport!). She is also a recipient of the prestigious Governer General’s Polar Medal, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s first Explorer-in-Residence. (I am also a Fellow of the RCGS, and the RCGS is one of the presenting sponsors of the Secret Coast Expedition).
Jill and I have both travelled very non-traditional and adventurous paths, compared to most of our school friends – and to this day we are not really sure why that is. In part, it probably is just something ingrained in our personalities, and it’s just a coincidence that we happened to grow up two doors down from one another. But I think the mentoring we received as kids also played a role. Our years in Girl Guides – as geeky as the photos look now, that’s a photo from Jill’s collection of me pinning an award on her shirt – got us outside exploring the wilderness, and made us really at ease camping. (Sleeping on the ground under a thin veil of canvas or nylon is very familiar and comfortable to both of us). And I think that we actually (inadvertently) served as mentors to one another, too: Jill and her family did more hiking and paddling than mine ever did, so they exposed me to those activities, and I think I probably stimulated Jill’s curiosity about the sciences more (we did a lot of rock collecting, and sorting and trading of our prized mineral samples, in Jill’s basement!)
Jill and I got together this winter to chat about this recently. We both feel lucky that we had one another in our lives – in our formative years, and even still! – and we both feel strongly about mentoring kids, so they gain the confidence to get out exploring (and exploring doesn’t always have to mean “wilderness” – it can mean exploring your options or exploring the limits of your abilities). Our conversation is up on Jill’s “Into the Planet” podcast – have a listen!