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  • Brenda Smith

Introducing Richard Bangs-Adventurer Extraordinaire

I worked with Richard Bangs, a founder and CEO of Sobek Expeditions in the early 1980s. By then, he'd already led a dozen first descents of treacherous white water rivers in remote parts of the world. By doing so, he earned his reputation as the foremost pioneer of modern day adventure travel.

Little did I know that when I reluctantly accompanied him as a crew member on the first commercial river journey through the largest uninhabited game reserve in Africa, it would change my life forever. Readers of my memoir Becoming Fearless: Finding Courage in the African Wilderness have expressed a desire to learn more about my former boss, and his passion to explore places most people have never heard of. I recently shared a few of my reader's questions with him.

Brenda: Where does your curiosity about exploring the nooks and crannies of our planet come from? Were you curious when you were young or has its intensity grown over time?

Richard: It began very young, when my father, an early officer in the newly formed CIA, tried to explain to me what was happening around the world, especially Iran, where The Company organized a coup that displaced its democratically elected leader with the sub-genius Shah. I soaked in those early lessons. They provoked a desire to see for myself and color in these points on the map in a sort of quest to piece together the inter-connectedness of all things. That I discovered is an unreachable destination, but the journey is ever enlightening, and evokes moments of wonder and awe.

Brenda: What was your first adventurous escapade? What did you learn from it?

Richard: There were so many in my late teens when I guided on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. But the madness really took flight when I organized a series of first descents of rivers in Ethiopia. Suddenly we were floating through a Lost World into uncertainty, with hippos, crocodiles, deadly insects and snakes, unrun rapids and falls, and local people who had never witnessed skin as pale as ours. I learned to dance with uncertainty; that getting lost is the first step to finding your way. I learned to unearth meaning and thrills with the mystery, the absurdity, the contradictions, the hostility, but also the generosity our environment offers. Life is about taking the moment without knowing what's going to happen next.

Brenda: Where have you NOT gone yet that you'd like to explore?

Richard: The paradox of travel is the more you see, the more you recognize you have yet to see. For example, I haven't yet experienced the cultures and people of Togo & Benin, but I'll be leading a group there next March. Every place I have set foot has infinite stories to tell, histories and science that deserve deeper dives, and dynamic changes worthy of fresh looks and interactions. There is a world in a grain of sand.

Brenda: You've been practically everywhere. Has there been a place that touched your heart in a way that you'll never forget?

Richard: My first major expedition down the Omo River, and it spun the axis of my being to new meridians. In a moment of rapturous terror, a 15’ crocodile bit one of our rafts. The slow-motion scene forever embedded in mind’s eye. My primary response was one of exhilaration, the splendid frisson that comes with gliding by the edge. It raced the blood and evoked feelings of being more alive.

Brenda: I think of you as "fearless" no matter what you face, but have there been times when you've feared for your life?

Richard: Many, many, but the fear of atrophy is the worst fear in my life. Albert Camus said, “What Gives Value to Travel is Fear.”

Brenda: You also have a new book being released on November 7th titled The Art of Living Dangerously. Is there really an "art" to living dangerously or is it more a matter of practice makes perfect?

Richard: Art is the manifestation of creativity, and creativity takes courage. The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. There is danger in everything we do, but the greatest danger is to do nothing, and so the art is to move.

Brenda: What is the most important lesson you want people to take away from your new book?

Richard: Pursue your passion. It will work out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it's not the end.

Brenda: You've rubbed shoulders with many of the greatest explorere of the last sevral decades. What makes you and them different than normal people?

Richard: I was honored to be named one of the great explorers of the last 100 years (#25): 100 Great Explorers of the Last 100 Years » Explorersweb, and have met many who are still alive. I think our great commonalities include a passion for knowing, an insatiable curiosity, and a super-abundant capacity for wonder. Click on the title to read the full article.

Brenda: How can ordinary people find adventure, when so many of the trips to remote places are so expensive?

Richard: Adventure is relative and personal. You can find the full spectrum of feelings, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, in your backyard. It is mostly about the will to explore. If anybody really wants an adventure, they can realize it. Your book is an inspiration in that regard. As for me, sometimes I think my head is so big because it is full of dreams. I do love to read about those who continue to pioneer, no matter the age or income bracket; but I also love that childlike sense of wonder that comes from turning a new corner and seeing something wondrous and unexpected. The larger the island of my experience, the longer the shoreline of wonder.

Save this date - November 2nd 7:00 pm. Richard and I have a special surprise for our readers. We'll be hosting a Zoom meeting to chat with all of you about our expedition in Tanzania and our books. There will also be time to ask us questions about our lives as adventurers. We will be sending you an email with instructions for registering for the meeting. You won't want to miss this great event!

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