Chronicles of Adventure: Kenya
Our buddy Eric Bach is about to tell you an amazing story that came out of reality television. Yep, we said it. Reality television. He's become a great friend to Taylor Stitch after we ran into him in the neighberhood and saw him wearing a worn + torn black denim utility shirt, we had to ask. What the hell did you do in that thing? The story turned into beers, which turned into an even greater appreciation for what one another did. Heres a recap of his most recent adventures and we are excited to do more great things with him and the other Modern Gypsies.
There aren’t too many good things that come out of reality television. I mean, Jersey Shore’s Pauly D is apparently an “ok” DJ…if you’re into that sort of thing. However, our experience, which was far more physically demanding but probably equally as strange as his, was very different. We were doing what we loved; pushing ourselves to the limit, adventure racing for 3 weeks around the Kingdom of Morocco. ABC’s “Expedition Impossible” featured our team, appropriately named “The Gypsies,” due to our nomadic backgrounds. Taylor, John and I ended up winning 9 out of the 10 stages and took home the grand prize of some cash and a car. In addition to the win, we also developed new relationships with three amazing Colorado adventurers, Erik Weihenmayer, Jeff Evans and Ike Isaacson (you might recognize Erik’s name as he was the guy on the front cover of Time Magazine as the only blind man to ever summit Everest). These three amazing people are still motivating and helping shape our lives to this day.
With our newfound momentum of the win, and partly inspired by our new friends, we decided to use our “popularity” and recognition for positive influence. We wanted to help inspire people to make impactful change in their lives through adventure and experience. We also wanted to draw attention to the communities whose land we shared on our past journeys. So came “The Modern Gypsies,” our hub for what we like to call “Compassionate Adventure.”
Fast forward 2 years to February 2014, we have now completed one massive clean water project in Ecuador, reached the 19,327 ft summit of Cotopaxi, rode motorbikes around the entirety of Kenya, and highlighted several important social enterprises along the way. We share these experiences through webisodes on our site. The hope is to inspire people to get out there, get uncomfortable, and do some good, ie. “do epic shit”.
Our most recent trip to Kenya was perhaps our most challenging yet. The goal was to navigate the country via cheap motorbikes and highlight social enterprises along the way. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Turns out that gallivanting around the haphazard Kenyan roads on two wheeled death machines is actually quite dangerous. However, after 2-3 wrecks we learned to respect the roads, each-other and the machines (this is what’s called “tough love”).
It also turned out to be one of the most mind expanding journeys of our lives. We were fortunate enough to be able to work with two awesome organizations that play a key role in improving the lives of the African people. Our friend Greg Spencer invited us to check out his work at Ezy-Life, an organization dedicated to making Kenyans lives easier (or “ezy”). Greg has a dream to bring 5 million clean burning stoves to homes around the developing world.
It’s a little known fact, but upper respiratory disease due to cooking indoors over an open fire is one of the leading causes of death in sub-saharan Africa. We were stoked to be able to explore the depths of Greg’s work and see first hand, how his passion to create change is making an impact.
The other organization we visited was Riders for Health (which gained notoriety after Ewan McGregor’s visit on “Long Way Down”). Riders ensures that health care workers have reliable transportation to access isolated villages, in which they can provide their care. The common theme here is motorcycles. They are the easiest way to get around the rugged and often treacherous landscape of Kenya. However, these vehicles take a beating and Riders is the first organization to not only maintain bikes used for delivering medical supplies, but also provide rider safety training (something that we quickly learned we absolutely suck at). Overall, their vision is to have a world where healthcare reaches everyone, everywhere. This was apparent in all of their work.
After weeks of hard riding, we got connected with Kenya’s oldest tribe, the Ogiek’s. The community lives deep in the Mau Forest and is completely inaccessible by vehicle. Naturally we saw this as a challenge and after getting an ‘ok’ by the tribe leader, we hopped on our bikes and took to the forest. What ensued was the most gnarly, death-defying and senseless act we have participated in thus far. The roads were steep, wet, and caked in freshly saturated mud. At points we were almost up to our knees in the stuff. We slid/fell down hills and revved the accelerators in attempt to get the machines up the mountains, all whilst the community quietly laughed at our Mzungu (white man) stupidity. At one point I took a hard fall on my bike, with legs spread, and my pants literally ripped in half leaving me completely exposed to some of the tribal leaders…not my best first impression.
Despite our amateur behaviors, the tribe accepted us with open arms. They were awestruck by the bikes and one by one, we let them take joyrides in the surrounding forest. In the coming days we learned to live off the land; recognize delicious fruits in the trees high above, hunt for animals we had never seen before and in a dramatic twist, we attempted to learn how to collect honey (something the Ogiek’s had perfected). Needless to say, we got stung, many times. Africanized bees are not to be messed with, especially by gangly white dudes with a weird scent. Growing up, I had always seen swarms of bees attacking illustrated cartoon characters, but I never understood that this actually happened. However, my barely recognizable, swollen face was a testament to the shocking reality. We may have conquered Morocco in Expedition Impossible, but the Ogiek’s were the real rockstars in this land.
Towards the end of this trip I had an internal dialogue that grew louder each day. It became clear why we were doing this, why my face was swollen by dozens of bee stings, why John had come within feet of dying in his motorcycle wreck and why we were learning about some of the harder issues that people in this part of the world struggle with. Simply, I believe we need more global citizens. It’s no doubt that extensive travel, adventure, and real philanthropy changes lives for the better, but those people are the ones that have come alive…they have been inspired by something that led them to take that first step. Hopefully we can instill this same spirit in people whom have not had the opportunity to step outside of their part of the world. We need more people that have the fire, the excitement, and the tenacity to venture outside and into the unknown. I believe The Modern Gypsies can be a vehicle for this.
All photos taken by Adam Feuerman.