Tales from tails, as it were, and some attached to pretty impressive animals
His tawny tail was twitching with irritation, twin patches of dark fur at each of his elbows, his forequarters massive and strong. He was standing up in front of a copse of low bush, his lioness lying quietly in the shade of a tall olive. They were a mating pair, and would mate every 20–30 minutes some fifty times over the next 24 hours.
Lions don’t much care to be interrupted when their business is none of your business.
Simon Kenyon, our Offbeat Safaris guide, faced off with the male, his horse calm, his right hand holding a lengthy bullwhip.
The female rose and advanced. She wasn’t hunting. Just curious. Our horses didn’t much care what kind of mood she was in. They didn’t fancy having a huge lioness coming their way. Nutella, my bay mare, twitched, eager to bolt.
Simon said, “Keep them steady and facing forward.” You run, you become game.
There’s a lesson in that.
She came two steps too close, then she crouched suddenly in response to Simon’s bullwhip as it snapped loudly in the early afternoon air.
Our horses didn’t mind that sound. That was the sound of safety. They minded the proximity to the lions. I might add, most of us were a little twitchy ourselves.
The lioness lay back down. The male stood, then growled.
Simon told us to back up a bit. The male barked at us, pissed.
As a group, we all backed up carefully. Then we turned as one, and slowly walked off, leaving the mating pair to the business of making more fur babies.
Facing off danger is a fine way to teach you to stand your ground in other ways. Every single time I have taken a risk while on adventure travel, and forced myself to face my fears, that experienced has rewritten who I understand myself to be in the world.
One of our other riders, Jeanne-Anne, is a Swiss pharma rep in real life and sometime rider with a Go-Pro attached to her riding helmet here in the Mara. She had a huge risk to face when, a few days later, our group had to cross a hippo and croc-filled river.
Her face red with worry, her hands shaking, she watched as Simon rode out into the river and cracked his whip, inviting the deadly hippos to mosey down bit to allow us to cross just beneath the rocks. The chocolate waters, having been affected by the recent heavy rains, were high enough to mean that we’d be swimming. Not only that, our horses would be swept downstream a bit as we crossed.
Towards the hippos, who don’t much like interlopers. And whose huge incisors are very effective at dispatching said interlopers.
Yet, Jeanne-Anne, encouraged by Simon, our other guide Megan, and the rest of us, made it. A day later we crossed again on our way back to camp. This time, she was still nervous, the nights’ rain had swollen the river even more, but she rode with greater confidence.
On the other side, she released her nervousness by chattering excitedly, clearly delighted with herself. We were also pleased with her (and kindly, with ourselves, we were all a bit nervous but for our guides who have done this plenty of times).
Her notion of who she is will never be the same.
This is why adventure travel, whether you take on a croc- ,and hippo-filled river by horse in remote Maasai Mara or head skyward to leap out of airplanes like my Medium peep Kris Gage, makes no difference. I’ve done that too-in fact, that was my first big leap when I was just 22, if you’ll pardon the pun.
What adventure travel does for us is put us in (mostly) controlled situations where you and I can take a significant risk. We face down far greater monsters inside us: fear, doubt, terror, insecurity. When we rise to the occasion, and get to the other side as Jeanne-Anne did, we don’t see ourselves the same way ever again.
As an entrepreneur most of my adult life, these experiences have not only bolstered my confidence, they have given me the kind of trust in my innate ability to handle extreme situations that most others don’t have. The challenges you and I might face taking out a big loan, risk taking on a partner, going big with a marketing campaign pale by comparison after you and I have faced off with the pale yellow eyes of two huge mating cats, and didn’t blink first.
There are good reasons that I do adventure travel. Far less for bragging rights, and in many ways more so to see the world’s great wonders. But the side benefits of being able to manage stress, making light of small stuff (and nearly all of life is small stuff) come of pushing ourselves, especially in the wild.
Several days after riding with Offbeat, I was put on a horse at Ol Pejeta. Ol Pejeta is a vast, sprawling conservancy where deep work is being done not only to save and protect Africa’s remaining rhino populations, but the spaces are also a place where a great deal of work and thought is being commtted to how such a conservancy can live side-by-side in productive ways with growing communities.
Someone apparently made me out to be a better rider than I think I am, and I was put on a horse who, if he could, would have snorted fire. At one point my guide pointed at a pair of concrete pylons far in the distance, and told me I could canter. My horse heard the word. It was all I could do to grab a bit of mane and give him his head.
This great, huge black gelding took off at such speed that most of my person was left at last Sunday. He flew. Having just spent eight days on a fine horse with Offbeat, I was ready. Here he had his head, I balanced atop him, with a great wide and rutted road coming at us at speed. My Offbeat mare Nutella had already taught me to trust a fine horse.
We sailed over that wide road like a pair of avenging angels. Didn’t miss a beat. We pulled up to a hard-breathing stop at the pylons, my horse ready for another go. I was grinning so widely I thought my face would break. My heart was pounding.
When I arrived at Offbeat, I’d done a single jump over an obstacle in my entire life. After doing a number of them with Simon and my fellow, much better-trained riders, I was ready for a real obstacle and an even more challenging horse. This is what puts the bird in my chest, especially when it’s trying hard to break out and fly away from the excitement.
When I get home, as a result, I will have even more confidence- and am ready for the next wide, rutted road to leap over like an avenging angel.
Most of us as entrepreneurs don’t realize that taking a trip to see a huge organization like Ol Pejeta, which is sorting out myriad challenges ranging from protecting endangered species to improving farming practices with local farmers to building schools and supporting scholarships for promising students, can offer considerable inspiration. It’s easy to think that we’ve got the best ideas in our own countries. That’s often not at all the case. Many of today’s successful patent holders and business executives got a brand new idea for a new device, new technology or a different farming practice by being exposed to totally different worlds, new industries and varied ways of life. Inspiration and inventions are born of being exposed to what we don’t know or understand. What’s even better is when we can make a full-scale adventure out of such a journey.
Adventure travel rewrites our inner narrative. Want to be a better entrepreneur? Push yourself. You may not face off with a lion (however I strongly recommend it), you may not swim a horse across a swollen stream (I strongly recommend that, too) but you will change how you operate your company, take risks and trust your own courage. You have more resources than you know. You only have to test them.