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Bruce Kirkby

November 28, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight

Bruce Kirkby Returns From Epic Journey

Bruce Kirkby has been shot at in Borneo, and taken hostage in Ethiopia; he has survived crocodile attacks on the Nile and weathered high-altitude storms in Alaska. Offering mesmerizing stories based on 20 years as an explorer, writer, and photographer, he encourages audiences to get out of their comfort zones, think creatively, and take calculated risks. Bruce  recently returned home from a six-month, 22,000 mile overland odyssey to the far side of the planet — with his wife and two young boys (Bodi, 7, and Taj, 3) in tow.

After leaving their British Columbia home, the family paddled a canoe down the  Columbia River, flagged a train to Vancouver, boarded a 77,000 ton cargo ship to Korea, then used trains, buses, jeeps and mules to carry them across China, Tibet, Nepal and finally, into the Indian Himalaya.  The massive journey was filmed by TravelChannel, and will debut in June 2015 across the network as an eight episode series, aptly named Big Crazy Family Adventure.

When the television crew packed up and left the journey after 100 days, Bruce’s young family moved into a remote Buddhist monastery, living in an 8’ x 8’ earthen room for three months, teaching English to monks, and experiencing a life unlike anything they previously knew in Canada.

In the months ahead, Bruce will be incorporating lessons, stories, images, and video from this immense odyssey into his new upcoming presentations.

Bruce is currently writing a book about of his family’s time amongst the Himalayan monks, but here is an inside look at that epic journey. While on the road, Bruce shut down both cell and email entirely for six months, instead posting a single picture-a-day to an Instagram account.  Here’s a peak at the chronicles from his account:

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Day 1. A journey of 25,000 miles starts with a single step.

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Day 3.  The mountains in all their spring glory; fresh snow on the peaks, and emerald green aspen buds along the valley bottoms.

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Day 5.  Made it to Golden B.C. just in time for a whistle-stop on a train bound for Vancouver…

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Day 10.  We’re on a boat. Seriously.

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Day 25.  “Look off the bow, the Captain said, those lights up there, that’s where we land.”  After 17 days at sea, Busan South Korea lies on the horizon…

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Day 30.  Qingdao, China. In the heart of this city of millions, the art of beekeeping is still alive and well.

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Day 40.  After six days roaming the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, easing into elevations between 10,000′ and 12,600′, everyone is feeling well acclimatized. Tomorrow, at last, we jump a 27-hour train to Lhasa… the wonders of the Forbidden City await!

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Day 49.  Big E, Tiny T, and Mommy!  Bluebird day at north side Everest base camp. Gazing up at so many famous landmarks, thinking of so many friends who have spent time on that stunning face, stumbling upon memorials to Mallory, Irvine and others… It was an astounding and deeply moving day.

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Day 62. Full steam for Varanasi! We slept atop this river boat, the temperature never dipping below 35 and humidity pretty far close to 99.9%… But it was a grand experience as all around us the massive nation slowly tilted to sleep. Light faded, and the sound of horns was slowly replaced by frogs and birdsong. Eventually came silence. Hours later I awoke to the whispers of fishermen and herders in the dark. Then the great orange sun floated up in the East, and the insanity began again.

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Day 66. The circle of life.

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Day 79. Five hours on a lovely narrow gauge railway took us from the sweltering Indo-Gangeatic plains up into blessedly cool and misty Himalayan foothills. We won’t be leaving the high peaks, or breathing thick air again, until November.

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Day 97. We’ve arrived! Almost 100 days after leaving our house in British Columbia, and without taking a single flight, we at last climbed the steep rocky path to our home for the next three months – Karscha Gompa.

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Day 98. The four of us have been taken in by the former high lama of the monastery. We share a 8’x8′ sleeping/eating/living area, its wall plastered with mud. Everything shows the well-worn signs of decades of use. There is no running water, no power; it is simplicity at its purist. And perhaps surprisingly, it is complete bliss.

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Day 129. The rewards of living here are endless…

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Day 162. My wife and I were preparing for class when I realized someone was standing beside me. Glancing up, it was young Jigmet. I noticed a maroon robe lashed around his forehead, and a smear of dry blood ran across his nose. Underneath was a 2″ gash, caused by a tumbling boulder. Almost twenty years ago at Everest, I watched 79 stitches go into the face of a fallen Sherpa, and somehow remembered the double-twist knot. A good Dr friend gave me some sutures before leaving home, so there was nothing left to do but rinse the wound, pack it with antibiotic and topical anesthetic, and take a deep breath. Human skin is as tough as cow hide I learned, and Jigmet is one brave 11 year old. I didn’t think I could love these boys any more, but after what we went through together – his eyes telegraphing shock, fear, pain, relief, trust, and finally joy – the bond is concrete.

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Day 164. Our route home will take us over 14 passes, 5 of them over 15,000 and two topping out at 17,000′. And I’m carrying my 7-year old 75 pound son Bodi on my back.  As we approached the base of our first serious climb, Christine glanced over at me, laughed, and told me to look in the bottom of my pack for another can of “Toughen Up.”

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Day 170. Every good trail requires a few tiptoes…

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Day 178. On the descent from our final pass. A few hours later we arrived in Leh, to traffic and construction and trinket vendors — along with the first mirror, sit-down toilet and shower any of us had seen for 92 days — but none of that matters. What I’ll remember, instead, are moments like this; the beautiful quiet (huffing and puffing aside) that Bodi and I shared as we crossed this great range.

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Day 188. Dear Friends, Home Again!   I leave you with an image of a Lama, watching the Milky Way slowly tilt across the Zanskar sky. May blue skies and tail winds bless all your travels.

By Bruce Kirkby/November, 2014