Travel, done right, allows a degree of enlightenment. Travel bestows demands and glories, and the traveler is changed by both, usually for the better. To weather dust storms and dysentery, to watch a Thai child smile or lightning fork Andean peaks, to know the customs of the Niger Hill people and hobnob with headhunting Pygmies is to have supped of life.
Few have dined as extensively or as enthusiastically as Leo Le Bon. In 1969 Le Bon co-founded Mountain Travel mostly to indulge two simple whims, to live and to learn. Inadvert-ently, Le Bon jump-started what is now known as adventure travel, a redundant phrase if there ever was one.
Le Bon's company, now Mountain Travel Sobek and the largest adventure- travel company in the world, recently celebrated its 33rd year. Le Bon is retired, but he is still regarded as adventure travel's greatest visionary, a distinction that would likely pain him more if he weren't preoccupied with continuing to indulge his own wanderlust. Because while Le Bon's own world has changed dramatically - from dirtball climber to Adventure Travel Eminence - the aim has not.
"It is wonderful," says Le Bon, "to leave the road on which you are accustomed to traveling."
Much can be learned from a man who has spent half a century ferreting out some of the most remote spots on the globe.
American Way: When did you first start traveling?
Leo Le Bon: I was born in Belgium, which is a tiny little country in Europe without much of anything in terms of the great outdoors. I came to New York when I was 25. I wanted to see the country, so a friend and I did one of those drive delivery car deals. We drove from New York to San Francisco. It was 1960, and gas was 25 cents a gallon and a cup of coffee at the roadside inn was a nickel. We hiked down into the Grand Canyon. That really was an eye-opener for a little guy from Belgium.