AdventureWomen Trek Across the Globe
by Rachel L. Miller
Eckert admits she's pretty jaded.
the president of AdventureWomen, an adventure travel tour company
for women over 30, she's seen places most of us have only dreamed
about — from Nepal to Indonesia, Alaska to the Serengeti, the
Virgin Islands to the Galapagos Islands — and she doesn't hesitate
before stating it takes quite a bit to impress her.
then, in February, she went on the first AdventureWomen trip
Eckert in Antarctica
the most awesome experience," she said during our telephone
interview. "You can see pictures but it's not the same
as actually being on a Russian ice breaker, looking up at all
of these gigantic icebergs. It's just beyond comprehension until
you're there, looking at it."
trip, which took over five years to research and plan, is the
one that ranks as most memorable for Eckert, not only for the
magnificent scenery but for the 20th anniversary celebration
of AdventureWomen that took place on the boat.
the trip, there were 11 women plus me," Eckert, 55, says.
"The women on that trip were repeat customers, having been
on 70 trips with us in the past 20 years. It was like family
— we made a banner, had sparklers. What better place to celebrate
than in Antarctica, at the end of the Earth?"
definitely come a long way in the 20 years (figuratively and
literally) since she launched the business in Chicago in 1982,
specializing in weekend getaways for women to nearby Wisconsin.
idea originated when I was in my 30s, in grad school. I used
to go away hiking, rafting, canoeing. I didn't have the money
for that so I'd have people pay my way and I'd be their guide.
I noticed that many of the people were married women who just
wanted to get away for the weekend."
soon became discouraged with grad school and quit, ("I
didn't want to quit because I'm not a quitter, but I was very
determined to start the business.") plunging her lifelong
savings of $25,000 into her new business.
it was very difficult," she said. "The $25,000
was my whole life. It was very hard to use it for lawyers and
had gone to banks for a loan, but wasn't met with a positive
people at the bank laughed at me," Eckert said. "They
said, 'No one's ever going to give you money to do that.' It
seemed like this little niche market, little did they know that
20 years later it'd be the hot thing."
AdventureWomen trip: canoeing the Lewis and Clark trail
on the Missouri River in Montana
Eckert branched out her tours (five to seven a year) to include
hiking in the Grand Tetons, canoeing in Minnesota's Boundary
Waters and down Utah's Green River, but those trips were a far
cry (in terms of luxury level) from those she runs today.
were what are now called extreme adventure - we carried our
canoes, our food and clothes and I cooked for everyone. We don't
do that anymore — we use llamas, sherpas and camels to carry
our things. People who have been traveling with me for 20 years
still say, 'Remember when we did that?'"
continued to slowly build for Eckert and in 1994, she moved
the business from Chicago to Montana.
moved because Montana is the most beautiful place in the United
States," she says. "I used to come out here for my
personal vacations — I did that for 10 years and every time
I came out, I felt that I had to live here."
she did, building a log house on 20 acres of land in Bozeman,
at the base of the Bridger Mountains, which rise to an elevation
of 10,000 feet. The business continued to expand until this
year when she offered a total of 30 trips.
then the events of Sept. 11 changed everything.
had to cancel our Vietnam trip and a trip to northern India
because of 9-11," she says. "This is not your typical
travel year. People are sticking closer to home — our domestic
trips are still doing well. But I'm not really feeling a resurgence
yet. We could lose a full year because the uncertainty of everything
has affected people — and trips like ours take some planning."
Eckert in Kenya with Samburu Dancer
she admits the past few months have been "a bit depressing,"
she is eagerly looking forward to the 2003 schedule of AdventureWomen
trips, which include another voyage to Antarctica.
many people think normal people can't go to Antarctica. They
ask, 'Why would you want to go there?'"
Eckert's answer, spoken with extreme enthusiasm: "There
are all of these animals: penguins, whales, seals, sea lions
and so many birds. We were standing on the bow of the boat one
evening and 30 whales were jumping around. And we're talking
30 huge whales. No matter where you looked, you saw whales.
It was amazing."
Antarctica trip is priced at $8,995 and is all-inclusive from
Miami, but if that's too rich for your blood (or if you'd rather
explore a warmer climate), there are plenty of other options.
example, there's always Africa. A two-week excursion to East
Africa, exploring Tanzania, features a walking safari, glittering
beaches and a killer view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
how about sailing in the Caribbean? This voyage includes lodging
on the world's largest trimaran, snorkeling in the turquoise
waters of the British Virgin Islands, sea kayaking and more.
was actually following a past trip to the Virgin Islands that
Eckert received some of the best praise in the history of AdventureWomen.
working-class woman from Massachusetts told me, 'Y'know what?
This is the single best thing I've ever done for myself.' It's
comments like that that keep me working hard at putting on quality
trips. Women go home, feeling refreshed and confident."
probably those feelings that keeps them coming back for more
— Eckert says 60 to 70 percent of her travelers are repeat customers.
if you want to jump on board for a future excursion, you must
meet two requirements: you must be a woman and at least 30 years
had a mom who waited 13 years to bring her daughter on one of
our trips," Eckert said. "They just celebrated her
30th birthday on our Nepal trek."
far as physical condition is concerned, Eckert says participants
need not be athletic. "We've got trips (such as the Virgin
Islands voyage) that are rated easy and are perfect for beginners."
trips Eckert recommends for beginners are the Montana Cowgirl
Experience (horseback riding, fly-fishing, rafting), Horsepacking
in Banff and the New Mexico Sampler (moderate walking and paddle
rafting). All AdventureWomen trips are rated as easy, moderate
or high energy, so it's simple to find one that fits your physical
condition and needs.
why would a woman want to take an AdventureWomen trip instead
of one with her significant other or a co-ed adventure trip?
majority of the women on our trips are married. Going on a coed
trip wouldn't be as comfortable, plus their husbands are more
comfortable with them going on an all-women trip. They come
because they can let their hair down, they don't have to compete.
It's like a big pajama party. The camaraderie is amazing. They
laugh and have fun and don't have to wear make-up or look good
typical AdventureWoman is, according to Eckert, "a pretty
ordinary woman who decides she wants to do something different
customers are mostly in their late 40s, early 50s, but she gets
women as old as 79 traveling with her.
women are in their middle years, they're more likely to try
different things," Eckert said. "We are the quintessential
Baby Boomers, this huge demographic blip. Some women go on their
first trip with us and are smokers, are overweight and are not
eating right and before you know it, they come back for another
trip, changed. They want to do something to say, 'Look, I've
changed. I don't want to just sit on a beach for my vacation.'"
for other women, Eckert says, "their husbands travel all
the time for work and don't want to go on a vacation. And the
woman are left saying, 'I've stayed home, I've raised the kids,
I want to do something different. I want to see the world, be
joins about five of the tours each year, usually going on the
new ones and those that are offered abroad.
job may sound perfect, but she is quick to mention that most
of her time isn't spent on the road traveling, but in the office,
planning and researching.
are times when I tire of it all," she admits. "I get
sick of being in the office — people don't understand what it
takes to put together thirty trips a year. It's 99 percent office work,
one percent going on the trips."
does much of the trip planning, having only one full-time office
manager and a temporary worker to help out. "Sometimes
I get sick of the 16-hour days," she said. "Yes, it's
a dream job, but I don't think most people would want to work
this hard for it."
Not having remarried since her divorce in 1978, she says work
keeps her too busy. "I'm married to my business,"
Eckert says, laughing. "Working consumes me since it's such
a high-energy business. It wouldn't be the same business if
I had a family."
hopes to cut back on the trip schedules next year so she can
have some free time, which she'd eventually like to spend with
her Icelandic horse and enjoying the view from her Montana home.
now I'm looking outside and watching a red-tailed hawk land
on a Douglas fir tree," she tells me.
a suburb dweller, I emit sounds like "ohhhhh" and
"ahhhhh," completely amazed and envious.
wait, there's more.
continues, "I see moose walking through my backyard. I
look out my window at the Bridger Mountains and see bald eagles,
mountain lions, bears."
such scenery as a backdrop for her everyday life, Eckert has
just cause for being a little jaded.