78-year-old veteran black detective JR.  Harris is still on the move

78-year-old veteran black detective JR. Harris is still on the move

78-year-old veteran black detective JR. Harris is still on the move

(CNN) — He has been walking the deserts of the world for more than five decades, and veteran black explorer J. R. Harris says his thirst for adventure is still as strong as ever.

Now 78, Harris has visited more than 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica, exploring some of the world’s most remote areas, including Patagonia and the Australian outback. And he says he has no plans to put away his hiking boots anytime soon.

“I’m interested in everything,” Harris tells CNN Travel. “And if you’re throwing in a piece of adventure, it’s just a matter of how long until I put some stuff in a box and go there.”

Harris, who was born in Louisiana and raised in Queens, New York, got his first taste of adventure when his parents sent him to a Boy Scout camp in the Catskill Mountains in southeastern New York.

Scout classes

78-year-old veteran black detective JR.  Harris is still on the move

JR Harris, pictured in 1980 in Rocket Lake, New York, has been traveling the globe for more than five decades.

J. Robert Harris

“I started kicking and screaming,” he admits, before explaining how the experience changed his outlook on life.

During his time at the camp, Harris was taught many skills, including how to read a map, set up a tent, use a compass, start a fire, and find animal tracks.

“I basically learned how to live outdoors,” he says. “And the idea that I could just live with what I was carrying in my bag was so different from the life I had in New York. That got me.”

Growing up in New York in the 1950s, he took many train trips across the United States; his father worked as a waiter in a lunch car on a long-distance train, so the family was able to get discounted fares.

His father eventually lost his job on the train when “train travel was replaced by air travel,” ending the family’s frequent rail trips across the country.

He took his first airplane trip, from Chicago to California, when he was about 12 or 13 years old.

While he sought out some of the “old pioneers” when he was at Boy Scout camp and had a “lonely ride around the Rockies,” Harris’ first big road trip didn’t come until after he graduated from Queens. College, a public college in New York, where he studied psychology, in 1966 and “needed some adventure.”

After looking at the map for a while, he noticed that the farthest north he could drive would be Circle, Alaska, about 120 miles north of Fairbanks, and he decided he wanted his car to be the furthest north. the western hemisphere.

So he threw some clothes into the back of his beat-up Volkswagen and set off on a journey that lasted about two weeks.

It was on that trip, looking up at the mountains and “wondering what else was out there,” that Harris knew he wanted to become an explorer.

On the move

Harris explores the Pyrenean wilderness, France in 2010.

Harris explores the Pyrenean wilderness, France in 2010.

J. Robert Harris

He vowed that once he returned home he would get himself some hiking gear and spend as much time as he could exploring remote landscapes on foot.

Getting his car to the northernmost point was not as simple as he expected; there was an abandoned car blocking his path when he reached his destination.

However, Harris managed to track down the driver who moved it sideways just for him and was able to tick that goal off his list.

Over the years since then, he has hiked through the diverse landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, the Andes, the longest mountain range in South America, the European Alps, the Pyrenees that straddle the border between France and Spain, and New Zealand.

Harris is particularly fascinated by people who live in remote places and often chooses a particular indigenous group, such as the Australian Aborigines or the Quechua people of the Andean highlands, to learn all he can about their history, traditions and way of life. find out how to reach them and “just show up”.

“People can’t believe that someone would come all the way from New York alone, for no other reason than because they were interested in their culture and wanted to see it first hand,” he says.

And it’s not just people with whom Harris will travel and walk for miles. When he decided he wanted to walk on a glacier, he headed to places like Greenland, Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic and Glacier National Park in the US state of Montana to do just that.

Meanwhile, his interest in deserts took him to Death Valley in California as well as the Sahara desert in Africa. Harris has made at least one long trip every year, sometimes two, for more than 50 years.

Even becoming a father didn’t slow him down. He continued his adventures while his son and daughter grew up.

Although both her children love to travel, they would “rather go to the south of France and drink martinis than go to Iceland and sleep in a tent on the ground.”

Harris was able to fund his travels through his marketing research and consulting firm, JRH Marketing Services, founded in 1975, which was run by his younger brother while he explored the wilderness.

According to Harris, his most challenging trip was through the South West Tasmanian Wilderness, a remote and inaccessible region of Australia’s south-west Tasmania, which he initially embarked on because he wanted to try something challenging but wasn’t quite sure how. would be difficult.

“It was a rough ride,” he says of the 1992 campaign. “A million kilometers just trying to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out.

“Since then I have been on a difficult journey. But the lesson I learned in South West Tasmania stays with me to this day.”

Although he occasionally went on trips with friends and says he enjoyed them, most of Harris’ trips were alone.

“I never expect anyone to want to go with me,” she adds.

A solo adventurer

Harris visited the Dolomites, a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps, in 2018.

Harris visited the Dolomites, a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps, in 2018.

J. Robert Harris

Although Harris stresses that he enjoys being alone, one of the obvious downsides to spending so much time alone in the wilderness is safety.

“Today we have GPS and devices where you can contact people,” he says. “But for most of my life in my career, I was going out on the Internet before satellite phones came along, and I’d be gone for weeks at a time with absolutely no way to contact anyone.”

Along with his trekking gear, which includes pots and pans, first aid kits and a water purifier, he now carries a device equipped with an SOS button.

“If I’m in trouble, I can push a button and hope that someone will come and help me,” he says. “I’ve never had to use it.”

Aside from technological advances, Harris says little has changed for him “in terms of being alone in the wilderness” since he began exploring wilderness areas.

The most noticeable difference was the effect of climate change, especially in some of the more isolated areas he traveled to.

“The desert itself is changing in a not-so-good way,” he says. “When I go out, it’s hard to see how the glaciers are retreating and things are getting warmer. There are so many wildfires in different parts of the world now.

“I talk to indigenous people who live off the land and it’s harder for them just to get food or what they need from the land. It’s just slowly but surely getting harder to survive in the desert.”

In 1993, Harris became one of a select few black explorers invited to join the elite Explorers Club.

Now an honorary member, Harris currently sits on the board of directors as well as chairing the club’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee.

While she says she was always happy to do her own thing and didn’t necessarily aspire to be part of any particular club, Harris recognizes the impact having someone like her can have on young people interested in exploring.

He often visits schools in neighborhoods like the one where he grew up, hoping to inspire young people to “go out and maybe become scouts.”

“Teachers say, ‘We’re telling these kids that they need to broaden their horizons,'” he says. “That they should dream big like you.

“But until they actually see someone who has done it, most of them don’t believe it can be done.”

A prolific career

Now approaching 79, Harris, who recently returned from a trip around Sweden, plans to visit the Atlas Mountains in Morocco next summer to find the indigenous Berber tribe.

He also hopes to one day “get to Mongolia” so he can “connect with the camel herders in the Gobi desert over there.”

“I think the more you travel, the more you realize you haven’t been everywhere,” he says. “There are always other places you can go. And that’s good news for me.”

Harris works out regularly to make sure he’s in top shape when it’s time to head out on his latest campaign, making time for weight training and aerobics.

When asked what has kept him going all this time, he says it’s the same curiosity that started his detective career back in 1966.

“I’m still curious about what the world is like, the natural world and the people who live in it, especially in remote places,” says Harris, who has kept a detailed journal of his hiking experiences since his 20s. “And the idea that anything can happen, that still appeals to me.”

Harris stresses that every trip he’s been on, whether it’s trekking across glaciers or searching for reindeer herders in Lapland, has been a learning experience, and he believes he still has a lot to learn.

“When I return home, I am a different person,” he says. “I’ve learned a little more, I’ve gotten a little more experience, I’ve gotten a little more appreciation and gratitude for what I have.

“I know that the next time I travel, even though I’ve been doing it since the Stone Age, I’m going to come back a different person.

“I’m going to learn something. I’m going to experience something and it’s going to be great. So it still drives me. And I still get out there.”



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