Into the Wild: An Interview with Jeff Bartlett

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Somewhere inside Jasper National Park, Jeff Bartlett is photographing the adventure oasis he calls home, tearing through waist-deep powder in the backcountry or mapping out the unthinkable exploits he’s planning for 2014. Whatever he’s doing and wherever he is, adventure is with him — it’s in his blood.

When Jeff’s not taking photos or documenting his nomadic lifestyle on his blog, he helps with ski patrol and avalanche control at his home mountain in Alberta, Canada. Somehow, we were able to peel Jeff away from adventuring to ask him a few questions about his past travels, current lifestyle and some borderline unbelievable travel plans he’s made for the new year.

LR: What song title best describes you?

JB: I’ll go with a Canadian classic and cliché: “If I Had a Million Dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies. It’s suitable, as I am a bit of a dreamer and love to think up ultimate trips. My bucket list includes racing the Dakar Rally, cycling Paris to Bangkok and skiing Greenland. It’d all take time and money.

LR: Do you have any travel plans set in stone for 2014?

JB: Yes. I’m planning to ride the Tour Divide bike race this year, which is this silly long-distance mountain bike race that goes from Banff, Alberta — about three hours south of me — all the way to the Mexico border. It’s about 4,500 kilometers, and it’s just a single stage endurance race, so you start as a group, and the first one to the Mexico border wins.

It’s self-supported, so you have to carry your own gear, and you’re allowed to stock up on food in the towns, but you’re not allowed to mail yourself anything. It’s supposed to be just like you’re out riding it by yourself, but there’s the added competition of doing it in a hurry.

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LR: What’s the last book you finished?

JB: “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann. It’s a wonderful story that really proves that modern day exploration — even if it’s looking for a past explorer — is still possible despite the well-trodden globe.

LR: What’s your favorite ski resort in Canada?

JB: The latest post on my blog is from the Powder Highway in the Kootenay Mountains in BC, and that whole area blew me away. It was my first time, and there’s so much snow and so many great tree runs, that I’d have to say Whitewater or Red Mountain have taken over the top spots.

That’s in Canada though. I’d far prefer to ski in Chile and Argentina I think. The mountains down there just have so few people — it still feels like you’re skiing in the unknown as opposed to here.

LR: What book do you recommend to your followers?

JB: “In Search of Captain Zero” by Allan Weisbecker should be on every “Top Travel Books” list. It’s a phenomenal true story that combines the travel classics like unbreakable friendship and chasing waves with running drugs and avoiding the Coast Guard.

LR: Writing or photography?

JB: Photography – It’s way more fun to be out taking photos than to sit behind a computer and try to write about the same scene.

LR: Where’s your favorite place to shoot photos?

JB: I think Patagonia is sort of my favorite place. And you know, I was there early on in my photography life, so I don’t think I have a lot of good images from there.  I need to back and improve on it.

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LR: What’s the weirdest item you can’t travel without?

JB: Baby wipes. Honestly, I spend too many nights in tents and baby wipes have become my outdoor shower.

LR: Do you do a lot of winter camping?

JB: Yeah, I’m about to go out this week on a trip. I’ve sort of made it a goal for this year to try to camp at least once a month, because that’s something I’ve kind of gotten away from in the last year. I’ve been doing a lot more long day objectives rather than carrying a backpack, so this year, hopefully, I’ll be spending a lot more time in the backcountry.

LR: What is your beverage of choice?

JB: Cold beer that is well earned after a day in the mountains. If I haven’t burned 5000 calories, I haven’t earned it. Beer is also the perfect storytelling drink!

LR: What is your travel garment of choice?

JB: Carhartt double-front work dungaree. I had to look up the name, but these pants are wicked. The brown/beige colour hides dirt so well you can wear them for weeks, plus the double front (made for welders) is ultra durable, so I usually get away with a lighter backpack than others.

LR: Coffee or tea?

JB: Coffee. And don’t get in my way until I’ve had a cup.

LR: What’s the nearest you’ve come to death?

JB: I’ve been hit by a car twice while biking. I’ve triggered multiple size 2 avalanches (don’t worry mom, I learned my lesson and got an avalanche education). I’ve also fallen asleep behind the wheel. Technically, all of these could have killed me.

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LR: Where are you dying to go that you haven’t been?

JB: I want to head to the Galapagos, not only to see the wildlife but also to pick up a couple hundred postcards. The islands don’t have a mail service, but there are barrels where you can leave a postcard or pick up ones that you can deliver back home. I think it would be an amazing journey to pick up a couple hundred postcards, stow them in a cycle pannier and start delivering them one by one.

LR: Who do you miss most when you travel?

JB: I have a niece, River, who’s about to turn 1. She’ll be at the top of the list for the foreseeable future.

LR: Cash or credit?

JB: Credit – Travel now, pay later! Seriously, I’ve grown up, but I traveled Scandinavia in 2006 and had to phone Mastercard to bump my credit limit at least three times.

LR: What travel app can’t you live without?

JB: Instagram – Although it is more than a travel app, I think it’s the best way to share inspiring images.

LR: Dream travel companion? (Living or dead.)

JB: Obviously, I need to say my wife. She’s ridiculously tough. She wanted to see her home country, Argentina, during our honeymoon. Naturally, I bought her a touring bike, filled her panniers with camping gear, and we hit Ruta 40 without a single training ride. She rode it out, and I can’t wait until we hit the road again.

LR: What would you do for one of Willie Wonka’s golden tickets?

JB: I’d probably sell it on eBay, hoping to fetch enough money to book a flight to Bariloche, Argentina, where I could eat enough chocolate to make myself sick and still have an adventure in the Andes.

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LR: Where would you most like to have a layover?

JB: Somewhere close to a beach. My wife hates that I’ll never take a beach holiday, but I could handle it for 8-10 hours without getting bored.

LR: What’s the coolest stamp in your passport?

JB: Sadly, I just got a brand new passport, and it doesn’t have a single stamp yet!

LR: What destination disappointed you most?

JB: Ushuaia, Argentina. Is it the end of the world, or the start of everything? Either way, the city is just like any other tourism hub, except a clear agent of false advertising, as Puerto Williams lies further south.

LR: Hostel or hotel?

JB: Tent

LR: Which country has the best food?

JB: Argentina. I love good steak, and I am a sucker for good Italian food. Argentina has both, with the perfect ice cream as dessert.

LR: Have you ever been arrested in a foreign country?

JB: I’ve come close a few times. After a bar-clearing brawl in Chile, I was in the back of a Carabineros truck with the only other gringo in the bar. Neither of us had been involved in the fight, so we were confused about what was happening until we realized the police were driving us to safety back to our hotel.

Another time, I witnessed a mugging in progress in Mendoza, Argentina, and reported it to the police, who had plenty of time to walk a half block and intervene. When the officer did nothing, I told him he should be embarrassed to have his badge. He threatened that he could arrest me, and it looked like he would, until about a dozen locals backed me up.

LR: Shark or bear (attack)?

JB: Bring on the Grizzly.

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About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C, Mexico and around the world. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

Comments:

  • Jeff,

    I like your answer to Hostel or hotel? I too prefer my tent or platform bed in the back of my van to any hotel. In fact, while traveling solo on my bicycle for 6 months, I got to the point of finding areas to camp in where I did not have set up my tent.

    I would roll in to a city park right before making dinner. After dinner, I would pack everything up and find an over hang to camp under. Sometimes I would sleep on top of picnic tables that were under a pavilion.

    I only got woken up once by a cop in Texas who after searching me for drugs, said that he would keep me safe all night.

    However, while traveling with a group of high school buddies on another cross country bicycle trip, we received 2 citations for illegal camping. Harder to be discreet in a group.

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