Where in the World?

Local travelers share photos and stories of their adventures at an annual winter speaking series.

By Maggie Theodora

Photo by Brian Schilling

OUTSIDE, THE WIND howls, it’s dark, and temperatures have fallen to well below zero. Inside the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center, though, about forty people are hiking, via a narrated slideshow, across a hillside covered in edelweiss under a lapis-colored, cloudless sky in the snaggly Italian Dolomites. Welcome to Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation’s (TCJPR) weekly Armchair Adventure Series. Held Thursday evenings from mid-January to mid-March, the programs take advantage of the valley’s abundance of world and adventure travelers.

“Why not travel to somewhere else on our long, dark, cold evenings?” asks TCJPR recreation programmer Jill Harkness. Since its founding more than fifteen years ago, the Armchair Adventure Series has taken crowds to Bhutan, the Galapagos Islands, biking through the United Kingdom’s Cornwall, Iceland, South Korea, Peru, Tajikistan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Nepal’s Upper Mustang Valley, and, closer to home, backpacking in Yellowstone’s Bechler region. Programs sometimes also cover astronomy and local geology. Presentations, which are narrated digital slide shows of between seventy and one hundred images, are about one hour long. At the end, the audience can ask questions. The Dolomite crowd is interested in everything from logistics—how to get there, the particulars of staying overnight in a mountain refuge—to food and culture.

“It’s a great resource,” says Cathy Shill, the founder of The Hole Hiking Experience, a presenter of several Armchair Adventures, and sometimes also an attendee. “What we’re going to do in the off-season here is something we’re always thinking about,” she says. “Armchair Adventures give you some great ideas of where you might want to travel. Or you can just experience a different place and culture for an hour.”

HARKNESS, WHO HAS been with TCJPR for thirty-one years, says the idea for the Armchair Adventure Series came from a similar event held by the outdoor recreation program at Mankato State University (now the University of Minnesota Mankato), where she went to college. Harkness has been in charge of the TCJPR program for “between twelve and fifteen years,” and, “honestly, [I] don’t know how many years total we’ve been doing it. It’s one of those things that feels like it’s been part of the community forever.”

The program has stayed mostly the same over the years, but, “It has gotten easier to find presenters,” Harkness says. During her early years planning the series, presenters were often people she knew (or had heard of) that had traveled to an interesting place. Today, she says, “It seems more that I’ll have people tell me about a trip they did and say they’d be willing to share their photos and story.” Presenters are volunteers.

LAST WINTER, ABOUT thirty people came to each of the series’ seven presentations. The most popular one was “Biking in the Netherlands,” which was presented by Town of Jackson/Teton County Pathways Coordinator Brian Schilling. “He not only brought the perspective of biking in that country, but also the knowledge of someone who works in that realm,” Harkness says. “I think people were really drawn to the educational component. It wasn’t just a tour. But any ones about biking seem to be popular.” Franz and Carol Kessler’s “Hiking the Dolomites: A Bucket List Destination” was also popular. “I think that one inspired a lot of people,” Harkness says. Al Young presented his solo, self-supported bike ride across the country. Stan Steiner shared his trip to South Korea.

“There’s no one thing that makes for a good Armchair Adventure,” Harkness says. Even if two programs are about the same place, “People have come to expect that every program is different. One person will offer one perspective and another traveler offers a different one. Having repeat countries isn’t a bad thing—it showcases the diversity of stories that are out there.”

The specifics of this winter’s schedule weren’t available at the time this issue went to press, but the series starts January 11. Held in the Recreation Center’s meeting room, the program runs every Thursday evening from 6:30 to 8 p.m. until March 8. Refreshments are provided, and each presentation is $5. 307/739-9025, tetonparksandrec.org

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